What Are Nooks and Crannies?

Have you ever searched all around your house looking for something? Perhaps you lost your keys or your wallet. Did you turn over the entire house? Did you look in every nook and cranny?

Did you?

Does your house even have a nook? And a cranny?

I am not sure if mine does, because I don’t know what those words mean. But that changes today…

What Are Nooks and Crannies?

Wow. Nooks and crannies are old. Especially nooks.

Nook, which refer to “an out-of-the-way corner” have been round since the mid-1300s. Crannies aren’t quite as old, but the word, which has meant “a crack or crevice” date back to around 1440.

So how did two things that didn’t grow up in the same era end up together (that is known as the Catherine Zeta-Jones / Michael Douglas question)? We have a man by the name of James Cririe to thank for that.

In 1803 Cririe published Scottish Scenery, Or, Sketches in Verse, Descriptive of Scenes Chiefly in the Highlands of Scotland : Accompanied with Notes and Illustrations : and Ornamented with Engravings by W. Byrne from Views Painted by G. Walker (yes, that is the full title), where he said:

Nook and cranny

Of all the words in that quote, I am surprised “nook and cranny” was the one that became a famous saying? My money would have been on “the dread artillery of God.”


Sources: Dictionary.com & Quora.com

Why Is 1000 Called A Grand?

If you are Mark Zuckerberg, it is a piece of cake to give away one thousand dollars. But if you are broke, one thousand dollars is better than cake.

How great $1000 is depends on how much money you have, but either way we call it a grand. Why is that?

Let’s find out in today’s edition of Wonder Why Wednesday…

Why Is 1000 Called A Grand?

According to Word Detective, the use of “grand” in reference to money dates back to around 1915. It came from American underworld slang, as in a grand sum of money.

So there we have it. At the time $1000 was a lot of money. If you had it, you were feeling grand. But it wasn’t the only slang for a specific amount of money. Here are a few others:

  • C-note (or century note) – one-hundred dollar bill, from the Roman numeral “C,” which is 100.
  • Sawbuck – a ten-dollar bill, from the resemblance of the Roman numeral “X” (ten) that once appeared thereon to a sawhorse
  • Double sawbuck – a twenty-dollar bill


Why Do We Say “Cup of Joe”?

One of the most common ways to encourage someone to save money or donate to a charity is to use the phrase, “for just the cost of a cup of coffee…” You’ve heard that right? You’ve probably even said it yourself. This works because we are so connected to coffee that our brains don’t have to think much to easily summon up the price of the steaming beverage.

While the phrase works, it is a little wordy. If they ever wanted to shorten it to fit on bumper sticker I would recommend the tagline, “say no to Joe!”

Other than sounding like a 1950s presidential campaign slogan, the phase would work because any coffee drinker knows that their beverage is commonly referred to as a cup of Joe.

Everyone has heard of a cup of Joe, but who knows where that phrase came from? Who is this legendary Joe?

Let’s find out in today’s Wonder Why Wednesday

In order to find our answer, we need to flash back to the 1914 U.S. Navy. At the time, Josephus Daniels was secretary to the Navy under president Woodrow Wilson. Apparently, the Navy was a mess back then.

In order to clean things up, Daniels decided to increase the number of chaplains and reduce the number of prostitutes (yes, you read that correctly). In addition to all that, Daniels also banned alcohol.

The service men and women were none too happy about the ban of booze (no mention of how they felt about the chaplains or prostitutes). To replace their missing wine, they started drinking the next strongest drink they could find…coffee.

The sailors nicknamed the drink after the one responsible for forcing everyone to change. They started calling it a “cup of Joe” in regards to their chief Josephus Daniels.

Now we know where the phrase “cup of Joe” comes from. We also know that the Navy used to be full or drunk philanderers.

Learn something new (and discouraging) every day.

What Is New Car Smell?

Our sense of smell is an impressive thing.

We smell a certain perfume and it triggers powerful memories of our grandmother’s house from 30 years ago. We get a whiff of fresh baked cookies and our mouths start to water. Smell even works as an alarm for when it is time to do laundry, thanks to a quick sniff of our shirt.

One minute our sense of smell has the ability to draw us close to something, like a strong cup of coffee, and the next minute it can make us want to run away, or as Pumbaa from The Lion King says, “clear the savannah.”

