Saturday, July 14, 2018

10 Unexplained Ocean Mysteries


The vast briny deep has been the source for many a tale of the unexplained and unexplainable. Even though water covers a majority of the planet, we know more about outer space than we do about what exists beneath the surface of the oceans. The mysteries of the deep date back to ancient times. Modern science has been able to dispel many of these tall tales, but not all of them.

I recently came across a list of ten unexplained ocean mysteries, shown here in no particular order. There are, of course, many more strange and unexplainable occurrences than the ten listed here.

10)  "The Bloop" and "Julia"
Several creepy sounds have been recorded by underwater microphones off the Southern coast of South America. Nearly all of these sounds have been attributed to volcanic activity and shifting icebergs. There are, however, two incidents that have baffled scientists. The Bloop occurred in 1997 and lasted over a minute. In the same region, two years later, they recorded something that sounded like a watery voice saying Julia. Both seismic and human activity were ruled out in each case. Scientists agree than an animal is responsible for Julia, but no currently known creature is large enough to produce such a noise.

9)  The Mary Celeste
In 1872, a merchant ship named Mary Celeste set sail from New York with ten people on board.  Eight days later the ship was found adrift in the North Atlantic, intact with the exception of one missing lifeboat. A six month's supply of food was on board as were the crew's belongings along with the ship's logbook and some charts. Neither the lifeboat nor any bodies were ever found. So, what happened to the sailors, the captain and the captain's family? With valuables left on board, a pirate takeover wasn't the answer. An experienced crew and well-liked captain ruled out error and mutiny. To this day no one has an explanation for what occurred on board the Mary Celeste.

8)  The Sonar Flying Saucer
Swedish researcher Peter Lindberg was using sonar to search for a shipwreck between Sweden and Finland in 300 feet of water. In July 2011, he discovered a perfectly round circle approximately 60 feet in diameter resting on the ocean floor. Deep scars on the ocean floor suggested the object had moved across the ocean bottom. Released sonar images immediately had a number of news outlets claiming the object was a UFO. Although finding a perfectly round object of that size on the ocean floor is very strange, sonar specialists declared the resolution of the image too low to identify it as anything in particular. Until more money is available for improved equipment and more exploration, the object remains a mystery.

7)  The Montauk Monster
In the summer of 2008, an unidentified dead animal washed up on the shore at Montauk, New York. Although several people reported seeing it and photographs surfaced, the carcass disappeared before police were able to recover the remains. Newspapers ran the story along with a grotesque image. Locals speculated that it could be a mutant resulting from experiments at nearby Plum Island Animal Disease Center. Others suggested that it was nothing more than a hoax. Many scientists who studied the photographs think it was a known species heavily damaged and decomposed as a result of time spent in the water. Several people claimed it was some type of sea turtle without its shell. The raccoon claim seems to be the closest, but the Montauk Monster's legs are longer than a normal raccoon leaving us without a definitive conclusion.

6)  The Vil Vana
A 41-foot fishing trawler with a seven man crew mysteriously vanished off the coast of Santa Cruz Island in 1993. With no signal for help and very few ship remains ever found, it was determined that the boat sank quickly and fully intact. For two decades, investigators have been baffled by the fact that no diesel fuel ever bubbled to the surface and no bodies were ever found. Some of the victim's families believe that a military submarine may have accidently caught one of the boats' nets and dragged it under. This is rare, but possible. Four years earlier a submarine sank a tugboat in the same area. The case of the Vil Vana is still open and unsolved.

5)  The Lost City Of Atlantis
In 360 B.C. Plato wrote "in a single day and night of misfortune" a major sea power called Atlantis mysteriously sank into the ocean. Some historians have labeled Plato's account a myth while others have dedicated their lives to finding the lost city which they believe was a super power devastated by a natural disaster. It's been suggested that Plato was describing the Minoan civilization on Crete and neighboring Santorini where a devastating volcanic eruption happened in 1600 B.C. During the last couple of decades several research teams claimed to have located Atlantis, but this 2000 year old puzzle is still waiting to be solved.

