QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Sandi Toksvig. Copyright: TalkbackThames


  • TV panel show
  • BBC Two / BBC One / BBC Four
  • 2003 - 2022
  • 279 episodes (19 series)

Panel game that contains lots of difficult questions and a large amount of quite interesting facts. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

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Series S, Episode 9 - Smörgåsbord

Sandi and Alan are joined by Jimmy Carr, Jen Brister and Chris McCausland to cover a general smorgasbord of facts beginning with S.

Further details


- This is a general show covering various different topics, all beginning with "S".


- "Smorgasbord" is Swedish for "sandwich table", so Sandi asks for the secret of a superlative sandwich. The answer is to sit on it. Paul Hollywood sits on bacon sandwiches. MFK Fisher, widely considered the greatest food writer of the 20th century, she used to sit on her favourite sandwich, called the railroad: a flattened sourdough baguette containing home-made mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, jam and Jack cheese, which she wrapped in plastic and then sat on, warming it up slightly.

- Tangent: Jimmy proposes the answers is French toast and says he is a big fan of the Monte Cristo, which is Gruyere cheese, turkey, ham, French toast and powdered sugar.

- Tangent: The sandwich was not invented by the fourth Earl of Sandwich, but he can take credit for inventing fizzy drinks. He was also the first Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty, and he backed Joseph Priestley to invent a system of making carbonated water for the Navy as a cure for scurvy, which it didn't. Priestly invented carbonated water and first published his method in 1767. In Japan, you can get Scotch and soda, pre-mixed, on draught at -2 degrees. The Japanese make some of the best Scotches, or rather Japanese whiskies, in the world, such as Hibiki 30, partly because they bought lots of good barrels from Scotland in the 1970s when the whiskey business was down.

- Tangent: The longest recorded sandwich was over two-fifths of a mile long: 735 metres. It was made in Beirut in 2011, and consisted of chicken, lettuce, tomato and pickles. A special oven was invented for it so the sandwich would cook really slowly.

- Tangent; The British are eating more sandwiches, according to the British Sandwich Association. Jen argues there is nothing bleaker than a British sandwich, with Sandi being really annoyed by sandwiches where the filling is just in the middle. The British Sandwich Association has an annual awards ceremony called the Sammies. In 2020, the winner of the New Sandwich Award - Hot Category was won by Deli Lites Irish Stout Pastrami.

- Tangent: Because the Danes like to eat a bit of fat, there is an open sandwich called a fed mad med knaphuller, which consists of rye bread with animal fat (like beef dripping) and thick, rough salt. The salt melts into the fat and so the bread looks like it has buttonholes. Thus the name of the sandwich translates as: "fat food with buttonholes". Malcolm Gladwell wrote an essay about how McDonald's became a success because of their fries rather than their burgers, which were the best thing around in the 1970s. However, they were ruined by an American congressman who had a heart attack and blamed it on the fries, which were then cooked in beef tallow and thought they were bad for you, insisting they should instead by fried in vegetable fat. It turns out the congressman was wrong about the cause of his heart attack, but because of this pressure McDonald's changed their recipe and their fries are worse.

- Tangent: All the talk of food results in Jimmy ordering some take-away food on his phone and trying to get it delivered to the studio.

- It takes two sausages to change the world. In Switzerland, the main debate about the Reformation was whether or not you could eat sausages during Lent. Since 320 AD, the Catholic Church had banned sausages because they were associated with pagan festivals. Emperor Leo the Wise banned blood sausages, and ruled that anybody caught eating or selling them should be beaten, exiled, have their property confiscated and have all their body hair shaved off. However, in 1522, in an act of defiance a dozen priests, printers and tradesmen met in a Zurich workshop and ate two sausages between them. One of the priests, Huldrych Zwingli, wrote a sermon called On Choice and Freedom of Foods defending what they had done, saying that the New Testament did not forbid eating sausages. There ended up being fights between his supporters and his opponents, vigilantes tried to hunt Zwingli down and bring him in front of a bishop, but in less than a year all of the rules regarding sausages were abolished in Zurich, and the Reformation eventually spread across Switzerland.

- Tangent: You may associate botulism with sausages, because "botulus" is Latin for sausage. Botox also comes from botulism. Dr. Justinus Kerner discovered how meat became contaminated and carried out the first clinical description of the botulinum toxin. Thus he got nicknamed "Wurst Kerner".

- Tangent: The word "allantoid" means "sausage-shaped". "Chipolata" means "contains onions", despite the fact they no longer do. As these facts are being read out, Jimmy gets a phone call about his delivery, which is on its way. Chris says he can't believe that Jimmy brings his phone onto the set, and Jimmy says that he will sometimes Google answers during the show. Chris says he cannot do that as his phone talks to him, so everyone would know he was cheating.

- If a South African said: "Buy a donkey?", you should say: "Yu iz welkom". In Afrikaans, the phrase: "Baie dankie", which sounds exactly like the English sentence: "Buy a donkey?" means: "Thank you very much." The following is a list of phrases in English which have different meanings in other languages.

