You were probably wondering if I’d given up on this blog. Actually, I’ve been mute mainly because of a nasty little bug – the one that leaves you with blocked bronchial airways, copious amounts of post-nasal drip, and uncontrollable coughing spasms that result in sleepless nights and very sore stomach muscles. (A friend of mine actually cracked a rib from coughing.) 


I went through a whole pharmacopeia of remedies, both eastern and western, and read everything I could find on the web related to my various symptoms.  Surely, I can deal with this myself! I finally gave in and went to see my doc who confirmed what I already guessed – a virus.  But it was really the drugs that did it (codeine is my new best friend). It’s never too late to medicate.

It was during my online research that I stumbled across an interesting fact, thanks to Harvard Medical School’s health publications website. I was getting the lowdown on what causes nagging coughs. First of all, while folk wisdom saw coughing as a sign of grave illness (What did one casket say to the other? “I hear you coffin.”), it’s really a part of the body’s defense against disease, as it expels all that vile stuff that causes infection and inflammation.

But here’s what got my attention. With every body-wracking cough, the air I was expelling was rushing out at nearly the speed of sound. That’s what creates the barking or whooping noise we call a cough.  Intrigued, I did some more research, and found that at sea level, with the temperature at 70F, the speed of sound is 770 mph! It’s even faster at higher temps, but I wasn’t up to doing the calculation (we’ve been in the high 80s here). I think I broke the sound barrier a few times.

This led me to check on another physiological phenomena.  The sneeze. Not what causes it or its speed, but why we say, “Bless you!” whenever someone sneezes. There are all sorts of explanations, none of which have been factually confirmed.  At one time, folks believed that your soul could be inadvertently propelled from your body when you had a particularly explosive sneeze.  “Bless you!” was an oath meant to protect and safeguard your temporarily expelled soul from being snatched by Satan, who was always lurking about.  The oath would shield your soul long enough for it to make its way back to your body. On the other hand, some believed that sneezing got rid of an evil spirit that had taken you over.  The “Bless you!” was a charm to prevent the evil spirit from re-entering your soul.  Like a mini exorcism. Snopes (the myth buster) thinks the most likely explanation for its use today is to be polite and acknowledge the sneezer.  So, “Bless you!” 

It’s amazing what you can learn by trolling the Internet, which is what happened after I’d exhausted my interest in the human respiratory tract. Here are some of my favorite useless bits of information:

·      Have you noticed that the Mona Lisa has no eyebrows? That’s because it was the fashion in Renaissance Florence to shave them off.  How would we look today?


·      Everyone has a unique tongue print, just like fingerprints.  Think they’ll ever use tongue scans for IDs? Can you imagine sticking your tongue on your iPhone? “Say Ahhh!”

·      It’s not cockroaches we humans have to worry about. The total biomass of all ants on Earth is roughly equal to the total biomass of all people on Earth.  Scientists estimate there are at least 1.5 million ants on the planet for every human being. And over 12,000 species are known to exist on every continent except Antartica (which is ironic. Get it? ANTartica?).  

Animal crackers

·      There are 19 different animal shapes in the Barnum’s Animal Crackers cookie zoo:  two bears (one sitting and one standing), a bison, a camel, a cougar, an elephant, a giraffe, a gorilla, a hippo, a hyena, a kangaroo, a koala bear, a lion, a monkey, a rhinoceros, a seal, a sheep, a tiger, and a zebra.

Hawaii has its own Hawaiian Animal Crackers with five cute sea creatures:  Shark (mano), dolphin (nai`a), Humpback whale (kohola), octopus (he`e), and moonfish (opah). Ono!  (Delicious!)  The two packages shown here are for fact-checking the data.

·      You know how airlines are always looking for ways to save money? In 1987, American Airlines saved $40,000 by eliminating one olive from each salad served in first class.  Today, you’re lucky if you get a lettuce leaf in steerage.

·      The Internet weighs as much as one strawberry – less than two ounces. That’s because the construction of today’s net is all air and microwaves. By one calculation, some 50 grams (or a little less than two ounces) of electrons in motion make up the Internet. But it takes upwards of 50 million horsepower to move those 50 grams of electrons around.

·      In comparison to the two-ounce Internet: The average human brain weighs about 3 pounds (1,300 – 1,400 grams). Averaging globally, each person alive today has six watts of computational power at the disposal of their twenty-watt brain.  Is that what “dimwit” means?

·      Finally, a “quidnunc” is a person who is eager to know the latest news and gossip (a nosy parker or busybody), including all the useless and strange facts you can find on the Internet. Y’all know who you are. (Origin: early 18th century, from the Latin “quid nunc” for “what now?”)


Quid nunc, quidnunc?     (What now, nosy parker?)

Talis fueris, relator.         (You’re such a gossip.)

Quin frigus illud?             (Why don’t you cool it?)


(It’s not easy writing haiku in Latin. Plus, the literal translation probably doesn’t make sense!)

 © Maya Leland 2014