Contrary to popular belief, bulls are not enraged by the color red, as used in capes by professional matadors, and as depicted in countless cartoons. In fact, cattle are red-green color-blind. It is not the color of the cape that angers the bull, but rather the movement of the fabric that irritates it and incites it to charge.
This was the cause of "The Great Frilly Curtain Catastrophe" of 1954, where a curtain-makers' outdoor convention was set up in rural Arkansas, right next to the state's biggest Stud bull farm. A center-stage demonstration of opening and closing the X-K117 model, also known as the "Chantilly Lace Superfringe 2000" caught the eye of several bulls roaming the nearby meadow and caused them to storm into the crowd, trampling several little old ladies and closeted gay men, as well as countless yards of high quality fabric. This incident led to the passing of the "Closed Curtains" act of 1955 which stipulated that all curtain, fabric, linen, or other textile conventions must be held indoors.
In the 1940’s certain things were taboo and could not be discussed in polite society; subjects like bodily functions, sexual relations, and nuclear proliferation were all forbidden topics, particularly when dealing with children. However, there was one place children could turn to in order to learn about the sometimes harsh realities of life - comic books. at that period comic books were far more daring and often exposed children to the seedy underbelly of so-called "civilized society." But it wasn't all blood and gore, there were also positive role models and educational comics that helped make the kids who read them into worldly and well-adjusted adults.
One relatively unknown example of these educational comics is Whiz Comics, best known for introducing Captain Marvel. They specialized in what was called "Commiseration Comics," which focused on powerful superheroes who nonetheless suffered from problems the kids could relate to. Thus, there were characters like Spy Smasher who killed thousands of Nazis but was afraid to talk to girls, Scoop Smith, a crime-fighting news reporter with a horrible stutter, and Ibis the Invincible, who could conquer everything except the multiplication table.
The biggest star was, of course, Captain Marvel, whose own problem served as the namesake for Whiz Comics, for the brave captain suffered from chronic urinary incontinence (A.K.A "Bedwetting," "Pissing your Pants," "Leaky Lizard," "Drippy Dong," and "The Faulty Lemonade Faucet") as you can see from the following comic book covers:
Unfortunately, in 1952, following a decline in the comics industry, Whiz Comics ceased publication, and their uplifting characters were lost for whole generations of awkward, insecure, and socially-inept children. When DC comics licensed and reintroduced Captain Marvel in 1972, they gradually phased out his urinary incontinence, which was resolved through extensive hypnotherapy.
The 1920’s are widely considered to be The Golden Age of Cocktails. Due to Prohibition, which lasted from 1920 to 1933 and made the sale of alcoholic beverages illegal, most available spirits were manufactured illicitly and amateurishly, and as a result were of questionable quality. Thus, many bartenders came up with the idea of mixing these fluids with more palatable liquids in an attempt to create a drink that is both potent and potable. These beverages were served at establishments called speakeasies, and were often given original and whimsical names like The Hanky Panky, Satan’s Whiskers, and The Monkey Gland.
One particularly fashionable speakeasy in Chicago’s woodworking district, The Workbench, was noted for inventing cocktails named for woodworking tools such as the still popular Screwdriver (vodka and orange juice) and Gimlet (vodka or gin with lime juice), and the somewhat less popular C Clamp (whiskey and clam juice), Fretsaw (gin and chicken stock), Spokeshave (rum and varnish), Bark Spud (turpentine and vodka, garnished with a potato peel), and Chisel (vodka and shellac).
This establishment is also the first place known to use a jigger – a now common bartending tool used to measure liquor which is equal to 1.5 fluid ounces (about 44 ml) – whose name came from the Sharpening Jig, or "jigger," since it was said to be roughly equivalent to the amount of blood lost by someone who gets his finger caught in a such a device.
We here at Cycloped consider ourselves to be benevolent arbiters of knowledge, and though we primarily function as an encyclopedic addendum and correctum, we often find ourselves inundated with questions of a more definitional or dictionarial nature. Therefore, we have decided to address these desperate pleas and earnest appeals by occasionally presenting a list of words that have been sent to us, along with their accurate and incontrovertible definitions. The first such list is posted below; if you have also come across words whose common definitions strike you as wrongheaded, or terms that are not even broached by popular sources, please feel free to post them in the comments, and we will address them anon.
