Heymatt: A bunch of us were wondering what’s the most common birthday. Is there a day that a lot more people were born? We have two friends who were born on September 30, so is that a common day? Just wondering. — The Data Group, via email
Close, but no bubblegum cigar, guys. There’s an outfit that calls itself anybirthday.com, a genealogy site, that has a database of 135,000 American birthdays. They seem to be the only people (other than you) interested in this question, since they’re cited as the gold-medal source for the answer. American birthdays are fairly evenly distributed across the calendar, as you’d expect, until you get to late September and early October. Then things get a lot busier in obstetrics departments across the continent. They peak on October 5, the most common birthday in the U.S. Anybirthday.com estimates that choruses of “Happy Birthday” are being sung to 968,000 honorees that day.
Of course, the next question is why there should be a birthing marathon on that day. Well, if you figure that the average pregnancy lasts for 274 days and you count back from October 5, you end up at New Year’s Eve. Need we say more? The whole holiday drinking and celebration around that time might account for increased births in late September and early October.
And the least popular birthday? The wiseguy answer, of course, is February 29. But if we take the question seriously, it’s May 22, with an estimate of 750,000 births. Nine months before May 22 brings us to unexciting late August. The only guess we have for this one is that it’s just too hot for a lot of grappling in the sheets.
Hi, Matthew: I saw in the newspaper there is an ad for “car-o-rama” for selling the latest new cars. Where does this “o-rama” business originate? — P&P, via email
Mankind has always been a sucker for the wow factor. Wow-o-rama is just an 18th-century logical extension. At that time, all the lucky ducks were out seeing new sights, exploring new worlds, while the rest of us huddled around the fire, eating gruel and darning damp socks. What we needed was some entertainment that would bring the world to our doorstep. Comes along Robert Barker, Irish painter, and his panoramas — re-e-e-e-ealy wide paintings that captured a 360-degree view of famous cities and landmarks. Stand in the middle of the display and it’s almost like being in London or Paris or, at any rate, it’s better than darning socks. The enterprising Barker copyrighted the painting technique and the name panorama (Greek: pan = all; horama = sight) in the 1780s. Special rooms and buildings were constructed to show them off, and they were a bona fide craze. Cycloramas and dioramas were spinoffs of the panorama idea. Even in the 1830s, when photography displaced painting, some of the most popular shots were city and landscape panoramas. Basically, any “-o-rama” was something pretty big and spectacular. Our French connection confirms that there was a mattress chain in France called Conforama (French: confort = comfort + rama), so the word ending lives on.
Visionary American industrial and theatrical designer Norman Bel Geddes revived “orama” interest at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. He designed the very famous General Motors pavilion and called it Futurama, his concept of the ideal city just over the technological horizon. Once again, the populace was stunned.
Attention: Peeping Tom. Who’s Tom? — Anonymous, via email
You’ve got my attention. And I’ve got your answer. We go back, back, back to the 11th Century, Coventry, England. The mayor is crazy for raising taxes. His wife begins to feel sorry for the oppressed population. She demands he lower taxes. Nix on that, he says. She persists. Okay, he says. On the day you ride naked through Coventry, I’ll lower taxes. So it was done. Lady Godiva got on her horse and rode the streets. Of course, in advance, she’d asked everyone to lock themselves indoors and close their blinds as she passed through. As the story goes, all complied except the town’s tailor, Tom. He couldn’t resist opening his blinds and peeping at Godiva. He was immediately struck blind. The end.
Historians confirm that Lady Godiva’s ride is a true thing. But the blinded-tailor business was added much later by some authoritarian moralist and has no basis in fact. But it’s hung around in wordland. The city of Coventry even has a town clock that memorializes Godiva and her peeping Tom.