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.”

What Is A Tar Heel?

In case you couldn’t tell from the last two posts (here & here), I was following the NCAA men’s basketball championship game quite closely. The game was an exciting contest that left me with two questions:

  1. Will Gonzaga be able to make it back to a Final Four sometime soon?
  2. What is a Tar Heel (North Carolina’s mascot)?

The first question won’t be answered for months or possibly years. The second one should be easier to figure out. Let’s find out the answer in today’s edition of Wonder Why Wednesday.

What is a Tar Heel?

For the answer, let’s turn right to the source: The University of North Carolina website. Here is what they have to say:

Our nickname, which also applies to North Carolina citizens, has at least two possible origins. One story hails back to the Revolutionary War and the troops of British General Cornwallis. After fording a river in eastern North Carolina, the British troops discovered their feet covered with tar, a product of North Carolina’s abundant pine trees and one of the state’s most important exports at the time. Some say the clever North Carolinians dumped it in the river to slow down the invading army. The British were said to have observed that if you waded in North Carolina rivers, you would get tar on your heels.

Another story comes from the Civil War. A group of North Carolina soldiers scolded their comrades for leaving the battlefield when things got tough. The soldiers threatened to stick tar on the heels of the retreating soldiers to help them stay in the battle. General Robert E. Lee is said to have commented “God bless the Tar Heel boys!” Whatever the reason for the moniker, our students and sports teams have long worn it with pride.”

Okay, so maybe this isn’t any easier to answer than the question of when Gonzaga will make another Final Four.

What Do The Letters On Batteries Mean?

The other day I went to the store to pick up a 9 volt battery. As I looked at the section of batteries, I was reminded of something that I already knew, but rarely think about — there are a ton of different batteries. All shapes, sizes and letters.

A. AA. AAA. C. D.

Reminds me of a scantron or a minor league baseball hierarchy. Which got me wondering…

What Do The Letters On Batteries Mean?

Turns out, battery nomenclature is quite complicated. Technical standards for battery sizes and types are determined by organizations such as International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Battery names vary between organizations. For example, AAA or triple-A batteries are known as “R03” by IEC and “C18.1” by ANSI.

The letters/numbers of a battery explain the size, chemistry, terminal arrangements and special characteristics of a battery. To generalize it as much as possible, the letters we are familiar with indicate the height and width. The later the letter the larger the battery. D is larger than C and AA is larger than AAA. AA refers to a batter that is 50.5mm x 14.5mm whereas AAA is 44.5mm x 10.5mm. AA batteries have about three times the capacity of AAA batteries.

How Many Websites Are There?

Last week, an outage occurred with Amazon’s cloud-computing service, Amazon Web Services, causing websites and apps across the country to temporarily crash.

This affected hundreds of companies and thousands of websites. And it got me wondering…

How many websites are there in the entire World Wide Web?

Answer: According to InternetLiveStats.com, there are over 1.1 billion websites. At the time of this writing, there were exactly 1,156,894,180. But if you check out the Internet Live Stat tracker, you will see that new websites are constantly being added. So, by the time you look, that number will be even higher.

Where Do Ash Wednesday Ashes Come From?

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40-day period leading up to Easter, known as Lent. Ash Wednesday gets its name from the tradition Catholics observe of having ashes applied to their foreheads in the shape of the cross.

Churches are stocked full of ashes so that priests and deacons can really cake on the Catholic finger paint to their parishioners faces. But where do they get the ashes?

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

Where do Ash Wednesday ashes come from?

Answer: Ash Wednesday ashes are made from by burning of palms blessed on the previous year’s Palm Sunday.

Churches pass out palm fronds during the Palm Sunday service. The palms represent the palm branches the crowd scattered before Jesus as he traveled into Jerusalem. After Palm Sunday, the palms are kept and burned. The burnt fronds are mixed with holy water and oil to create the Ash Wednesday ashes.

Why Does Gum Lose Its Flavor?

In my recent post titled 5 Things We Can Learn From Gum I used the example of how gum loses its flavor to illustrate the point that nothing lasts forever. I mentioned how Fruit Stripe gum had a fantastically fruity flavor but it only lasted for about a minute.

This got me wondering — why does gum lose its flavor? Let’s find out in today’s edition of Wonder Why Wednesday…

Why Does Gum Lose Its Flavor?

Much like Pavlov’s dogs, the answer has to do with our saliva. According to ScienceMadeFun.net, the saliva in our mouth does not digest the gum base, but it does digest the sweeteners and flavors added to gum.

As you swallow while you chew, the digested sweeteners and flavorings move through your digestive system to your stomach. Eventually, you digest all the sweeteners and flavorings.”

It is at this point that we recognize that the flavor is all gone and we are just left with the gum base. No word on why some flavors last longer than others.


Why Does Stepping On A Lego Hurt So Much?

Yesterday I mentioned that there are few things you never want to step on.

Cracks (or you’ll break your mother’s back), giant holes (or you’ll break your own back), and legos (you’ll want to smack your child’s back) just to name a few.”

This got me wondering…

Why Does Stepping On A Lego Hurt So Much?

Before I looked this up, I expected the only results to say, “because they are hard and pointy, dummy.” Turns out I was right…but there is a little more science behind it.

Lego are made out of ABS plastic, which make the little bricks very strong and able to withstand a lot of weight. This is great when making a 10-foot tall replica version of the Effel Tower, but not so great when we step on them with our size 10 foot.

The bottom of our feet have over 200,000 sensory receptors, making them a lot like a a teenager in the midst of a break up…very sensitive and the slightest movement can result in screams.

Because Legos do not give way when we step on them, all the pressure from our weight concentrates on the point of contact. This = pain.

Here’s a fun video with more information.