WTF Fun Fact 13726 – The Word Scientist


The word “scientist” originated in the 19th century when William Whewell, a Cambridge historian and philosopher, sought to create a unifying term for those engaged in the sciences. Before this, various terms like “natural philosopher” and “savant” were used.

Whewell considered several options before settling on “scientist,” inspired by the word “artist.” This designation emphasized the interconnectedness of different scientific disciplines and reflected the artistry involved in scientific discovery.

In a short time, “scientist” became widely accepted and shaped how we perceive scientific professions today.

The Birth of a New Term

Before “scientist,” the field of science didn’t have a unified term to describe its practitioners. Individuals like Isaac Newton or Charles Darwin were referred to as “natural philosophers,” which suggested their work was rooted in philosophy rather than practical science. Other terms like “savant” and the German “naturforscher” were floated but never gained traction.

William Whewell’s Contribution

William Whewell, known for his contributions to multiple disciplines, sought to encapsulate the essence of scientific exploration. His work on “The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences” paved the way for standardizing scientific methods and terminology. The idea was to encapsulate scientific disciplines into one collective term that reflected the exploratory nature of science.

Whewell suggested “scientist” to refer to those who engage in scientific inquiry, much like “artist” describes those involved in artistic pursuits. Initially, he was concerned that the term sounded too close to “economist” or “atheist,” both having negative connotations in that era. However, he decided to adopt it, and the term quickly caught on, symbolizing a new identity for those exploring various scientific disciplines.

The Legacy of the Word Scientist

The term “scientist” has since gained universal acceptance and shaped how the world perceives individuals in this field. It emphasizes the unity among diverse scientific disciplines and acknowledges the creativity and ingenuity in scientific research.

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Source: “How The Word ‘Scientist’ Came To Be” — NPR

WTF Fun Fact 13713 – Maya Angelou: From Streetcar Driver to Literary Icon

Maya Angelou, celebrated poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist, once held a job as a streetcar conductor in San Francisco.

Angelou’s stint as a streetcar driver is not just a footnote in her storied career but a testament to her determination and bravery in the face of societal norms.

Breaking Barriers in the 1940s

In the 1940s, Angelou moved with her mother to San Francisco. During World War II, the city, like many parts of the United States, experienced a labor shortage as men enlisted and left for the war. This gap in the workforce opened opportunities for women and minorities, albeit temporarily, in fields previously closed to them. Angelou, then a young African American woman, decided to capitalize on this shift.

Driven by a desire to challenge the status quo, Angelou set her sights on becoming a streetcar conductor. At the time, this was a job not traditionally held by women, let alone women of color. Her decision was met with resistance; she was initially rejected because of her race and gender.

However, Angelou did not relent. She returned to the streetcar office every day for two weeks, sitting patiently and waiting to be hired. Her persistence paid off, and she finally broke through the racial and gender barriers, becoming the first African American female streetcar conductor in San Francisco.

Maya Angelou as Symbol of Persistence

Maya Angelou’s job as a streetcar conductor was more than just a means to earn a living; it was a symbol of her persistence and a stepping stone in her journey as a civil rights advocate. Her experience on the streetcars exposed her to the realities of the working-class life and the social dynamics of race and gender, themes she would later explore in her writings.

Every day, she navigated the streets of San Francisco, interacting with passengers from all walks of life. This job required not only the physical ability to manage the large, cumbersome vehicle but also the mental and emotional resilience to deal with the public and the systemic prejudices of that era.

Lessons Learned and Paths Forged

The lessons Angelou learned during her time as a conductor fed into her broader views on equality and justice. She observed human behavior intimately—both the kindness and the cruelty. These experiences enriched her understanding of people, informing her poetry and prose with empathy and a deep, resonant humanity.

After her tenure on the streetcars, Angelou continued to break barriers in every field she entered. She danced professionally, acted on stage and screen, wrote and recited poetry, and actively participated in the Civil Rights Movement. Her myriad experiences, including her time as a streetcar conductor, helped shape her into the influential figure she became.

Maya Angelou: A Legacy of Inspiration

Maya Angelou’s stint as a streetcar driver is a compelling story of overcoming adversity and breaking through societal limitations. Her persistence in securing the position demonstrates her refusal to accept societal norms that dictated what she could or could not do because of her race and gender.