4)  The Bermuda Triangle
Certainly one of the best known ocean mysteries, this stretch of water between Bermuda, Miami, and San Juan has also been called The Devil's Triangle. Most of today's theories say that nearly all reported incidents are due to equipment or human error combined with the areas strong currents and frequent (and sudden) storms. Others strongly believe that paranormal activity or a magnetic anomaly are to blame. A few of the Bermuda Triangle accidents have escaped any type of scientific explanation. The U.S.S. Cyclops with 306 people on board disappeared in 1918 between Barbados and Baltimore with no signal for help and no remains discovered. Five Navy bombers disappeared off the coast of Florida in 1945 with neither the planes nor any bodies ever found. A DC-3 plane with 3 crewmen and 29 passengers on a flight from San Juan to Miami with perfect visibility radioed when they were 50 miles from landing saying all was well, but the plane never arrived and has never been found.

3)  Alaska's Loch Ness Monster
In Bristol Bay, Alaska, a fisherman managed to get some film footage of what the locals refer to as Caddy, a creature with undulating body, horse-like head, long neck, big eyes and back humps—much the same as descriptions of sea serpent sightings from Scotland's Loch Ness and of Lake Champlain's Champ on the New York-Vermont state line. This footage shot in 2009 has the distinction of being the first hard video evidence. After studying the footage, scientists have determined that the creature isn't a whale, seal, shark, eel or fish. It has been suggested that the film shows a Cadborosaurus, a beast named for Cadboro Bay in British Columbia combined with the Greek word saurus (lizard) that's been popular in Alaskan lore for nearly 200 years. But, without more physical clues no definite conclusions can be drawn.

2)  Quackers
In various parts of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans during the peak of the Cold War, Soviet submarines reported hearing mysterious sounds they called quackers (the Russian version of our own ribbit of a frog). Using sound recording from various ships, scientists concluded that the noises were made by a moving object with the behavior of a living creature or manned vessel. The origin of the sounds seemed to show interest in and occasionally circle the subs. However, their sonar was unable to find anything to account for the sounds. The Soviets claimed it was secret U.S. technology. Others believed it was giant squids that evaded sonar because they don't have a rigid skeleton. The most mysterious part of the quacker puzzle is that the sounds stopped in the mid 1980s.

1)  The Baychimo Ghost Ship
For centuries there have been stories about ghost ships either manned by the dead or possessed by some type of unknown force. While most of these stories are considered myths, one actual ghost ship did exist. Baychimo, a 1322-ton cargo steamer became trapped in pack ice in 1931 where the crew had to abandon ship off the coast of Alaska. A harsh blizzard hit and the ship was nowhere to be found. The crew assumed the ship had sunk, but Inuit hunters reported several sightings over the ensuing months. Many reports were received for nearly 40 years from people claiming to have seen the unmanned vessel sailing the waters around Alaska as if still in use. The last reported sighting was in 1969. The ultimate fate of Baychimo is a mystery.

And as a footnote to Ghost Ships:
This didn't actually involve a ship, but it is about a large man-made object that ended up navigating thousands of miles of ocean on its own. The large destructive tsunami following the March 2011 Japanese earthquake ripped apart four large sections of dock and set them adrift on the ocean, each about the size of a freight train box car. One landed on a nearby island, two were never seen again, but the fourth managed to find its way across 5000 miles of ocean without any type of help and came to rest on a beach in Oregon. So…I guess a ship without a crew could continue to stay afloat and move with the currents and tides for an indeterminate amount of time.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Quirky Questions Tourists Ask


We're in the middle of the summer tourist season (in the Northern Hemisphere). Some of us will be tourists and some of us will encounter tourists.  And tourists invariably ask questions.

At one time or another when we were in school, we've probably all heard a teacher say that there is no such thing as a stupid question in an attempt to get us to express our curiosity about something without being embarrassed.

However, as an adult that old adage doesn't apply to all situations.  The travel industry is filled with weird, quirky, and in some cases just plain stupid questions asked by tourists.  Here's a sampling of some from various sources.

Actual Questions Asked On Cruise Ships:
Does the crew sleep on board?
Is the island surrounded by water?
What happens to the ice sculptures after they melt?
What time is the 2 o'clock tour?
Can you see the equator from the deck?
I know that ships often serve smoked salmon, but I am a non-smoker.
Can the iced tea be served hot?
Will I get wet if I go snorkeling?
Should I put my luggage outside the cabin before or after I go to sleep?
Does the outside cabin mean it's outside the ship?
Where is the good shopping in Antarctica?

