Archive for the ‘Facty facts’ Category


Medical jargon I’ve had the misfortune to encounter, and the meanings I eventually discovered they have

In Facty facts,Random fun stuff on Saturday 17th July, 2010 by Guy

Come and learn from my suffering, so that all of personkind may benefit:

Jargon Meaning
Refractory Resisting treatment
Sequelae Consequences
Angelman’s syndrome Happy puppet syndrome*
Pseudomamma Third nipple**

* This is such a biscuit-take of a name, but sadly typical in the medical profession. A defining quote from the linked article:

In 1982 Williams and Jaime L. Frias suggested that the eponym “Angelman” should replace the descriptive title of the condition, in order to avoid any possible offence to the families of affected persons.

[emphasis mine]

It does beggar belief.

** Yes, really.



The Ainu of Japan believe that the world is supported by a Giant Trout and that sin is caused by otters.

In Facty facts,Miraculous discoveries,Otter,Random fun stuff on Monday 25th May, 2009 by Guy

It started with a twit, as it can tend to these days. This twitticism was from the QI Elves, the small people behind Quite Interesting, which is most prominently a television show on the BBC. It went as follows:

The Ainu of Japan believe that the world is supported by a Giant Trout and that sin is caused by otters.

That sentence contains a remarkable otter fact which I didn’t recall having come across before! Certainly none of my otter colleagues had mentioned it to me, unless I misinterpreted their high-pitched squealing for hunger. So, was it a true fact?

I hereby maintain that it is, after some hardy lutran sniffing. At the least, I have traced the fact to someone who wrote a book about the Ainu after living amongst them.

The Ainu are a group indigenous to the northern parts of Japan, though these days they have almost completely assimilated into the general population for various reasons, including discrimination and lack of official recognition until relatively recently. Alas and alack.

In 1901 a book was published by the Religious Tract Society of London entitled “The Ainu and their folk-lore”, written by a missionary called John Batchelor. Some crazedly-written details of his life can be had here. I found a scanned copy of his tome at the mighty which weighs in at a similarly mighty 33MB in PDF form. [These sort of sentences are always amusing a few years after being written, because of advances in technology. Go ahead, laugh at me, Generation A! Or Generation 笑, whatever we get to]. The American broadcaster PBS quotes the relevant section (though no kudos to them for quoting the last word of the title of the book as “Folklore” rather than “folk-lore”, as that made it harder for me to find references to it elsewhere):

“When God was in the act of making the first man and had nearly finished His task, it happened to be necessary for Him to unexpectedly return to heaven on important business. Before setting out for the return journey, He called an otter, which happened to be near at the time, and told him that He was going away, but would quickly send another deity to finish the work He Himself had already begun, and he (the otter) was to deliver a message to him, explaining what to do.

“Now, although this animal said he would deliver the message without fail, he grew careless and did nothing but amuse himself by swimming up and down the rivers, catching and eating fish; he fixed his whole attention on this, and thought of nothing else. So intent was he on his fishing that he entirely forgot the message God gave him to deliver; yea, the otter forgot all about it. This is the reason why the first man was made so imperfect, and why all human beings are not quite in the fashion God originally intended. As a punishment for this deliquency and astonishing forgetfulness, God punished the otter with a bad memory; yea, he took his memory completely away. This is why no otter can now remember anything”….

“The otter’s head must not lightly be used as an article of food, for unless people are very careful they will, if they eat it, become as forgetful as that creature. And hence it happens that when an otter has been killed the people do not usually eat the head.

“But if they are seized with a very strong desire for a feast of otter’s head, they may partake thereof, providing proper precautions are taken. When eating it the people must take their swords, knives, axes, bows and arrows, tobacco boxes and pipes, trays, cups, garden tools, and everything they possess, tie them up in bundles with carrying slings, and sit with them attached to their heads while in the act of eating … If this method be carefully adhered to, there will be no danger of forgetting where a thing has been placed, otherwise loss of memory will be the result.”

So otters are more the cause of original sin, in a way, than sin per se. But it is still a fascinatingly weird theology to have.

I miss the animists, I really do.

(The trout fact was also given by Batchelor. It’s worth checking out all the quotes on the dedicated PBS website from his book.)

A similar story is recorded by Basil Hall Chamberlain in “Aino Folk-Tales”, published by the Folk-lore Society in 1888:

At the beginning of the world it had been the Creator’s intention to place both men’s and women’s genitals on their foreheads so that they might be able to procreate children easily. But the otter made a mistake in conveying the message to that effect; and that is how the genitals come to be in the inconvenient place they are now in. —(Written down from memory. Told by Ishanashte, 11th July, 1886.)



