Saturday, August 14, 2004

Things I didn't Know

I've just acquired a copy of both Schott's Original Miscellany and Schott's Food & Drink Miscellany. I had hoped that they would be invaluable references but I was not prepared for the sheer mass of fascinating trivia contained in these slender little volumes. The two page spread of presidential facts is worth the price of the Original Miscellany alone.

Until yesterday, I didn't know that the first 7 presidents were all born "British," or that Buchanan was the only bachelor president (and that Tyler, Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson were all wed while in office), or that Garfield was the first left handed president. Bush 41 is a Gemini while Bush 43 is a Cancer.

Most fascinating, is that the salary for every President from Washington to Grant was $25,000, which is surprising, considering how much money 25 grand was in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The Presidential salary has periodically increased over the decades, upped to 50K (by Grant), 75K (by Taft), 100K (by Truman) and 200K (by Nixon). The 200K salary stayed until Bush 43, who gave himself a 100% raise, to $400,000. Apparently, the president gets a raise in direct proportion to how bad a job he does (see: presidential careers, Grant, Nixon). Who knew?

The Miscellanies also have other info, besides presidential facts: Cuban Cigar sizes, the different types of curries, a handy diagram for measuring spaghetti (which I used last night and works quite well), a list of poker hands, the 33 degrees of Freemasonry, a table of the unusual deaths of various pop stars, Shakespearian insults, a list of chatroom abbreviations and various and sundry other bits of interesting notions. One of my favorites is also contained in the Original Miscellany, the "Certain Chinese Encyclopedia" invented by Borges, entitled Celestial Empire of Benevolent Knowledge, which states that all animals can be catalogued thusly:

[a] belonging to the Emperor - [b] embalmed - [c] tame
[d] sucking pigs - [e] sirens - [f] fabulous - [g] stray dogs
[h] included in the present classification - [i] that shake like a fool
[j] innumerable - [k] drawn with a very fine camel hair brush
[l] etcetera - [m] having just broken the water pitcher
[n] that, if seen from a distance, look like flies

I hope Mr. Schott continues to compile these delightful Miscellanies, as they have become invaluable resources for this Librarian 1.

1. He adds a disclaimer that some of the information is subject to dispute, such as the red headedness of Andrew jackson, and goes on to note what we reference librarians have known all along: that facts are neither cold, nor hard but tend to amend themselves, or be amended over time.


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