One of the deadliest earthquakes in history struck Lisbon, Portugal, in 1755, killing at least 30,000. The earthquake, followed by a tsunami and raging fires, almost totally destroyed the city, leaving just 15% of its buildings standing.
The study of the quake’s causes led to the beginnings of seismology. Geologists today estimate that the temblor, with an epicenter in the Atlantic Ocean, approached magnitude 9 on the moment magnitude scale.
When Martin Luther (1483-1546), a German monk and religious reformer, nailed his 95 “theses” (or propositions) to the church door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, so many people agreed with his ideas that they spread throughout western Europe and touched off a religious revolt known as the Reformation. As a result, many Christians broke their centuries-old connection with the Roman Catholic Church and established independent churches of their own, prime among them being the Lutheran Church. October 31 is observed by most Protestant denominations as Reformation Day.
Definition: (adjective) Cut low at the neckline.
Synonyms: low-cut, low-necked.
Usage: She wore a decollete dress that many of the guests deemed inappropriately revealing.
Drafted by a committee chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the world’s most translated document. Among its 30 articles are definitions of civil and political rights, as well as definitions of economic, social, and cultural rights—all of which are owed by UN member states to those under their jurisdiction. Since its adoption, it has acquired more juridical status than originally intended and has been widely used, even by national courts, in what ways?
A space elevator is a hypothetical megastructure capable of transporting material from Earth—or another celestial body—into space without the use of rockets. The concept was first conceived by Russian inventor Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in 1895. Many of today’s proposed designs incorporate tensile towers built out of advanced materials like carbon nanotubes, which are very strong and lightweight. By 1978, technology had advanced enough that working space elevators could have been constructed where?
Used as a form of channeling by proponents of Spiritualism and the New Age movement, automatic writing is a writing process that is performed without conscious thought or deliberation, at times, while the writer is in a trancelike state.
Practitioners often attribute the resulting message to aliens, the deceased, the subconscious, or even God. Skeptics note, however, that there is no evidence to support such claims. Which books have allegedly been written using this technique?
flashover – n. – the moment a conversation becomes real and alive, which occurs when a spark of trust shorts out the delicate circuits you keep insulated under layers of irony, momentarily grounding the static emotional charge you’ve built up through decades of friction with the world.
excursive – (adjective) – Of, given to, characterized by, or having the nature of digression.
Synonyms: rambling, digressive, discursive.
Usage: What started as a few excursive remarks soon turned into a long, rambling speech about this and that.
Definition: (noun) A person who acts independently or remains neutral, especially in politics.
Synonyms: fencesitter, independent.
Usage: The public relations firm believed that the key to victory was to capture the hearts and minds of the mugwumps who would otherwise remain passive.
Definition: (noun) A state of peace and quiet.
Synonyms: tranquility, quietness.
Usage: Who can tell how scenes of peace and quietude sink into the minds of pain-worn dwellers in close and noisy places.
Definition: (verb) To assert formally as a fact.
Synonyms: allege, say.
Usage: For as my conscience does not accuse me, I aver that I am not a criminal.
Definition: (noun) A heap of earth placed over prehistoric tombs.
Synonyms: burial mound, grave mound, barrow.
Usage: The tumulus marked the spot where his ancestor was buried.
I know you didn’t know this one… I didn’t!
wytai – noun – a feature of modern society that suddenly strikes you as absurd and grotesque—from zoos and milk-drinking to organ transplants, life insurance, and fiction—part of the faint background noise of absurdity that reverberates from the moment our ancestors first crawled out of the slime but could not for the life of them remember what they got up to do.
retinue – (noun) – The group following and attending to some important person.
Synonyms: entourage, cortege, suite.
Usage: Guillaume Lejean…reached Karthoum by way of the Red Sea, and embarked upon the Nile with a retinue of twenty-one hired men and twenty soldiers.
Definition: (noun) A light boat propelled by sails or oars, formerly used as a tender for merchant and war vessels.
Synonyms: ship’s boat, cutter, tender.
Usage: Seated upon the projection formed by the hull of the pinnace, I inhaled the salt breeze with delight.
Definition: (noun) A preacher of the Christian gospel.
Synonyms: evangelist, gospeller.
Usage: The revivalist drew a crowd of devoted followers to his weekly prayer meetings.
