Just Sayin’: Sometimes Useless Information Comes in Handy

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How are you fixed for useless information to throw around at your next cocktail party? OK, if not the cocktail-party circuit, how about the next barbecue? No matter, if you care to read on, you’ll be the recipient of useless information anyway.

Mind you, I am not the authority on useless information, I just allow it to make a nest on the gummy side of my brain. I would also bet that by the time you finish reading this tome, you will have remembered at least one or two useless bits of information of your own.

You’re welcome.

This whole discourse is Mark Neal’s fault. His beautiful, up-close-and-personal picture of a pair of bald eagles featured on anewscafe.com a while back started me down this path of rumination.

Markk's eagles

Photo by Mark Neal.

But then, maybe this trivia I’m about to share is not nonsense. Just maybe knowing these very important life-facts will allow you win a huge amount of money on Jeopardy someday.

So, just in case you’ve wondered from time to time (or not):

1) Why a bald eagle, which sports a full head of white feathers, is called bald.

2) Why we tell performers (especially actors) to “break a leg” instead of “good luck.”

3) Why we drive on the right side of the highway, or even why there is an option about it.

Well, here you go:

First, about the bald eagle: In old English, say pre-Shakespearean, and that’s even before my time, men with gray/white hair were referred to as ‘balde’ headed.

This term bald is derived from the English word balde, which means “white, pale” or Celtic ball, which means “white patch or blaze” — such as on a horse’s head.   So, that term referred to the color of a person’s hair. Well, we know that along with gray/white hair, baldness often follows in quick order. Hence, the word evolved into meaning a pate devoid of hair. So, the term bald eagle harkens back to a time when balde meant having a head of white hair.

Next, onto the term “break a leg” – and why anyone would wish it upon an actor or performer. As it turns out, this term is the acceptable custom in the theater. If you will notice, when performers take a deep bow, especially visible with ballerinas, one or both legs bend, allowing a deep curtsy. Thus, the ‘break’ refers to a bend in the straight line of the leg. So, when you are saying to an actor, “break a leg,” you are actually wishing for them many curtain calls, which would require them to “break a leg” (take a bow) each time.

Ready for more? I’ll take that as a yes.

OK, let’s talk about which side of the road we drive on. Some claim it came directly from Napoleon, the “Little General” himself. Others credit Alexander the Great since it’s not clear if Napoleon was actually left-handed. There is documentation that Alexander was of the left-handed persuasion. But, up to the time of Napoleon, it was generally accepted proper protocol to pass an oncoming rider (we were still riding horses, remember) to the left side of the oncoming rider.

Since most of the population is right-handed, this would put the riders right-hand to right-hand in the event they needed to draw their swords to defend themselves. Well, either our friend Napoleon was left-handed or he was honoring Alexander the Great’s memory when he declared that under his jurisdiction all riders would ride to their right of the oncoming rider, putting the left handed rider at an advantage.

It’s easy to understand why the English would reject this declaration and continue to ride on the left side of the road, but why we Americans chose to follow Napoleon’s edict is a mystery to me unless it was just out of rebellion against England, or maybe in honor of Lafayette, the Frenchman who more or less saved our bacon in the Revolution.

So, there you have it: three tidbits of unimportant, non-essential information to get you through the next cocktail party or barbecue.

Let me say, right here, I have no idea where I learned the “facts.” And I certainly will not vouch for their validity. But then, who is going to argue with you at a cocktail party?

But I would bet that these bits of information brought some further ‘unsensicle’ (or nonsensical to the less creative types) items to your mind. In fact, I may need some new material after this is published, so feel free to share your bits of knowledge.

I’ll take notes.

Adrienne Jacoby
Adrienne Jacoby is a 40-plus-year resident of Shasta County and native-born Californian. She was a teacher of vocal music in the Enterprise Schools for 27 years and has been retired for 11 years. A musician all her life, she was married to the late Bill Jacoby with whom she formed a locally well -known musical group who prided themselves in playing for weddings, wakes, riots, bar mitzvas and super market openings. And, oh yes … she has two children, J’Anna and Jayson.
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6 Responses

  1. Randall R. Smith Randall R. Smith says:

    A wise UMMC neurologist once said that the job of a medical student was to learn all the trivia possible and eventually patients would determine what was useful.  Since you started this ball rolling by naming two of them, here is another, U. S. Grant.  What do they share besides famous leadership in battle?  They were all extremely short in stature, 5′ which was small for men even in historic times.  The “Napoleanic Complex” comes from this natural occurrence and helps explain why General Washington at 6′  3″ was so compelling.

    Because next Monday is the Third Cross Quarter, here is another.  We still celebrate three of these, but have forgotten why.  A Cross Quarter is half the distance between a solstice and an equinox.  These are pagan holidays of some importance as they understood and took seriously the passage of time which is the true wealth we all share.  Anyway, Ground Hog’s Day, May Day and Halloween are the others. What happened to 1 Aug?  It was the largest of the four because the Roman granaries were full and the celebration went on for three weeks.  The early church found this ritual very unsettling.  After appealing unsuccessfully to the masses, there came a decree that those still celebrating this holiday would be first excommunicated and then executed.  This worked!  Only the Nordic nations that never received word, or simply would not obey, still celebrate 1 Aug. by building huge fires ignited at midnight on any nearby shore.  They know the days are shortening both annually and perpetually for us all and refuse to let go of this ancient rite.

    Really, there is no end to this pursuit of the arcane, unimportant and lost, but it is time to visit the Britt Festival, Piano Guys, and we will be soon on the treasured hillside at Jacksonville thinking of all the wonderful music the Jacobs brought to so many for so long.

  2. Avatar CoachBob says:

    And I’d always been advised that “break a leg” actually came as a result of too many wishing “good luck” only to see someone go out and actually break a leg! (Jackie Gleason comes to mind). So, turning it around, “break a leg” wishes would insure you DON’T break a leg. lol (I don’t know, I just felt like typing)

  3. A. Jacoby A. Jacoby says:

    See!!! See!!! . . . I KNEW IT!!! I just learned about this whole “cross quarter” thing! I didn’t know any of that. WHEW!! i feel so much smarter now . . . and so early in the morning, too.

    Thanks, RRS . . . I needed that!


  4. A. Jacoby A. Jacoby says:

    RRS  . .. just read that last paragraph . . . I can’t think of a more rewarding way to expend one’s life-energies, than to expend it sharing music with those around us.  Thank you for remembering. . . AND THE PIANO GUYS??? I LOVE, LOOOOVE THE PIANO GUYS. Saw them a couple of years ago at the Gallo Center in Modesto. Their videos put the AHHH in AMAZING! ENJOY!!

  5. Avatar Jorgi says:

    Adrienne, I so look forward to your writing! Always a chuckle – at least. Keep them coming. You’re so darn lovable!