- Ausgezeichnet – a fishing net designed to capture Ausgezeichs (a.k.a. “Austrian drowning fish”)
- Barrister – a barbed banister
- Benthos – the fifth musketeer
- Cete – to give up one’s rights or position in exchange for all the tea in China
- Distichous – a person with two moustaches
- Exergue – a vestigial external tongue
- Fraktur – a frankfurter for people opposed to fur
- Gravid – covered in gravy
- Hypocorism – a doctrine promoting the appointment of hippopotami to all senior governmental positions
- Invidious – very insidious
- Jacal – a French jackal
- Kohl – half a kohlrabi
- Legatee – a goatee grown on one’s leg, usually around the knee
- Op/Ed – a transsexual talking horse
- Quinate – to impregnate someone with quintuplets
- Rebus – one of the founders of Rome
- Suint – a suit made out of lint
- Uxorious – ubiquitously luxurious
- Valgus – contraction of “Vulgar Gus”, a derogatory term commonly used around Portland, Oregon
- Witenagemot - a German thingamabob
Ostrakismos was a procedure used in the Athenian democracy, by which any citizen of the city-state could be expelled for a period of ten years, for reasons as varied as thievery, bestiality, excessive use of the word coccyx, poor penmanship, and halitosis. The potsherds referenced in the word were used as a kind of secret ballot, on which all of the ancient Athenians could record a vote of “yay” or “nay” regarding the expulsion, though some who did not wish their opinions to remain secret had the option of throwing their potsherd directly at the person facing expulsion. This was known as a “strong yay.”
According to Jephson’s account, one custom he had observed among several tribes involved an individual who had brought shame to his family, who was ceremoniously placed upon an ostrich and cast out into the desert. In cases where a whole family brought shame to the village, a special cart was constructed and attached to the ostrich, thus allowing the whole family to be, as Jephson put it, ostrich-ized. This custom appealed to Jephson greatly, and he wrote about it at length, even going so far as to suggest that it would be “an appropriate and befitting solution to the pressing issue of what is to be done with Gilbert and Sullivan, and others of their ilk.” When he returned to Europe he even attempted to start an ostrich-cart taxi service, but his business model soon collapsed with the advent of the horseless carriage.
Throughout human history there have been countless variation on stuffing, from placing a simple pimento into an olive, to the quite recent turducken, wherein a chicken is stuffed into a duck, which itself is stuffed into a turkey, much to the horror of onlookers and passersby.
The golden age of stuffing undoubtedly came in the 19th century, when culinary experimentation was at its decadent peak, and people of a certain class would often spend several days on a single protracted meal, pausing only to trade witty banter (“I say, Frederic, I’ve heard tell that you mother is said to have engaged in particular activities and behaviors which would suggest in no uncertain terms that she is, as a matter of fact and principle, a smelly whore.”) and conduct torrid affairs (wholly consisted of knowing glances, exchanges of handkerchiefs, and periodical swooning).
One particularly famous stuffed specimen, the Rôti Sans Pareil, or “Roast without Equal,” was served at a royal feast in France and consisted of no less than 17 different species of birds. These were, in order from greatest to smallest – bustard (not to be confused with bastard), turkey, goose, pheasant (not to be confused with peasant), chicken, duck, guinea fowl, teal, woodcock, partridge, plover, lapwing (not to be confused with lapdog), quail, thrush, lark, Ortolan bunting, and garden warbler. The warbler was small enough to be stuffed with a single olive, though the olive itself was not stuffed with a pimento, an omission which caused the beheading of no less than three sous chefs.
Unheimlich, in spite of its ostensibly Germanic origin, is actually a fairly recent American word linked to famed physician Henry Heimlich, who is often credited with inventing the Heimlich Maneuver. One evening in 1974, not long after Dr. Heimlich gained fame for his recommended procedure for the prevention of choking, the Dr. and his wife were dining at a restaurant when one of the patrons began choking on a piece of day-old baguette. Not wasting any time, Heimlich rushed up to the man and performed his maneuver, expelling the obtrusive pain français and thus saving the man’s life.