There is one smell that I have always wondered about. One particular scent that I can’t quite put my finger on. It evokes an image of an unblemished pile of metal and it has become a top seller in the fragrance market.

I’m talking about new car smell.

What exactly is it? And why is it unique to cars? As far as I know, people aren’t buying new house or new shoe air fresheners. What is it about the scent that comes with shiny plastic seats on a Ford Taurus that we love so much?

Let’s find out…

Wonder Why Wednesday: Where Does New Car Smell Come From?

According to Wikipedia, “New car smell is the odor that comes from the combination of materials found in new automobiles.”

Thanks a lot Wikipedia. Yes, I guess I should have expected that, but I was looking for something a little more in-depth.

After some more digging, it turns out that the long answer involves a lot more science. Compound Interest explains with the following graphic:


That seems like a very complex answer, but I have come up with a way to simplify it so we can always remember.

The smell created by Xylenes and Trimethylbenzenes is just like the Fast and the Furious movies. Both are attached to new cars and people love them, despite the fact that they may lead to headaches, sensory irritations and minor allergic responses.

How Are Social Security Numbers Assigned?

There are a few benchmarks that show you have become an adult.

Your friends have started getting married and having babies. You’ve Googled the phrase, “what is a 401K?” And your back just starts to hurt for no reason.

I am sure you can come up with a dozen other examples. One thing that I clearly remember signaling I was becoming an adult was when I had my social security number memorized.

As a teenager I used to carry a sticky note in my wallet that had my social security number on it. That was for the few times I had to know that number on a job application or a drivers test or something.

That probably wasn’t the smartest idea but back then I was too dumb to know of the threat of identity theft and plus, I didn’t really know why a social security number was so important.

Somewhere throughout the years, my use of the social security number became so frequent that I no longer needed that sticky note. I had memorized that nine digit number.

I remember being impressed that I could memorize such a long number and important number. Congratulations to me.

I guess that was my brain’s way of saying, “Welcome to adulthood!”

Even though I have the number memorized I know little more about it than when I was carrying that sticky note in my wallet. Where did that number come from? Was it my dad’s lucky number or did my mom just think it had a “nice ring to it?” Did we pick that number or did that number pick me?

Let’s find out in today’s Wonder Why Wednesday…

How Are Social Security Numbers Assigned?

Answer: Randomly. But that wasn’t always the case.

According to the Social Security Administration, social security numbers are now issued via a process called “randomization.” This is a fairly recent change, dating back to just June 25, 2011. So if you are reading this, you are either a great reader for your age or you had your social security number assigned through the previous process.

The nine-digit SSN dates back to 1936, when it was created to track workers’ earning throughout their life. The SSN begins with a three-digit area number, followed by the two-digit group number, and ending with the four-digit serial number.

Beginning in 1972, the area number was dictated by the state you were born in. However, as the population grew, the SSN assignment process couldn’t keep up with the number of SSNs needed for people from each state.

Thus the need for randomization. Today, there is no geographical significance of the first three digits.

How Does A Calculator Work?

In religion we hear a lot about faith. I’ve seen it described as “belief without evidence.” Something that is difficult to comprehend, or explain, but we have complete trust. It is as if we are saying, we are not sure how it works, but we don’t doubt that it works.

This is kind of how I would describe my relationship with a calculator. I have no clue how it works…but I know it does. Sometimes I will test the calculator and see if I can catch it having a bad day. I will enter 99 x 99 and think that maybe this will be the time is spouts out 9999 instead of 9801.

Guess what? It says 9801, which is correct. It is always correct. Never once have I gotten a wrong answer from a calculator (although, if I need a calculator I wouldn’t know what the right answer is, so I wouldn’t know if the calculator’s answer is wrong).

How does it do that? Time to ditch the faith and start to learn some answers in today’s edition of Wonder Why Wednesday…

How Does A Calculator Work?

Fun fact…the first calculators were not small. In fact, they were so big they had to be built into a desk. According to Wonderopolis, the Casio Computer Company released the Model 14-A in 1957, thus creating the world’s first all-electric compact calculator.

Four years later the British Bell Punch/Sumlock Comptometer ANITA reduced the size to a trim and lean 33 pounds.

With the advancements in technology, calculator size and cost kept going down and down until the 1980s when the devices were small enough to fit in your pocket and cheap enough to be common in many schools.

All that is great, but it doesn’t answer the question of how it works.

