Women In Japan


‘Japanese history provides striking examples of how changes in the status of women can be linked with other broad socioeconomic trends. A woman-centered marriage pattern in ancient times contributed to considerable religious and political influence for women, but from the 6th century onward the growing acceptance of Confucian and Buddhist precepts that maintained women’s inferiority reflected and reinforced a shift toward patriarchal family structure. Only since the Meiji period (1868-1912), and especially since World War II, have increasing educational and employment opportunities, as well as improvements in legal status, allowed women intellectual and financial autonomy once again.’

- The Japan Book (2002) Tokyo, Japan: Kodansha International Ltd. p. 93

Pencil [Noun.]


‘[Middle English] A pencil once denoted a fine paintbrush. It comes from Old French pincel, from a diminutive of Latin peniculus ‘brush’, itself a diminutive of penis ‘tail’. The verb was originally used in the 16th century in the sense ‘paint with a fine brush’.’

- Chantrell. G. edt. 2002. The Oxford Essential Dictionary of World Histories New York, United States: Berkley Publishing Group (2003) p. 370

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Squirrels are from the family Sciuridae meaning ‘he who sits in the shadow of his tail’.

At the start of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro boarded a ship called the ‘grandma’.

Jiang Qing, the wife of Chairman Mao had a pet monkey who was her constant companion. She dressed it in silk, fed it fine foods and trained it to attack people as they walked through her garden.

Mafia means ‘beautiful’ in Sicilian dialect.

Currently, the Dutch spend about 5% of their national budget on defence every year. Nevertheless, the Dutch have never successfully defended their land territory in their nation’s existence.

See other: Quite Interesting Facts

Harem (i)


‘Its prevalence among the Mohammedans has been established by the following passage of the Koran: “And speak unto the believing women, that they restrain their eyes, and preserve their modesty, and discover not their ornaments, except what necessarily appeareth thereof; and let them throw their veils over their bosoms, and not show their ornaments, unless to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husbands’ fathers, or their sons, or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or unto such men as attend them and have no need of women [eunuchs], or unto children.” [...]

The inmates of the harem consist of a wife or wives and of any number of female slaves, some of whom are kept merely as servants to cook, to clean the rooms, and to wait upon the wives and concubines.

It is estimated, however, by the best informed travellers, that only one man in 20 has more than one wife. It is only the very rich that maintain populous harems, and many of these are content with one wife. In frequent instances the wife who will not tolerate a second spouse in the harem will permit the husband to keep concubines for the sake of having them to wait upon her. It is said that Mohammedan women do not dislike the seclusion in which they are kept, but take a pride in it as an evidence of their value. If the husband permits them to be freely seen by other men, they regard his liberality as indicative of indifference.’

- Ripley. G., Dana. C.A., Ed. (1879) The American Cyclopædia – A Popular Dictionary Of General Knowledge New York, United States: D. Appleton and Company (Entrance: “Harem” [between "Hare Lip" and "Harfleur"], written by Parke Godwin).

Einsteinian Relativity


“Einstein proposed two things, really quite innocuous when you hear them. One is that, just like on a train, if you’re sitting on a train at the station you momentarily kind of nod off, you wake up and the only thing you can see is another train next to you and it’s moving with respect to you, and in that split second, you can’t tell whether you’re moving or whether it’s the train next to you, and it’s the idea that, well actually, all you can say is “I’m moving relative to something else”. So that was the first idea, that saying that actually, all the laws of physics are the same no matter how you’re moving, it’s the same, there’s no particular special speed or reference in the universe.

In other words, I mean that’s how, you know an air hostess can serve coffee on a plane, she doesn’t have to correct for the speed of the plane, she just pours the coffee, because the laws of physics are exactly the same. So that’s the first idea. That’s not so hard to swallow.

The second idea is slightly harder, and that is the idea that – which again we go by experiment – is the idea that unlike any… anything else, speed of light is constant for whoever observes it, and it’s the same value. So okay let me just explain what that means. I mean, normally if you’re… you know if somebody throws a cricket ball at you, and you’re stationary, you feel a certain hit in your hands as you’re…. as it hits you. If you’re running away from it, the cricket ball reaches you at an actually slower relative speed, so it hurts less when you catch it. If you run away faster than the cricket ball – I personally can’t do that – but if you did, the cricket ball would never… it wouldn’t actually catch up with you. So in that sense, the cricket ball is….. changes it’s speed relative to what you’re actually doing.