When the man began thanking Dr. Heimlich profusely, the good Dr. cleared his throat and gestured, by passing his thumb repeatedly over his fingers, that he would like to be paid. When the patron refused to give him any money, Heimlich walked over to where the baguette piece had flown, picked it up, and stuck it back into the throat of the dumbfounded patron. Heimlich then returned to his table and continued his meal, while the man slowly turned blue and passed out. The paramedics who arrived on the scene minutes later extracted the offending bread, albeit too late since the man had already fallen into a coma.
When the media got wind of the story they quickly dubbed it “The Unheimlich Maneuver.” In the following weeks, lazy or unimaginative newspaper editors would often resort to describing any strange or uncanny event as unheimlich in an attempt to capitalize on the sensational story. Soon, unheimlich became a popular 1970’s buzzword (much like buzzword itself), its origin forgotten and eventually rewritten by overzealous linguists. The twice-choking man died a few weeks after the incident.
The Piñata, contrary to popular belief, did not originate in Marco Polo’s trip to China, nor in the Aztec “Feast of a Thousand Maggots”, or even in the deceptively similar Portuguese custom of bashing a donkey’s head in to get at the delicious brains inside. The roots of this tradition go far beyond these relatively recent traditions, all the way back to the Bronze Age, particularly Ancient Greece, and even more particularly to the aftermath of the Trojan War (known back then as “The Great War” and “Operation Trojan Freedom”).
The Trojans suffered humiliating defeat at the hands of the wily Greeks, by letting a giant wooden horse into their city, as if there was nothing was more natural for a retreating army to leave behind. This “Trojan Horse” was filled, much like New York’s F train on its last leg in Queens, with sweaty and hairy Greek men. These men snuck out at night and conquered the drunken revelers, much to the dismay of the wine merchants, who felt the night still had potential.
After the defeat, and the 30 or so years of failed occupation, Trojans have come to distrust Greeks, gifts, and horses. Thus we got such lasting sayings as “beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” “really, you shouldn’t have,” and “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, pull on its tail to see if it’s real” (which was later shortened, and thus corrupted, into “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”). Every year, the Trojans would commemorate their defeat in the war by building a similar wooden horse, wheeling it into the city again, but this time bashing it to shards with large sticks (Incidentally, the Southern tradition of re-enacting the Civil War with a different outcome drew inspiration from this event, though Southerners failed to learn anything from the Trojans’ high regard for literacy and personal hygiene). The Trojan tradition of placing the city’s mayor inside the horse was discontinued after only five years, when they found no one wished to be mayor anymore.
As time wore on, Trojans became lazier, the horse got smaller, and they would often let their children bash the horse for them, while they sat around, drinking and complaining about the heat. After a few years, famed philosopher Thiskethazos reasoned that blindfolding the children, hanging the horse from a tree, and filling it with treats, would keep the children occupied for even longer. This custom gradually traveled through Europe and on to the Americas, from one group of lazy men to another, until finally reaching its pinnacle in Mexico, where the piñata, as well as sitting around and drinking, were both perfected.
Two brief, mildly related, notes:
* Trojan Condoms are named so because, once used, they hold countless little soldiers yearning to conquer, much like the Trojan Horse (Ironically, the Greek army did not use such protection, bringing crippling syphilis back to Achaea after their encounter with the infamous Trojan Whores).
* The Statue of Liberty was devised as a modern Trojan Horse, in an ill-advised attempt to conquer the United States. When the French realized that they had forgotten to fill it with soldiers, they passed it off as a gift, but have been rude and condescending towards Americans ever since
The phrase "have your cake and eat it too" was not originally intended to be critical of someone who wants the best of both worlds, but simply of someone who indulges in disgusting habits. “Have your cake” is naturally meant sexually, and so to eat it afterwards was frowned upon, even in the most liberal circles of 19th century Paris. Charles Baudelaire once wrote a poem on this indulgent habit, which he practiced more than once. Certain obtuse literary critics misread this as a profound metaphor for man’s inability to achieve everything in life and the necessity of compromise, This new interpretation of the phrase became more popular in the English speaking world; there are still certain regions of France where the old meaning prevails, which has caused more than one unfortunate incident involving either the stoning of British or American tourists, or the concoction of a very unappetizing desert.