And cruise ships aren't the only place that tourists seem to have absurd questions.  Here are some actual questions received by Australians from foreigners, along with some well-deserved replies.
Q: Does it ever get windy in Australia? I have never seen it rain on TV, how do the plants grow? (question from the UK)
A:  We import all plants fully grown and then just sit around watching them die.
Q:  Will I be able to see kangaroos in the street? (question from USA)
A:  Depends how much you've been drinking.
Q:  I want to walk from Perth to Sydney—can I follow the railroad tracks? (question from Sweden)
A:  Sure, it's only 3000 miles, take lots of water.
Q:  Are there any ATMs (cash machines) in Australia? Can you send me a list of them in Brisbane, Cairns, Townsville and Hervey Bay? (question from the UK)
A:  What did your last slave die of?
Q:  Can you give me some information about hippo racing in Australia? (question from USA)
A:  A-fri-ca is the big triangle shaped continent south of Europe.  Aus-tra-lia is the big island in the middle of the Pacific which does not…oh forget it.  Sure, the hippo racing is every Tuesday night at Kings Cross.  Come naked.
Q:  Which direction is north in Australia? (question from USA)
A:  Face south and then turn 180 degrees.  Contact us when you get here and we'll send the rest of the directions.
Q:  Can I wear high heels in Australia? (question from the UK)
A:  You're a British politician, right?
Q:  Are there supermarkets in Sydney and is milk available all year round? (question from Germany)
A:  No, we are a peaceful civilization of vegan hunter/gatherers.  Milk is illegal.
Q:  Can you tell me the regions in Tasmania where the female population is smaller than the male population? (question from Italy)
A:  Yes, gay nightclubs.
Q:  Do you celebrate Christmas in Australia? (question from France)
A:  Only at Christmas.

The Daily Telegraph in the United Kingdom put together an international list "of the most inexplicably simple queries fielded by tourism officials."
Are there any lakes in the Lake District?
Why on earth did they build Windsor Castle on the flight path for Heathrow?
Is Wales closed during the winter?
Why did they build so many ruined castles and abbeys in England?
Do you know of any undiscovered ruins?

And here are some tourist questions asked at Niagara Falls:
What time do the falls shut off?
How far into Canada do I have to go before we have to drive on the other side of the road?
How much does it cost to get into Canada and are children a different price?

And here are some goodies from Minnesota:
I'm coming in July and want snowmobile rental information.
We want to tour the Edmund Fitzgerald. (the ship sank in Lake Superior during a storm in 1975)
One traveler asked to see the bridge in Minnesota with the arches.  She was shown various photos, none of which were the bridge she was looking for.  She finally identified a picture of the St. Louis Gateway Arch as the bridge she wanted to see.  She was given directions to Missouri.

And finally…these tidbits.
One tourist to Scotland asked what time they fed the Loch Ness Monster.  Another visitor to New York City thought they would end up in Holland if they drove through the Holland Tunnel.  A traveler in Miami asked a tourism official which beach was closest to the ocean.

So…I guess the bottom line is to maybe think about that question a second time before you actually ask it.   :)

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Fourth Of July Holiday—Some Trivia And A Fireworks Safety Quiz


July 4, Independence Day—on this date in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress, setting the 13 colonies on the road to freedom as a sovereign nation. The U.S. Constitution, the document that emerged from the 1787 Philadelphia Convention, is the oldest national constitution in the world.

As always, this most American of holidays will be marked by fireworks, parades, and backyard barbecues. Fireworks displays are common throughout the world and are the focal point of many cultural and religious celebrations. Fireworks were invented in ancient China to scare away evil spirits, as a natural extension of the Chinese invention of gunpowder.

With 4th of July fireworks comes the concern for safety. A reality for the holiday is that fireworks cause thousands of injuries, and even some deaths, in addition to enough fires to make July 4 the day with the most reported fires across the United States according to the National Fire Protection Association.

So…how much do you know about fireworks safety? Here's a 9 question quiz to test your knowledge. Correct answers are at the end.

1)  How hot does a sparkler burn?
          a:  212 degrees
          b:  600 degrees
          c:  950 degrees
          d:  1200 degrees

2)  What portion of 4th of July fires are caused by fireworks?
          a:  10 percent
          b:  35 percent
          c:  50 percent
          d:  90 percent

3)  Which age group has the most injuries reported from fireworks?
          a:  under 20
          b:  20 – 40
          c:  40 – 60
          d:  60+

4)  You should skip buying fireworks in brown paper packaging as that could be a sign that they're made for professionals, not consumers.
          a:  true
          b:  false

5)  If a pack of fireworks has not fully functioned, you should cautiously relight it.
          a:  true
          b:  false

