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53 Wonderfully Pointless Facts About The English Language

For example: nothing rhymes with carpet. Via Word Drops, by Paul Anthony Jones.

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1. In Old English, hiccups were nicknamed "elf-chokes".

2. One third of an inch is called a barleycorn.

3. One third of an hour is called a mileway. Because it's supposedly the time it takes to walk one mile.

4. The remnants of a drink left in the bottom of a glass is called the heeltap.

5. The distance within which a whisper can be heard is called the whispershot.

6. A zombie was originally the part of a person's soul that could supposedly be removed and bottled using voodoo magic.

7. In English, the word happy is used three times more often than sad.

8. White meat was originally another name for dairy produce.

9. The word girl wasn't originally gender-specific, and was used of both girls and boys.

10. Aghast literally means "frightened by a ghost".

11. The French word for a paperclip is trombone.

12. The French word for a pig's snout is groin.

13. Nothing rhymes with carpet.

14. At the start of a game of Scrabble, you have roughly a 1/20,000 chance of picking the word senator out of the bag.

15. The O blood group should really be called 'zero'. Because the O blood group lacks antibodies found in the A and B groups that cause them to react badly to other blood types, the inventor of the blood group system, Karl Landsteiner, named it 'zero', not O.

16. The longest word in the English language has 189,819 letters. It's the full chemical name of titin, a protein that controls the movement of muscles.

17. Time is the commonest noun in the English language. Followed by person in 2nd, day in 3rd, way in 4th, and year in 5th. Man and woman come in at 7th and 14th place.

18. Casino literally means 'little house'.

19. No one knows for sure what the name London means.

20. The D of D-Day doesn't stand for anything. The idea that it stands for 'disembarkation' or 'deployment' is a myth—D-Day was originally just a placeholder for whatever day the operation would eventually go ahead.

21. The G of G-spot stands for Gräfenberg. They're named after the German gynaecologist who discovered what he called 'erogenous zones' in 1944.

22. Teddy bears are named after Theodore Roosevelt.

23. The Hawaiian alphabet only has eight consonants.

24. The Cambodian alphabet has 74 letters.

25. The opposite of déjà-vu is called jamais-vu. It refers to the unusual feeling that something familiar is actually entirely new.

26. There are no words for yes and no in Latin.

27. The word feisty derives from a Tudor English word for a farting dog.

28. Noon was originally 3pm. The word noon comes from novem, the Latin for 'ninth' (as in November) and originally referred to the ninth hour of the Roman day—which by modern reckoning was 3 o'clock in the afternoon.

29. The string of random symbols used to censor swearwords—like 'f@&!'—is called a grawlix.

30. The Arabic word for 'desert' is sahara. The Mongolian word for 'desert' is gobi. So 'Sahara Desert' and 'Gobi Desert' both mean 'desert desert'.

31. The sign language equivalent of a tongue-twister is called a finger-fumbler. The phrase 'good blood, bad blood' is apparently an example.

32. The expression flavour of the month was originally used in an ice cream advertisement in the 1940s.

33. A road that leads around something rather than up to it is called an ambivium.

34. A group of polar bears is called an aurora.

35.Put every number in the standard English counting system in alphabetical order, and no matter how high you count, 8 will always come first. Billion comes before eight in a dictionary, but in a counting system it would have to be listed as one billion under O, so eight will always come first. (Eight billion, incidentally, will always come second.)

36. If you live beside a river, you're an amnicolist.

37. The expression "possession in nine-tenths of the law" was originally 'eleven-twelfths of the law'. No one knows why it changed.

38. The only word beginning with X that Shakespeare used was Xanthippe. It's the name of Socrates' wife, which Shakespeare used as a byword for a nagging, bad tempered woman.

39. An ABCdarian is someone who is learning the alphabet.

40. Four has four letters. It's the only self-counting number in the English language. (Bonus fact: there are no self-counting numbers at all in French.)

41. To walk Newgate fashion is to walk hand in hand with someone. Like prisoners at Newgate prison would once have done.

42. The day after tomorrow is called the overmorrow.

43.…And to put something off until the day after tomorrow is to perendinate it.

44. Hodgepodge and potpourri were both originally the names of stews.

45. The Oxford English Dictionary's full entry for the word set is two times longer than George Orwell's Animal Farm.

46. Ice-legs are the ice equivalent of sea-legs. It refers to your ability to keep your balance while walking on ice.

47. Angel visits are catch-ups with friends that are all too rare and few and far between.

48. A gazing-stock is the visual equivalent of a laughing-stock. Namely, someone who is being looked at by everyone else.

49. A study in 2010 found that the hardest word to guess in a game of hangman is jazz.

50. The Italian equivalent of "when pigs fly" is quando voleranno gli asini – or "when donkeys fly".

51. If you speak English just over 11% of everything you will ever write or say will be just the letter E.

52. Half of all the language you'll ever use will be just the same 100 words, used over and over again.

53.Roughly 6% of everything you will ever read or write will be just the word THE.

A collection of language facts just like these are brought together in a new book, Word Drops, by Paul Anthony Jones, who also runs @HaggardHawks on Twitter.

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