19th century poet Charles Baudelaire was struck by inspiration at odd times and felt compelled to write no matter what else he was doing at the time. This often occurred during sexual intercourse when, having no other means available to him, he would use his semen to scribble rhyming couplets on his partner’s back or abdomen. This came to be to known among the prostitutes of Paris as the herpè-exergue or Herpe-graph.
The Powderkeg Cactus (Ferocactus Unguentumarcha) is a type of cactus indigenous to the American West. It is easily distinguishable by its brown color, black horizontal bands, and barrel-like size and shape. These unique characteristics have allowed it to avoid extinction when man arrived in the region by conforming to the altered surroundings.
Powderkeg Cacti were typically found around saloons in the Old West, where they mimicked the powderkegs that stood around them. Some of these cacti even developed elaborate black patterns on their sides, which from a distance and at a certain light, looked like the word "POWDER." Over the years, the cactus also developed immunity to bullets, and was often used as a hiding spot in gunfights. The sharper cowboys actually preferred the cactus, as they knew that hiding behind an actual powderkeg is not such a smart idea.
The fruit of the Powderkeg Cactus grows on top of the barrel body of the plant, and looks somewhat like a beer mug, with the seeds concentrated in the handle-like protrusion. The cactus developed a unique way of spreading its seeds: when the town drunk inevitably tried to pick up the “beer” standing on the “keg” the thorny seeds on the handle clung to his hand. The man would then rub his hand on his pant leg in an attempt to get rid of the stinging sensation, which would allow the seeds to attach themselves to the fabric. The seeds can stay suspended in this dormant stage for weeks, even months, until the pants are finally washed in a nearby stream.
Once the seeds come into contact with water, they plump up and drift down the river, to end up in the pans of prospectors searching the bottom of the stream for gold. The seeds cling to their wet sleeves or beards, until they return to town. When the prospectors jump around in front of the saloon, announcing they have found gold, the seeds finally drop to the ground and begin their germination with a sufficient supply of water for the process.
In recent years the Powderkeg Cactus has become increasingly rare, usually found only in ghost towns and on Hollywood sets, which have themselves become quite rare since the decline of the Western genre. The largest collection of Powderkeg Cacti can be found in "The Powderkeg Cactus Conservation Ranch" just north of San Diego, where the cacti are preserved and bred by artificial insemination using specially trained “drunks” and “prospectors” recruited through guest worker initiatives in Mexico and India.
The Flatulence Accumulation and Redistribution Tank, also known colloquially as the Gas Stall or F.A.R.T Box, is a lavatory specifically designed to receive, store and dispense bodily emissions of a gaseous nature. In its most basic form, the stall consists of a bowl connected via vacuum tube to a storage compartment. The procedure of operating the mechanism is quite simple and easy to follow – once the posterior is placed on the bowl the vacuum pump is automatically activated and whatever gases are produced are immediately sucked into the device, de-smellified*, and stored for future use. A gentle tug is enough to release the bottom from the device’s suction effect and cease the process of gas extraction.
In the manual model the gas is stored in a metal tank, which, once filled, can be removed and replaced with a new one. The full tank may be left in front of the house for your friendly neighborhood gasman to drain and return. Alternatively, the gas may be used domestically for outdoor gas-based barbeques or for running hybrid lawnmowers. The deluxe model is already equipped with tubes that automatically transfer the gas to wherever it might be needed in the house, to be used for heating, cooking or even as a cheap alternative fuel for hybrid cars (this requires a Conversion, Retention, and Alteration Pump, which could easily fit in any standard size garage).
Two villages in the Netherlands – Flatugen in the Utrecht province and Borborygwijk in Gelderland – have already installed public gas stalls. In Flatugen there are currently seventeen public gas stalls, all of which are linked by a series of underground pipes to a central station that provides fuel for all of the city’s milk trucks and public transport. In Borborygwijk there are twelve gas stalls that are emptied weekly; the gases are transferred to a large fireworks factory on the outskirts of town which uses the gas in its great Bevrijdingsdag (Liberation Day) fireworks display.
* The process of de-smellification is patented and cannot be explained in detail here, but essentially, the useful gases are separated from the merely smelly ones by a process of reverse osmosis through a multiple-layered diaphragm made up of a semi-permeable latticework of porous cellular membranes.