Why does the state flag of Tasmania have a red lion on it?

Tasmania state flag
The short answer is: no one knows.

All of Australia’s state flags follow the same basic pattern (the territories are a whole different thing): they are Blue Ensigns, as is the national flag, defaced with a state badge. (Important! “Defaced” in flag-speak means a different thing from “defaced” in regular-speak; just that the flag has been decorated with some other business and not, you know, permanently spoiled.)

So the flag of Tasmania, which was rolled out in 1876, is a Blue Ensign defaced with Tasmania’s state badge: a white disc with a red lion passant (heraldry-speak for “facing left”) in the middle. Why a red lion? Shrug. The Tasmanian government notes that “no official record of the reason for using the lion” exists, though it was probably put there so the early Tasmanian colony could suck up to Blighty. For the record, the lion was originally gold, which at least matches the colour on the United Kingdom’s royal coat of arms.

New South Wales state flag
The flag of New South Wales also has a lion passant, whose origin is vastly less mysterious: perched amid a St George’s Cross (chosen for the state badge because of its British naval associations), the so-called “Lion of the South” is straight-up pinched from the Royal Arms of England. The four stars represent the Southern Cross (which, I didn’t know till I wrote this, is properly known as Crux; that’s Latin for “cross”, don’tchaknow).

Extra fact: the St George’s Cross was supposedly adopted on the NSW coat of arms because, when it was proclaimed in 1906, the then-state premier hailed from the electorate St George (which no longer exists). Heraldry aficionados are such jokesters.

Victoria state flag
The flag of Victoria was, according to the Victorian state government, the first flag flown by any of the Australian colonies. This is pretty much the most interesting thing about it: it’s pretty much identical to the Australian national flag, minus a big star and plus a St Edward’s Crown. I don’t know why a St Edward’s Crown was specifically chosen, though it’s too common a symbol to be much of exciting mystery.

Queensland state flag
The flag of Queensland originally had Queen Victoria’s head on it – because it’s not enough to simply name a state after Her Majesty, you have to put her on your flag, too. Anyway, Queenslanders are lazy and it’s super hot up there so everyone decided it was too hard to draw Vicky’s head all the damn time (more or less), so in 1876 she was replaced by a Maltese Cross with a crown in the crux. Why a Maltese Cross? That’s another mystery, though it’s believed that it’s because a Maltese Cross kind of looks like a Victoria Cross. Kind of. But not really.

(Interestingly, a Victoria Cross isn’t quite the shape of a Maltese Cross, but it was supposed to be; it’s one of those mistakes that’s just never been corrected.)

South Australian state flag
The flag of South Australia carries the state disc: a gold disc with a bird showing off its wings in the middle. The bird, which pops up in dozens of SA emblems, is formally described as “an Australian piping shrike” – which is interesting because there is no such bird. Good one, South Australia! There is some debate over whether the bird is actually supposed to be a common Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) or a magpie-lark (Grallina cyanoleuca, aka the Murray magpie), though the former seems to be the more popular choice.

Western Australia state flag
The flag of Western Australia is even less creative than Victoria’s: it’s a Blue Ensign with a black swan on it. There are quite a lot of black swans in WA, so it’s not like Sherlock Holmes has to be called in to solve this one. Two notes about the swan: First, it apparently originally faced rampant (to the right), not passant, but was flipped because flag-lovers insist that animals on flags face towards the pole. Second, it looks kind of awesomely creepy close up.

As mentioned earlier, the territory flags follow a whole different pattern from the state flags, though both share the same layout and the Southern Cross.

Australian Capital Territory state flag
The blue, white and gold colours of the flag of the Australian Capital Territory were reportedly “chosen for good reasons”. How sensible! To quote: “Blue and white are the livery colours of [Canberra] … while blue and gold … were taken from the national blue and gold appearing on the wreath of the Australian Coat of Arms.” Good reasons indeed. The rest of the flag’s look is lifted from Canberra’s coat of arms (the ACT itself has no coat of arms, FYI): the black swan and the white swan symbolise Australia’s Aboriginal and European people (burn on all the other races, I guess), while you can read what its other features symbolise here.

