Sunday, October 30, 2011

H for themselves

The Dr sometimes accuses me of tumbling through life as if a guest on QI, where points are scored for top facts and dodging cliche. A while back, for my own entertainment, I came up with my own QI questions, complete with the cliches that set off a klaxon and lose you 10 points. The "H" series was on at the time.

Which profession is a baboon the god of?

X Actors
X Politicians

Thoth – as a baboon – was god of writers and scribes in ancient Egypt. The thinking is that baboons chattered and babbled like humans, which was a sign of intelligence. And baboons throw poo at each other and bear their bottoms, which is like a lot of writers. The ancient Egyptians also used baboons as police dogs.

Who else died the same day as John F Kennedy?

X Lee Harvey Oswald
X A bodyguard
X Liberal America

Well, lots of people also died on 22 November 1963 – including the writers Aldous Huxley and CS Lewis. Huxley famously experimented with hallucinogenic drugs such as mescaline and LSD, and at his own request was injected with LSD while he was dying.

Holy Days
Why do most of us get Sundays off work?

X It's the sabbath
X The Bible says so

Edward VI's father Henry VIII split with the Roman Catholic Church and formed a (Catholic) Church of England. Two acts under Edward VI sealed the split. The First Act of Uniformity in 1548 introduced an English prayer book, imposed penalties for non-observance and ordered the suppression of images and Latin primers. It was the first time religious practice in this country was proscribed by a secular authority. The Second Act of Uniformity in 1552 required every subject to attend church on Sunday at one of the rechristened services or morning prayer, evening prayer or the Lord's supper. It was the beginning of keeping Sunday's special, and accompanied by an act for the control of alehouses – the first time liquor began to be licensed. So, strictly speaking, keeping Sunday holy is an anti-Catholic measure.

What does Honorificabilitudinitatibus mean?

X It doesn't mean anything
X “I'm very clever”

It means “with honour”, and is Shakespeare showing off in Act 5, scene 1 of Love's Labour's Lost:
I marvel thy master hath not eaten thee for a word;
for thou art not so long by the head as
honorificabilitudinitatibus: thou art easier
swallowed than a flap-dragon.
James Joyce then used it in Ulysees. But is that all that it means? In 1910, Sir Edwin Lawrence-Durning pointed out that it's also an anagram “Hi ludi, F. Baconis nati, tuiti orbi”, or “These plays, F. Bacon’s offspring, are preserved for the world” - which Sir Edwin argued showed Shakespeare's plays were written by Francis Bacon.

Who's a homo?

X You are
X He is

We all are. All modern humans are examples of Homo sapiens sapiens – note the two “sapiens”, which distinguish us from our late cousins, Homo sapiens idaltu, who died out about 160,000 years ago.

The “homo” bit means “human” or “person”, though “human” derives from the Latin “humanus” - an adjective cognate of “homo”. So the homos came first, then the humans. “Homo” looks like it derives from a Proto-Indo-European word which we now call “*dhǵhem” - that is, “earth” or “soil”. So “Homo” means “Earthman”. Think also of Adam, first man in the Bible, whose name seems to come from “Adamah”, meaning “ground”.

The “sapiens” means “wise”, so we must be especially wise if we're “Homo sapiens sapiens”. But other creatures also have repetition in their names. There's pica pica – the magpie. And my favourite, Meles meles meles – the Eurasian badger.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You know, I always thought that _I_ loved trivia more than was sensible. But no, I am but a mere dilettante malingering in your mighty shadow of twiddly-edged facts.

I'm not sure if that is a good or bad thing.