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The Story Behind tells the extraordinary history of the ordinary. Everyday objects are more closely examined, from their ancient beginnings through the present—all within 5-10 minutes.

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Jan 30, 2017

This episode was decided by listeners who responded to a poll I put up last week on Twitter asking if I should do a regular show for Episode 30 or if I should do a special episode with 30 random facts. If you’re not already, follow @storybehindpod on TwitterFacebook and Instagram so you can contribute to the show.

What you decided was episode 30 should be 30 random facts, so without further ado, here we go!

I’m your host, Emily Prokop, and this is The Story Behind 30 Random Things.

  • Many things we eat and drink contain grass. Not the kinds that necessarily grow in our yards, but varieties like wheat grass and barley grass are found in beer, whiskey and bread.
  • A way to distinguish a monkey from an ape is their tails. Apes don’t have tails, but monkeys do.
  • Yams commonly found in your grocery store are probably sweet potatoes. True yams grow in Africa and Asia and are relatively tough to find. They are related to the lily family, while sweet potatoes are related to the morning glory family. But grocery stores distinguish sweet potatoes as being a firm sweet potato with a light flesh and a yam as being a soft sweet potato with a more orange or copper color.
  • The moons and natural satellites of Uranis were named for characters in works by William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope, like Ophelia, Juliet, Belinda and Umbriel. The tradition was started by astronomer William Lassell, who discovered the first two in 1851.
    • Cordelia from King Lear
    • Ophelia from Hamlet
    • Bianca from Taming of the Shrew
    • Cressida from Troilus and Cressida
    • Desdemona from Othello
    • Juliet from Romeo and Juliet
    • Portia from Merchant of Venice
    • Rosalind from As You Like It
    • Belinda, Umbriel  from Rape of Lock
    • Puck, Titania and Oberon from A Midsummer Night's Dream
    • Miranda, Ariel, Caliban, Sycorax, Prospero, Setebos, Stephano and Trinculo from The Tempest
  • Hades, from Greek mythology, is not the basis for Satan in Christianity. Hades isn’t necessarily a bad guy -- his job is simply to guard the Underworld, which is where all souls were believed to have gone when they died. There are parts of the Underworld where evil souls are tortured, much like Christianity’s description of Hell, but souls considered good are rewarded in the Underworld.
  • Erasers work by attracting the graphite from pencils off the paper and onto the rubber. Before our modern-day erasers, people would often use balled up bread to fix their mistakes on paper.
  • Raisins were discovered accidentally when a San Fransisco grocer began selling grapes that had been dried out due to the heat wave 1873. He called them a “Peruvian Delicacy.”
  • Eclair is the French word for Lightning. It’s unclear why the cream-filled pastry is named that. One theory is that the name refers to the flaky outside and creamy inside being “light,” and a second theory is that it’s eaten in a flash.
  • Shirley Temple has fought soda companies twice for trying to market the ginger ale and grenadine drink named in her honor. Both times, she won. In 1988 when a California company tried to market Shirley T. Sparkling Soda, she was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “I will fight it like a tigress. All a celebrity has is their name.”
  • If you’ve ever wondered where the phrase “Steal one’s thunder” comes from, it’s from John Dennis, an English dramatist from the 1700s, who invented a device for one of his plays that made a thunder sound. When his play flopped, the theater used the device for another play, causing Dennis to say, “That is my thunder, by God; the villains will play my thunder, but not my play.”
  • “Steal my Sunshine,” the poppy ‘90s favorite by the brother-sister band Len isn’t actually as positive as the title implies. It’s been said the lyrics either refer to drugs or depression and how someone can make you feel worse by stealing your sunshine.
  • The word “sychophant,” which basically means a self-serving suck up, has two possible origins. Both are pretty great.
    • The first is that it comes from the Greek words “suko,” which means Fig, and “phantes,” which means people who reveal something. Back then, those who exported figs were doing so illegally, and anyone who told on them to authorities was called a Fig Revealer, or Suko-Phant. But the Oxford English Dictionary acknowledges this origin story to be unsubstantiated.
    • The second origin comes from the Greek “sykophantes”, the Latin “sycophanta” and the Middle French version, “sycophante” in the 1530s, which also has to do with figs. In ancient Greece, it was a vulgar gesture to stick ones thumb between two fingers, which was thought to resemble a fig. It doesn’t sound too bad until you find out that a fig was symbolic of a certain lady part. This gesture was commonly used as a taunt in Greek sporting events.
  • Antarctica is the world’s largest desert. Hard to believe, right? But a desert is actually defined not by sand or heat, but by the amount of precipitation it receives, and Antarctica only gets an average of 2 inches of snow per year.
