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The twenty most densely populated countries house 50% of all the people of the world.

On April Fool’s Day it is common in France to try to pin a paper cut-out of a fish to someone else’s back. Hence the name Poisson d’Avril, ‘April Fish’.

Mutterkuchen, the German word for placenta literally means ‘mother cake’.

The Japanese and Chinese get blue and green mixed up. The Japanese call the green light at the traffic light blue, ‘aoi shingou’; and often refer to green vegetables as blue as well, ‘aona’. The Chinese do the same when they talk about the dish bok choy, it contains a green vegetable called Chinese cabbage for which the Chinese use the character for blue. In Japanese, the character for green originally did not mean the colour green but instead symbolised youth. That is why, in Japanese, glossy hair is literally called ‘greenish black hair’ and a newborn baby is called a ‘green child’.

The Belgian astronomer and professor of physics Georges Lemaitre pioneered the Big Bang theory for the development of the universe in the 1920s. He was a Catholic priest.

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About 7,000 litres of blood are pumped through the human heart each day.

A Spotted Hyena or Crocuta Crocuta

An average healthy human can urinate 1,4 litres a day. That amounts up to 511 litres a year. It would take over 13 years to urinate the same amount of fluid the human heart pumps in a day.

The ancient Egyptians trapped hyenas as pets and fattened them for the table. In the Ethiopian city of Harar, ‘hyena men’ still feed on wild hyenas at dusk.

In Japanese, two different sets of characters spell out the word danshoku meaning either warm colour, or male homosexual sex.

Assuming an average healthy man over 24 produces a tablespoonful of 15 millilitres of sperm by ejaculating two or three times a day, he will produce about 5.5 litres (5.475) of sperm a year. At this rate it would take an average 24-year old over 454,545 years to fill an Olympic swimming pool; it would take 166,666,666 men to fill it in a day – about all Indian men between the age of 24 and 27.

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Nempimania [Noun.]


Nempimania (also Nenpimania) is an obsession with getting the best fuel economy (or the best only-electric range) possible from a hybrid car.

It is derived from the Japanese words nempi, a contraction of nenryōshōhiryō, meaning fuel economy, and mania, meaning a craze of some kind.

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In 1950, less than 10% of Africa had been mapped.

chess

A chess board with two rather artistic pieces

In the Netherlands, a 90-year-old marriage is called granite – ‘graniet’ in Dutch.

Africa covers a fifth of the land area of the planet but contains only a tenth of the world’s population.

The main exports of the African country of Niger are uranium and chickens.

A great international linguistic variety is shown by the words: Gwyddbwyll, Ajedrez, Catur, Ficheall, Daba, Male, and Chesu which all mean ‘chess’ in Welsh, Spanish, Indonesian, Irish, Bengali, Estonian and Japanese respectively.

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The Microskirt in Kogal


A microskirt is a very short skirt indeed. It is shorter than a miniskirt, being less than 20 cm (8 inches) in length. They are predominantly worn by teenage girls or young women to evoke an impression of cheekiness and playfulness, especially in an appropriate social context.

English: A stereotypical fashion of high schoo...

Japanese student with ‘kogal’ loose socks and skirt

Microskirts are rarely worn as streetwear in Europe.

They are, however, quite popular among girls in Japan, where they are made part of school uniforms.

The uniforms grils wear to school in Japan always include a skirt which is made shorter by the ‘popular girls’ within the kogal subculture – the culture of popular youths.

Microskirts are important within kogal and the fashion item is popular among teenage girls, especially among those who want to practise panchira, a form of softcore exhibitionism where women try to show just a hint of their panties.

Nowadays the term panchira is also used by Japanese women to warn each other that their underwear is visible.

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The Speed of Languages


It is an almost universal truth that any language you don’t understand sounds like they are being spoken at 200 miles per hour — a storm of alien syllables almost impossible to tease apart.

That, we tell ourselves, is simply because the words make no sense to us. Surely our spoken English sounds just as fast to a native speaker of Urdu. And yet it’s equally true that some languages seem to zip by faster than others. Spanish sounds a lot faster than French; Japanese leaves German far behind — or at least that’s how they sound.

Spectrograms of the syllables

Spectograms of syllables

Is this really true, and if so, how could that be? To investigate this puzzle, researchers from the University of Lyon recruited 59 male and female volunteers who were native speakers of one of seven common languages — English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish — and one not so common one: Vietnamese. All of them were instructed to read 20 different texts into a recorder. All of the volunteers read all 20 passages in their native languages. Any silences that lasted longer than 150 milliseconds were edited out, but the recordings were left otherwise untouched.