These puzzles are comprised of mechanically interlinked pieces that must be manipulated in a certain way in order for them to be assembled, disassembled, and otherwise solved. The oldest known example, from the 3rd century BCE, consists of a square divided into 14 parts that fit together to form other shapes. Mechanical puzzles have since taken on myriad forms, including dexterity and disentanglement puzzles, trick vessels, and impossible objects. What is the most well-known impossible object?
scathing – (adjective) – Bitterly denunciatory; harshly critical.
Usage: This scathing remark caused the Prince to hide his face for shame, and Steve to erect his head in the proud consciousness that this shot was not meant for him.
High-speed photography allows fast moving phenomena to be recorded with precision and clarity. While in 1948 high-speed photography was defined as a set of at least 3 photographs taken by a camera capable of recording a minimum of 128 frames per second, today’s equipment can shoot as many as 1 million frames per second.
High-speed photography was first put to practical use in 1878 to investigate whether or not a trotting horse ever has all 4 feet off the ground at once. What did the images show?
Definition: (noun) A usually fatal epidemic disease, especially bubonic plague.
Usage: The place might have been desolated by a pestilence, so empty and so lifeless did it now appear.
The latest findings in Earth science are brought to you by ancient astronomers who observed the heavens as much as 2,700 years ago. Thanks to hundreds of records of lunar and solar eclipses carved in clay tablets and written into dynastic histories, modern
Definition: (adjective) Caught up in the romance of noble deeds and the pursuit of unreachable goals; idealistic without regard to practicality.
Synonyms: wild-eyed, romantic.
Usage: She is ready prey to any man who knows how to play adroitly either on her affectionate ardor or her quixotic enthusiasm.
Night of the Radishes is a festival dating from the 19th century that combines art, agriculture, and religion. It is held in the zócalo, or main square, in Oaxaca, Mexico. The radishes grow to yam-size here and are each uniquely shaped by growing through the rocky soil. Families harvest these vegetables, and combine and sculpt them into elaborate forms depicting biblical scenes, especially the nativity of Jesus. Historical and Aztec themes are also represented. After the awarding of cash prizes and ribbons, a fireworks display caps the night. Discuss
unexceptionable – (adjective) Beyond any reasonable objection; irreproachable.
Usage: No person need think of applying for this situation unless he could furnish the most unexceptionable references to character and abilities.
The Capgras Delusion is a rare disorder in which a person holds the delusional belief that an acquaintance—usually a spouse or other close family member—has been replaced by an identical impostor. Found in patients diagnosed with schizophrenia, dementia, or those suffering from a brain injury, the disorder is named after Joseph Capgras, the French psychiatrist who first described it in 1923.
A molecular machine is a minute mechanism consisting of molecular components that perform mechanical-like movements in response to specific stimuli. Chemists have synthesized a number of simple molecular machines, including molecular propellers and molecular motors, the latter of which are powered by light or reactions with other molecules and are capable of unidirectional rotation.
Far more complex biological versions of these artificial nanomachines are found in living cells. What do they do?
Steganography is the practice of hiding secret messages in seemingly innocuous documents such as pictures, articles, or shopping lists. The practice dates to the 5th c BCE, when early practitioners concealed information under the wax of wooden writing tablets or on the tattooed scalps of slaves. As technology evolved, so did steganography; and today, information is often hidden in computer files.
Ouzo is a clear, anise-flavored liqueur made exclusively in Greece. While some say that its name derives from the Turkish word üzüm—meaning grape—a popular anecdote claims that it actually comes from the Italian phrase uso Massalia, meaning “for use in Marseilles.” According to the story, the phrase became synonymous with “superior quality” after being stamped on crates of silkworm cocoons exported in the 19th century. Why does ouzo turn white when mixed with water or ice? Discuss
Christkindlesmarkt is the biggest and best known of the Christmas markets of Germany. The market in Nuremberg, Bavaria, Germany, has been held since 1697 in the city’s Hauptmarkt (“main market”). More than 100 booths are set up to offer only goods directly related to Christmas, and food booths sell Nuremberg’s specialties—Lebkuchen, or gingerbread, and Zwetschgenmannlein, which are little people-shaped confections. The three-week festival is inaugurated with choral singing, the pealing of church bells, and illumination of a creche.
Definition: (noun) A socially awkward or tactless act.
Synonyms: faux pas, gaffe, slip, gaucherie.
Usage: She smiled again, turned, and walked away, leaving George to reckon up all the social solecisms he had contrived to commit in the space of a single moment.