Petrichor


Petrichor is the name of the scent of rain on dry earth. In 1964, two Australian researchers discovered that the smell that can be experienced after rainfall can be attributed to the oil that is exuded by certain plants during dry periods that is then absorbed by the soil and consequently released into the air when it rains, along with another substance called geosmin (literally ‘earth smell’). The reason why these plants exude this oil is because it slows down the process of new plant growth in the soil, which means the plants are able to ‘wait’ for the rainfall.

The word petrichor is a combination of the Greek words petra, meaning ‘stone’, and ichor, referring to the fluid that apparently flowed through the veins of the ancient mythological Greek gods.

Morton’s Toe


When a person’s second toe is longer than the neighbouring big toe (or hallux), this is called a Morton’s Toe. The name derives from American orthopedic surgeon Dudley Joy Morton, who researched the condition of having a relatively short first metatarsal bone (one of the five long bones in a foot) and a hypermobile first metatarsal segment (meaning that the joints are abnormally bendy). Morton himself called it Metatarsus atavicus, considering it an atavism (apparent setback in evolution) recalling prehuman grasping toes.

Detail of Michaelangelo’s David

Morton’s Toe can cause nail problems due to the fact that regularly shaped shoes can’t accomodate the longer second toe – as well as so-called musculoskeletal dysfunction and

pain. However, there have been accounts of certain positive cultural and anthropological interpretations. In several languages, Morton’s Toe is referred to as a Greek foot, because Greek, Roman and neo-classicist sculptors regarded it as a desirable physical trait and thus created their sculptures’ feet in that image. It has been associated with royalty as well, particularly during the period of Greek rule over Egypt – the so-called Egyptian foot is one with the big toe being the longest.

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21/v mmxii


Apple-pie beds have nothing to do with either apples or pies. The expression comes from the French nappe pliee, meaning ‘folded cloth’.

English: Artist's illustration of an 'isolated...

Interpretation of an isolated neutron star

The word ‘apple’ derives from the name of the Roman town of Abella (now Avella) in Campania, Italy.

If you had a thimble full of a neutron star, it would weigh more than an average earth mountain.

Bees communicate with each other by dancing. They inform each other about resources around the hive. When given cocaine, they exaggerate about the amount of resources.

Russian astronauts who return safely to Earth are given an apple as a welcome-home present.

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Alas [Excl.]


Literary or humorous an expression of grief, pity, or concern

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is!

Hamlet (V.i), William Shakespeare (1601)

Peter O’Toole as Shakespeare’s Hamlet, holding Yorick’s exhumed skull.

The exclamation alas comes from the 13th century Old French expression ha, las, loosely meaning ‘how unfortunate’. In modern French, it has evolved into hélas; Dutch uses the similar helaas. The word las is derived from the Latin word lassus, meaning ‘tired’ or ‘weary’. The exclamation was originally used as an expression of weariness rather than woe.

The word late, which had the meaning of ‘slow’ or ‘sluggish’ in Old English, is related to alas in a way. Although originated from a Proto-Germanic word (*latas), late has the same Proto-Indo-European base as the Latin lassus: *lad-, meaning ‘slow’ or ‘weary’.

Schism [Noun.]


  1. Adivision between strongly opposed parties, caused by differences in opinion or belief
  2. The formal separation of a Church into two Churches or the secession of a group owing to doctrinal and other differences

Schism is most commonly used when referring to a break of communion within a church or religious body, though it can be applied to any case of division in an organisation or movement, religious or non-religious. The word has found its heaviest usage in the history of Christianity, particularly concerning The Great Schism of 1054, when European Christianity split in two: the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. Schism is specifically used in situations where the split occurred without ‘justifiable reason’.

The word originally stems from the Greek schizeim, meaning ‘to split’. The word was also used in Old French, having the same meaning, but spelt cisme. In Middle English, where it was spelt scisme, the word gained its current religious meaning.

Culprit [Noun.]


  1. A person who is responsible for a crime or other misdeed
  2. The cause of a problem

The word culprit has its origins in English criminal law. When the Normans invaded Britain in 1066, they brought a broad vocabulary with them that was to be used in many institutions from then on, including the legal system. A culprit was someone accused of a crime, more specifically someone who was already considered guilty of the offence.

The word is a combination of two Anglo-Norman words: culpable (meaning ‘guilty’, from Latin culpa for ‘crime’ or ‘blame’) and prit or prest (meaning ‘ready’, from French prêt for ‘ready’). When the prisoner at the bar pleaded not guilty, the clerk of the crown would answer culpable and state that he was ready to join issue. The words cul. prit were then written down by the court clerk, showing that the issue had been joined, i.e. put up for decision.

Mea culpa, Latin for ‘my fault’ or ‘I am to blame’, is a phrase from the prayer of confession in Latin liturgy and was first attested in the 14th century.

Whole-body Transplant


A whole-body transplant is a hypothetical surgical procedure which involves replacing one’s entire brain with another one. Whole-body transplants should not be confused with head transplants, which involve transferring the entire head and have been successfully performed on rats, dogs and monkeys. With a whole-body transplant, a person with advanced organ failure could be given a new, functional body, including the skull.

A human brain

Aside from the major ethical issues this hypothetical operation would raise, it is also regarded a near-impossible medical procedure, as re-attaching nerves to the spinal cord is extremely difficult. The monkey that had gotten a new head transplanted in the United States between 1961 and 1971 was paralysed for the greater part, but was able to follow the scientists across the room with its eyes and apparently almost bit off the finger of one of them.

There is a certain advantage to whole-body transplants though; a brain is a so-called immunologically privileged organ, which would mean that – if properly transferred – it could never be rejected by the body, unlike for instance livers, which are very often aggressively rejected by the host’s body. Whole-body transplants also conjure up the possibility of immortality, or greatly expanded lifetimes at the least.