This early job may seem like a small victory, but for Angelou, it was a profound one. It showcased her tenacity and her unwillingness to be sidelined in a society that often looked down on her. Her success in this role paved the way for her future achievements and left a lasting impact on everyone who challenges the status quo.

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Source: “Maya Angelou fibbed about her age to become a San Francisco streetcar conductor” — SFGate

WTF Fun Fact 13712 – The Great Male Reunuciation

The Great Male Renunciation marked a pivotal shift in men’s fashion. It occurred at the end of the 18th century. Men abandoned flamboyant and elaborate attire for sober, tailored suits, reflecting broader societal transformations.

From Extravagance to Sobriety

Before the renunciation, European aristocracy embraced lavish clothing. Bright colors, luxurious fabrics, and intricate designs were the norms. This extravagance signified wealth, power, and status. However, the end of the 1700s brought a dramatic change. Men started adopting more reserved and practical clothing. Dark suits, simple shirts, and trousers became the standard. This marked a departure from the ornate styles that dominated men’s fashion.

Influences Behind the Great Male Renunciation

Several factors influenced this fashion revolution. The Enlightenment played a crucial role. It promoted ideals of equality, simplicity, and rationality. These ideals made the excessive aristocratic dress seem outdated. Additionally, the French Revolution further discouraged displays of wealth. It made flamboyant dressing a political risk.

The rise of the middle class also contributed. As the middle class grew, they favored practicality and modesty in dress, reflecting their work ethic and values.

Impact on Society and Fashion

The Great Male Renunciation had lasting effects on society and fashion. It leveled the playing field in dress, making men’s clothing less indicative of social status. This shift also laid the groundwork for the modern suit. The suit became the universal symbol of masculinity and professionalism. It showed that a man’s worth lay in his character and achievements, not in his appearance.

Legacy of the Great Male Renunciation

Today, the Great Male Renunciation still influences men’s fashion. The suit remains a staple in men’s wardrobes. It symbolizes respectability, seriousness, and a nod to tradition.

However, recent trends show a move towards more casual and expressive styles in menswear. Despite this, the legacy of the renunciation persists. It reminds us that fashion is not just about aesthetics. It reflects cultural, political, and social currents.

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Source: “A Men’s Wear Revolution” — The New York Times

WTF Fun Fact 13707 – The Biro

Why do some people call ballpoint pens a biro?

The ballpoint pen was introduced in 1945, by a man named László Bíró, a Hungarian journalist. In 1945, his simple yet revolutionary writing instrument was introduced to the world.

This innovation dramatically transformed the act of writing, making it more accessible and practical than ever before.

Rise of the biro

Biró found fountain pens impractical, so he sought an alternative. His quest was also inspired by the quick-drying ink used in newspapers.

Partnering with his brother György, Bíró embarked on refining the ballpoint pen to use a paste-like ink that didn’t evaporate, mitigating the common frustrations associated with fountain pens. Bíró created a pen that revolutionized writing by introducing a rolling ball mechanism that evenly distributed ink as it moved across the paper.

Despite its initial luxury status, the pen’s practicality soon became undeniable. Its ability to write on various surfaces without leaking or smudging was a significant advancement over traditional ink and quill or fountain pens.

Global adoption

The Biro’s journey was not without its challenges. Navigating through financial difficulties, patent disputes, and wartime turmoil, Bíró’s invention found a lifeline in Argentina. Later, the British Ministries of Supply and Aircraft Production recognized the Biro’s utility for RAF pilots, propelling it into mass production. The post-war period saw further innovations, with entrepreneurs like Marcel Bich refining the design to manufacture the Bic Cristal, an affordable and ubiquitous model that cemented the ballpoint pen’s place in society.

Despite initial challenges, including fleeing war-torn Europe for Argentina, Bíró’s invention gained recognition for its practicality. The British Royal Air Force saw the pen’s potential. They ordered thousands for their pilots, who needed reliable writing instruments at high altitudes. This marked the beginning of the Biro pen’s global journey.

That’s why the name “Biro” is more than just a brand; it’s an homage to the inventor himself. In many parts of the world, the term “Biro” is synonymous with “ballpoint pen.” This is a testament to László Bíró’s lasting impact. The pen’s name varies globally, reflecting its widespread adoption and the universal need it addressed. In English-speaking countries, particularly the UK, the pen is often called a “Biro” in recognition of its creator’s ingenuity.

Transforming Writing Practices

The Biro’s simplicity belies the complexity of its impact. This shift facilitated a more dynamic and accessible form of communication, democratizing writing across different strata of society.

The story of Biro’s influence on writing practices invites us to appreciate the seemingly mundane objects that harbor rich histories.

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Source: “The Biro, the invention that changed the writing game” — New Atlas

WTF Fun Fact 13694 – History of the Chainsaw

The history of the chainsaw, a tool linked with forestry and tree felling, has its roots in surgical practice. Specifically, it aided in childbirth.

Medical Origins of the Chainsaw

The initial conception of the chainsaw was far removed from the lumber yards. Invented by Scottish doctors John Aitken and James Jeffray, it was designed to address a specific challenge in childbirth. According to the 1785 edition of “Principles Of Midwifery, Or Puerperal Medicine,” this crude yet innovative device was intended for use in symphysiotomy procedures. They widen the pubic cartilage and remove obstructive bone. The goal is to facilitate the delivery process when the baby becomes stuck in the birth canal.

This “flexible saw,” as it was described, allowed for the precise cutting away of flesh, cartilage, and bone. Despite its gruesome application, the invention was a medical breakthrough. It also offered a new solution to a life-threatening dilemma faced by mothers and babies.

The Chainsaw Through History

The chainsaw’s medical use continued into the 19th century, with the development of the osteotome by German physician Bernhard Heine in 1830. This device, further refined the concept of the chainsaw for surgical purposes. “The Lancet London” described it as comprising two plates that contained a toothed wheel operated by a handle to cut through bone and tissue.

However, the narrative of the chainsaw took a significant turn at the start of the 20th century, moving beyond the confines of the operating room to the great outdoors.

Birth of the Modern Chainsaw

The transformation of the chainsaw into a tool for woodcutting began earnestly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Patents filed in 1883 for the Chain Sawing Machine and in 1906 for the Endless Chain Saw laid the groundwork for its application in producing wooden boards and felling giant redwoods. By 1918, Canadian James Shand patented the first portable chainsaw. This marked a new era for the chainsaw’s use in forestry.

Andreas Stihl subsequently developed and patented the electric chainsaw in 1926. Then came the gas-powered model in 1929. This made the tool more accessible and efficient for logging activities. These early models were large and required two men to operate. They set the stage for post-World War II advancements that made chainsaws lighter and more user-friendly, allowing single-person operation.

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Source: “Why were chainsaws invented?” — BBC Science Focus

WTF Fun Fact 13665 – US Time Zones

In the early days of American history, the concept of time was not as unified as it is today. With over a hundred separate time zones, the United States’ approach to timekeeping was a complex and often confusing system. This fascinating period in the nation’s history reveals much about the evolution of time standardization and its impact on society and commerce.

The Era of Numerous Time Zones

Before the adoption of standardized time zones, the United States operated on a surprisingly intricate system of over 144 separate time zones. Each city or town was free to determine its own local time, usually based on the position of the sun. This meant that when it was noon in one town, it could be 12:15 in a neighboring city just a few miles away.

This system was manageable when communities were isolated, but as the country expanded and the railway system connected distant cities, the multitude of local times became problematic. Train schedules were particularly affected, as rail companies struggled to create timetables that made sense across various local times.

The Push for Standardization of Time Zones

The turning point came with the advent of the railroad industry. The need for standardized time became evident as train travel made the flaws of multiple local times apparent. Railroads operated on their own time systems, creating a confusing and sometimes dangerous situation for travelers and operators alike.

The solution emerged in the form of four main time zones proposed by the railroad companies. On November 18, 1883, known as “The Day of Two Noons,” railroads across the country synchronized their clocks to these new standard time zones. This was not an official law but rather a practice adopted by the railroads and the communities they served.

Government Intervention and the Standard Time Act

It wasn’t until March 19, 1918, that the United States government officially adopted the standard time zone system with the Standard Time Act. This act also established daylight saving time, a contentious and ongoing debate to this day. The act was a response to the confusion and inefficiency of having multiple time standards and was also influenced by the needs of World War I.

The transition was not immediate or smooth. People were accustomed to their local times and resisted change. However, over time, the benefits of a standardized system became clear, especially for scheduling trains, conducting business, and broadcasting.