Calculators, like Mexican restaurants rely heavily on chips. These chips, known as integrated circuits contain transistors that can be turned on and off with electricity to perform mathematical calculations.

They do this by processing the information in binary form. Like a kite, binary form relies heavily on string. Binary uses two digits to do the work: 0 and 1. With the help of chips, our calculator takes the numbers we enter (99 x 99 in my example above) and converts them into binary strings of 0s and 1s.

The chips use those strings to turn transistors on and off with electricity to perform the desired calculations. Confused? Me too. So I will turn to Wonderopolis who says,

Since there are only two options in a binary system (0 or 1), these can easily be represented by turning transistors on and off, since on and off easily represent the binary options (on = 0 and off = 1 or vice versa). Once a calculation has been completed, the answer in binary form is then converted back to our normal base-ten system and displayed on the calculator‘s display screen. Most calculator displays use inexpensive technologies common today, such as liquid crystal displays (LCD) or light-emitting diodes (LED).”

Got all that? So now I am picturing that if I were to open up a calculator I would find a bunch of chips and string. Throw in a random penny or two and you would have the exact same thing I find when looking between my couch cushions.

I think I might just continue to rely on that who faith thing when dealing with calculators.

Why Do Schools Have Summer Break?

I miss many things about being a kid. Things like not having to pay bills, being able to sleep in until noon, and it not being weird that I went more than two presidential terms without having a girlfriend.

But the one thing I miss most from my childhood is summer break.

Summer break, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. Similar to grace, summer break is best described as amazing.

Remember that feeling of the last day of school? A feeling so great it inspired a weird dude in makeup to write a song.

If summer break is so amazing, why is it exclusive to school? Why doesn’t every organization get to take a couple of months off between June and August? Let’s find out…

Wonder Why Wednesday: Why Do Schools Have Summer Break?

For the longest time, people thought the answer to this question was farming. People attributed summer break to the belief that families and children had to work on their farms.

But that is not correct.

Yes, kids in rural area were needed to lend an extra hand during the busy season on the farm, but not in the summer. Planting season was in spring and harvesting season was in fall. There was no extra work to be found in the dog days of summer.

So why the break?

In the mid-1800s, many U.S. schools stayed open all year long. That is until education experts and doctors began to conclude that too much schooling created stress on kids. Organizers decided it would be best to take a summer break to give students time away from class and time to recover from any stress they may be feeling.

So why summer?

Three reasons: temperature, travel and training.

  1. Temperature – breaking news…summer is hot. Today it is not so bad because we can turn up our AC to full blast. But that wasn’t the case in the 1800s. Rather than force students, and teachers, to bake like a toasted cheeser in a schoolhouse without air conditioning, it was decided these 100 degree days would be better spent a home (where I can only assume they also didn’t have AC).
  2. Travel – even back then, families took summer vacations. And so did teachers. With so many people already traveling from June to August, it made sense to have summer as the designated break period.
  3. Training – In the 19th century, teachers rarely went to college or needed certification. In order to be prepared, they received some training that took place in the summer. Creating a summer break gave teachers more time to train and get ready for the next year.



Source: CNN

Origin Of The Term ‘Cake Walk’

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the origin of the phrase “piece of cake.” Naturally, that got me thinking about cake which led me to eat cake, which led me to want to write more about cake so that I could eat more cake and not feel bad (all in the name of research).

So here’s another Wonder Why Wednesday featuring cake.

Where Does The Term “Cake Walk” Come From?

A task that is described as a “cake walk” is something that is done with relative ease. For example, beating my younger brother in ping pong is a cake walk.

The term has been around since the 1860s and can be traced back to a dance event that has roots in the Antebellum South of the early 19th century.

Here’s the thing though…the dance was actually quite racist. Bet you didn’t see racism coming up in a post about cake.

According to StuffYouShouldKnow.com:

The cake walk was a dance event where slaves were invited dressed up in the fine clothes and took on the airs of the white aristocracy. They were held in the plantation home, in the same rooms where the resplendent balls were held among white society.The cake walk was similar, it was a ball held for the slaves. Couples promenaded through the ballroom, bowing deeply and frequently, chins and noses held highly aloft. The couple who performed the best interpretation of how the white folks did it won a cake, baked, one imagines, by a slave.

Seems harmless enough, right?