Now light doesn’t do that, it doesn’t matter how fast you run, you will always measure the speed of light to be exactly the same. Now how on Earth did Einstein arrive at this conclusion? What he did, he – so the story goes – he imagined himself looking into a mirror, as he approached, and going faster and faster trying to catch up with light. What would the image in the mirror look like? Because if light is like the cricket ball, of course, if he’s going at the speed of light, the light will never actually leave his face, hit the mirror and get back to him, so his image will actually disappear.

But we’ve already said that well, there’s no special… there’s no way of telling whether you are moving or somebody else is moving, so if his image disappeared, he would be able to tell that he was moving and that somebody else wouldn’t. He’d just make a telephone call back and say “Well my image has disappeared”, and that breaks then, the first postulate, it goes against the first one. So combine those two things together, and suddenly all…. you know the heavens open, the notions of time change.”

- Neil Johnson, In Our Time (Programme 54) “Time”

Choose Your English (vi)


elusive / illusive
An elusive fairy is one you cannot catch, but an illusive one was never really there at all. It was just an illusion!

emigrate / immigrate / migrate
Emigrate means to leave one’s country to live in another. Immigrate is to come into another country to live permanently. Migrate is to move, like birds in the winter.

eminent / imminent
Eminent describes anyone who is well known for a justified reason. But imminent refers to something about to happen, like the next big thing’s imminent rise to the top. These two words sound the same to some, but they are unrelated.

empathy / sympathy
Empathy is heartbreaking — you experience other people’s pain and joy. Sympathy is easier because you just have to feel sorry for someone. Send a sympathy card if someone’s cat died; feel empathy if your cat died, too.

endemic / epidemic
Endemic and epidemic are both words that diseases love, but something endemic is found in a certain place and is ongoing, and epidemic describes a disease that’s widespread.

See other: Choose Your English

Indeterminacy in Nature


“[...] we’re talking really about things that started 100 years ago. These effects of relativity, that Einstein is so famous for, are one side of things. But of course, he won his Nobel prize for something completely different, which was something to do with quantum physics, which is not related, it maybe related in the future, but it’s not related immediately to the very long times that we’re talking about for cosmological properties, it’s related to very, very short times, related to what electrons do inside atoms, and of course, eventually what things do inside the nucleus of the atom, but let’s just keep it on the scale of, you know, we’re made of atoms, everything is made of atoms, these atoms contain negative charges called electrons and they zip around all over the place very very fast, but they don’t zip around like billiard balls or cricket balls, they’re actually…. they live in this very strange, kind of undecided world of being partly a particle and partly a wave.

This, actually was something that, as I said, Einstein won the Nobel prize for it, but didn’t like, in some sense the monster he created, because he couldn’t… he didn’t accept this indeterminacy at a fundamental level in nature.”

- Neil Johnson, In Our Time (Programme 54) “Time”

Associations In Art


‘With us the disguise must be complete. The familiar identity of things has to be pulverized in order to destroy the finite associations with which our society increasingly enshrouds every aspect of our environment.’ [Mark Rothko]

- Ross. C. ed. (1990) Abstract Expressionism, Creators and Critics New York, United States: Abrams Publishers, p. 168

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Approximately 60 tons of brown paint is used every seven years to paint the Eiffel Tower.

Humans started wearing clothes 70.000 years ago.

The 13th century St. Hugh of Lincoln’s best friend was a swan.

In 1936, the Lykov family fled from the communists into the Siberian wilderness. They were found in 1978, having lived on the Russian taiga for 40 years without meeting another human being. Two of the Lykovs four children – having been born in the wilderness – had never met another human being outside their family.

In 2008, pet hamsters were banned in Vietnam.

See other: Quite Interesting Facts

Choose Your English (v)


demur / demure
To demur is to show reluctance or to hesitate, like not quite getting in the car when someone opens the door, but demure is always an adjective describing a modest, reserved, or shy person, and sounds like the mew of a tiny kitten.

disassemble / dissemble
Disassemble is to take something apart, like an old car motor, but dissemble is sneaky — it means to hide your true self, like the guy who said he was a mechanic but had never actually seen a motor, much less put one back together.

discreet / discrete
Discreet means on the down low, under the radar, careful, but discrete means individual or detached. They come from the same ultimate source, the Latin discrētus, for separated or distinct, but discreet has taken its own advice and quietly gone its separate way.

disinterested / uninterested
If you’re disinterested, you’re unbiased; you’re out of the loop. But if you’re uninterested, you don’t give a hoot; you’re bored. These two words have been duking it out, but the battle may be over for uninterested. Heavyweight disinterested has featherweight uninterested on the ropes.

economic / economical
Economic is all about how money works, but something economical is a good deal. You might take an economic studiesclass to understand the ebb and flow of cash in the world, but if you buy a used textbook for it, you’re being economical.

See other: Choose Your English