The Impact of Standardization

The move to a standardized time system revolutionized many aspects of American life. It facilitated better communication and coordination across the country, essential for a growing nation. Economic activities, especially those related to transportation and communication, became more efficient and reliable.

Moreover, the concept of time zones influenced the world. Today, time zones are an integral part of global coordination, affecting everything from international flights to the stock market.

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Source: “Snoozers Are, In Fact, Losers” — The New Yorker

WTF Fun Fact 13632 – The Yellow Pages are Yellow

The iconic Yellow Pages, a staple in homes and businesses for decades, owes its existence to a happy accident. In the late 19th century, when phone directories were a novel concept, these business listings were simply a part of the regular phone book printed on standard white paper.

However, a paper shortage at a  Cheyenne, Wyoming-based printer led to an improvisational moment that would mark the beginning of a global phenomenon.

The Birth of an Icon

During a routine printing run, the publisher ran out of white paper. In a bid to continue production without delay, the printer resorted to using yellow paper as an alternative. This unexpected choice not only solved the immediate problem but also led to an unforeseen advantage.

The Yellow Pages stood out distinctly from the rest of the phone book, making it easier for users to flip directly to the business listings.

The Rise of the Yellow Pages

The yellow hue offered more than just visual differentiation. Users found that the softer, warmer yellow was easier on the eyes compared to the starkness of white pages. This enhanced readability significantly improved the user experience, encouraging more frequent use of the business listings.

The immediate popularity was not lost on the publishers. Recognizing the potential, they quickly branded this section of the phone book as the “Yellow Pages.” This branding was a stroke of marketing genius. It not only gave them an identity separate from the white pages of personal listings but also made it a household name.

The success of the Yellow Pages quickly caught on, and publishers around the world adopted the yellow hue for their business directories. The distinct color became synonymous with business listings. The brand grew to represent reliability and comprehensiveness, turning into the go-to source for finding businesses and services.

The Yellow Pages Today

With the advent of the internet and digital technology, the Yellow Pages faced a significant shift. The bulky physical directories began to seem outdated in the face of online search engines and digital directories. However, the brand adapted, transitioning its vast database of business listings to online platforms. This digital transformation allowed them to maintain relevance in the modern age.

Despite the decline in the usage of physical directories, the legacy endures. The term “Yellow Pages” is still used colloquially to refer to business directories, even in the digital realm. The brand’s transition to online platforms ensures that it continues to serve its fundamental purpose – connecting consumers with businesses.

A Testament to Adaptability

The story of the Yellow Pages is a testament to adaptability and the power of branding. What began as a makeshift solution to a paper shortage evolved into a globally recognized brand, one that has skillfully navigated the challenges of a digital world. It stands as a reminder that sometimes, the most enduring innovations come from unexpected places and circumstances.

It may no longer be the physical directory that once graced every household, but its spirit lives on in the digital directories we use today. Its journey from yellow paper to digital screens is a fascinating chronicle of innovation, branding, and adaptation in the ever-changing landscape of technology and business.

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Source: “What happened to the Yellow Pages?” — Growth Business

WTF Fun Fact 13541 – The Grave of Caroline Cutter

The gravestone of Caroline Cutter in Elm Street Cemetery of Milford really stands out. Unlike the typical remembrances, her gravestone points fingers. This white rectangular slab contains not sentiments of loss, but a bold message penned by her husband, Dr. Calvin Cutter.

Was Caroline Cutter Murdered?

Instead of words of love or sorrow, the stone reads a sharp claim: the Baptist Ministry and Baptist Churches “murdered” Caroline. Her epitaph spans an unusually lengthy 150 words, all etched with deliberate intent by her husband.

Dr. Cutter lists the Baptists he claims falsely labeled her a liar, conspired against her, and forced her into poverty.

The epitaph ends with a direct statement, blaming these individuals for destroying Caroline’s life.

It reads:

Caroline H., Wife of Calvin Cutter, M.D. Murdered by the Baptist Ministry and Baptist Churches As follows: Sep’t. 28, 1838; aged 33 She was accused of lying in church meeting by the Rev. D. D. Pratt and Deacon Albert Adams. Was condemned by the church unheard. She was reduced to poverty by Deacon William Wallace. When an exparte council was asked of the Milford Baptist Church, by the advice of their committee, George Raymond, Calvin Averill, and Andrew Hutchinson They voted not to receive any communication on the subject. The Rev. Mark Carpenter said he thought as the good old Deacon said, “We’ve got Cutter down and it’s best to keep him down.” The intentional and malicious destruction of her character And happiness as above described destroyed her life. Her last words upon the subject were “Tell the Truth and The Iniquity will come out”

Behind the Bold Words

But there’s more to this story. Rumors suggest Caroline was still alive when this gravestone took its place. This fact casts the act as less of mourning and more of a public spectacle.