Northern Territory flag
The flag of the Northern Territory is black, white and ochre, the three official colours of the territory. The flower in the centre, designed by Victorian artist Robert Ingpen, is a stylised Sturt’s desert rose (the territory’s floral emblem) with a seven-pointed star at its centre symbolising the six Australian states and the NT.

And no red mystery lions.

 

20 famous people with very silly names

“Silly” here is not used in the pejorative sense, so much – these names aren’t bad (most of them are actually pretty delightful, and lots of fun to say out loud); they just have a fictional whimsy, they’re etymonyms that sound more like pseudonyms. (Second clarification: the definition of “famous” is very, very flexible.)

Celebrity chef

Glee actor

Benedict CumberbatchSherlock star

Googie WithersWWII-era British actress. (Her real first name was Georgette.)

Orpheus PledgerNeighbours star

Logan LermanDreamboat

Bertram van MunsterThe Amazing Race mastermind

Skeet UlrichPoor man’s Johnny Depp. (His real name is Bryan Ray Trout.)

Walton GogginsJustified actor

Imogen PootsBritish ingenue

… 

 

How to judge a man at a public pool by his swimwear

Matthew Mitcham

Though this guy is actually Australian...

If a man at a public pool is wearing the following kind of swimwear, he is:

Red Speedos: hot.

Black Speedos: unimaginative.

Navy Speedos: conservative.

Green Speedos: Brazilian, probably.

Yellow Speedos: trying too hard.

White Y-fronts: ESL.

Expensive swimwear brand (worn by young, fit guy): a model.

Expensive swimwear brand (worn by young, flabby guy): aspirational.

Expensive swimwear brand (worn by old, flabby guy): deluded.

White, almost see-through Speedos: creepy.

Loose, clingy football shorts with nothing worn underneath: from a less prudish European country.

Board shorts: self-conscious.

Tight mid-thigh-length swimming trunks: a proper swimmer who will overtake you constantly.

Tight blue skimpy swim shorts: James Bond

(Source: every visit to a public pool ever)

 

There was never any such thing as a pterodactyl

Pterodactyl T-shirt

I definitely need this pterodactyl T-shirt

What does a pterodactly have in common with a brontosaurus? Neither of them ever actually existed:

There is (was) no such animal.  The term “Ptero-dactyle” was first coined by French Naturalist/Zoologist Georges Cuvier in 1809. Around that time, science had been turning up some bizarre fossils with beaks and large, wing-like structures. For some reason, to Cuvier, a hyphenated name beginning with a silent P seemed like an awesome way to describe these organisms. Eventually, “Ptero-dactyle” became “Pterodactylus,” and every fossil with wings that looked like a dinosaur was tossed into the old metaphorical Pterodactylus bucket in the corner. However, the term Pterodactyl stuck in the vernacular because the public, for one, had had enough already and just wanted to see the exhibit and go home.

Eventually, science got its act together and renamed the entire group of flying reptiles “Pterosaurs” (from the Greek meaning “wing lizard”). Each was then given a proper scientific name. Today, we recognize only two Pterodactylus species: Pterodactylus antiquus and Pterodactylus longicollum. And just FYI, knowing this simple fact officially makes you a nerd.

Long story short, there is no “Pterodactyl”.

Well, that’s disappointing.

 

 

Amusing French phrases (according to a native English speaker)

I am currently trying to learn French (I say “trying” because I’ve been teaching it to myself for the last several years, with varying degrees of success), and one of the joys of such a hobby is stumbling along French phrases which are amusing to a native English speaker – turns of phrase that are appealingly odd. Par exemple:

The little lunch. The word for “lunch” in French is “le dejeuner” ((I believe there’s an accent over one of those Es – but I have no idea how to format those on my Anglo keyboard, so I’m not going to bother with them)), and the word for “breakfast” is “le petit dejeuner” – “little lunch”. (Extra trivia: “jeuner” means “to fast”, so the French word for “lunch” translates literally to “un-fast”, similar to the English “breakfast”.)

Lemons and limes. In French, a lemon is “un citron“, and a lime is “un citron vert” – “a green lemon”.

Apples and potatoes. This is one of my favourites. An apple is “une pomme“, and a potato is “une pomme de terre” – “apple of the earth”. Something about that is just utterly lovely, the idea that a potato is an apple’s earthy cousin.