The investigators counted all of the syllables in each of the recordings and further analysed how much meaning was packed into each of those syllables. A single-syllable word like bliss, for example, is rich with meaning — signifying not ordinary happiness but a particularly serene and rapturous kind. The single-syllable word to is less information-dense. And a single syllable like the short i sound, as in the word jubilee, has no independent meaning at all.

With this raw data in hand, the investigators crunched the numbers together to arrive at two critical values for each language:

  • the average information density for each of its syllables;
  • and the average number of syllables spoken per second in ordinary speech. Vietnamese was used as a reference language for the other seven, with its syllables (which are considered by linguists to be very information-dense) given an arbitrary value of 1.

For all of the other languages, the researchers discovered, the more data-dense the average syllable were, the fewer of those syllables had to be spoken per second — and thus the slower the speech.

  • English, with a high information density of .91, was spoken at an average rate of 6.19 syllables per second.
  • Mandarin, which topped the density list at .94, but was slowest at 5.18 syllables per second.
  • Spanish, with a low-density .63, ripped along at a syllable-per-second velocity of 7.82.
  • However, the speediest language in terms of syllable speed was Japanese, which edged past Spanish at 7.84, thanks to its low density of .49.

Despite those differences, at the end of a minute of speech, all of the languages would have conveyed more or less identical amounts of information.

“A trade-off is operating between a syllable-based average information density and the rate of transmission of syllables,” the researchers at Lyon wrote. “A dense language will make use of fewer speech chunks than a sparser language for a given amount of semantic information.”

In other words, your ears aren’t deceiving you: Spaniards really do sprint and Chinese really do stroll, but they will tell you the same story in the same span of time.

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Shoichi Yokoi


Shōichi Yokoi was a Japanese sergeant in the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second World War. He was among the last three Japanese hold-outs to surrender after the end of hostilities in 1945, being found in the jungle of Guam in January 1972, almost 28 years after the island had been liberated by US forces in 1944 and appears to be the last Japanese soldier to have been told about the Japanese capitulation.

An enlargeable map of the United States Territ...

Map of Guam

Yokoi was conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Army in 1941. He arrived on Guam in February 1943. When American forces captured the island in the 1944 Battle of Guam, Yokoi went into hiding with ten other Japanese soldiers. Guam had been lost, but they had no idea their country had surrendered. In the 20 years that followed they would unfortunately get separated from each other or tragically die of starvation. The last eight years – being the last man standing – Yokoi lived entirely alone in the Guam jungle.

Yokoi survived by hunting, primarily at night. He used native plants to make clothes, bedding, and storage implements, which he carefully hid in his cave. He had made his own loom and eel trap.

On the evening of January 24, 1972, Yokoi was discovered in the jungle. He was found by Jesus Dueñas and Manuel De Gracia, two local men who were checking their shrimp traps along a small river on Talofofo. They had initially assumed that Yokoi was a villager from Talofofo, but were surprised to find him willing to fight. However, underfed and weak as he was, Yokoi was overcome and brought back by Dueñas and De Gracia to Talofofo were the truth was discovered.

For twenty-eight years, he hid in an underground jungle cave, fearing to come out of hiding even after finding leaflets declaring that World War II had ended, believing them to be mere allied propaganda.

“It is with much embarrassment, but I have returned”, he said upon his return to Japan. The remark would become a popular saying in Japanese.

This newspaper photograph was described as Yok...

Yokoi’s first haircut in 28 years

Yokoi was officially the third-to-last Japanese soldier to surrender after the war but appears to be the last soldier to have been told about the Japanese capitulation. Yokoi’s surrender preceded that of Hiroo Onoda who had received orders to surrender in 1944 but refused to do so. After 30 years his friends came to get him from the Philippines in 1974. Seven months later the last Japanese soldier to surrender was a Taiwanese-born Amis recruited by the Japanese army during the war called Teruo Nakamura. He was discovered in the Taiwanese jungle in November 1974. Nakamura was the last of the so-called stragglers – Japanese soldiers who continued to fight after the Japanese capitulation.

After a whirlwind media tour of Japan, Yokoi married and settled down in rural Aichi Prefecture. He would eventually receive the equivalent of $300 in back pay, along with a small pension. In 1991, he was granted an audience with Emperor Akihito, a meeting which he considered the greatest honour of his life. Yokoi died in 1997 of a heart attack at the age of 82. He was buried at a Nagoya cemetery, under a gravestone that had been commissioned initially by his mother in 1955.

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