The root of this controversy? Dr. Cutter’s contentious behavior. He pressured church members to finance another church’s construction, leading to their eventual expulsion.

While Dr. Cutter was the cause, Caroline endured the public shame.

A Tribute Nearby

A large boulder sits next to Caroline’s controversial stone, dedicated to the Cutters’ daughter, Carrie. This cenotaph, overshadowing Caroline’s gravestone, celebrates Carrie’s brave contributions during the Civil War. Recognized as the “first female to serve her country in the Civil War,” she cared for sick soldiers, dying at age 20.

Caroline Cutter Leaves a Legacy in Stone

Caroline Cutter’s gravestone is a departure from the norm, reflecting a family’s internal strife and their need for public vindication. Beside it, Carrie’s tribute speaks of dedication and sacrifice. These two markers tell stories of two legacies: one of conflict and another of service.

As visitors walk Elm Street Cemetery, Caroline’s gravestone prompts them to reflect. Epitaphs can reveal much about the living as they do the dead. They make us question memory, legacy, and the tales we tell when we’re gone.

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Source: “The Grumpy Grave of Caroline Cutter” — New Hampshire Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 13518 – History of the Mug Shot

The mug shot has always been relatively controversial. But do you know it’s interesting history? It all goes back to the history of photography itself, and it all starts in Belgium.

The History of the Mug Shot

The 1840s were a revolutionary period for the art of photography. While William Henry Harrison became the first US president to be captured in a photograph after his inauguration speech, it has been lost to time. Another iconic daguerreotype featuring John Quincy Adams, exists as the oldest known presidential photograph.

But enough about presidents. The point is that while photography was primarily aimed at capturing the nobility and prestige of the subjects, it would soon find an unlikely application in law enforcement.

The concept of the mugshot emerged in Belgium during the 1840s. The primary goal was simple: photograph prisoners to facilitate their identification if they ever re-offended post-release.

Recognizing the potential of this innovation, police forces globally began to toy with the idea of incorporating photography into their operations. Thus, the U.S. saw the birth of the rogues’ galleries, which showcased collections of criminals’ photographs and, at times, even made them public, urging citizens to remain vigilant.

Alphonse Bertillon and the Art of the Mug Shot

It wasn’t until the 1880s that mugshots became relatively standardized. Alphonse Bertillon, the chief of criminal identification for the Paris police, played a pivotal role in achieving this.

Bertillion introduced the concept of pairing two photographs: one frontal and one profile. Alongside these photos, physical descriptions and specific measurements, like ear or foot size, were documented. This compilation was termed a “portrait parlé”—a speaking image.

Bertillon’s vision was clear: even if criminals adopted disguises or aliases, their unique physical characteristics would betray them.

As a testament to his dedication, the New York City Police Department, in 1908, provided guidelines on correctly executing Bertillon’s method. This documentation even described how to handle uncooperative subjects during the mugshot process.

However, despite Bertillon’s contribution, his descriptive methods were soon overshadowed by the more efficient process of fingerprinting.

Yet, the mugshot itself was here to stay. It became an integral part of identification processes everywhere.

Mug Shots in Contemporary Culture

Today, mugshots serve multiple purposes for the alleged criminal themselves. In fact, for celebrities, these images can sometimes even enhance their mystique, further ingraining them in pop culture. Johnny Cash, for instance, turned one of his brief incarcerations into a song, and today, his mugshot-themed merchandise sells as a testament to his “rebel” image.

While some celebrity mugshots serve as tabloid fodder, others, in specific contexts, represent symbols of resistance. Notable figures from the civil rights movement, like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., had their mugshots taken during their arrests. For them, these images were badges of honor, symbolizing their unyielding fight against systemic injustice.

Since its inception in 1840s Belgium, what started as a mere tool for identification now serves as both a mark of shame and a badge of honor. For some.

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Source: “A Brief History of the Mug Shot” — Smithsonian Magazine