Redfish. In French, a goldfish is “un poisson rouge” – making it a redfish if translated literally.

 

The secret of Poo Monster

“Poo Monster” is something only a few people, at least non-internet people, seem to know about. Most respond to him with a blank stare, but when you meet another aficionado it’s like encountering someone who gets a really good inside joke.

Poo Monster is actually known as Domo, or Domo-kun/Domokun, and he comes from Japan. It isn’t really shocking that Domo-kun has Japanese origins – what other country would have a TV station whose mascot looks like a giant, toothy brick of, well, poo?

“Domo” is a Japanese word which basically translates to “very” (hence “domo arigato, Mr Roboto”, while “-kun” is a suffix used to address male children or teenagers. Here’s a sampling of what Wikipedia has to say about the nature of Domo-kun:

Domo, the main character, is described as “a strange creature that hatched from an egg,” with a large, sawtoothed mouth that is locked wide open. Domo’s favorite food is Japanese-style meat and potato stew, and he has a strong dislike for apples, because of an unexplained mystery in his DNA. Domo can only communicate via producing a low-pitched noise which sounds somewhat like his own name, but other characters appear to understand him. Domo is known to pass gas repeatedly when nervous or upset.

And here he is hatching from said egg (I wonder what his parents look like? Theory: perhaps they’re some breed of unforeseen, unsanctioned-by-Nintendo Pokemon!) and meeting a clever old rabbit named Usajji:

A pal of mine and I became enamoured with Poo Monster shortly after his introduction to the West, via that “Every time you masturbate, God kills a kitten” meme that depicted voracious Domo-kun chasing after innocent kitties (an image which is apparently at odds with his kindly, childlike Japanese reputation). (Interesting sidenote: according to that link, “in 2006, Nickelodeon licensed Domo-kun from NHK and began work on a Domo-kun series”. THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN AMAZEBALLS.)

For years we had no idea where Domo-kun came from or what he was, so we dubbed him Poo Monster. (Another similarly enamoured pal knew him as “Poo Biscuit”, demonstrating we weren’t the only ones who notes the fecal resemblance). The day we finally identified him as Domo-kun was a most frabjous one.

And clearly my friends and I aren’t the only ones with a Poo Monster obsession. A quick search reveals an endless amount of Domo-kun kitsch – I have a set of Domo post-its in my desk drawer at work (they’re way too special to ever actually use), while my Poo Biscuit pal has an awesome Domo change purse.

LONG LIVE DOMO-KUN.

(Note: Domo-kun is not to be confused with Doraemon, the robot cat from the future.)

 

Likeable characters who kind of aren’t, actually

I’m sure there’s got to be plenty of characters who fit into this category: on first reading/viewing, they seem like bang-up guys (or ladies), but a few re-reads/views later you start to realise that they actually kind of aren’t. Three examples off the top of my head…

Ariel, The Little Mermaid. After bragging to Flounder about all the cool shit she has stashed in her cave, Ariel laments “But who cares? No big deal. I want more.” Jeez, Ariel – you’re already a beautiful mermaid princess whose father dotes on her. What more could you possibly want, you spoiled bitch? (This also kind of applies to Simba, though at least he’s meant to sound bratty when he sings ‘I Just Can’t Wait To Be King’.)

Luna Lovegood, Harry Potter series. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the intrepid trio visits the home of their schoolchum Luna, who up till this point has seemed like a spacey but innocent weirdo. But when they stumble into her bedroom, they discover “ceiling portraits of [Harry], Luna, Ron, Hermione, Neville and Ginny entwined with the word ‘Friends'”. Cue creepy stalker music. (This is nothing against Evanna Lynch, who is brill.)

The parents, The Parent Trap. So here’s the deal. Nick and Elizabeth (Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson, RIP) hook up, have identical twin daughters, then endure a break-up so painful they can never see each other again. Each returns to their respective country – America and England – each taking a daughter with them. And they both agree never to let the twins see each other, nor tell them about the other’s existence. That is horrible. And we’re meant to root for these abusive chumps to get back together?! No wonder Lindsay Lohan is so fucked-up. (For the record: I love The Parent Trap. But, wow, the titular parents are jerks.)