Tag Archives: Trivia

A collection of educational trivia. We like to think of this as “Non-trivial trivia.”

What is a berserker rage?

In Norse mythology Berserk was the nickname of the grandson of the eight-handed Starkadder. He always went into battle without armor and was famed for the reckless fury with which he fought. Ber-serk in old Scandinavian probably meant “bare-shirt,” that is, one clothed only in his shirt and not protected. by armor or heavier clothing, To be berserk was equivalent to “in one’s shirt sleeves.” Among those slain by Berserk was King Swafurlam, by whose daughter he bed twelve sons equal to himself in bravery. These sons of Berserk were called “berserkers,” a term that thus became synonymous with “fury” and “reckless courage.” Later berserker was applied to a class of heathen warriors who were supposed to be able to assume the form of bears and wolves, from which fact some etymologists mistakenly derive the term from berasark (“bear-shirt” or “armor of bearskin”). Dressed in furs these berserkers would fall into a frenzied rage, foam at the mouth and growl like wild beasts. They were said to have prodigious strength and to be invulnerable to fire and iron. From this latter myth we get berserker rage. In Modern English Usage, H. W. Fowler says that “beresark for berserker, is a corrupt modern form owing its existence to a probably false etymology.”

Who was the Laughing Philosopher?

Democritus (4607-3617 B.C.), a Greek thinker in the time of Socrates, was known as the “Laughing Philosopher.” Just why he was so called is not known for certain. According to a legend, probably unfounded, Democritus put out his own eyes so that he might think more clearly and not be diverted in his meditations. Some ancient writers say that he became so perfect “in his teachings” that he went about continually smiling from which circumstance he became known as the Laughing Philosopher; but others say that the inhabitants of Abdera, the colony in Thrace where Democritus was born, were notorious for their stupidity, and that he was called the “laughing” Philosopher because of the scorn and ridicule that he heaped upon his townsmen for their ignorance. It appears that Democritus should rather be called the “Deriding Philosopher,” since he derided and laughed scornfully at the follies and vanities of mankind. Robert Burton, author of The Anatomy of Melancholy, is sometimes referred to as “Democritus Junior.”

What is the origin of “A Number One”?

A Number One in the sense of prime, superior or first-rate originated with a symbol used in classifying ships in Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping, a yearly publication dealing with the design and construction of vessels of all nations and with data about docks and harbors. Beginning with, its issue of 1775-1776, Lloyd’s Register classified the characteristics and condition of ships by means of letters and figures. The character and condition of the ship’s hull was designated by a letter and that of the equipment by a figure. Thus A-1 (A, hull, and i, equipment) meant that both hull and equipment were in first rate condition. A-2 meant that the hull was first-rate but the equipment second-rate, etc. Some authorities believe that A-1(usually written A Number One or A One) was first applied figuratively to persons and things in general in America and not in England, although that is not certain. It is a common mistake to suppose that Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping is published by the famous insurance association known as Lloyd’s. Lloyd’s Register has no financial connection with the insurance association. It is published by a different society and is housed in a different building. Although originally it provided shipping information primarily as a basis for marine insurance, it is now chiefly interested in the improvement, safety, regulation and inspection of shipping. Lloyd’s Register no longer uses A-1 to designate ships with hull and equipment in first-class condition.

What is China’s Sorrow?

Hwang Ho, or the Yellow River, is popularly known as China’s Sorrow because of its devastating floods. This remarkable stream is one of the largest rivers in the world and is the second largest in China, being second only to the Yangtze. It has its sources in Tibet and meanders 2,700 miles through northern China. Yellow River is merely a- literal translation of Chinese twang (“yellow”), and ho (“river”). The stream was so named from the fact that the water has a yellowish color owing to the presence of muddy earth in solution. Enormous quantities of infinitesimal particles of silt, known to geologists as loess, are blown by the wind into the upper reaches of the stream from the Gobi Desert country. In flood times this material may constitute as high as eighteen per cent of the volume of water. The Yellow Sea into which the Yellow River flows also has the same yellowish hue. The Chinese call the sea Hwang Hai, literally “Yellow Sea,” hai being Chinese for “sea.” China’s Sorrow, also called The Ungovernable and the Scourge of the Sons of Han, is especially destructive because it not -only overflows its banks but also changes its entire lower course. It has completely altered its outlet a dozen times or more in the last four thousand years. Silt from the loess country continually raises the bed of the river and necessitates the construction of higher and higher dikes and levees. At some points the river is more than sixty feet above the neighboring country, and embankments designed -to prevent floods actually contribute to the hazard. In 1852 the Yellow River shifted its mouth from the Bay of Haichow south of the Shantung peninsula to its ancient mouth in the Gulf of Chihli, a distance of some four hundred miles. At that time the one thousand-mile canal built by a thirteenth century emperor to connect the Hwang Ho with the Yangtze Kiang was destroyed. Owing to the swiftness of its current the Hwang Ho is almost useless for the navigation of large vessels and consequently there are few large cities on its banks.