6)  What's the best way to dispose of used fireworks?
          a:  throw in trash
          b:  use hose or bucket of water to soak them then throw away
          c:  bury them

7)  Last year what was the most common fireworks injury?
          a:  fractures and sprains
          b:  contusions and lacerations
          c:  ear injuries
          d:  burns
          e:  eye injuries

8)  According to a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission investigation, which of these were common reasons for fireworks injuries?
          a:  holding fireworks in the hand
          b:  mischief
          c:  debris or smoke from a malfunction
          d:  errant flight path from a malfunction
          e:  early or late ignition from a malfunction
          f:   all of the above

9)  Never light more than how many fireworks at a time?
          a:  1
          b:  2
          c:  3

And now, for those of you who want to see how well you did on the quiz—

1)       the correct answer is d…1200 degrees F, hot enough to burn certain metals and ignite clothing.

2)       the correct answer is c…50 percent, when shooting fireworks keep a bucket of water or sand available.

3)       the correct answer is a…under 20, children 10 – 14 are more than twice as much at risk for fireworks injuries.

4)       the correct answer is a…true.

5)       the correct answer is b…false, any malfunctioning fireworks should be soaked in water and then thrown away

6)       the correct answer is b…use hose or bucket of water to soak them and then throw them away

7)       the correct answer is d…burns

8)       the correct answer is f…all of the above

9)       the correct answer is a…light just 1 at a time.

Happy…and safe…holiday to everyone.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

8 PEOPLE YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF WHO CHANGED HISTORY


Ghost Army Inflatable Decoy Tank

As children, we're told we can grow up to be anything we want.  We can grow up and change the world.  However, the reality is that when we grew up we hopefully had a positive impact on our family, our jobs, our surrounding and hopefully our community.  But not many of us have actually ended up changing the world in massive ways simply by working hard, thinking quickly or just doing our jobs properly.  Many of these people were lost to history for a number of reasons—cultural differences, minority status, military secrecy, and in a few cases, just plain modesty.

THE GHOST ARMY
It's World War II, the Army's 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, also known as the Ghost Army, played a major role in putting a halt to Hitler's advances through Europe.  In reality, the Ghost Army consisted of 1,100 soldiers who were artists, illustrators, sound technicians, and other creative types who used their brains and specific creative skills to win battles.  Their mission was to trick the enemy into believing there was a huge military presence where one didn't really exist.  Through the use of fake inflatable tanks, trucks and weapons in conjunction with war noises through huge military speakers, the Ghost Army played a major role in helping America's Ninth Army to cross the Rhine River deep into German territory.  The Ghost Army pulled off more than 20 such missions, all of which remained classified until 1985.

FRANK WILLS
Security guard Frank Wills was making his rounds when he noticed a small piece of duct tape on a door of an office complex.  Wills removed the tape, but found it there again on his next patrol of the night.  He immediately called the police.  The date—June 17, 1972.  The location—an office complex in Washington D.C. named Watergate. Minutes later, 5 middle-aged men were caught ransacking the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee thus launching the scandal that would eventually cause President Richard Nixon to resign and would later be turned into the Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman film All The President's Men.  Sadly, his life took a turn for the worse after that.  He quit his job at the Watergate after being turned down for a raise and found that many places were too afraid to hire him as a security guard allegedly because they feared retaliation by Republican politicians.  He ended up in prison, then destitute, before dying of a brain tumor in September 2000.

JOSEPH WARREN
Even though he's generally unknown to all but the most dedicated Revolutionary War aficionados, there are 38 towns and 14 counties named after him.  A Boston doctor who performed the autopsy on Christopher Seider, the first American killed by British troops in the Boston Massacre.  When things between the colonists and the British became even more heated, he put together a military unit and participated in the Battle of Bunker Hill (which was actually fought on Breed Hill) where he died from a British musket ball through his brain.

ROSALIND FRANKLIN
We all know some facts about DNA such as you can extract it from fossilized remains to bring back dinosaurs and it can be altered to create ninja turtles.  But seriously…Rosalind Franklin, physical chemist and pioneering x-ray crystallographer with a PhD from Cambridge, was born in London, England.  The new technique of using x-ray crystallography on things that weren't actually crystals aided in accurately recording the structure of DNA.  Even though her work provided the linchpin of James Watson and Francis Crick's articles establishing the double helix theory, she was mostly ignored and brushed aside as far as being given credit for her work.  She died in 1958 at age 37 from ovarian cancer.

