January 22 is National Hot Sauce Day

national hot sauce day

Today is National Hot Sauce Day. It celebrates the birthday in 1865 of Wilbur Scoville, who created a method to determine a pepper’s spiciness that is still in use today.

Scoville, an American chemist, devised the system in 1912. It measures the concentration of capsaicin, the active component that gives chilies their spicy taste, using Scoville Heat Units (SHU). Ratings range from 0 for a bell pepper to 16,000,000 for pure capsaicin.

Capsaicin content, which causes a burning sensation when it comes in contact with any tissue, is measured by dissolving a pepper in alcohol to extract its capsaicin oil, then diluting the oil in sugar water.

If a panel of five testers detects any spiciness, the mixture is diluted again until three of the five cannot discern any hotness. Heat level is measured by how many dilutions are necessary. Every instance increases the SHU, since hotter chillies must be weakened many times for no heat to be detected.

Since 2013, The Guinness World Record holder for hottest chili pepper is the Carolina Reaper, a cross between a ghost pepper and a red habanero. The Reaper’s official heat level is 1,569,300 SHU. (By comparison, Tabasco Sauce has a level 0f 2,500 to 5,000.)

Studies have shown that heat levels evoke the same pain response in spice lovers and haters and everyone in between. So why do so many of us like it? Could it predict other risk-taking behaviors? Check out this TED Ed lesson for answers.

Happy National Hot Sauce Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

January 18 is Thesaurus Day

Today is Thesaurus Day. It celebrates the birthday on January 18, 1779, of Peter Roget, who published his Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases in 1852, at the age of 72.

Thesaurus DayAccording to Joshua Kendall’s biography, The Man Who Made Lists, Roget was compelled from an early age to create lists and tally objects to bring order to a chaotic childhood filled with mentally ill family members, including an uncle who cut his own throat and died in Roget’s arms.

Roget’s obsessions followed him into adulthood. He found that counting things gave him comfort and noted, ” I every day go up at least 320 steps.” He marveled at his ability to control the movement of his own irises.

He found Paris filthy but admired the precision of Napoleon’s military parades. Later, as a doctor in his native England, he helped introduce lifesaving public health policy in Manchester. The city’s squalor drove him to spend his evenings composing the synonymic word lists that would eventually make up the Thesaurus.

He never intended it as a book of synonyms: he felt there was “really no such thing” because of the unique meaning of every word. Instead, it was an elaborate system of 1,000 lists meant to spur readers to higher levels of scholarship. The index he added, almost as an afterthought, is the only part that most people use. He continued to revise and update it until his death at the age of 90.

To honor Thesaurus Day, we consulted it for a synonym for “synonym.” We found “analogue,” “equivalent” and the obviously trying-too-hard “metonym.”

What about synonyms for “thesaurus?” Along with “glossary” and “lexicon,” we found less worthy terms such as “sourcebook” and “reference book.” Our favorite? “Onomasticon.” Try to sneak that into a sentence today and have a happy Thesaurus Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

December 10 is Dewey Decimal Day

dewey decimal dayToday is Dewey Decimal Day. Melville Louis Kossuth Dewey was born on December 10, 1851, in the hardscrabble town of Adams Center in Northern New York State. At the age of 22, while studying at Amherst College in Boston, he devised one of the most efficient methods of classification ever known, copyrighting the Dewey Decimal System three years later in 1876. He’s proven to be much harder to classify.

Dewey abhorred waste, championing conversion to metric measurements and the use of streamlined phonetic spellings. Upon leaving home, he shortened his name to Melvil and attempted to change his last name as well, but admitted defeat when his bank refused to recognize his new signature. Otherwise, we’d be referring to the Dui Decimal System right now.

Many libraries at that time utilized a numbering system that indicated the floor, aisle, section and shelf upon which each book was stored. When rearrangement became necessary, all of the books had to be reclassified. Dewey was determined to devise a simple, workable, permanent classification system.

