Answers To 12 Questions From History We Were Afraid To Ask - Until Now

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Vote up the most satisfying answers to questions from history.

Questions are everywhere and come in all shapes and sizes. From small inquiries about mundane things to larger ones about the vastness of the universe or the meaning of human existence, we often have questions running around in our heads. When we're lucky, we even get answers. 

History is full of questions, many of which can, in fact, be answered. Queries about the origins of common names and phrases, the first and last time significant events took place, and the how and why of major historical happenings may have obvious answers, but many of them are unexpected. Either way, finally getting an answer feels pretty good.

Here are answers to questions that have been on our minds - vote up the ones that are pretty satisfying for you, too. 


  • Why Are Stop Signs Octagonal?
    Photo: JMyrleFuller / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0
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    Why Are Stop Signs Octagonal?

    Traffic signs vary in shape and size around the world, but red octagons with alerts to stop appear in many countries. In the US, the very common red stop sign was designed specifically to get attention.

    Octagons, which have been used as stop signs since the late 1910s, are recognizable from the front and the back, making them visible from various vantage points of an intersection. Red wasn't mandated as the color until 1954. This was, again, meant to allow for as much visibility as possible. 

  • Are There Any Bridges Over The Amazon River?
    Photo: Vitogustavo / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    The Amazon River runs for more than 4,000 miles through the continent of South America, but at no point along the way is there a bridge. Because few roads exist in areas around the Amazon, a bridge isn't useful. Ferries between remote and populated areas alike are the dominant mode of transport.

    One bridge on the Amazon River system, however, crosses the Rio Negro, an Amazon tributary. Linking Manaus, Brazil with towns on the other side of the river, the roughly two-mile bridge was built in 2010

    For travelers, it was a welcome alternative to a lengthy, costly water crossing, while the Brazilian government viewed it as an opportunity to open the economy. Critics of the structure found the deforestation (and danger of continued exploitation of resources) associated with building the bridge to be problematic.

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    How Do You Actually Pronounce The Capital Of Ukraine?

    When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, it left many people wondering if they'd been pronouncing Ukraine's capital city incorrectly for years. While one iteration, Kyiv, is pronounced "KEE-eve," another widespread spelling is Kyiv, which is said "KEE-yev." The popular western name for the dish "chicken Kyiv" may also be responsible for some of the confusion.

    Ukranians call their capital city Kyiv; the spelling is a transliteration of the Ukrainian "Київ," and is pronounced "KEE-eve" by English speakers. Kyiv, on the other hand, is from the Russian cyrillic "Киев" and is said "KEE-yev." The Russian spelling and pronunciation were internationally used while Ukraine was under Soviet control.

    In a post-Soviet world, however, Kyiv serves as an ongoing reminder of the Russification of Ukraine, while Kyiv recognizes Ukraine's independence. This has led many publications to switch to the Ukrainian variant, Kyiv. 

    As Andrii Smytsniuk, a Ukrainian language teacher at Cambridge University put it to The Guardian,

    When I meet someone new, I like to pronounce their name the way they want it pronounced in their language, which is why I think it’s right to pronounce it "Kyiv" as close to the Ukrainian as possible... Many Ukrainians see this as a sign of respect for their language and identity.

  • Why Do People Raise Their Hand When Swearing An Oath?
    Photo: Henry Fuseli / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    Why Do People Raise Their Hand When Swearing An Oath?

    The gesture of raising one's hand has religious significance dating to antiquity. Using the right hand to indicate friendship, demonstrate trust, and settle a dispute similarly traces to the ancient world.

    When it comes to oath-swearing and raising a hand in court, the specifics as to when the practice emerged aren't entirely clear, but they may be Roman in origin. Other observers find the tradition in use as late as 17th-century England.

    Regardless of when it originated, raising one's right hand while swearing an oath was to expose any brand the individual may have had. Branding was a punishment used to distinguish criminals, with letters like "SS" designating a slave stealer and "M" marking a malefactor. A brand indicated that your oath - and your character - was tainted by disgrace

  • Did Adolf Hitler Have A Best Man At His Wedding?
    Photo: Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F051673-0059 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

    In 1935, Adolf Hitler served as the best man at Hermann Goering's wedding in Berlin, but when it came time for Hitler to wed Eva Braun, he did so without formal attendants. Hitler and Braun got married in the bunker where they spent their final days in 1944. Reportedly, Braun wore a black dress at the ceremony arranged by Joseph Goebbels. A city magistrate named Walter Wagner presided, as Goebbels and Martin Bormann (Hitler's deputy) watched on.

    Wagner filled out the marriage certificate, with Hitler and Braun swearing they were of "pure Aryan descent and free of any hereditary diseases." They both signed the document, although Braun accidentally started to write her maiden name rather than her new married one. She crossed it out - a mistake that can be seen on their marriage certificate dated April 29, 1945.

  • Depending on who you believe, Eggs Benedict was first formally introduced to diners in New York City during the 1860s. It's possible the first recipe was published in 1894 by renowned chef Charles Ranhofer, but one man, Lemuel Benedict, asserted he came up with the meal in 1894 as well. 

    Benedict told The New Yorker that he ordered "buttered toast, poached eggs, crisp bacon and a hooker of hollandaise" at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in the hopes of curing a hangover one morning. The restaurant soon added it to their menu. 

    In another telling, Commodore E.C. Benedict created the dish while in France sometime before his death in 1920. According to this Benedict's friend, writer Edward P. Montgomery, there was a real trick to making sure the dish didn't amount to an "overpoached egg on a few shreds of ham on a - ugh! - soggy tough half of an English muffin with an utterly tasteless hollandaise."

    In the mix of all these attributions, one thing is clear - Eggs Benedict has nothing to do with Benedict Arnold. You can find variations of the dish that bear his name, however.