Caterpickles Cleans House, Part 5

You may have noticed that the questions haven’t been exactly thick on the ground here at Caterpickles Central lately. It’s not that The Ten-Year-Old doesn’t still have plenty of curiosity to go around, it’s just that my time has been taken up by other things.

Sadly, my pending question pile is still a healthy 200+, and rumor has it that The Ten-Year-Old will be bringing a Wonder Book home from fourth grade in a few weeks with another several hundred questions in it. That daunting prospect, plus my own guilt over neglecting questions these past few weeks, mean it must be time for another edition of Caterpickles Cleans House, where I answer several questions briefly instead of one question at length.

Let’s clear some decks.

“How did grapefruit get its name? It’s nothing like a grape.”

Grapefruit on the tree. Photo via Phoenix Home and Garden’s online gardening support section.

It’s true. Grapefruit tastes nothing like grapes. Its aroma, however, consistently fools Michael into thinking I’m six years younger than I am, so grapefruit will continue to be a regular feature of our kitchen.

According to Mental Floss, one of my favorite curiosity magazines, there are two theories about how the English name for grapefruit came about. Maybe we English speakers call it that because grapefruit grows in grape-like clusters on the tree. Or maybe we call it that because grapefruits were originally named after pomelos and instead of translating the pomelo’s scientific name citrus maxima to great-fruit, we corrupted it over the generations to become simply grapefruit.

Either way, we’ve apparently only been using the term grapefruit since the 1800s. Before that the fruits were either called Shaddocks, after the English commander who brought pomelo seeds to the West Indies in 1683, or the forbidden fruit, a name that will resonate with anyone who has spent any time taking a statin.

“Why do cats have a third eyelid?”

It may seem strange to us, but apparently third eyelids are the norm in the animal kingdom. According to this Scientific American article, humans and a few primates are the only mammals who lack them.

It’s thought that the third eyelid functions like a windshield wiper to keep the cats’ relatively large cornea clear of debris and to distribute tears more evenly than the two outer lids could on their own. Another potential use is to protect the cat’s cornea from injury when catching prey or simply stalking it through tall grass.

“Why are they called wisdom teeth?”

This one is pretty much what you’d expect. Wisdom teeth got their name because they take their own sweet time about appearing. If they appear at all, they erupt between the ages of 17 and 25, when, at least theoretically, you have attained some degree of wisdom. According to ScienceLine, anthropologists believe that humans developed a third set of molars because the leaves, roots, nuts, and meat our ancestors relied on to form the bulk of their diet was so hard on their teeth. Modern humans, with their smaller jaws, softer foods, and tendency to use forks and knives, have both less need for wisdom teeth and less room for them in their mouths. Which is why these days wisdom teeth are often more of a nuisance than a help.

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