Here is a selection of trivia that I have picked from the QI column in the Telegraph.
Controversial author Salmon Rushdie worked as an advertising copywriter as a young man. He invented the phrase “delectabubble” for Aero chocolate bars and “naughty but nice” for fresh cream cakes.
The best known “fact” about the Assassins is that the word derives from “hashish”. The earliest authority for the assassins taking hashish in order to witness the pleasures awaiting them after death is the notoriously unreliable Marco Polo. A more convincing etymology is “assassiyun”, meaning people who are faithful to the “assass”, the “foundation” of the faith. They were, literally, “fundamentalists”.
When the Roman Emperor Vespasian (AD 9-79) was challenged over his policy of taxing public lavatories, he declared: “Money has no smell.” In 2006, scientists at the University of Leipzig found out that he was right. The metallic smell we experience after handling coins is actually a type of body odour. When we touch the metal, sweat from the skin gains electrons, then reacts with body oils and causes them to decompose, creating the familiar smell.
Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, is the only Asian capital city without traffic lights. They introduced one, but thought the flashing lights too bright, so they now use a traffic policeman instead. Bhutan was the last country in the world to introduce television, in 1999, and the first country to ban cigarettes, in 2004.
Under the leadership of Chairman Mao, China’s Communist government went to extreme measures to prevent diseases, including schistosomiasis, or snail fever, a disease caused by parasitic worms carried by snails. The campaign to eradicate it involved huge teams lancing snails with sharpened chopsticks. Mao also led a campaign against grass during the Cultural Revolution. Children had to trample grass and knock the heads off flowers to show they rejected bourgeois notions of beauty.
The US Central Intelligence Agency has attempted to kill Fidel Castro on a number of occasions. Operation Mongoose sought to assassinate the Cuban leader with a bizarre range of weapons, including an exploding seashell placed close to his favoured scuba-diving spot. Other ruses included a contaminated wetsuit and a cigar packed with explosives.
Casanova nearly died from nose bleeds as a child. He claims to have lost his virginity to two sisters when he was 16, the same age he obtained his doctorate of law from the University of Padua. After sleeping with more than 200 women, he retired in 1785 to become a librarian.
Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language, published on April 15, 1755, was a landmark in scholarship. Its compiler was half-deaf, blind in one eye, scarred from scrofula, prone to melancholy and suffered from Tourette syndrome, but he managed to write 42,773 definitions in seven years, assisted only by a team of six copyists. The equivalent French dictionary took 40 scholars 55 years.
The first athlete disqualified from the Olympic Games for drug abuse was Swedish pentathlete Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall, who confessed to having two beers before the pistol-shooting discipline to calm his nerves during the 1968 Games in Mexico.
German army doctor Klaus Maertens developed the “air-cushioned” walking boot in the 1950s, after injuring his ankle. Using rubber discarded by the Luftwaffe, his new boots were a hit with German housewives. Dr Maertens sold the UK rights to the Griggs family from Northampton through a classified ad in a magazine. The British version had yellow stitching and was launched on April 1, 1960, as “1460s”, carrying the brand, AirWare. Although transport unions, postmen and factory workers initially bought the boots, they soon became a cult classic, de rigueur for skinheads and punks. All DMs are now made in China or Thailand.
Only one Olympic cricket match has ever been played, at the 2nd Olympiad in Paris in 1900, when a group of English club cricketers beat a French team made up largely of English expats.
The expression “mad as a hatter” comes from the 19th-century tradition of using highly toxic mercury to make felt hats.
When the Bastille was stormed on July 14, 1789, there were only seven inmates: four forgers, the Comte de Solages (committed by his family for a sexual misdemeanour) and two lunatics (one, Major Whyte, was an Englishman who thought he was Julius Caesar). Their guards were invalides – soldiers invalided out of regular service.
Puck the budgie holds the record for the animal with the biggest vocabulary: 1,728 words. His owners say that on Christmas Day 1993 he stood on a table and, unprompted, said: “It’s Christmas. That’s what’s happening. That’s what it’s all about. I love Pucky. I love everyone.”
When drinking a toast in Japan don’t say ”chin chin” – it’s their equivalent to ”willy”. Nor is it done to lick your chopsticks: this is also seen as a sexual innuendo. It is particularly bad form to pass food from one person to another using chopsticks or to stick them upright in a bowl of rice. Both these actions relate to Buddhist funeral rites. Sticking chopsticks in a bowl of rice is how you offer food to dead ancestors, while at the end of a Japanese cremation the mourners pick the bones of the dead person out of the ashes and pass them around from chopstick to chopstick.
Long before it was popularised by JK Rowling, ”muggle” was jazz slang for someone who smoked marijuana.