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The relevance of irrelevance


"WHY are you so random?" I confess. It's a question I get asked with alarming regularity. Maybe it's because I have a penchant for seemingly irrelevant bits of information, but not the kind you'll ever have any use for. It won't, for instance, help you win Trivia Tuesdays at your nearest hipster pub.

I'm talking truly peculiar and useless facts, like how severed octopuses' limbs can think and live on, long after the creature has died. That's because most of an octopus's 500 million neurons reside in its tentacles, and not in its brain. In fact, researchers have found that a severed octopus arm will snatch up a piece of food and feed it to its phantom mouth - or at least where its mouth would have been, were the octopus still intact.

Conclusion: Octopuses are awesome.

(And yes, the plural of "octopus" is "octopuses". Not "octopi", "octopodes", or - as one BT editor who shall remain unnamed has suggested - "octopussies".)

Another random fact: you may think broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts are separate vegetables, but they're actually the exact same plant. They are all brassica oleracea (which means "vegetable" in Latin); just in different manifestations. So collard greens and cabbage are leafy brassica oleracea; cauliflower and broccoli are flowering ones; and brussels sprouts and kohlrabi are stem ones. Kale and kailan? Also the same species.

Now let me be the first to concede: I realise these factoids will probably never help you in any meaningful way. In fact, they're pretty much irrelevant to your existence. I also know - and I'll admit, this is from personal experience - that chirping on about octopus neurons or plant classifications is likely to earn you some serious side-eye.

But let's not confuse trivia with the trivial. After all, is not the occasional, tangential, twisted fact one of life's great joys?

Learning something new can be incredibly satisfying, especially when it's purely for enjoyment. Maybe it will come in useful later, maybe it won't. Either way, it is pleasure - not purpose - that is the point.

(Having said that, can I just highlight that the following situation is not entirely out of the realm of possibility: You've been arrowed to attend a networking event. Who else is in attendance but a cephalopod-loving marine biologist with a killer smile? You introduce yourself, and manage to impress her with your amazing knowledge of zombie octopus limbs. She agrees to go on a date with you, where you spot kale on the menu (but no octopuses, of course). You wow her again with your mastery of brassica oleracea, and she thinks you are the most well-read person she has ever met. In time, you get married, have kids, and live happily ever after. Knowing about dismembered octopuses and vegetable species doesn't sound so useless anymore, does it?)

Fact is, we spend most of our waking hours at work, dealing with a miasma of "serious" stuff - excel spreadsheets, stock charts, legal briefs, presentation decks . . . There is hardly any place for frivolity.

Until now.

Enter the revamped BT Weekend, and this all-new Offbeat column. Each week, you'll get a page's worth of quirk, guaranteed to help revive any flagging dinner conversation. Avaunt, awkward silence!

So consider this new column an ode to irrelevance. Because really, what would life be without a little bit of offbeat musing?