Monday, 17 April 2017

A few randomish facts that might spark a worldbuilding idea

I like to collect random facts and annoy my family with them. 

Me: Mum, did you know that in 1879 a city in Belgium [Liège, to be exact] trained 37 cats to deliver mail to surrounding villages?
Mum: They did not. 
Me: They did! 
Mum: Cats? They trained cats? 
Me: ...
Me: Well they commissioned 37 cats. 
Me: It didn't work. 
Me: You already guessed that, didn't you. Because cats.

But some of the facts I've found could be useful for worldbuilding or various happenings in your stories, so I thought I'd share a few. 
(These have all been collected from '1339 QI Facts to Make Your Jaw Drop'. Interesting book - but crude in spots. Read at your own risk.)

‘Journey’ is from French journée and once meant the distance one could walk in a day.
In Tibet, distances were traditionally measured by the number of cups of tea needed for each journey.
All the mountains on Saturn’s moon Titan are named after peaks in The Lord of the Rings.
Thailand has a special language used exclusively for talking to the king.
In the USA, ransom payments to kidnappers are tax-deductable. 
No more than two flies are allowed by law in any public toilet in China.
Public applause is banned in Belarus.
The Andorran army is made up of ten soldiers. 
 In Kennesaw, Georgia, gun ownership is required by law.
Entrance to the Tower of London used to be free if you brought a dog or cat to feed to the lions.
The Kattenstoet was a medieval festival in Belgium in which cats were thrown from the town’s belfry.
Villages in County Durham include Pity Me and No Place. 
Portsmouth has a locksmith called ‘Surelock Homes’.
The British Standards Institution has a 5,000 word report on the correct way to make a cup of tea.
Only 22 of the world’s 193 countries have never been invaded by the British.
In WW1, it was patriotic in the UK to kick dachshunds. 
There are 300 lakes beneath Antarctica that are kept from freezing by the warmth of the Earth’s core.
The ancient city of Alexandria was built in such a way that the sun shone down the main street on Alexander the Great’s birthday.
Henry VIII put a tax on beards in 1535 (his own was exempt).
King David I of Scotland gave tax rebates to subjects with good table manners.
Queen Victoria could eat a seven-course meal in under half an hour.
The Queen does the washing-up once a year, in a special hut at Balmoral.
King John I of France was proclaimed king five months before he was born and lived for five days.  
Human bone is four times stronger than concrete.
After a double hand transplant, right-handed patients can become left-handed.
A human being can survive for nine seconds at 1000˚C without suffering lasting damage.
Since 1940, 157 people have fallen from planes without parachutes and survived.
Having a younger brother or sister can increase your blood pressure by more than 5%.

In the 1720s, the Gloucester Journal apologised for ‘the present scarcity of news’ and offered a selection of poems instead.
The oldest dance still performed is the Austrian shoe-slapping dance.
In the 19th century, a 5-foot 6-inch footman cost £20/year; a full six-footer cost £40/year.
For 214 years, until 2012, it was illegal in Paris for women to wear trousers. 
The guillotine was last used in France in 1977.

François le Clerc is the only known pirate to have had a peg-leg.
Only one pirate is known to have buried any treasure.
There is only one recorded case of ‘walking the plank’.
There is no historical evidence for any pirate having ever owned a pet parrot.
The ingredient that makes Brussels sprouts bitter is cyanide.
15 apricot kernels contain enough cyanide to kill a child. 
A medium-sized tube of toothpaste contains enough chemicals to kill 13 dogs.  
You only need to be one metre underwater to be protected from bullets.
A flu virus can only survive on most surfaces for 48 hours, but can live on a banknote for 17 days.
Moths can be trained to detect plastic explosives. 
Diamonds boil at 4,027˚C.
In a 2004 experiment, 70% of Britons handed over their computer passwords in exchange for chocolate.
Latin and Gaelic have no words for ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
The Irish language has one set of numbers for arithmetic, one for counting humans and one for counting non-humans. 
The Andamanese language has only two words for numbers: them mean ‘one’ and ‘more than one’.  
Korean has no words for ‘brother’ or ‘sister’, only words for an older/younger brother/sister. 
The Amondawa people of the Amazon have no word for ‘time’.
The Mayan calendar had five days per year that were known as ‘days with no name’.
The world’s oldest legal system, in ancient Mesopotamia, established beer as a unit of currency.

I hope you enjoyed these, and found some intriguing, even if none of them end up being used in your writing! 

What's your favourite random fact - do you have one to share? Or what's your favourite worldbuilding feature of your story world?


  1. Hmmmm.... Very interesting. Very very interesting. I love this! I may end up bookmarking this so I can refer to it in wordlbuilding for my two upcoming fantasy novels :D

    1. Cool! I'd love to hear if you end up using one, Faith! Even if you don't, maybe they made you think about a worldbuilding area you hadn't thought of before?? (E.g. taxes. A TAX ON BEARDS BECAUSE WHY NOT.) ;)

  2. Such a good idea! I really need to do some weird stuff in my books. I just never get around to the world building.

    1. I tend to skip worldbuilding until I can't avoid it any more, and then do pages and pages of worldbuilding (most of which will never come into the story...) instead of writing actual story. ;)


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