QI: A selection #9

Here is another selection of trivia that I have picked from the QI column in the Telegraph:

Anosmia (Greek for “no smell”) can be congenital, or can be caused by a severe blow to the head, a virus or vitamin A deficiency. Viral anosmia (such as that caused by a bad cold) is usually temporary. Smell and memory are intimately linked. Damage to the temporal cortical region of the brain – the site of memory – does not affect the ability to detect smell, but prevents the ability to identify it. Patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease often lose their sense of smell as well as their memory.

Brown sugar has fewer calories because it contains more water. Refiners of white sugar from the United States wrecked the success of brown sugar sales by creating a smear campaign against the stuff in the late 19th century. They produced photographs of horrible-looking microbes living in brown sugar to put people off. In 1900, a bestselling cookbook picked up on this and said that brown sugar was often infested with “a minute insect”.

No one knows why people stopped wearing hats after the Second World War. New hairstyles, the rise of the car, demobilisation – even the new fashion for sunglasses – all took the blame for the sudden abandonment of the hat. At first the hat industry thought hatlessness was a passing fad and newspaper reports of 1948 bemoaned the new “barehead” fashion. People who dared to walk hatless through the hat-making towns of Denton and Stockport risked being abused by local factory workers who saw their livelihoods disappearing.

If you or your children have just started a depressing summer job, fear not. Multi-billionaire Warren Buffett’s first job was at his grandfather’s grocery shop; Bill Murray sold chestnuts outside a grocer’s; Orlando Bloom worked at a clay-pigeon shooting range; Beyoncé Knowles swept up in her mother’s hairdressing salon and Mick Jagger sold ice cream. Brad Pitt dressed up as a giant chicken to promote a restaurant.

The Aztecs called gold “the excrement of the gods”. It was valued less than feathers, their most valuable currency. Decoratively they much preferred brass, introduced by the Spanish invaders.

The French writer Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) liked to eat lunch in the restaurant of the Eiffel Tower because he hated the structure, and it was the only place he could not see it. He really hated it: “A high and skinny pyramid of iron ladders, this giant ungainly skeleton upon a base that looks built to carry a colossal monument of Cyclops, but just peters out into a ridiculous thin shape like a factory chimney.”

In 1991, to celebrate the bicentenary of Mozart’s death in 1791, Triumph International,Japan’s second-largest lingerie company, made a musical bra with blinking lights which played 20 seconds of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Although their intentions were commendable, the company had made a common error in attributing the piece to Mozart. Although he had composed variations on the tune, the lyrics were written by London-based sisters Jane and Ann Taylor and the melody was originally a French folk tune.

The word encyclopaedia literally means a “circle of learning” and was originally used to indicate a well-rounded education. It was not used as a title for books of general knowledge until the 17th century.

Wombats (Vombatus ursinus) have evolved with special anal sphincters that produce cubic faeces or scat. They use them to mark out their territory, leaving them perched on rocks, leaves and logs. Their shape helps stop them from rolling off.

The shortest nation in Europe is Malta. The Maltese have an average height of 5ft 4ins (164.9cm) compared with the EU average of 5ft 5½ins (169.6cm). Notable short people include Horace, Joan of Arc, Alexander Pope (4ft 6in), Goya, Lord Byron, Franz Schubert (5ft 1in), Leo Tolstoy, JM Barrie (4ft 11in), Judy Garland (4ft 11in) and Yuri Gagarin (5ft 1in). Someone who wasn’t short was Napoleon, who at 5ft 6½in was taller than the average Englishman at the time.

The shortest war in history was the Anglo-Zanzibar War, which took place on August 27 1897 and lasted 38 minutes. When the Sultan of British-administered Zanzibar died, his nephew, Khalid bin Barghash, succeeded him, in direct contravention of the wishes of the British consul, who had suggested another candidate. Undeterred, Khalid climbed into the royal palace through a broken window with 2,000 supporters in tow, raised the Zanzibar flag and proclaimed himself Sultan. The British then issued him with an ultimatum: abdicate or face war. When the deadline expired at 9am the next morning, the British gunships opened fire, bombarding the palace and setting it on fire. Khalid escaped toMombasa, leaving 500 casualties behind him. Only one British sailor was slightly injured.

The longest place name in Europe is on Anglesey: Llanfairpwllgwyngyll-gogerychwyrndrobwll-llantysiliogogogoch. It was cooked up as a publicity stunt in 1860 when thevillageofLlanfair(which means St Mary’s church) opened the island’s first railway station. Local businessmen came up with the idea of creating the longest station sign in Britain, made up of the existing names of the village, a nearby hamlet and a local whirlpool. The world title, however, goes to Bangkok in Thailand, which in 1782 was given a ceremonial name: Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Yuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.

No one is sure where the name España comes from. It might be from the Greek Hesperia, meaning “western land” or the Phoenician, Hispnanihad meaning “land of rabbits”.Spainis certainly rich in rabbits: the first written reference to the art of ferreting rabbits occurs in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, which tells of how, in 6BC, the Emperor Augustus sends ferrets to the Balearic Islands to control a plague of rabbits.


One Response to QI: A selection #9

  1. Alberto says:

    Thanks for the paragraph about short people…

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