- "S.O.C.K.S" - If you spell the word "socks", it sounds like the Spanish phrase; "Eso si que es", meaning: "That's really what it is."

- "Yellow blue tibia" - Sounds like the Russian: "Ya lyublyu tebya", meaning: "I love you."

- "Johnny Marr" - Sounds like the French: "J'en ai marre", meaning: "I'm fed up."

- "Cocks taste good" - Sounds like the Estonian: "Kaksteist kudd", meaning: "Twelve months."

- "I meant t'kill ye" - Sounds like the Spanish: "¿Hay mantequilla?", meaning; "Is there butter?"

- Tangent: In 1967, American actor Luis van Rooten published a book called Mots D'Heures: Gousses, Rames, which on the surface looks like a collection of ancient nonsense poems in French, but when read out loud sound like nursery rhymes in English in a strong French accent.

- Tangent: If you say, "Yes, we can see", it sounds like you are saying: "Yes" in four different languages: English, French, Hebrew and Spanish. If you say "Jimmy Carr" in Jamaican accent, it sounds like: "Jamaica".

- Tangent: Some Spanish speakers have trouble pronouncing the "S" at the front of English words, adding a vowel sound, so "sorry" comes out as: "eh-sorry". Jen's mother is Spanish and will put an "E" at the front of any English word beginning with "S", including the own son and Jen's brother, "eh-Steven". However, Jen's mother can say Spanish words beginning with "S" perfectly fine.

- Tangent: You can make yourself understood in another country without any words at all just by shouting loudly. In 2019, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, asked 50 people to vocalise certain feelings, and then asked more than 1,000 people to explain what it was that they had heard. This resulted in a map of 24 distinct human emotions which you can convey without words. The panel thus act out some expressions to test this: Chris acts out anger and mild amusement; Jimmy desire and negative surprise; Jen embarrassment and confusion; and Alan disgust and ecstasy.

- Fascists hate subtitles because it is harder to control the audience with them. Some countries nearly always subtitle foreign-language films and others nearly always dub them. This is partly a cost issue, as dubs are more expensive than subs. Germany, Spain, France and Italy nearly always dub, and this is better for fascists because you can control what is being said.

- Tangent: The panel talk the famous, often parodied scene in Downfall, when Hitler is in the bunker berating those around him, and people change the subtitles to say that they want. Alan's favourite example is one in which Hitler is angry that Doncaster Rovers have lost at home.

- Tangent: Alan watched The Bridge and was worried he may have missed nuances between the Danish and Swedish dialogue. Jimmy asks Sandi what the dynamic is between the Swedes and Danes, and Sandi says the Danish view of the Swedes is that they are drunk.

- Tangent: Subtitles errors include:

- From BBC Breakfast: "Cromer, famous for its crab", becoming: "Cromer, famous for its crap".

- From a Wimbledon report, also on BBC Breakfast: "We might be bad at some things in the UK, but we're good at queuing", becoming: "We might be bad at some things in the UK, but we're good at killing."

- From coverage of the Queen Mother's funeral: "We'll now have a moment's silence for the Queen Mother", becoming: "We'll now have a moment's violence for the Queen Mother."

- From QI: Sandi saying: "I feel like I'm giving out top tips now" becoming: "I feel like I'm giving out top tits now."

- Tangent: Sandi asks Chris if he uses the audio description for visually impaired viewers. Christ complains about the system crowbaring description into every single moment of silence. Sandi gives an example from Naked Attraction: "Wearing a colourful patterned shirt, baby-faced Brian gulps as the outer shells start to rise. Fingers pressed to his mouth, Brian scans the line-up of well-landscaped lady gardens." There is an audio described section on Pornhub, which Chris says he has visited for research, on the grounds that he can't go any blinder. Audio description first came out on DVDs, but the main problem was you had to go through the menu to select it, which had no audio description. Jimmy says there is a blind school near him which has Braille under the school sign, which leads him to ask who knows when to press there. Other places put Braille on emergency fire exit signs, meaning if the fire alarm goes of you have to feel every wall to find your way out.

- Tangent: Many of the Bond girls in the first ten Bond films were not voiced by the actress who played them. They were instead voiced by German voiceover artist Nikki van der Zyl. In Dr. No, she voiced all the womens parts except Miss Moneypenny and three other very small parts. All the leads in My Fair Lady, West Side Story and The King And I were sung by Marni Nixon, known as the Ghostess with the Mostest.

- Tangent: Jimmy checks the food order and says it has been delivered at the BBC's reception.

- The thing that is edible, has 25 arms and weighs 12 tonnes is the ruby red fruit of the saguaro cactus. It ripens once a year around late June, and you can eat it raw, making it into jam, wine or syrup, and it tastes like strawberries. The saguaro is the largest cactus of all, growing up to 65ft tall (20m) and is reputed to live for 200 years. Despite being so tall, the roots are only 4-6 inches deep, but they are spread out wide as the plant is tall. Saguaro are also home to the elf owl, the smallest owl in the world. Elf owls play dead when handled.

