Minute of Angle

He’s shooting minute of angle, they say knowingly. The rest of us just stare blankly. If you’ve ever read any novels or seen any movies about snipers or expert marksmen or military heroes, you’ve no doubt met a character who shoots minute of angle (MOA). Writers throw this term around like we were all born knowing what it means, and they rarely give a good explanation for it. Well just in case it comes up in conversation next time you’re talking to a gun enthusiast, here’s what you need to […]

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor is one of those expressions that linger on the edge of most people’s sphere of knowledge: we kind of know what it is, having probably learned it once and since forgotten. We understand it in context but are fearful of misusing it ourselves. Well fear no more! Here’s what you need to know to take control of this useful expression. Williamm of Ockham (1287-1347) was an English Franciscan friar, philosopher and theologian. His so-called “razor” is a philosophical principle referred to as his razor because he used it […]

Dr. Livingstone I presume?

David Livingstone (1813–1873) was a Scottish missionary and explorer and a great hero of the British popular culture of his time. A rags-to-riches success, he became a medical doctor and then a missionary trying to save Africa from the slave trade, all the while building his reputation as a fearless explorer and scientific investigator. He was convinced that opening Africa to trade and colonialism would eliminate slavery, and he believed that its many rivers would provide the key transportation infrastructure. He spent the last years of his life searching for […]

Which Grand Old Party?

“Grand Old Party” always seemed to me a pretty clever way to promote your political party. I always wondered why the Democrats hadn’t come up with such a clever name. Turns out they did — the same name. Here’s what you should know. The phrase “grand old party” was used by orators on both sides of the isle throughout the 1800s when trying to inspire nostalgia, righteousness and loyalty. Considering the Democratic party (1820s) was older than the Republican party (1850s), “grand old” was more meaningful coming from a the […]

The Second Amendment

We all know that this phrase is synonymous with the highly-inflammatory and endlessly-debated question of to what extent we have the right to bear arms. What else should we know? At there end of the US Constitution there is a list of amendments. The first 10 amendments are called the Bill of Rights and they list specific prohibitions on governmental power that protect the individual liberties of the citizens. The second of these amendments specifically addresses keeping and bearing arms. For all the debate it has generated, the second amendment […]

Pyrrhic Victory

This is another neat little phrase that is probably underused because we’re afraid that if we use it, someone might ask us to explain it. Fear no more, here is what you should already know. A Pyrrhic victory refers to a victory that comes at such a great cost that it is arguably not a victory at all. The origin comes from the Pyrrhic War where King Pyrrhus of Epirus successfully defended his people twice from the Romans, first at the Battle of Heraclea in 280 BC and then at […]

The Gettysburg Address

We all know that the Gettysburg Address is a speech, not a postal destination, and we probably know that President Lincoln delivered this address. Have you always had this back-of-the-mind suspicion that you should know more about it, for all the attention it gets? If so, then here is what you should already know. The Gettysburg Address’s message, writing style and historical context have made it one of the United States’ most famous and enduring speeches. The occasion was the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, carved from the battlefield […]

Three Worlds

We frequently hear about and refer to the Third World, and we all know we’re talking about the least developed nations in the world. But did you ever stop to wonder why it’s the third world, and where the first two worlds are? Do you feel like this is something you should already know? The three-world paradigm originates in the political post-WWII breakdown of how the world was viewed. The First World were the democratic, industrial countries aligned with the United States and living within their sphere of influence. The […]

Dog and Pony Show

When you hear someone use this expression you intuitively understand from the context what is being said, although you probably feel like you’re missing the reference to something featuring dogs and ponies. You’re not alone. Here is what you should know. In the late 1800s and early 1900s a dog and pony show was a type of traveling circus featuring, you guessed it, performing dogs and ponies, as well as monkeys and other highly trained animals. The art form hit its peak with Henry B. Gentry, an ambitious showman and […]

White House Burned

Did you know the White House was burned down in a war? And not just the White House… Here is what you should know. On June 18, 1812, not thirty years after we won our independence from Britain, we found ourselves at war with them again. Why? Britain was at war with Napoleanic France and, to prevent neutral trade with France, Britain imposed an illegal blockade of the United States’ coast and began impressing American merchant marines into military service to man their ships. President James Madison declared war and […]