MARY ANNING
Highly intelligent, a fossil collector and paleontologist at the beginning of a century marked for tremendous advances in the practice and philosophy of science, she was royally screwed over from the beginning.  She had three strikes against her—she was poor, a religious minority, and (worst of all) a woman.  She was officially shunned by the British scientific establishment even though she had discovered the world's first correctly identified ichthyosaur skeleton when she was only 12.  Soon, geologists and paleontologists across the Western world knew her by reputation despite receiving almost no formal education and barely having enough money for journal subscriptions.  She died in 1847 of breast cancer.  She received an eulogy from the Geographical Society of London (where women weren't admitted until 1904), a glowing article by Charles Dickens in 1865, and a 2010 mention by the Royal Society as one of the 10 British women having the greatest impact on history.  And there was a tongue-twister about her day-to-day business of selling marine fossils.  We know it better as She sells sea shells by the sea shore.

ABU L-HASAN 'ALI IBN NAFI' (ZIRYAB)
One of the most significant people in Islamic culture remains nearly anonymous in European history even though he single-handedly set the groundwork for traditional Spanish music.  Ziryab was a highly educated North African slave in the approximate year of 800.  In addition to his strong point of music, he invented numerous dyes and chemicals for clothing, makeup, and hygiene.  He introduced the idea of seasonal fashions, came up with the structure of the traditional three-course meal consisting of soup, entrĂ©e, and dessert.  He also popularized shaving and short haircuts as a way of beating the fierce Mediterranean heat.  It's also said he invented the world's first underarm deodorant and an early type of toothpaste that was both effective and also had a pleasant taste.

LA MALINCHE/DONA MARINA
Dona Marina (as the Spanish called her) was 1 of 20 slave women given to the Spanish as the spoils of battle in 16th century Mexico.  Her skill with languages made her far more valuable than merely being Cortes' mistress.  She was instrumental to the small Spanish army's eventual victory by interpreting intelligence information and cultivating allies among the many tribes fed up with being kicked around by the Aztecs.  She's a controversial figure today.  Some argue that she was working in the best interests of her native people by aiding the Europeans and convincing Cortes to be more humane than he might have been.  Others think she was a traitor and her name is almost a curse.  Either way, without her the Cortes expedition might not have succeeded and history would have been changed forever.

VASILI ARKHIPOV
Vasili got his start in the Soviet Navy at the tail end of World War II and worked his way up through the ranks where he became the executive officer on the Soviet Navy's hotel class nuclear submarine K-19.  From there, he was dispatched to the Caribbean to command a group of 4 nuke-armed Foxtrot-class patrol subs.  And it was there that he made a decision that literally had a life and death impact on the future of the world.  He found himself in a sticky situation as his Foxtrot came under what seemed very much like an American attack (The US Navy saying it was only dropping practice depth charges in an ill-considered attempt to force the sub to the surface).  The Soviet sub's captain and political officer both demanded that they retaliate with nuclear torpedoes.  They hadn't had any contact with Moscow in days and didn't know if World War III had actually started or would start as soon as they fired back.  Vasili refused to authorize the launch.  The sub eventually surfaced and scampered away from the American task force with no further interaction.  Vasili advanced to vice-admiral, retired, and died in 1998.  It was 4 years later when former NSA head, Thomas Blanton, called him "the guy who saved the world."

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The History Of Father's Day


Father's Day is Sunday, June 17, 2018.  Mother's Day was, indeed, the inspiration for Father's Day, but it was a long time before it became an official reality.  The governor of the state of Washington proclaimed the nation's first Father's Day on July 19, 1910.  It was not until 1972, 58 years after President Woodrow Wilson made Mother's Day an official holiday in 1914, that President Richard Nixon gave Father's Day its official federal holiday status.

The campaign to celebrate Father's Day did not meet with the same type of enthusiasm as Mother's Day.  One florist explained it as fathers not having the same sentimental appeal as mothers.  In 1909 a Spokane, Washington, woman who was one of six children raised by a widower was successful in establishing a day for male parents the same as the one Mothers enjoyed.  The state of Washington celebrated the nation's first statewide Father's Day on July 19, 1910.

The idea slowly spread.  In 1916 Woodrow Wilson honored the day.  President Calvin Coolidge urged state governments to observe Father's Day, however many men continued to scoff at the idea claiming it was a sentimental attempt to domesticate manliness with flowers and gift-giving and also claiming it was only a commercial gimmick to sell more products often paid for by the father himself.

