Wednesday, June 29, 2016


The following item dates from 5 October 2015 and is a review of a book QI: The Third Book Of General Ignorance by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson, James Harkin and Andrew Hunter Murray. For those who have not seen it, QI is the fascinating Stephen Fry panel show that looks at interesting facts. The QI stands for Quite Interesting and, after hosting 13 series, Stephen Fry’s role will be taken over in 2016 by Sandi Toksvig.

The following article may be lengthy but it is . . . quite interesting.


Think cowboys wore stetsons? No, bowler hats! Oh, and robins DON'T have red breasts: Eye-opening new book reveals that almost everything you think you know is WRONG

New book written by brains behind Stephen Fry's BBC cult quiz show QI

Features 180 questions written for the shows general ignorance round

Includes facts on sunflowers, tyres, frogs legs, high heels and cowboy hats 

Some books make you feel extremely clever just by holding them. Others, such as the new tome by the brains behind cult BBC quiz show QI, reveal your total stupidity — and that almost everything you think you know is wrong . . .

The sandwich wasn’t invented by the Earl of Sandwich . . . he did provide the name — before him, it was just called ‘bread and cheese’ or ‘bread and meat’. But the oldest documented sandwich was made in the 1st century BC by a rabbi called Hillel the Elder and consisted of lamb, horseradish and chutney. Variants of the ‘Hillel sandwich’ are still eaten by Jews today to celebrate the festival of Passover.

Whalebone isn’t made of whale bone . . . it is in fact baleen, a substance found at the back of a whale’s mouth that filters plankton and enables it to eat. It looks like bone, but isn’t: it’s actually keratin, the same stuff that makes up your hair and fingernails.

The Minute Waltz doesn’t take a minute to play . . . it takes a minute-and-a-half. Chopin called it The Little Dog Waltz. The tune’s modern nickname was invented by Chopin’s publishers — but they didn’t intend it to refer to how long it takes to play. As minute (pronounced ‘my-newt’) means very small, it simply refers to the fact that the piece is very short.

Prince Albert didn’t bring the first Christmas tree to Britain . . . Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, had one put up in 1800 for a children’s party. They soon became wildly fashionable in high society, but it took 40 years for them to catch on across the country. In December 1840, Queen Victoria’s German husband, Albert, imported several spruce firs from his native Coburg for a royal Christmas that was featured in illustrated newspapers of the day — which is why the trees are so widely associated with him.

Pregnant women shouldn’t be eating for two . . . they should be eating for one and a tenth. According to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), they need no extra calories at all for the first six months. During the last three they do need a small increase — about 200 calories a day, or two slices of buttered toast.

Canada didn’t invent ice hockey . . . it may be the Canadians’ official national sport, but the game was thought up in England. It appeared in a book called Juvenile Sports and Pastimes in 1797, almost 80 years before the first official ice hockey match took place in Canada.

The oldest profession isn’t prostitution . . . it’s tool-making. The ancestors of modern humans were turning lumps of flint into tools more than 2.5 million years ago — long before they discovered how to make fire or how to speak.

Sunflowers don’t face the sun . . . well, not fully grown ones, at least. They stop following it as soon as they begin to bud. After this point, they remain fixed in one position — usually facing east to avoid being overheated as the afternoon sun sinks westwards. 

High heels weren’t designed for women . . . the first high-heeled shoes were invented in the Middle East — probably in Persia, where they date back to the 9th century. They were designed for horsemen to keep their feet firmly in the stirrups. Women only started wearing heels as part of a 1630s fashion for imitating men.

Most of the world’s liquorice doesn’t end up in Allsorts (even though Bassett’s make 14 million of the sweets a day) . . . a 2011 report by the world’s largest liquorice producer stated that almost two-thirds of its sales were to the tobacco industry. It is used to flavour and sweeten the leaves.

Jingle Bells wasn’t written for Christmas . . . it was penned in 1857 to celebrate the American festival of Thanksgiving — which explains why it is the only ‘Christmas’ song that doesn’t mention the festival, Jesus or the Nativity. Originally entitled The One-Horse Open Sleigh, Jingle Bells was the work of U.S. composer James Lord Pierpont, uncle of the financier J. P. Morgan.

You shouldn’t be visiting your mum on Mothering Sunday . . . you should drop by on the vicar. Mothering Sunday was originally the day everyone returned once a year to their ‘mother church’ — the main church or cathedral in the area — for a special celebratory service in the middle of Lent.