- Sofrito is an Italian mixture of chopped carrots, onions and celery, used as a base for soups, stews and sauces, but suffrajitsu is jujitsu used by suffragettes. On 18th November 1910, known as Black Friday, a group of suffragettes were attacked by the police, and two women died as a result. In order to fight back, campaigner and martial arts enthusiast Edith Garrud became the official jujitsu instructor to the Women's Social and Political Union. The Union had a group of 30 women called the Amazons who were their shock troops, who had clubs under their dresses and once protected Emmeline Pankhurst by getting her out of a building in Camden, with the Amazons tricking the police by using a veiled decoy. Punch published a cartoon of terrified policemen in front of a woman entitled: "The Suffragette That Knew Jujitsu".

- Tangent: The National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, the largest suffrage society which was started in 1897, was the peaceful branch of the suffrage movement, run by Millicent Fawcett. Sandi bought the original sign from their office at auction. The sign reads: "Law abiding" to indicate their peaceful method of protesting.

- Tangent: The very first jujitsu teacher of either sex in Europe was Edward William Barton-Wright, who taught Edith Garrud. Barton-Wright developed his own version of the art using walking sticks, which he called "Bartitsu". This martial art is used by Sherlock Holmes, when he fights Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls.

- Tangent: Sluggard wakers were people who hit other people who fell asleep in church. Usually a woman and often used in the north of England, they would hit men with a stick to wake them up, and would wake women by tickling them under the nose with a fox's tail. In Zen Buddhism, if you start to sleep when meditating, you could be woken by being hit with a stick called a "keisaku".

- Some "S" related shortcuts: if you get a takeaway pizza and it comes with one of the three-legged plastic pizza protectors, you can cut one of the legs of and use it as a phone stand. You can split a banana into three exact fingers by pushing your finger from the top of it all the way down the middle. If you are right-handed and trying to unscrew a screw, unscrew with your left hand as you are using stronger muscles and will get tired less quickly.

General Ignorance

- The footwear named after their victorious leader that the troops wore at Waterloo was the Blucher. Only the Duke of Wellington wore wellingtons at the battle. The boots were commissioned to go with the new fashion for trousers, and he ordered them in April 1815. The battle was on 18 June 1815, so he was the only person in the boots. British soldiers wore hessian boots. The Prussian allies of the British however wore footwear named after their leader Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher. Bluchers are ankle boots named after him, which were worn by the Prussian soldiers. After the war wellingtons became a patriotic symbol, and by 1830 there cartoons of the Duke depicting him as just a head inside a wellington. (Forfeit: Wellington boots)

- Tangent: Alan got really ecstatic about a pair of wellingtons he got over lockdown. Chris meanwhile got a dog during lockdown, which was problematic for him when he was walking it in the park because he never knew what the next step would be as the ground was uneven. Jimmy had an old joke, and asks Chris for answer: "Who picks up guide dog shit?" Chris says: "Just move your hands around until it get warmer, mate."

- You can see Halley's Comet twice a year, or rather bits of it. While the main body of the comet appears every 75-76 years, with it last passing in 1986 and next due in 2061, you can see the debris in meteor showers. The closer it flies to the sun, the more of its ice, dust and gas it loses. It loses about a thousandth of its mass ever orbit, and twice a fear the Earth passes through the remains of the comet.

- There are six tastes: salt, sour, bitter, sweet, umami and kokumi. In the 1980s, a Japanese company isolated kokumi, which the mouth has specific receptors to detect it. It doesn't actually taste of anything, and is best described as a "mouthfullness" which enhances other flavours. It is found in calcium, yeast and milt, which is fish sperm. (Forfeit: Five)


- Chris McCausland: 6 points
- Jen Brister: 5 points
- Jimmy Carr: -6 points
- Alan Davies: -7 points

And finally...

- Jimmy's food order arrives.


The XL version of this episode was broadcast first.

Broadcast details

Friday 14th January 2022
45 minutes

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Jimmy Carr Guest
Chris McCausland Guest
Jen Brister Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Anna Ptaszynski Script Editor
Sandi Toksvig Script Editor
Andrew Hunter Murray Question Writer
Production team
Ben Hardy Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer
Justin Pollard Associate Producer
Nick King Editor
Jonathan Paul Green Production Designer
Nick Collier Lighting Designer
Howard Goodall Composer
Helen Ringer Graphics
Robin Ellis Graphics
Mat Coward Researcher
Will Bowen Researcher
Ed Brooke-Hitching Researcher
Mandy Fenton Researcher
Mike Turner Researcher
Jack Chambers Researcher
Emily Jupitus Researcher
James Rawson Researcher
Ethan Ruparelia Researcher
Lydia Mizon Researcher
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Creator
Sarah Clay Commissioning Editor

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