Things You Should Already Know is a non-fiction series that addresses concepts and references that you know you should know, that society already assumes you know, but that, for some reason, you don’t.

Our culture is built around people, places, and references that we grew up with and are therefore expected to know.

Everyone knows ships measure speed in knots, and we all know why, right?

We’ve come across these things so many times that we more or less “get it” when we encounter them in context, and we make mental notes to Google them when we have time, but we don’t. We accept the fact that we don’t fully understand them and assume we probably never will.

I know there is a difference between AC and DC, but I ’m not quite sure what it is, or more importantly, why it is…

Maybe it’s enough to kind-of understand, but we won’t have much to say in a discussion about them.

Everyone knows Habeas Corpus is a must-have, just please don ’t ask me why…

This is not a series of fun facts, nor is it a series of useless knowledge. It’s a series of useful knowledge about those little things we continually hear about, read about and probably use ourselves without fully grasping them. Not fully understanding these references puts us at a cultural and conversational disadvantage. Knowing them allows us to participate more fully in things we hear, read, or see on TV.

I know what the D.C. after Washington stands for, and I keep meaning to find out why it ’s there.

This is not a self-help series, although it will help you become more well rounded. It is not an educational text, although you will learn from it. This is simply a series of satisfyingly informative Things You Should Already Know, in bite-sized nuggets for when you’re just sitting around looking for easy reading and enlightenment.

Sure I like Pre-Raphaelite art, doesn ’t everyone?

Why read this series?

A) It will bring satisfaction because you’re learning something new in every article.

B) The information you learn will resonate as things you always felt you should know.

C) You will become a more informed reader, listener, and conversationalist.

How could Italy not have had tomatoes before the 16th century, or Switzerland chocolate, or England tobacco? Ireland had no potatoes? Spain no corn? Are they pulling my leg?

Society doesn’t expect you to know the speed of light in meters per second, but you could reasonably be expected to know that nothing can go faster than the speed of light. Similarly, you don’t need to be able to recite the Miranda warning, but as a well-rounded, educated person who hears this term weekly on TV and maybe uses it from time to time, you should probably be aware of what it is, why it is called Miranda, and why we have it.

Someone at work told me not to be such a Pollyanna. I ’m not sure if I should be offended… Remind me to Google that.

You should know what the Holy See is and isn’t. You should know what a hedge fund is. You should know that the Mayflower brought the first pilgrims to Plymouth about 130 years after Columbus.

Animal husbandry … I was always afraid to ask.

Here are some things that you know you should know, but probably don’t:

○ Why are people born in Puerto Rico US citizens?
○ Why is the GOP the GOP? (Democrats will like this one.)
○ There are 50 states so why do I live in a Commonwealth?
○ If there’s a First and Third world, surely there must be a Second world…
○ Why do firehouses have Engine companies and Ladder companies?
○ What do gaffers, grips and best boys do?
○ North America cannot have 23 countries, can it?
○ What is this Minute of Angle thing that keeps popping up?
○ Who was the presumed Dr Livingston and why do we care?
○ What exactly is a Natural Born Citizen?
○ What is a Gregorian calendar and why do I care?

This series will tell you what you should know.

I more-or-less know what the Academy of Motion Picture Artists is, but don ’t ask me to explain it. That or the Knights Templar, Dow Jones, Scandinavia, the Masons, White Russians, Vatican City, color blindness, or fiat currency.

Some people learn something once and never forget it. Maybe they read a lot and it sinks in. We recognize them making easy conversation at cocktail parties, with insightful informed opinions on just about any topic that comes up. This series is for the rest of us so that we can join in the conversation too.

Oh, those halcyon days! I assume halcyon days are a good thing, but you won ’t catch me using it because I really have no idea which days are halcyon and which are not, nor do I trust myself to pronounce it correctly. Not that I can’t find out easily, it’s just that I never have.

Think outside the box, dear, it’s a Gordian Knot.

Of course it is.

Communism? Where I grew up this was a no-go zone, which is why I ’m pretty clueless when anyone mentions Marxism, Leninism, Marxism-Leninism, Stalinism or the like. I couldn’t even fake the similarities and differences, I just know they are “bad” (aren’t they?) Quiz: did Marx approve of Stalin, why or why not?

Occam’s Razor, surely that’s the answer.

Of course it is.

You might have wondered but never had time to check:

○ Does pre-Colombian art come from the country now known as Colombia?
○ What does rubber have to do with Star Trek?
○ Why did the ERA fail, and what does it have to do with baseball?
○ I know what BC is, but why do I keep seeing BCE?
○ How far away is the horizon?
○ I grew up seeing the words pasteurized and homogenized every morning, and I still keep meaning to look them up…
○ Really, why did Constantinople get the works?


Speaking of rulings… John, I read your company finally got approval for the merger. Would you call that a Pyhrric victory?

Well, you know what they say…
(finishes drink)
Look at that. Another round? I’m buying!

This series tells you what you should know about about memes, Pi, The Louisiana Purchase, the Great American Novel, magnetic north, offsides in soccer, men on the moon, batting averages, microwaves, British vs. English, Pangaea, perfect pitch, the atomic clock, enclave vs. exclave, mc 2, shillings, florins, farthings, and more.

(playing air drums)
I just love syncopation, don’t you?

(nodding, lips pursed)

I know who Socrates was and I feel like I should know what the Socratic Method is, but, somehow, I don ’t.

What’s your poison — whiskey, scotch, bourbon, rye?

(nods knowingly)
Surprise me.

Thinks to self: aren’t they really all the same thing?

Quiz: What part of Holland are the Pennsylvania Dutch from? Or are they from the Netherlands?

Between you and me, and I’ll deny it if anyone asks, but what exactly is a hedge fund?

Dude, I thought it was just me!

And so on.

This is not a bluffer’s guide to appearing intelligent. However, if you find yourself in an intelligent conversation with informed people, this might keep you from appearing the opposite.