Question: I took a couple of side trips while I was in Philadelphia for several weeks. I enjoyed the Pennsylvania Dutch country and brought several things home, including a lot of wonderful memories. I'm curious about the hex signs found on many barns; "hex" means "six," so what does six have to do with witchcraft?
Answer: Absolutely nothing. According to one school of thought, the word "hex" comes from the German "hexen," which is related to the German "hexe," meaning "witch." However, the term "hex sign" is relatively new, not even 100 years old, and was possibly created by an author of Pennsylvania sights when he reported at least one farmer called them "hexefoos." Before this time there was no standardized term, and many farmers simply called the signs "blumme" or "schtanne" (meaning "flowers" or "stars").
Though some view the signs as a talisman, many consider them purely decorative.
Q: I was watching a mystery show on TV, and the lead detective said, "Issue a BOLO." I've heard that phrase many times, but it never dawned on me that I have no idea what BOLO stands for. Do you know?
A: Be On the Look Out.
LET'S LEARN ENGLISH: In the U.K., they say "lorry"; in America, we say "truck." In the U.K., you'd eat a "courgette," while in the U.S., it's a "zucchini."
Q: I thought I'd heard of a movie being filmed about the life of an Olympic runner who was taken prisoner by the Japanese during World War II. What became of the film? Is it still going to happen?
A: You're thinking of "Unbroken," the story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who was taken prisoner in Japan during World War II. The film is based on the book of the same name written by Laura Hillenbrand, who also wrote "Seabiscuit." The film's script was written in part by brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, and Angelina Jolie directed the movie. "Unbroken" will be released on Christmas Day.
Q: You listed "screeched" as the longest one syllable word. How about "strengths"? - D.F.W.
A: Looks good to me!
Q: How many baseballs are used in a nine-inning game?
A: You would think this would be a straightforward answer, but it is not. I have read as few as 45 balls per game, which gets filed under the column of "no way," up to as many as 120 balls. I watched a Philadelphia Phillies game the other night and counted. I figured that they used about 100 balls. I may have missed one or two, and the umpire may have switched balls at the end of the half-inning mark. I don't know if this was a normal game, but I'll assume it was, so the number of used baseballs would be between 100 and 120 balls. Each ball lasts roughly six pitches.
Each team plays roughly 160 games, half of which are home games so they might use up about 800 balls in one season. Considering how many major league baseball teams there are, this is an extraordinary amount of baseballs.
Q: In the late 1970s or early 1980s, actress Lindsay Wagner was somehow involved in a commercial airline crash. Do you know the details?
A: Wagner was scheduled for American Airlines flight 191 out of Chicago to Los Angeles on May 25, 1979. She had a premonition about the flight and decided not to go. Minutes after takeoff, the plane crashed, killing all 271 people on board and two people on the ground.
Q: I came across a news network called RT. What does that mean?
A: RT - also known as Russia Today - is an international multilingual Russia-based television network founded in 2005. You can watch in English, Spanish or Arabic.
Q: I enjoy watching soccer and have long wondered what the fans sing during a game. Do you know? - D.Z., Princeton, New Jersey
A: They are called football chants or terrace chants. They are brief - a dozen words or so - and can reflect messages from the early days of the club or reactions to events going on in the game. Some are a tribute to a team member, while others are insults. Many chants are about club rivals, even if the teams aren't playing.
I'm including a couple of chants here for you to read. Unless you are a follower of British football (soccer), they won't make any sense, but you will get the idea.
"His name is Rio, and he watches from the stand" is a chant for Rio Ferdinand, a Manchester United player who was banned from playing for eight months in 2003 for missing a drug test. It was sung to the tune of "Rio," by Duran Duran.
"When you're sat in row Z, and the ball hits your head, that's Zamora, that's Zamora." This was a song for Bobby Zamora, a striker who didn't score often. It was sung to the tune of Dean Martin's "That's Amore."
Some chants are nasty - there are chants that make fun of a player's buck teeth, one about a player caught in a gentlemen's club and even one for a team captain caught having an affair with another player's girlfriend.
I'm sure you'll be able to hear plenty of chants during the World Cup this summer. If you want to cheer on the United States' team, shout "I believe that we will win"!
DID YOU KNOW? Dean Martin is said to have had a fear of elevators and was a lover of comic books. He read comic books his entire life.
Q: I have no idea why I want to know this, I just do. In the late 1950s, a jar of peanut butter was dropped off at my house and every other house on the street. What was the brand name? We always used Skippy peanut butter, even after this promotion. - F.O., Fort Worth, Texas
A: In 1958, Procter & Gamble introduced Jif Creamy Peanut Butter with a massive, nationwide door-to-door distribution of sample-size jars. The J.M. Smucker Co. purchased Jif in 2001. Jif is made at a facility in Lexington, Kentucky.
Jif's main rival, Skippy peanut butter, was introduced in 1933. It is the best-selling brand of peanut butter in China, and second only to Jif worldwide.
Q: Hey, Mr. Know-It-All, I have a riddle for you: What kind of coat can be put on only when wet?
A: A coat of paint.
Q: In the novel I'm reading, the family's only child is sent to a "comprehensive school." There is not indication was it was and the term was not used again. What type of school is this? - M.B.J., Fort Lauderdale, Florida
A: A comprehensive school is one that does not select its students based on academic achievement, much like the public school system in the United States. In contrast, selective schools base student enrollment on academic achievement. The term is commonly used in England and Wales, where that type of school system was introduced in 1965.
DID YOU KNOW? The oldest son of Jerry Lewis, Gary Lewis, and his rock group, Gary Lewis and The Playboys, had several pop hits in the 1960s, including "This Diamond Ring."
- Send your questions to Mr. Know-It-All at AskMrKIA@gmail.com or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.