Hot water is almost no better than cold at washing bacteria off your hands . . . the most important ingredient is soap. While bacteria can be killed by hot water, it would need to be almost boiling. Hands are washed 150 billion times every year, and heating the water to do so pumps as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as 250,000 cars.

A robin’s breast is not red . . . look carefully: it’s orange. Robins got the name ‘redbreast’ in the 1400s. It was the best anyone could do, because English had no word for orange. The word orange (meaning the fruit) entered English around 1400 — but it wasn’t used as the name of a colour until the 1540s.

The animal with the most teeth isn’t a shark or a crocodile . . . it’s a slug. One species of umbrella slug, Umbraculum, can have up to 750,000 teeth. Slugs and snails need so many because instead of chewing their food, they use their teeth, which sit on a tongue-like ribbon, like a circular saw — buzzing over vegetation and filing it to pulp as they go.

Cowboys didn’t wear stetsons . . . In the Wild West, they wore whatever came to hand — a sea captain’s cap or a straw hat, but especially the bowler, designed by London hat makers Thomas and William Bowler in 1849. Its practicality and strength made it particularly popular among cowboys.

If the population of China all jumped at once . . .nothing would happen . . . even if the population of China could be organised to jump at once, it’s been calculated that the resulting thud would equate to only 500 tons of TNT. Even if the entire human race (whose estimated weight in 2012 was 316 million tons) stood in a single spot and jumped, the world would move less than the width of a single atom.

THE French weren’t the first to eat frogs’ legs . . . it was Stone Age Britons — for whom they were a nutritious, protein-packed snack that was easy to cook. The earliest record comes from a Mesolithic site a mile from Stonehenge, where in 2013 archaeologists found the remains of a three-course meal. A charred amphibian’s leg appears to have been a starter. 

A shadow doesn’t weigh nothing . . . it weighs less than nothing. Although light doesn’t have mass, when it strikes a surface, it imparts a small force due to its momentum. So, if you block the light by standing in front of it and casting a shadow on the surface, that small force is now missing. A shadow covering the whole of greater London would only have as much effect on the capital’s mass as removing three Boris Johnsons.

The quickest way to get a golden skin colour isn’t to sit in the sun . . . it’s to eat carrots. People who eat lots of fruit and veg each day have a pleasing, golden skin colour. This is thanks to organic pigments found in plants. When volunteers were asked to judge the health of faces either tanned by the sun or high in these pigments, they preferred the latter.

The Famous Five never had lashings of ginger beer . . . they did have lashings of hard-boiled eggs, though, in Five Go Down To the Sea. The ginger beer line is from Five Go Mad In Dorset, a parody in the 1982 Channel 4 show The Comic Strip Presents . . . where it appears four times in 30 minutes.

Juliet was not wooed by Romeo on a balcony . . . Shakespeare wrote that Juliet appeared at a window. There were no balconies in Elizabethan England. The ‘balcony scene’ was the brainchild of a playwright called Thomas Otway (1652–85), who rearranged the play. He stole the characters, plot and much of the dialogue from Shakespeare. His version, The History And Fall Of Caius Marius, became far more popular than Romeo And Juliet.

The world’s most overweight country is not the U.S . . . it’s Nauru, a tiny South Pacific island. The 10,000 people there have an average Body Mass Index of 34 (the healthy range is 18 to 25). Almost 80 per cent of adults there are not just overweight but obese.

The largest pyramid by volume is not in Egypt . . . it is in Mexico. The Cholula pyramid was built in AD 100 from sun-dried brick and earth. Although it’s only 177ft high — less than half the height of the tallest Egyptian pyramid — its volume is more than 141 million cubic feet, 25 per cent larger than any pyramid in Egypt.

THE world’s largest manufacturer of tyres isn’t Michelin . . . it’s Lego. The company makes up to 320 million rubber tyres a year for their toys, far outstripping Michelin’s 170 million. 

The deepest canyon in the U.S. is not the Grand Canyon . . . At its deepest, the Grand Canyon is 6,000ft deep, but King’s Canyon in California and Hell’s Canyon on the Idaho–Oregon border are deeper. The record probably goes to King’s Canyon, which for a short stretch reaches a depth of 8,200ft.

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