The Curiosity Desk's weekly roundup of the stats, facts, tidbits and leftovers that almost slipped through the cracks in the WGBH newsroom.


Researching Electronic Control Weapons (ECWs) for a story this week, I learned that Taser is actually a “Propriety Eponym” — that is to say, a word that is or was a brand name that has become a generic term. There are, of course, plenty of well-known examples of this: Kleenex, Xerox, Q-Tip, Band-Aid. It turns out there are also a whole bunch of others that aren’t as well-known. Here are a few of my favorites:


Reporter Craig LeMoult spent a lot of time in the southern parts of Boston last week, on the heels of the Usaama Rahim shooting.  He was in Roslindale when Rahim's family spoke out, and later in the week was at the Mosque for Praising Allah in Roxbury for Rahim's Janazah (Islamic funeral service). After the service, Craig had a chance conversation with a member of the mosque who was there for Friday prayer. 

Craig: I talked to this guy, Michael Holtzclaw, outside the mosque. He told me about how he used to be a Cambridge firefighter, and how an Irish Catholic in the department inspired him to convert to Islam.

Craig was of course rolling tape. Here's Holtzclaw’s full tale, in his own words: 

It’s a classic American melting pot story set in a quickly diversifying Suffolk County. In 1990 there was a 34 percent chance a resident there would live next door to someone of a different ethnicity; by 2010 that had jumped to 52 percent. Incidentally, the idea of America as a “melting pot” rose to popularity on the heels of a 1908 play named — you guessed it — "The Melting Pot." 


My “This Week in Massachusetts History” story for this week centered on the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings and the Boston lawyer, Joseph Welch, who uttered that famous line, “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” One thing historian David Oshinsky told me that didn’t make it into the story is that, behind the scenes, there was a handshake deal between Joseph Welch and Roy Cohn, chief counsel for Joe McCarthy.

McCarthy and Cohn had found out that Fred Fisher, a young lawyer who worked briefly on Welch’s team, had once belonged to the Lawyers Guild — a communist affiliated organization. Welch knew this could be used against him and made a deal. McCarthy wouldn’t bring up Fred Fisher, and Welch would keep some dirt he had on Cohn under wraps: Cohn had been a draft dodger.

Oshinsky said the deal first came to light in a Cohn biography, but he was skeptical about its veracity. That’s until he interviewed Fred Fisher, who showed him notes from the era that confirmed there was a deal in place. So when McCarthy brought Fisher up, prompting Welch’s famous line, not only was Welch peeved that McCarthy was going after an essentially innocent man, but that he was also breaking their deal. Indecent indeed.


This week's audio scrap comes from Kirk Carapezza at WGBH's higher-ed desk, On Campus. Earlier this week, Kirk reported on an app that aims to predict students' GPA based solely on how and where they spend their time. Privacy is so 20th Century. Anyhow, if you've ever wondered whether the big brains who make this kind of stuff are aware that they may be unwittingly turning us all into drones, Kirk's got your back.

I'm not sure if that makes me feel  better or worse. 

And that's all the news that wasn't fit to print ... until now.

Has something in the news - or something completely random - caught your eye and left you wanting to know more? Email us at We may just look into it for you.