Pyrrhic Victory

You’ve read it, heard it, and maybe even parroted it, but just in case you didn’t know: a Pyrrhic (rhymes with beer-ick) victory refers to a victory that comes at such great cost that it can hardly be considered a victory at all. The term comes from ancient Greek King Pyrrhus of Epirus, who defeated the Romans in a series of battles in what is now southern Italy in 279 BC during the Pyrrhic War. Even though victorious, his army suffered such catastrophic losses that he was quoted as saying […]

Wow! Only 2% Fat!

All of your life you’ve seen milk labels that advertise great-tasting milk with only 2% fat. If the marketing people were right, you’ve optimistically assumed that 98% of the fat had somehow been removed, leaving a tiny, harmless bit behind. Well you’re going to learn the truth eventually, so it might as well be right now: actually only about half of the fat has been removed, leaving half for you to enjoy. But hey, 50% is still a win, right? It’s just not as good as it sounded. Here’s what […]

Children of the American Revolution

Several National Societies exist today to honor descendants of patriots of the American Revolution. The societies have various stated purposes but in general seek to increase public awareness and preserve the memory of the values, ideals, and actions of those involved in establishing American independence. And of course to bring attention to themselves. The earliest known society was actually conceived before the revolution was over, in Fishkill, New York in 1783. The hereditary Society of the Cincinnati, organized by Major General Henry Knox, was created to help officers keep in […]

The Blues Scale

You’ve experienced it from a variety of musicians and you’ve heard the phrase batted around as if everyone knows just what it is. But do they? Do you? Here’s what our culture assumes you to already know about the blues scale. There’s no clear-cut definition what is or is not a blues scale other than it is a scale that can be used to create solos in the wide variety of music known as blues. However, most musicians agree that the six-note blues scale is a good starting point. This […]


This is another word that you’d think everyone understands given how frequently it is used, but most people would be hard-pressed to explain it. Here’s what you should know. Although syncopation in music can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, the most common meaning is when the musical emphasis falls where you don’t expect it, making the line sound off-beat and disturbing the rhythm in a way that actually sounds better. When you avoid the obvious beat, you surprise the listener, which grabs their attention. For […]

Habeas Corpus

Good old habeas corpus, where would we be without you? The Great Writ. The hallmark of our justice system. Everyone knows it’s proof of our advanced and just society and we’re sure glad we have it, even if most of us have no idea what it is. Not to worry, here’s what you should know. Habeas corpus is a constitutional right that provides protection against unlawful or improper detention. It is from Medieval Latin and means “that you have the body”. The complete phrase habeas corpus ad subjiciendum means “that […]

Why Miranda?

If you grew up with a television in the house, you know what Miranda means. You know that suspected criminals have rights, and police need to read them these rights before questioning them, and they call these the Miranda rights. But who or what was Miranda? Sounds like something you should already know, doesn’t it? The Miranda Warning is given by police in the United States to advise criminal suspects in custody of their Miranda Rights, i.e. that they have the right to have a lawyer present when being questioned […]

Mayflower Society

To round out your general knowledge of this well-known society, you should know that the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, commonly referred to as the Mayflower Society, is an organization of people who can demonstrate that they descend from at least one of the 102 passengers who arrived in Cape Cod aboard the Mayflower in November of 1620. Although there were 102 passengers (and about 30 crew) only 31 Mayflower passengers are currently known to have descendants. Remember they suffered a devastatingly harsh first winter that left only 58 of […]

Colón, Colombo and Columbus

The Spanish know him as Cristóbal Colón. The Italians know him as Cristoforo Colombo the Italian explorer. We know him as simply Christopher Columbus, the guy who “discovered” the New World (while looking for India, but that’s another story). So who is right? Here’s what you need to know. Columbus was most likely born in 1451 in the Republic of Genoa (1005-1797), so perhaps the Italians might be on to something. But consider that Italy didn’t exist until Garibaldi united it in 1871 when Rome became the capital of the […]

Why Knot?

A knot is simply a measurement of speed, one nautical mile per hour. That was easy! But wait a minute, you say, what is a nautical mile? A nautical mile is 1.1508 land miles, or 1,852 meters, or 6,076.1 ft. So why is a nautical mile different from a land mile? In a nutshell, because you can’t walk on water. The term “mile” comes from Latin word for one thousand (mille), as in one thousand paces (mille passus), so a mile could be measured more or less accurately as a […]