Random Facts

So I started doing a “Random Facts” series of posts on my Facebook page. Here are some of the best of them:

- Libertarian economist and radio personality Walter E. Williams grew up in Philadelphia and was a childhood friend of Bill Cosby. Williams knows all the real people the Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids characters are based on, including Weird Harold and “Fat” Albert Robinson. (source)

- Conservative economist and radio personality Thomas Sowell was born in Gastonia, North Carolina and had so few encounters with white people as a child that he did not believe blonde was a real hair color until he was 10 years old. (source)

- Canaries (the birds) were named after the Canary Islands where they were first found. However, the original name of the islands was from Latin: Canariae Insulae, meaning “Island of the Dogs”. So the birds are named after islands which were named after dogs. And although “canary”: can also refer to a shade of yellow, most canary birds are actually green and\or brown.  (source)

- Supermodel Karolina Kurkova has no belly button! She was born with a congenital umbilical hernia, which doctors repaired when she was an infant. The operation left her with no belly button, so in most photo shoots one is added via Photoshop. (source)

- Although This Mortal Coil’s cover of “Song to the Siren” only reached #66 on the UK charts, it remained on the UK indie charts for 101 weeks. This makes it #4 on the list of longest charting UK singles of the 1980s, behind only “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” (131 weeks), “Blue Monday” (186 weeks) and “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (195 weeks). (source)

- In 2009, a retired policeman named Geraint Woolford was admitted to Abergale Hospital in north Wales. He ended up in a bed next to another man named Geraint Woolford. The men weren’t related, had never met, were both retired policemen, and were the only two people in the UK named “Geraint Woolford”. (source)

- “Ye”, sometimes seen on shop signs trying to invoke Old England, like “Ye Olde Cheshire Pub”, was never a word in English, but it was once a letter. The letter was called thorn, and it represented the “th” sound. It looked like this: þ. The authors of the King James Bible wanted to use thorn with a superscript e to represent the word “the” (so, like this: þe). But the German and Italian printers who actually printed the book didn’t have a thorn character in their languages, thus they didn’t have the letter mold to print it. They used a Y instead… Ye. And since thorn represented the “th” sound, it was always pronounced “the”, never “ye”. (source)

- The Oriental Trading Company is “a direct marketing company for novelties, small toys, and party items”. You might have gotten one of their catalogs in the mail. The company was founded in Omaha, Nebraska in 1932 by Harry Watanabe. In 1977, Harry’s son Terry took over the company. In 2000. Terry sold the company to private equity firm Brentwood Associates for a fortune. In 2007 he went to Las Vegas and basically never left, running up gambling debts of $204 million. In that year, Terry Watanabe personally accounted for 6% of Harrah’s total gambling revenue in Las Vegas. Harrah’s even created a new tier for him in their rewards program: the “Chairman” level came with all the perks of the lower levels as well as an allowance of $12,500 a month for airfare, free tickets to any show in the city, and a $500,000 credit for any of Harrah’s gift stores! (source)

- British MP Michael Foot was named head of the Labour party 18 months after his party lost the House to Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives. For the 1983 election, Foot – who was very liberal, even by European standards – endorsed a very long, very left-wing manifesto. After losing to the Conservatives in one of the largest landslides in modern British history, fellow Labour MP Gerald Kaufman famously called the manifesto “the longest suicide note in history”. Foot resigned the Labour leadership a few days later. In 1986, he was asked to head a nuclear disarmament committee, which resulted in one of the most famous headlines in British history: The Times ran an article entitled “Foot to Head Arms Body”. Editor Martyn Cornell meant it as an inside joke, but the paper decided to run the headline as-is.

- The first stuffed Paddington Bear toy was made in 1972 by Gabrielle Designs, a small company owned by Shirley and Eddie Clarkson. They made the bear as a Christmas present for their children Joanna and Jeremy (who is now a TV personality in the UK and one of the hosts of Top Gear). (source)

- The chess term “checkmate” comes from the Persian Shah Mat, which means “the king is defeated”. Other languages have adopted the Persian word, too: in Russian, the term is shakh i mat (pronounced “shakhmati”). (source)

- If you grew up in the 1980s, you’re probably familiar with the German band Nena’s song “99 Luftballoons” or the English version, “99 Red Balloons”. The original German version of the song was a big hit in West Germany and Japan, so the band’s record company convinced them to record an English version of the song. Oddly, the German version reached #2 in the US charts (making it the highest ranking German song ever in the US pop charts), while the English version did not chart (according to the online charts at Billboard.com). However, in the rest of the English-speaking world, the situation was reversed: the English version reached #1 in the UK, Canada, Ireland and Australia, but the German version did not chart. (source)

- It is cheaper for an Australian to fly to the USA and buy a copy of Adobe CS6 than it is to buy the exact same software in Australia. By flying to the US (AU$1,147) and buying a boxed copy of the software here (AU$2,513) an Australian can save AU$683 over the retail price in Australia (AU$4,344). (source)

- Emeril Lagasse, Ho Chi Minh and Malcolm X all worked in the restaurant of the Parker House Hotel in Boston. It’s also where Parker House rolls were invented. (source)

- FARC rebels in Colombia have kidnapped 16 military and police officers and held them for as long as 12 years. The Colombian government wanted to send them messages of encouragement, and knew that FARC let them listen to pop radio stations. So they commissioned a song… with a Morse code message embedded inside. (source)

- In Germany, most packaged bread comes without end slices.

- In the Bible, Nimrod is described as a “mighty hunter”, an association retained in British English, where skilled hunters are called “Nimrods” and the the Royal Air Force flew Hawker Siddeley Nimrod search planes from 1969 to 2011. However, the association was lost on millions of Americans when Bugs Bunny sarcastically compared Elmer Fudd to Nimrod in the 1930s. In American English, the word has become an archaic term for a dimwitted person. (source)

- In the movie Flight, Denzel Washington plays an alcoholic airline pilot. The film’s producers didn’t want to offend liquor companies by having Washington drinking just one brand of liquor. So throughout the film, Washington has a different brand of beer or liquor every time he drinks.

- The bald eagle isn’t called that because he’s bald (as in lacking hair… or feathers). It’s from the word piebald, which is used to describe white patches on animals that are predominately another color. The word comes the unusual markings on magpie birds (“pie” = magpie, “bald” = an old English term for a white patch of fur on an animal that is usually dark colored). It’s still used in the UK to describe most animals, however the American horse trade has developed its own unique language for horse color (a horse which would be piebald in the UK is pinto in the US). (source)

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