Answers To 20+ Questions About History We Learned In 2021 That Made Us Say 'Whoa'

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Vote up the answers to questions about history that you're glad you finally know.

Who, what, when, where, and why: the big five of question-asking. When it comes to history, the questions that fall into each of these categories can seem infinite. Whether it's a new quandary that comes to mind while reading a book or a passing reference in a TV show or movie, there are so many possible things to know about history that it might be hard to keep them all straight

We decided to gather some questions we have about history - and answer them. In 2021, we inquired about the Middle Ages and Vikings, went deep-diving into some random historical topics, and generally had a lot of fun looking into some mysteries from history that had been on our minds for years. 

We learned a great deal, with heaps of historical information we couldn't help but wish we'd known sooner. Here are some of the most satisfying, surprising, and mind-blowing answers to questions about history we got in 2021 - vote up those that have you joining us in an exasperated round of "better late than never!"

  • 1
    766 VOTES

    What Does It Mean When A Country's Name Ends In '-stan'?

    The names of seven countries end with the suffix "-stan": Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan. Afghanistan became an independent country during the early 20th century, while Pakistan came to be with the partition of India in 1947. The remaining countries were officially recognized after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991

    All seven have names that end in "-stan" because of Central Asia's linguistic history. The term "-stan" derives from Persian and means "land" or "country." So, Kazakhstan is "the land of the Kazakhs" and Uzbekistan is "the land of the Uzbeks," with the others following suit. 

    766 votes
  • When Was The First Pizza Delivery In History?
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    402 VOTES

    When Was The First Pizza Delivery In History?

    In 1889, the king of Italy, Umberto I, and his wife, Margherita of Savoy, reportedly made the first order for pizza delivery in history. As the story goes, the queen wanted to try local foods when the couple visited Naples, calling on Raffaele Esposito to make them one of his signature dishes: a pizza.

    He made them as many as three pies. As soon as they were out of the oven, the pizzas were quickly taken to the royals. Not only is this the first pizza delivery; it's also where the margherita pizza gets its name. The pie with simple sauce, cheese, and basil was reportedly their favorite - with the ingredients purported to represent the colors on the Italian flag (red, white, and green).

    402 votes
  • 3
    382 VOTES

    How Did The Sperm Whale Get Its Name?

    While the name of sperm whales may seem unusual - if not a bit risqué - it has nothing to do with actual sperm. Sperm whales, also called cachalot, achieved the former moniker thanks to the spermaceti in their heads - a white, wax-like substance (closer to an oil at room temperature) produced by the organ of the same name.

    Used as fuel and to make candles and medical salves throughout history, scientists believe spermaceti either helps keep the massive creatures buoyant or aids in echolocation. Either way, as many as 2,000 liters of spermaceti can be inside the head of a sperm whale. 

    382 votes
  • 4
    357 VOTES

    What's The Oldest Living Tree On Earth?

    As of 2016, the oldest living tree in the world is a Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) in the White Mountains of California. Dated to be 5,062 years old, it bests Methuselah, another Great Basin bristlecone pine not too far away.

    Methuselah is only 4,845 years old but is still listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest living individual tree, which means it doesn't share a root system with any other trees. The locations of Methuselah and its rival remain shrouded in mystery to protect them. 

    Clonal trees, however, do share a single root system. The oldest clonal tree lives in Sweden. Old Tjikko (pictured), a Norway spruce, is roughly 9,550 years old.

    357 votes
  • Why Are There 13 In A Baker's Dozen?
    Photo: Unknown miniaturist from Liège-Maastricht area / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    355 VOTES

    Why Are There 13 In A Baker's Dozen?

    The prevailing theory about the misnomer "baker's dozen" traces the origins of the 13-when-it's-actually-12 phenomenon to 13th-century English mandates about the weight of bread loaves. Concerns that bakers were cheating customers and underselling their goods necessitated regulation, and to avoid punishment, bakers started to sell 13 loaves for the price of 12 - just to cover their bases. 

    The first use of "baker's dozen" may date to the late 16th century, and the term was well-defined by the mid-1800s:

    This consists of 13 or 14; the surplus number, called the inbread, being thrown in for fear of incurring the penalty for short weight.

    A second definition perhaps gives insight into the context within which the concept originated:

    To “give a man a baker’s dozen,” in a slang sense, means to give him an extra good beating or pummeling.

    355 votes
  • When Was The Last Time Switzerland Actually Fought A War?
    Photo: Attributed to Maître à la Ratière / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    216 VOTES

    When Was The Last Time Switzerland Actually Fought A War?

    Known for its neutrality, Switzerland didn't officially adopt that policy until the Congress of Vienna in 1815. It had already begun to shift to neutrality after being defeated by the French at Marignano in 1515.

    Switzerland has remained a buffer, of sorts, since becoming neutral, and managed to avoid participating in active combat during World War I and II. It does enter into diplomatic agreements with foreign countries, is a member of the United Nations, extends large amounts of humanitarian aid, and accepts refugees, but doesn't participate in military activities.

    The country also has a military. The Swiss Guard has served as the official protective force at the Vatican since 1506, and military service in the Swiss Armed Forces is compulsory.

    216 votes