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.”

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.

What became of the passenger pigeons?

Two hundred years ago the passenger pigeon, a migratory pigeon slightly larger than the turtledove, was probably the most numerous bird throughout most of the United States and southern Canada east of the Great Plains. John James Audubon and Alexander Wilson, early naturalists, reported seeing these pigeons flying in flocks seven or eight miles long, more than a mile wide and so compact that the sun was hidden from view as they passed. When one of these flocks, estimated to contain from one to two billion birds, settled on a forest for the night, trees broke under their weight. Audubon calculated that a flock of such size would require nine million bushels of feed a day. The cooing of “the birds and the whirring of their wings were so loud that the report of a gun could not be heard. Several inches of dung were left under their roosting places. During the. breeding season hundreds of them would nest in a single tree. In 1857 a game committee of the Ohio legislature reported that this bird needed no protection. “Wonderfully prolific, having the vast forests of the North as its breeding grounds, traveling hundreds of miles in search of food,” declared the report, “it is here today and elsewhere tomorrow, and no ordinary destruction can lessen them or be missed from the myriads that are yearly produced.” Yet less than sixty years later the passenger pigeon was extinct. Authentic records indicate that the last passenger pigeon at large was seen in 1898, although there are more or less reliable records of individual birds being seen in the wild state as late as 1907. The last known survivor was a captive bird that died in the Cincinnati Zoological Gardens in September, 1914. When this bird’s-mate died in 1910, $1,000 was offered for another, but none was ever found. Many theories have been advanced to account for the complete disappearance of these spectacular and interesting birds. It is probably not true, as generally supposed, that this pigeon disappeared suddenly and mysteriously while it was still quite numerous. Some believe that these birds migrated in mass to another part of the world, that they were blown out to sea by a storm and drowned, that they were killed by forest fires, epidemics, tornadoes, snowstorms or other similar causes. One writer believes the birds were destroyed by a species of chicken mite introduced from Europe. He reported that during the seventies and eighties of the last century he found thousands of dead squabs under the trees where the pigeons were nesting. Upon examination they were found to be covered with mites. Perhaps many factors contributed to the extinction of this species. The early settlers and hunters shot them, by thousands and knocked them down’ with clubs and poles. Millions of them—even carloads of them—were shipped to market. Shortly after the Civil War the commercial hunting of passenger pigeons became systematic. In 1879 these birds were selling on the Chicago market at from fifty to sixty cents a dozen. Pigeon hunters made from ten to forty dollars a day. The last large nesting of passenger pigeons on record was near Petoskey, Michigan, in 1878. It was from thirty to forty miles long and several miles wide. Indians and boys captured large numbers of the birds at a cent apiece. It is generally believed by naturalists that the indiscriminate slaughter of the birds by man was the chief factor that led to their ultimate extinction. This cause may have been aided by the destruction of the forests within their range. Also, being communistic in their habits, the species may have been unable to adapt itself to more solitary feeding, migrating, roosting and nesting habits. At any fate, as civilization encroached upon the wilderness the birds began “to disappear and kept on disappearing until there wasn’t a single specimen living. The common mourning or turtledove and the band-tailed wild pigeon of the Pacific coast superficially resemble the passenger pigeon and this fact accounts for frequent reports that the latter is still seen occasionally in out-of-the-way places. The band-tailed pigeon (Columba fasciara), which sometimes ranges as far east as Colorado and Texas, is distinguished from the passenger pigeon by its short, even tail. Fortunately many stuffed specimens of the extinct passenger pigeon have been preserved by museums.