Collection Folio No. 1 — what is the first Folio book?

In Facty facts,French,Language-matters,Miraculous discoveries,Random fun stuff,Uncategorized on Thursday 7th May, 2009 by Guy

This one really had me stumped, and I’m surprised at how hard it was to solve.

One of France’s largest publishers, Gallimard, releases many books under the “Folio” imprint. For me, these books are the quintessence of French book publishing. They invariably have a white background, a simple cover, and a very serious, classic text inside. They look like this.

On the spine there is a number, which I suppose represents how many books have previously been published under the Folio imprint, but I couldn’t confirm this. They are up to four digits now… They are truly ubiquitous in any French bookshop.

An obvious question arises if one is as easily distracted by pointless questions as I am: which book has the number 1 on its spine? Purely by chance (helped no doubt by its fame), I found that Albert Camus’ “L’étranger” is number 2. It couldn’t be much harder to find its predecessor, surely? A quick google search or three should suffice…

But of course it wasn’t sufficient, otherwise I wouldn’t have written about it. [Oh, selection and publication bias, how I adore thee!] Incredibly, I could not find a simple list of all the Folio books every published along with their associated number. Yes, of course the Folio collection has its own site. But it didn’t burp up the simple list I required.

Anywho, after much speculative clicking, I managed to order all Folio books in order of publication date. And thus it was that I found that the “first ever” Folio book — albeit published on the same day as “L’étranger”, on the 7th of January 1972 — is…

André Malraux’s

“La condition humaine”

Never heard of it either, but it looks serious and classic.

Now I can sleep safely.


Graphs of The Economist 2: Passport Costs

In Facty facts,Politics,Random fun stuff,The Economist on Sunday 6th August, 2006 by Guy

You were craving the next installment in this most timorously-coloured of series, I know it. So I tease you no more (and also take my finger out of the dyke, as the Dutch people once put it, but possibly don’t any more, and almost certainly not in English, at least initially) and present to you the second Excellent Graph of The Economist Newspaper:

Passport costs

[from Passport costs at]

As they put it:

While immigration policies attract a lot of attention, emigration policies receive little. But it is hard and costly to leave some places, according to a study of 127 countries by David McKenzie at the World Bank. Obtaining a passport costs 10% or more of annual income per head in 14 countries, including Nepal, Laos, Tajikistan and 11 African states. In absolute terms, Turks pay the most: $334 for a five-year passport.

The staff writer behind this compact summary neglected to mention what I would consider the two most striking figures: that Armenians get free passports for some inscrutable reason, and that the poor (in terms of money and luck) Congolese had to pay more than the average year’s wages for one of their country’s passports. Why a passport should cost more than a day’s wages in any country is baffling, and the Armenians, assuming they haven’t changed their system, seem to have it the fairest way. If one is a citizen of a state, then surely one is entitled to a passport of that state, assuming one is entitled to emigrate [this issue will be passed over here]? This entitlement should not depend on ability to stump up an arbitrary figure, just as it should not be based on political belief, or colour of hair, say. (I could see why mullet-bearing plebs might be denied one, come to that, but that’s an anomaly. They should be shot in the first instance anyway so that one doesn’t need to, erm, mull over this question. Sorry. I’m really sorry. Please forgive me).

The argument that passports should be sold at least “at cost”, i.e. such that the producers of the passport break even, is specious. The “consumers” of the passport don’t have a choice over who to purchase their passport from, so that the cost of production is entirely at the discretion of the monopoly passport producer — invariably some Government department or quango. Witness how standard 32-page passports in the UK cost £42 in October 2005, the date of reference of the graph’s data, and now cost £51, and will soon cost £66, apparently in order to combat fraud or somesuch nonsense. If the Goverment wants to “upgrade” passports, it should do so with the taxes we already pay, or at least offer its citizens a choice of how ‘secure’ they wish their passports to be (for everyone knows these ‘security features’ are not worth the ink required to write about them, even if no ink is used).

If I insist on not having the courtesy to structure my diatribes properly I should at least make them funnier. Apologies.


East Asian age reckoning [from Wikipedia, so caveat emptor, mutatis mutandis]

In Facty facts,Random fun stuff on Sunday 6th August, 2006 by Guy

Trust those Orientals to have a mad way of working out people’s ages. Or maybe the Occidentals are the mad ones? I’m becoming more convinced so.

East Asian age reckoning – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
East Asian age reckoning is a concept used in East Asian countries originating in China. Several East Asian cultures, such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese, share a traditional way of counting a person’s age. Newborns start at one year old, and each passing of a New Year, rather than the birthday, adds one year to the person’s age. This system is still widely used in China and Korea, but [is] less common in other countries.