He formulated a system of Arabic numerals with decimals for book classification. All printed knowledge would be organized into ten numerical classifications ranging from 000 to 900, with as many decimals as necessary to define the content of the book being classified.

Within three years, A Classification and Subject Index For Cataloguing and Arranging the Books and Pamphlets of a Library was published. It was widely adopted in the United States and England as well as elsewhere in the world. This system has proven to be enormously influential and remains in widespread use.

In 1883, Dewey was recruited by Columbia University to become its librarian. The following year, he founded the School of Library Economy—the first school for librarians ever organized. It opened on January 5, 1887. He personally enrolled each student. Of the twenty-six, nineteen were women.

Columbia forbade admittance to females. Since Dewey believed that women were destined to become librarians, he ignored this rule. That didn’t make him a feminist, though. His enrollment questionnaire required an applicant to report her height, weight, hair and eye color. Inclusion of a photograph was strongly recommended.

In spite of the school’s financial success, Columbia shuttered it the following year and Dewey moved on, accepting an invitation to become director of the New York State Library in 1883. In 1895, he founded a private resort in Lake Placid, New York, and began to campaign for the Olympic Games to be held there. Ten years later, Dewey was forced to resign as State Librarian after complaints that his Lake Placid Club denied entrance to smokers, drinkers, blacks and Jews.

In 1926, he moved to Florida to establish a new branch of the resort. He died on December 26, 1931, in Lake Placid, Florida. The following year, Lake Placid, New York, hosted the Winter Olympics.

Turns out Dewey was more complicated than his system.

Copyright 2016 Worldwide Weird Holidays

July 18 is World Listening Day

world listening day

Nice work, if you can get it.

Today is World Listening Day. It honors the birth on July 18, 1933, of Raymond Murray Schafer, the Canadian composer, teacher and environmentalist who invented the study of acoustic ecology at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University in the late 1960s.

Acoustic ecology uses field recordings to create and preserve the planet’s disappearing soundscapes while battling schizophonia, a word Schafer coined to define a unique medical condition. “We have split the sound from the maker of the sound,” Schafer explained.

“Sounds have been torn from their natural sockets and given an amplified and independent existence. Vocal sound, for instance, is no longer tied to a hole in the head but is free to issue from anywhere in the landscape.” We have a strong sensory response to this: it smells like feces and sounds like tenure.

The first World Soundscape Project was born from Schafer’s annoyance at the noise pollution he felt was ruining beautiful Vancouver.  It has evolved into a serious course of study. This business of listening seems to rely on a whole lot of talking.

The World Listening Project (WLP) was created in 2008 as a not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization dedicated to understanding societies, cultures and environments by listening and preserving audio. Finally, someone has found a way to achieve tax-exempt status for recording a garage band or just the sound a garage makes.

WLP and the Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology (MSE), under the auspices of the American Society for Acoustic Ecology (ASAE), created World Listening Day in 2010. Why? Per its site:

Cities’ sonic identities are continually fluctuating as residential and commercial infrastructures develop. The resultant social dynamics of industrialization and gentrification sponsor variegated relationships between people and the public and private places they occupy.

“…sponsor variegated relationships”? It looks like a thesaurus bled out all over an SAT. We get it: change sucks. Why can’t everything be like yesterday? If only we had a way to preserve it forever, like on DVD, but without the pesky visuals.

The theme of World Listening Day 2016 is “Sounds Lost and Found.” Per the organizers:

[W]e invite you to dig into crates of vinyl and cassettes, dive into digital archives, and engage deeply with memories and unheard languages to rediscover or identify these “lost sounds.”

While we agree that listening is an essential and underappreciated art, we don’t understand the need to starve other senses like sight to do it; we aren’t sure we can engage deeply with an unheard language. But maybe we weren’t listening closely enough. Would you mind repeating it?

Copyright 2016 Worldwide Weird Holidays