  • New words are added to English language at a rate of one new word every two hours.
  • Coca-Cola bottles were designed when the company sponsored a competition to design distinctive bottles. At the time, all beverages were put in similar bottles, making it difficult to making it difficult to distinguish one drink from the other when kept cool in a bucket of ice water. The designer of the bottles originally wanted to draw inspiration from the coca leaf or kola nut, but the local library didn’t have pictures of either. But he came up with the now iconic design of the Coca-Cola bottle after finding a picture of a cacao pod.
  • “Enormity” is often thought to mean enormous, but it actually means extreme evil. It can be used, however, to mean a gigantic amount of evil.
  • Remember the movie in which Sinbad played a genie called “Shazam?” Or reading the childhood books, “The Berenstein Bears” or even Curious George’s tail? Yeah … those actually never happened. At least, according to what people are calling The Mandela Effect, a phenomenon where many swear they remember something one way, but it’s actually different. By the way, there’s no record of the movie Shazam, the books we read as kids were actually the BerenstAin Bears, and Curious George does not have a tail, which suggests he’s an ape rather than a “little monkey,” as he’s called in books.
  • Eyes that are two different colors on a person is called Heterochromia. Some people mistakenly think David Bowie had this, but one of his pupils was permanently dilated his friend’s fingernail sliced his eye when they got into a fight as teenagers.
  • Mozart was so good at playing music at a young age, when he performed in London, people suspected him of being a drawf posing as a 9-year-old child.
  • Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr wanted to help the war effort during World War II and, with the help of composer George Antheil, developed wireless communications technology we still use today in everyday objects such as cell phones.
  • In “The Big Lebowski,” the word Dude is used 161 times and “man” is used 147.
  • No one really knows why sometimes we get the sensation of falling when we’re about to fall asleep. It’s called a hypnic jerk and one theory is it’s a leftover response from when humans used to sleep on branches in trees.
  • V for Victory was popularized by Winston Churchill during World War II. But it was first proposed as a symbol for resistance to tyranny by Victor de Laveleye who was exiled to England after the Nazi invasion of Belgium in 1940.
  • In case you ever wanted to kiss a baby iguana on the mouth, you might want to be aware that they often eat the poop of adult iguanas to get bacteria necessary for digesting their food.
  • George Orwell’s “1984,” written in 1949, shot to the top of Amazon Best-Sellers last week, which for those of you listening in the future was the second to last week of January 2017 following a number of references to the book on Twitter after Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway's statement that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer used "alternative facts" when describing Inauguration Day.
  • If you see a representation of a pirate wearing an eye patch, it’s most likely not because he lost his eye -- a theory, which was deemed Plausible by “Mythbusters,” is that wearing an eye patch kept that eye’s pupil dilated so seeing in the dark was easier when the patch was removed. Having this skill was handy when pirates had to go below deck quickly.
  • Lincoln’s famous beard was grown because 11-year-old Grace Bedell of Westfield, New York, wrote him a letter suggesting growing a beard to hide his gaunt face before the upcoming presidential election. On the way to his inauguration, he made a special stop in Westfield to meet Bedell and, shaking her hand, said,“You see? I let these whiskers grow for you.”
  • As much as fans love him, Darth Vader only appears on screen for a total of 12 minutes in the original Star Wars.
  • Not that I recommend you try it, but Romans used to effectively whiten their teeth with urine.
  • There are two theories most probable about the origin of pink lemonade. Neither of them involve adding strawberry or raspberry to the mixture, as is common today and both involve the circus. One is that red cinnamon candies were accidentally dropped in a vat of lemonade in 1912 and, because there wasn’t enough time to make a new batch, the lemonade was sold and became a hit. The second is that a lemonade salesman at the circus in 1857 ran out of water to make lemonade and grabbed a tub of water that was previously used to wash a performer’s pink tights.

The role of Shirley Temple was played by Laura McClellan from The Productive Woman podcast, John Dennis was played by Danny Savage from the podcast Idiom Savant, and Stargate Pioneer from Better Podcasting played Abraham Lincoln.

Starting Thursday, The Story Behind will be doing more consecutive theme episodes starting with Forrest Gump February. Each episode will be the story behind a different pop culture or historical reference from the Tom Hanks movie. Be sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast app so you don’t miss an episode.

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