weird and wacky holidays happening in March

March 30 is Pencil Day

pencil day

Today is Pencil Day but it is not, as the name might imply, the date of its invention. On March 30, 1858, Hymen Lipman patented his addition of an eraser to an existing design.

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Fun Fact: The first known usage of the word “pencil” occurred in the 14th century, derived from Old French pincelmeaning “artist’s paintbrush.” Pincel traces back to Latin penicillus, “little tail,” a diminutive of peniculus, “brush” and penis, “tail.”  Every time you write a grocery list or fill in a crossword puzzle, you’re holding a piece of history named for an ancient joke about penis size.

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Lipman designed his pencil with a rubber eraser embedded inside the wood at one end to enable a writer to sharpen the pencil’s graphite or eraser as needed. He described the process in his patent application:

I make a lead-pencil in the usual manner, reserving about one-fourth of the length, in which I make a groove of suitable size, A,and insert in this groove a piece of prepared india-rubber…The pencil is then finished in the usual manner, so that on cutting one end thereof you have the lead B, and on cutting at the other end you expose a small piece of india-rubber, C, ready for use, and particularly valuable for removing or erasing lines, figures, &c., and not subject to be soiled or mislaid on the table or desk.

pencil day

The patent was granted and in 1862, Lipman sold it to Joseph Reckendorfer for $100,000, the equivalent of $2.3 million today. Later that year, Reckendorfer applied for and was granted a patent for his “improvement,” which made the pencil tapered like a chopstick.

pencil day

A few years later, Reckendorfer sued German company Faber (which would become Faber-Castell in 1900) for selling a similar pencil. The case was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled an article constructed of two preexisting things could not be patented unless it produced “a different force or effect or result in the combined forces or processes from that given by their separate parts.”

The example of a hoe attached to a rake’s handle was used to illustrate that whether or not the combined item was more convenient than either of its constituent parts, it did not qualify as an invention in its own right. Lipman didn’t claim to have invented the idea and his repeated use of the phrase “in the usual manner” didn’t help matters. In 1875, the court ruled against Reckendorfer and declared his patents invalid. Today, Faber-Castell is the world’s oldest running pencil manufacturer.

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Fun Fact: Pencils are filled with graphite, but our habit of calling it lead reaches back to the early 16th century. An enormous deposit of graphite was unearthed in England, misidentified as lead due to its similar appearance and used for pencils, among other things. At the time, it was named plumbago, meaning “lead ore,” which also happens to share its root with the word plumber, “person who works with lead.”

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Have a happy Pencil Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

March 29 is Smoke and Mirrors Day

Today is Smoke and Mirrors Day. It is sometimes referred to as National Smoke and Mirrors Day or the Festival of Smoke and Mirrors although, perhaps fittingly, we know of no festival occurring today.

smoke and mirrors day

Magicians have long used distracting bursts of smoke to mask the extension or retraction of mirrors. The props help them make objects seem to appear and disappear. When the illusion is successful, audience members respond with childlike wonder. They may have come, in part, to try to figure out how it’s done but they’ve also bought the ticket hoping to be tricked. They are delighted at the deception.

These days, “smoke and mirrors” refers to the political practice of making unsupported, deflective statements calculated to garner favor, obscure incompetence and discourage serious inquiry. While this also requires showmanship on a grand scale, there is nothing delightful about it, as everyone but its promoters and beneficiaries would agree.

According to Phrase Finder, the latter usage dates back to journalist Jimmy Breslin’s 1975 book, How the Good Guys Finally Won: Notes from an Impeachment Summer. In it, he detailed the process which led to the U.S. House of Representatives’ vote to impeach Richard Nixon. Breslin wrote:

“All political power is primarily an illusion… Mirrors and blue smoke, beautiful blue smoke rolling over the surface of highly polished mirrors… If somebody tells you how to look, there can be seen in the smoke great, magnificent shapes, castles and kingdoms, and maybe they can be yours.”

“The ability to create the illusion of power, to use mirrors and blue smoke, is one found in unusual people.”

By June 4, 1975, an article in the Lowell Sun flipped the words into their more familiar order:

“Jimmy Breslin alluded to with images, of blue smoke and mirrors in his recently published book on an impeachment summer.”

How can you tell the difference between a magician and a politician? The magician will give you your dollar back after he’s done tricking you. Have a happy and magical Smoke and Mirrors Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

March 28 is Respect Your Cat Day

Today is Respect Your Cat Day. We would argue that every day is Respect Your Cat Day. Why is today singled out for this observance?

Respect Your Cat Day

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Legend has it that on March 28, 1384, King Richard II outlawed the consumption of cats. We use the word “legend” because there doesn’t appear to be a lick of truth to it. We wanted to believe it because it’s a great story. Apparently, many sites agree: the Richard II edict dominates the first several pages of Google search results.

Some say that in times of famine, nothing would have been off the table, so to speak. A couple of people stated that cookbooks of the era didn’t feature cat-centric recipes. Another noted that her grandmother had called cats Scotch hares so it was possible they might have been part of recipes that didn’t explicitly use the word “cat.”

In our research, we were unable to find any confirmation of the tale, only repetition. We hate to be party poopers, but this smells like b.s. to us. If you have any information about it, we would be grateful to hear it.  In the meantime, we have submitted the statement to Snopes.com, a trusted arbiter of online fact versus fiction.

No matter what the truth is, have a happy Respect Your Cat Day today and every day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

 

National Joe Day

national joe dayToday is National Joe Day. We have been unable to track down the source of this unofficial observance but that shouldn’t keep you from having fun with it.

Is your name Joe? Congratulations. Inform your friends, family and coworkers about today’s holiday, then sit back and wait for the accolades to come your way. If not, you could become “Joe for a Day.”

Did you know that Joe (or Jo) means “sweetheart” in the Scottish language? In Hebrew, Joe roughly translates to “he will increase.” According to etymology site Behind the Name, Joe ranked #20 in 1880, the first year it reports statistics. It has since dropped in popularity, coming in at #565 in 2014.

Here’s a fun National Joe Day game based on 20 Questions. Have everyone pick Joe nametags from a basket and—without looking—stick them to their foreheads so everyone else can see the name. A player must then ask the others questions to figure out which Joe he or she is wearing. The person who guesses correctly after the fewest questions is a cheater. (The law of averages dictates that there’s one in every group.)

The game continues until one last straggler is still desperately trying to figure it out. At this point, someone whispers, writes a note or otherwise helps the person finish. (This is known as mercy cheating.) Finally, everybody wins the same prize just for participating: a cup of coffee, a jelly bean or something else insignificant yet sure to gratify the losers and ignore the efforts of the winners. (We’re still talking about “average,” right?)

Here are some suggestions for nametags:

  • Joe Six-Pack
  • G.I Joe
  • Joe Blow
  • Joe Cool
  • Joe Palooka
  • Joe Schmoe
  • Holy Joe

If you’ve got a large group, you could add some real-life Joes:

  • Joe Namath
  • Joe DiMaggio
  • Joe Montana
  • Joe Guidice
  • Joe Stalin
  • Joe Biden
  • Joe Frazier

Extra credit for Stephen King fans:

  • Joe King (and no, we’re not joking)

Have a happy National Joe Day!

 

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays