Miscellany Family

In her account of tenth-century Kyoto court life, The Pillow Book, Sei Shōnagon was fond of making lists. “Things later regretted: an adopted child who turns out to have an ugly face”; “Things it’s frustrating and embarrassing to witness: someone insists on telling you about some horrid little child, carried away with her own infatuation with the creature, imitating its voice as she gushes about the cute and winning things it says”; “Moving things: a child dressed in mourning for a parent.”

Miscellany Disaster

A 1959 Chicago Daily Tribune article about Robert Frost, who had recently proclaimed his confidence in humanity’s resilience in the face of missile threats, ran with the headline: HUMAN RACE BOMB PROOF, POET BELIEVES.

Miscellany Water

Around 14,500 years ago, at the end of the last ice age, the collapse of a large chunk of ice, likely from the Laurentide Ice Sheet covering North America, initiated an event known as Meltwater Pulse 1A. Sea levels rose more than a foot—and more than a mile of coast disappeared—per decade, displacing those living near shorelines. The earth’s human population was then roughly three million, 0.04 percent of what it is today.

Miscellany Foreigners

To avoid the wrath of his lover’s father in Poland, Tadeusz Kościuszko went to America via France in 1776, later helping the colonists win the Battle of Saratoga and construct fortifications at West Point. At the end of the war, he was given U.S. citizenship and the army title of brigadier general. 

Miscellany The Sea

“Ten dolphins are now being trained for special tasks in the Ukrainian state oceanarium, and the Ukrainian military are regularly training the animals for detecting things on the seabed,” a military official told a Russian newspaper in 2012. The source went on to say that some dolphins would be trained to combat enemy swimmers, using special knives or pistols affixed to their heads. The Ukrainian Defense Ministy later denied the program’s existence.

Miscellany Luck

Archaeologists found in a Utah cave as many as seventeen thousand carved sticks, canes, and bone pieces—gambling items used in the thirteenth century by ancestors of the Apache and Navajo. “Seventy to eighty percent of dice games were for women only,” one researcher said about the find, which may have been America’s first casino. “So what do we have here? Women who knew the games of other women.”

Miscellany Intoxication

In the United States around 1787—the year that Thomas Jefferson took a three-month sabbatical to tour the vineyards of France and Italy—the average drinking American consumed the equivalent of an estimated six gallons of pure alcohol per year. The figure today is 2.2.

Miscellany Fear

A surgeon in the British navy published an 1816 treatise on “The Incubus, or Nightmare, Disturbed Sleep, Terrific Dreams, and Nocturnal Visions,” arguing against folk beliefs that nightmares resulted from overindulgence and sleeping on one’s back. Sufferers “can bear testimony to the distress and alarm,” he wrote, “in many cases rendering the approach of night a cause of terror, and life itself miserable.”

Miscellany Water

A March 2018 report in the Wall Street Journal about a pre-Passover speech delivered by Israel’s prime minister included an error; a correction ran the following day. “An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Benjamin Netanyahu said Moses brought water from Iraq,” it read. “He said the water was brought from a rock.”

Miscellany Family

The Book of the General Laws and Liberties Concerning the Inhabitants of Massachusetts, passed in 1647 and published the following year, contained capital law number fourteen, stating that a “stubborn or rebellious son” could be put to death.

Miscellany The Future

“Six days, six weeks. I doubt six months,” said Donald Rumsfeld, on February 7, 2003, about the duration of the Iraq war. “Whatever happens in Vietnam, I can conceive of nothing except military victory,” Dwight D. Eisenhower said in 1967. Four years before that, Robert McNamara asserted, “The war in Vietnam is going well and will succeed.”

Miscellany Fear

Charlotte Brontë wrote to a friend about a woman who “must be a regular bore with her unfortunate homophobia,” advising, “Don’t look for that word in the dictionary.” This may indicate, notes a scholar, “fear or dislike of men,” from the Latin homo (man), not the Greek homo (same). The word is unclear in the manuscript; it could also be monophobia, fear of being alone.

Miscellany Communication

After serving as longtime copyeditor for The New Yorker, Wolcott Gibbs in the 1930s moved on to write drama criticism for the magazine and sent editor Harold Ross a document entitled “Theory and Practice of Editing New Yorker Articles.” Among his notes were: “1. Writers always use too damn many adverbs”; “20. The more ‘as a matter of facts,’ ‘howevers,’ ‘for instances,’ etc., etc., you can cut out, the nearer you are to the Kingdom of Heaven”; and lastly, “31. Try to preserve an author’s style if he is an author and has a style.”

Miscellany Home

In his eponymous saga, Icelandic outlaw Grettir swims through icy waters to a friend’s farm. That night, while he sleeps on a bench inside the longhouse, his clothes fall off. He wakes the next morning to a servant woman laughing at him. “He’s out of proportion,” she says. “He’s big but small between the legs.” This episode, according to a scholar of saga-era Icelandic life, “illustrates the openness of the life in the hall.” 

Miscellany Discovery

“A peaceable person,” wrote Brazilian novelist Jorge Amado in The Discovery of America by the Turks, intended for publication in 1992 for the five-hundredth anniversary of 1492, “can’t take the smallest step or blow the slightest fart without the fifth centenary landing on his head.”