Autumn vs. Fall

Why do we have two English terms for this, and only this, season? Are Americans to blame? Here’s what you should know. Though they both mean exactly the same thing, fall is widely used in America and Canada, while autumn is the preferred term in the UK and its Commonwealth. You might assume that the Americans, who have a tendency to simplify the English language (e.g. lite, nite, thru, and the near abolishment of adverbs), created “fall” because the ending of the word autumn rubs them the wrong way. You […]


As you already know, the abbreviations AD for “Anno Domini” (in the year of the Lord) and BC for “before Christ” indicate where a year occurs with respect to best known date for the birth of Jesus Christ. Here’s what else you should already know. The Anno Domini system was invented in AD 525 by Dionysius Exiguus, a revered intellectual Romanian/Bulgarian monk living in Rome and serving on the Roman Curia. His model, also known as the Dionysian Era system, was widely adopted after Saint Bede the Venerable, an English […]


Since it’s widely believed that Christopher Columbus “discovered” America in 1492, Pre-Columbian refers to everything in the history of the Americas that came prior to the influence of the Europeans. Olmec, Teotihuacan, Toltec, Inca, Aztec, Maya, and countless other native American tribes are examples of the Pre-Columbian civilizations that had their their own art, culture, food, music, tools, beliefs, etc., all free from European influence. There is some credibility to the belief that the Vikings visited North America, what is now Maine and Newfoundland, as far back as the 10th […]

The Holy See and Vatican City

The place where the Pope lives is referred to in many ways, the least clear of which is the Holy See. Most people use this term as if they understand what it means. They probably should, and so should you, but as long as there is a slight possibility you do not, here is what you should know. In the Catholic Church, a Bishop has ecclesiastical jurisdiction over a geographical territory known as an episcopal see or more commonly as a diocese. The word “see” derives from the Latin word […]


Where does milk come from? Unless you live near a dairy farm it comes from the supermarket and it comes already homogenized and pasteurized. You know and use them, but what exactly do these two terms mean? Here’s what you should already know about milk. When you see milk with only 2% fat you wouldn’t be criticized for thinking that 98% of the fat has magically been removed. But that would be wishful thinking because actually only about 50% of the fat has been removed, which is still a good […]

Julian, Gregorian, Easter and Leap Years

The calendar we plan our lives with has a name: it’s called the Gregorian calendar. It’s named after Pope Gregory XIII because he’s the one who implemented back in 1582 by papal decree. He did so because the calendar that had been used up to that point, the Julian calendar, implemented by none other that Julius Caesar in 45 BC* was wrong. While the solar Julian calendar was a huge improvement over the Roman lunar calendar, it wasn’t quite good enough. Here is what you need to know. It all […]

Great Schism

The next time the Great Schism comes up in conversation (which I’m sure is frequently), remember that the Great Schism of the Catholic religion, also called the East–West Schism, happened in 1054 and was the break between what are now the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. The Roman Catholic church was based in Rome, and the Eastern Orthodox in Constantinople, known as “new Rome”. There are an abundance of political, cultural and theological reasons for the split, going back to the early days of the church, but a significant […]

Commonwealth or State

A “commonwealth” is defined as a “free state, or republic, characterized by a representative government”. So technically any of the United States can be considered a commonwealth. But four of the States formally refer to themselves as Commonwealth rather than State: The Commonwealth of Kentucky, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Commonwealth of Virginia. There are no differences under US law between a State and a Commonwealth. So why did four of them opt for this name, considering they are part of the United States and not the United […]

Whiskey, Whisky, Bourbon, Scotch, and Rye

First off, whiskey and whisky are the same thing with different spellings. In Scotland it’s spelled “whisky” while in Ireland it’s “whiskey” with an extra “e”. The US chose the Irish spelling, so “whiskey” also refers to American varieties. Regardless of spelling, whiskey is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash (the grain can be barley, corn, rye or wheat) and typically aged in charred white oak barrels. Mash, by the way, is the mixture of the grain, water and yeast that is fermented to produce the alcohol […]

Holland and Netherlands

Why do we sometimes refer to the country of Holland and other times refer to the same place as the Netherlands? The correct name is Netherlands, or rather the Kingdom of the Netherlands, although it is informally known as Holland for historical reasons. Holland used to be a political region of the Holy Roman Empire called the County of Holland. Later, the province of Holland, as part of the Dutch Republic, rose to become a maritime and economic power, overshadowing the other provinces. Today, the Netherlands consists of twelve provinces, […]