Did you know? Now you do!

Published 11:30 pm Thursday, January 22, 2009

Have you ever had just a few minutes of down time to ponder life’s most baffling mysteries? Me neither. But, I do have a long drive to and from work each day with enough time to occupy my mind with curious tidbits of useless wonderings.

For instance, have you ever wondered why certain things are the way they are? I mean things like, “Who invented the paperclip?”

Just this morning, while driving, I was enthralled in a riveting conversation with my wife over why people say “God bless you” when someone sneezes. Needless to say, I fought sleep all the way into Demopolis, but I did look these and other curiosities up on the marvelous Internet, and decided to share them with you — feel privileged.

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Here is what I found thanks to www.didyouknow.org:

During the 6th Century, it was customary to congratulate people who sneezed because it was thought that they were expelling evil from their bodies. During the great plague of Europe, the Pope passed a law to say “God bless you” to one who sneezed.

Did you know that eating with a fork was once considered scandalous?

Forks were first used in the Middle Ages, but eating with one was considered scandalous. In the 11th Century, when a Greek princess died shortly after introducing forks at her wedding with a Venetian Doge (chief magistrate), Domenico Selvo, it was perceived as divine punishment.

I also found out that Thanksgiving was held twice in 1815.

The first U.S. Thanksgiving was held between Sept. 21 and Nov. 11, 1621, in Massachusetts by 50 Plymouth Pilgrims and their 90 Wampanoag neighbors. After that, Thanksgiving was held fairly randomly.

Thanksgiving days were proclaimed annually by the U.S. Congress from 1777 to 1783 which, except for 1782, were all celebrated in December. George Washington declared Thanksgiving in 1789 and 1795, and John Adams in 1798 and 1799. James Madison declared Thanksgiving twice in 1815. None of these were celebrated in the autumn.

Thanksgiving remained a custom unsanctified by law until President Roosevelt signed a bill on Nov. 26, 1941, that established the fourth Thursday in November as the national Thanksgiving public holiday.

Have you ever asked, “Why is a hamburger called a hamburger although it contains no ham?” Me neither, but here it is anyway.

During a trip to Asia in the early 1800s, a German merchant, it is said, noticed that the nomadic Tatars softened their meat by keeping it under their saddles. The motion of the horse pounded the meat to bits. The Tatars would then scrape it together and season it for eating. The idea of pounded beef found its way back to the merchant’s hometown of Hamburg, where cooks broiled the meat and referred to it as it as Hamburg meat.

German immigrants introduced the recipe to the U.S. The term “hamburger” is believed to have appeared in 1834 on the menu from Delmonico’s restaurant in New York but there is no surviving recipe for the meal. The first mention in print of “Hamburg steak” was made in 1884 in the Boston Evening Journal.

Last, but not least: Here are some odd laws that have supposedly stayed on the books. Not sure how true these are, but I have included them for your amusement.

An old statute in Kentucky states that men who push their wives out of bed for inflicting their cold toes on them can be fined or jailed for a week. An odd law in Minnesota makes it illegal to hang male and female underwear on the same washing line. In Melbourne, Australia, it is illegal for men to parade in strapless dresses — but they are allowed to cross-dress in anything with sleeves.

An old law in Russia allows a police officer to “beat a peeping tom soundly.” In Texas, two categories of men are exempt from peeping tom charges: men over 50 and men with only one eye.

In Virginia, horses more than one year old are prohibited in a place of worship. In Tennessee, shooting any game other than whales from a moving automobile is against the law. In Normal, Okla., you could be sent to prison for “making an ugly face at a dog.”

OK, there you have it. Do you feel enlightened? You should.

John Few is a staff reporter for The Demopolis Times.