Things I Learned While Looking Up Other Things

[Today’s post is a direct rip-off of Sidney J. Harris‘s columns of the same name.  I am not the first and won’t be the last to do so — it is hardly the most original idea — but a tip of the hat to Mr. Harris in any event.]

⊛ In 1793, the French Republic rejected the royalist/religious calender of its times and adopted the calendrier républicain.  Day One of the new calendar was September 22, 1792 (or 1 Vendémiaire I) to mark the day the Republic was born.  The months were all given new names (Fructidor, or giving fruit, is my favorite) along with each day of each month.  Years were designated by Roman numerals, which turned out to be less unwieldy than one might fear: the calendrier lasted only to Year XIV.  Had that calendar persisted, and had my parents lived in France, The 100 Billionth Person would have been born on 22 Ventôse (Windy) CLXI, on Percil (Parsley) day.

⊛ I was surprised to learn that the Pittsburgh Pirates, winners of the 1960 World Series, played a rare tie game in the regular season that year, so their season record was 95-59-1.  I thought they might have been the only World Series winner with a regular season tie, but I was wrong.  The 2016 Chicago Cubs, who won the World Series vs. Cleveland that year, played a 1-1 game on September 29 that was suspended after 6 innings due to bad weather. As the game lasted five innings, it was an “official game” and could have been ruled a tie.  Instead, the league simply wiped the game off the books, as its outcome did not affect the final standings.  This Chicago Cubs non-tie was played against… the Pittsburgh Pirates.

⊛ Is there an English word that means “next to next-to-last”?  Yes — antepenultimate.  This describes, for example, the 60th episode of Breaking Bad, in which Hank dies in a desert shoot-out.  That episode was titled “Ozymandias” based on a sonnet by the English poet Percy Shelley in 1818.  Ozymandias in turn was the Greek name of Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II, who had the longest reign of all Egyptian kings.  We could keep on walking down Association Avenue, but let’s turn to my penultimate item instead.

⊛ The other day as we were Netflixing The Long Riders, a 1980 western, I began to notice how rarely the actors and, especially, the actresses blinked their eyes.  It was eerie to watch an actress stare at her eyeline (film-speak for focal point) as if possessed.  This led me to look up the typical rate of human eyelid blinking: about every 6 seconds.  But that is trivia; the more interesting thing I learned is that infants do not produce tears until they are one month old and that they only blink once or twice a minute.  So, we are all born actors!

⊛ As my faithful readers know, I’m sort of a map nerd.  Earlier this spring, I ordered from our library How the States Got Their Shapes by Mark Stein (2008), to satisfy my curiosity about the seemingly arbitrary alignments of various state borders.  The thing I learned was how the institution of slavery — those striving to preserve it pitted against those hoping to contain it — played an outsized role in setting the borders of states west of the Mississippi.  But the thing I learned while learning that thing was how Idaho Territory, formed in 1863 in the midst of the Civil War, became a Confederate (later, Southern Democrat) stronghold for almost two decades.

After the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1863), the Union Army marched southward.  Refugees from the battle states fled northwest to Idaho Territory, lured by the news of gold strikes.  Those ex-Southerners brought their Confederate sympathies with them, as evidenced by the various Confederacy place names in present-day Idaho, e.g., Atlanta, Dixie, Leesburg, and Secesh River.  (Secesh was not a Nez Perce word for caribou but rather the shorthand of its time for a Southern secessionist.)

Not long after the Civil War, the Idaho World of July 24, 1867, heralded the publication of The Lost Cause, a 750-page book by pro-Confederacy writer and editor Edward A. Pollard.  Pollard described slavery as a “system of servitude [which] elevated the African and was in the interest of human improvement” and called his Southern brethren to remain steadfast and take their fight to other arenas:  “The Confederates have gone out of this war with the proud, secret, deathless, dangerous consciousness that they are THE BETTER MEN, and that [nothing was] wanting but a change in a set of circumstances and a firmer resolve to make them the victors.”  The editor of Idaho World wrote that he had “no hesitation in warmly commending the book to all our readers as a faithful, interesting, ably written volume.”

And so were those poisonous seeds scattered and sown.

⊛ Postscript: I had always wondered why the diamond-shaped District of Columbia had a northeast (Maryland) sector but no southwest (Virginia) sector.  The reason, I learned, was again related to slavery.  Alexandria was the northern hub of the U.S. slave trade.  It had been included in the lands that Virginia ceded to help form D.C.  But in 1846, slave-owners forced the U.S. to recede the land to Virginia, so that Alexandria’s slave trade would not be subject to D.C. law.

If the lands that Virginia ceded in 1790 still belonged to D.C., the D.C. population would easily exceed one million, greater than that of six and possibly seven other states, each of whom enjoy representation in Congress from two Senators and one House member.

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2 Responses to Things I Learned While Looking Up Other Things

  1. Eric says:

    Surely not familiar with antepenultimate, but, yep – I’m kinda a map nerd too. I can recall actually watching episodes of “How The States Got Their Names” *way* back in the day on perhaps it was the Discovery Channel (?) before it turned into another reality-show-type network. And, yep – I’d borrowed the book too! Standing with legs akimbo on a street in both Bristol, TN and Bristol, VA is almost like pirouetting atop the artificial “monument” at the Four Corners out in these parts. I enjoyed this post as usual – thanks, buddy.

  2. Enrique says:

    Amazing stuff, especially the DC map issue. Also, as a footnote to item #1, I believe a week under France’s revolutionary calendar consisted of of 10 days.

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