Social anxiety can turn a few seconds of silence into terrifying panic, but even if you're perfectly comfortable in a social setting, sometimes you find yourself at a loss for something to say.
It's all too easy to resort to basic, meaningless small talk about the weather or a mutual friend, but that rarely moves the conversation forward very much, and it doesn't set you apart from the rest.
Whether you're trying to fill the silence on a blind date or pass the time with an acquaintance in an elevator, learning these ten seemingly useless facts will give you an arsenal of icebreakers that can save the day.
- The word "set" has more definitions than any other word in the English language. According to Merriam-Webster, twenty-five different definitions apply to this same three-letter word, including "to position oneself before a race" and"to square-dance while facing a partner". It has even more meanings if you also count the various phrases in which it makes an appearance (for example, "set at" means to attack, while ""set sail" means starting a journey).
- -40 degrees feels the same, no matter where you are. This is the only temperature that's the same in both Celsius and Fahrenheit. Extreme weather elevates the usual small talk topic to something a little more interesting.
- Tupac was a ballet dancer in high school. The eventual rap legend played the Mouse King as a teenager in The Nutcracker. If picturing Tupac Shakur in tights and pointe shoes doesn't break the tension, nothing will.
- The original honeymoon tradition involved the bride's family keeping the groom drunk for a month. If you're attending or participating in someone else's wedding, provide some quirky perspective by explaining that the first "honeymoon" was honey mead that ancient Babylonian grooms received from their new brides' parents for one complete cycle of the moon.
- Jerry Springer was once the mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio. Maybe his Midwestern constituents helped him master the fine art of drama-wrangling.
- Cats purr to regenerate their bones. The frequency of a cat's purr -- which also calms them and their kittens -- keeps their muscular and skeletal systems from breaking down due to the stress of high-impact jumps. If you're in a home with pets, you can twist this trivia to make a dog person feel smug -- cats aren't really telling their owners they're happy -- or to make a cat owner proud of their talented little self-healer.
- Beer formed the foundation of modern civilization. The first beer was used by ancient Egyptians as a form of payment (to laborers who built the pyramids) and as a dietary staple (it preserved all the essential grains and nutrients for months, and early Western agriculture actually revolved around beer ingredients).
- Sailors from China invented ketchup. Next time you're at a barbecue, drop this bit of naval knowledge. In the early 1500's, salted and fermented tomato paste made their bland rations taste better.
- Money's metallic smell is actually human BO. Iron, a common coin ingredient, breaks down the skin's oils.
- According to a Dutch psychologist, the average human can only stand three seconds of silence. 162 volunteers participated in a study that suggested there's a four-second threshold at which most people will become fearful, uncomfortable and dejected unless conversation continues.
The next time you're mindlessly hopping from one link to the next, remember to copy down any thought-provoking or unbelievable information that stands out to you. If you find yourself looking something up just to find out more, there's a good chance that you'll impress someone else with it.