Wrong. The event was a way to mimic white society, but deep down it was a dance used to reinforce the social order by mocking it. The slave owners exhibited their power through this event by allowing their slaves to act white. It was as if to say, “the only time you can act like me is when I let you. And if you do it well, I will give you some cake that you took the time making.”

In the Jim Crow era things got even worse. Cake walks featured white dancers in blackface. They were acting as blacks who were awkwardly attempting to become white. It was seen as black’s desire to be like white people, not mock them.

Crazy, right?

Thankfully, as the years have gone on, America has done away with the racist cake walk ceremony and replaced it a term used to describe something so effortless that the act of walking would result in the prize of cake.

Why Do We Say “Jump on the Bandwagon”?

In sports, a lot can be determined by one’s jump. Players are measured by how high they can jump, while fans are measured by where they jump.

If your team loses a few games in a row, do you give up on them? If they start off the season on a winning streak, do you suddenly go looking for your old shirt packed away deep in the bottom drawer?

Fans are constantly jumping on or off the bandwagon. Why do we say that? Where does that phrase come from?

Let’s find out in today’s edition of Wonder Why Wednesday…

Why Do We Say “Jump on the Bandwagon”?

According to Phrases.org.uk, we have the circus to thank for the word bandwagon.

Circus owner Phineas T. Barnum coined the word in the USA in the mid 19th century. He used it as the name of the wagon that carried the circus band from one city to another.  The term dates back to 1855 his his autobiography The Life of P.T. Barnum, Written by Himself, 1855:

“At Vicksburg we sold all our land conveyances excepting four horses and the ‘band wagon’.”

Barnum, however, is not credited with the phrase “jump on the bandwagon.” Although he is a big reason why it came into existence. He made the circus so attractive that as the bandwagon rolled through town, huge crowds would back the streets.

In the late 19th century, politicians, always looking to attract a crowd, stole a page out of Barnum’s book and started using bandwagons when campaigning for office.

By the 1890s, people began using the phrase “jump on the band wagon” to show ones alliance. Teddy Roosevelt made such a reference to the practice in his Letters, 1899 (published 1951):

“When I once became sure of one majority they tumbled over each other to get aboard the band wagon.”

Why Do We Say “Pull Your Leg”?

Last month, when I wrote about 5 things we can learn from spellcheck, I said the following:

Spellcheck helps me get the rest of the way, but I still need to do most of the leg work.”

That got me wondering about the origin of that phrase, “leg work.” So, I added it to my list of Wonder Why Wednesday questions. But there was one problem.

No one seems to know where that phrase came from. The best I could do was find that it dates back to the 1890s. No other information was uncovered during a quick Google search.

However, my search led me to another interesting phrase involving legs. And although the history of this phrase is also a little fuzzy, there is enough information to make it the topic of today’s Wonder Why Wednesday.

Why Do We Say “Pulling Your Leg”?

When we “pull someone’s leg” we kid, trick or tease them. Perhaps we are playing a joke, or trying to fool them. Are we actually physically pulling their leg?

No, but maybe we used to.

According to Phrases.org.uk, one popular theory as to how this phrase came about is because in Victorian London, thieves used to pull at people’s legs to trip them. The thought is that once the person was on the ground, they would then be easy to rob.

Although it is a popular theory, there is no evidence to support it. Which leads us to another origin theory, which deals with hangings in 1780s England. Some believe that people were hired to hang on to the victim’s legs to weigh them down and give them a quicker death. Pulling on their legs would create extra weight and speed up the execution.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence of this phrase being used during this time period. Plus, the act doesn’t really fit with meaning of the phrase. Speeding up an execution is hardly a joke or trick.

Even the fact of when the phrase first appeared seems to be inconsistent. Some believe the first time it is found in print is in The diary of James Gallatin, secretary to Albert Gallatin, a great peace maker, 1813-1827, recording an incident that was said to have taken place in 1821:

Mr. Adams is not a man of great force or intelligence, but his own opinion of himself is immense. I really think father, in a covert way, pulls his leg. I know he thinks little of his talents and less of his manners.

However, the diary, which was published in 1914 from notes Gallatin claimed to have been given to him by his grandfather, is now generally accepted to be a fake and the contents invented by Gallatin.

The actual origin of the phrase is closer to 1880 with the earliest example that coming from the Ohio newspaper The Newark Daily Advocate, February, 1883:

It is now the correct thing to say that a man who has been telling you preposterous lies has been “pulling your leg.”