Archived Story

Factoids provide some entertainment

Published 9:21am Wednesday, January 25, 2012 Updated 11:22am Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Over the past several months, the books which I have read have produced several tiny tidbits of information. These little tidbits are often called “factoids,” a rather semi-serious, tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that he or she who has them will win arguments with them. Maybe so.

First factoid: Bed mites, which my grandmother called cooties (which actually is based on the African word “kutu”) were a huge trial back in the earlier centuries, and indeed were a source of misery. Houses back in the early centuries were so cold that they were somewhat held in check.

Now we keep them comfortable all year long. According to one scientific study, if your bed is averagely clean, averagely old, and averagely sized, and is turned averagely often (like, never), it is likely to be home to about two million of these tiny, invisible bugs. One calculation estimated that one-tenth of your pillow’s weight is alive.

Factoid number two: One of the reasons brass bedsteads were invented was because the bugs, which could live in the cracks and gaps of wood bedsteads, could not live in the brass.

Houses are full of germs, and they are often not where one would expect them. Typically the cleanest surface in any house is the toilet seat, because it is at least sometimes wiped down with something other than the dishrag, which in fact is the dirtiest thing in the house. The common dishcloth is by far, according to these sources, the worst source of germs, and wiping kitchen surfaces with one makes it the best spreader.

Here’s an interesting bit about the English language. Back in the first through tenth centuries, chairs had not been invented. Mostly this was because no one wanted to sit down inside the damp and dirty hovels in which people lived back then. That changed eventually, and folks began to find stools and things upon which to perch.

Once used, they were then hung back on the wall, out of the way. (Houses were not very big; room was scanty.)

When company came, the chairs were taken down from the wall and arranged in one center, primary circle, where those guests with the most money, or respect, or knowledge, sat and talked.

Other guests formed their chairs around that circle. Which is where the term “inner circle” comes from, as a reference to those who belong to it, compared to those who do not, for whatever reason.

For centuries, light came from candles, sputtering little producers of smoke and soot often made from animal fat.

Then, in the late 1800’s, a man named Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, a British engineer, figured out that if you took a lump of lime and burned it in a very hot flame, such as in oxygen and alcohol, it produced an amazingly bright, white, light.

A ball of lime no bigger than a marble could be seen from up to sixty miles away, and it became the common source of light for lighthouses.

Less well known was that it was also used in theaters, because it could be focused into a compact beam, to illuminate the actors and actresses, at a time when most productions took place during the day.

Today, actors and actresses still use the term, “in the limelight.”

When I was 16, and full of anger and rebellion and in general a first rate horse’s hind end, I left home that summer and went to work for a farmer.

For that work, which went from sunup to sundown (And I thought I had it bad at home?), I was provided $35.00 per week and room and board. I always wondered what “board” meant.

Back in the early centuries, around the tenth to fifteenth, when room was always short in the small houses, permanent tables were not possible. There just wasn’t enough room for them. A dining table was simply a board, and, when it was not in use, it was hung on the wall out of the way. At mealtime, it was fetched down and laid across the diners’ knees, where it served as a place to hold whatever food was served.

Over time, the word “board” has come to signify not just the table itself, but the food which is served upon it.

This is also the term for someone lodging in one’s house, a “boarder.”

Even better, someone honest back then always kept his hands above the board. Even today, it is a compliment to be referred to as behaving “aboveboard.”

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