May 22, 2015

Why Isn’t the Plural of Asparagus “Asparagi”? And 5 Other Questions for the Modern Man, Woman, Child and Robot

1. Why Isn’t the Plural of Asparagus “asparagi”? 

Focus in the plural is foci. For nucleus, you have nuclei. But asparagus? Oh noooo, the word asparagus must diverge. It must taint the language with the plebeian form "asparaguses." Ach. To my chagrin, I learned that asparagus has replaced the Old English word sparagi. But how? Only gods and philologists know.

2. Why platypuses?

The scientific name for the platypus is Ornithorhynchus anatinus. It means — are you ready for this? — duck-like bird snout. People also call the platypus by its full name, "duck-billed platypus," as opposed to the shovel-billed platypus, the colander-billed platypus, or the donkey-powered-helicopter-billed platypus.

3. Why did they call Vivaldi "The Red Priest"?

Venice suffered an earthquake on the day Vivaldi was born. That very day, Vivaldi's mother decided he would take holy orders. He became a priest at age 25, and earned the nickname "Il Prete Rosso" (the red priest) thanks to the color of his hair.

You can listen to a creative interpretation of Vivaldi's "Summer" right here.

Birdhouse Revisited
by Laura Graves


4.  Why, why, why do we need a new Poltergeist?

The original film was not perfect, not a masterpiece, and it boasts more than a handful of unintelligent scenes. But does this story need to be told more poorly, with more impressive special effects taking the place of character development? I'm thinking back to the Evil Dead remake, which makes the original look like an Orson Welles.

Hollywood doesn't just underestimate you, however. It also thinks that movies need to be dumbed down for foreign audiences — a bizarre notion, because human brains are equally capable anywhere on Earth; we're a single species, Homo sapiens sapiens. Besides, Europe alone has directors like Peter Greenaway, Pedro Almodovar, Wim Wenders, Marc Rothemund... All of whom make sophisticated movies for demanding audiences.

5. If I glue an alligator to a bear, do I get a beargator?

No. You get two dead animals.

6. What's a good, non-dairy source of calcium?

Raw kale, garlic and arugula (rocket). The word kale, by the way, comes from Old English cāwel via Latin caulis.

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