ASK MR. KNOW-IT-ALL: In the land of unknowing, Know-it-All readers king
April 21, 2013 1:50 AM

Question: My former girlfriend used to say, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” Who wrote this? — G.C., Hamburg, Pa.

Answer: The proverb is credited to Desiderius Erasmus, in his collection “Adagia” (1500). Erasmus was a Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, social critic, teacher and theologian. One common interpretation of this proverb is that even those without much ability or talent are viewed highly by those with no ability or talent at all.

In 1904, H.G. Wells wrote a fantastic short story called “The Country of the Blind.” He revised and expanded it in 1939. It’s the tale of a mountaineer who falls while climbing in Ecuador. He finds himself in a valley cut off from the rest of the world because of steep precipices on all sides. He’s stuck in the fabled Country of the Blind. Because of genetic defects, all residents of the valley are unable to see. The climber realizes that with his sight, he can be king. The locals don’t think that way, and they consider the intruder an aberration who needs an operation to remove his eyes. It’s a good story with an unusual ending, and it definitely puts a twist on Erasmus’ proverb.

Question: In the movie “Chisum,” starring John Wayne, Ben Johnson and Forrest Tucker, the men wait for a wagon train to bring back store supplies. Ben Johnson’s character, James Pepper, talks about running low on things, including “airtights.” What are those? — L.D., Peoria, Ill.

Answer: Airtights are home canned and store-bought canned goods. “Chisum” was released in 1970.

Question: There is a great Budweiser commercial that premiered during the 2013 Super Bowl. In it, a breeder and trainer of Clydesdales becomes attached to a foal. When it’s time for the horse to join the Budweiser team, the two must say goodbye. Later, the Clydesdales come to visit Chicago, and the horse lets his trainer know that he was not forgotten. There is a great song in the background. Who is the singer, and what is the name of the song? — K.J., Mesa, Ariz.

Answer: The song is “Landslide,” which was released in 1975 by Fleetwood Mac and sung by Stevie Nicks. It’s a song of changes and regrets and getting older.

You’re right — the commercial is a heart-tugging montage of scenes from the birth of the horse until the day he gets called up to join the big team of Budweiser horses.

Question: What does Qantas, as in Qantas Airline Ltd., mean? — T.L., Franklin, Ky.

Answer: The name of the Australia-based airline is an acronym for Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services.

Question: When does a hill become a mountain? — E.B.L., Burlington, Vt.

Answer: That’s not an easy question to answer, because even the experts disagree. Some say a hill becomes a mountain if it is more than 1,000 feet, but others say the figure should be 2,000 feet.

Question: Which president was in office when running water was first installed in the White House? — P.H., Cocoa, Fla.

Answer: Running water was introduced to the White House in 1833, during Andrew Jackson’s presidency.

Question: Do you know why people are called saboteurs or how the word “sabotage” came about? — R.J.S., Lake Charles, La.

Answer: “Sabotage” was first used in the 15th century, when underpaid Dutch factory workers rebelled by throwing their wooden clogs — or “sabots” — into the machinery, jamming it.


Send your questions to Mr. Know-It-All at or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

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