In the 1920s and 1930s there was a movement to do away with both Mother's Day and Father's Day and create a Parent's Day instead, the idea being that both parents should be loved and respected together.  The gathering enthusiasm for this idea was basically stamped out during the depression.  Struggling retailers and advertisers redoubled their efforts to make Father's Day a gift giving holiday for men.  With the onset of World War II, advertisers set forth the argument that celebrating Father's Day was a way to honor American troops.  By the end of the war, Father's Day was a national institution but not yet an official holiday.

In 1972 Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making Father's Day a federal holiday.  It's estimated that there are more than 70 million fathers in the United States and that Americans spend more than $1 billion each year on Father's Day gifts.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

And Even More WHERE DID THOSE EXPRESSIONS COME FROM part 3 of 3


Here is the final installment of my 3 part series on historical trivia—Where Did Those Expressions Come From.  These are listed in alphabetical N through Z.

Nick Of Time:  How did we get the expression 'in the nick of time'?
Back in the days of medieval times, a tally was used to register attendance at colleges and churches. The tally was a wooden stick and attendance was indicated by a nick or notch in it. The person who arrived on time had his attendance 'nicked', therefore arriving 'in the nick of time.'

On The Carpet:  How did being called 'on the carpet' come to mean a reprimand?
Originally, only the boss's office had a carpet, the other offices didn't. So, to be called 'on the carpet' meant to be called to the boss's office and this usually meant a reprimand.

Pup Tent:  How did the 'pup tent' get that name?
These smaller than normal tents were named by the Union soldiers in the Civil War. When they were given to the soldiers, they looked so much like dog kennels that one of the men stuck his head out and began to bark. The idea caught on and soon the whole camp was barking. The tents were called dog tents with that name soon morphing into 'pup tent'.

Quarter (no quarter):  Why do we say we give 'no quarter' when we mean to show no mercy?
Originally, to give quarter meant to send conquered enemy soldiers to a special section or quarter where they remained until their fate was determined. They could be set free, ransomed, or enslaved. If they were killed instead, they were given 'no quarter'.

Red Tape:  Where did governmental delay get the name 'red tape'?
The expression came from England. For centuries, the British government followed the custom of tying up official papers with red tape. The wasted time spent in tying and untying the red tape used to bind the dispatches and document cases led men to pick it as the symbol of useless delay.

Slush Fund:  How did a 'slush fund' get that name?
Aboard a sailing ship, slush was the waste fat from the galley and was used to grease the masts. All extra slush used to be the property of the cook and he didn't have to account for the money he made from selling it. Likewise, a 'slush fund' is money that doesn't need to be accounted for—and often was best not be.

Taxi:  What is the reason a 'taxi' is called that?
The world originally referred to the meter carried by the cab. It was called a taximeter because it measured the fare or tax and cabs equipped with the meters painted taximeter on their doors. This was soon shortened to 'taxi' and in time all cabs were called by that name.

Upper Crust:  Why do we call high society the 'upper crust'?
The crust was long considered the best part of the bread and the upper or top crust was the best part of all. If high society is the best of all, then it's the 'upper crust'.

Volume:  Why is a book called a 'volume'?
Ancient books were written on sheets of paper which were fastened together lengthwise and rolled up like a window shade. 'Volume' is from the Latin volvere meaning to roll up.

Wild Goose Chase:  How did a 'wild goose chase' get that name?
A wild goose chase was once a sort of game, a horse race in which the second and each succeeding horse had to follow the leader accurately and at a definite interval. Since the horses had to keep their positions like geese in flight, the chase was called a 'wild goose chase'. Since this was not a race in which anyone could win, the phrase was adopted to describe a person following a course that led to no goal.

X-Ray:  How did the 'X-ray' get that name?
The ray was first called the Roentgen ray in honor of the scientist who discovered it. But he preferred to call it 'X-ray' because X is the algebraic symbol for the unknown and at that time he did not understand the nature of this ray.

Yankee:  What is the origin of the term 'Yankee'?
The word comes from a nickname for the Dutch—Jan Kaas meaning John Cheese. In pirate days, English sailors adopted the term as a derisive name for the Dutch freebooters. The Dutch settlers in New York (originally New Amsterdam) began to apply it to the English settlers in Connecticut because they believed the Connecticut English to be far more enterprising than ethical. The term spread to the other colonies, though at first it was almost always used to refer with dislike to the citizens of a colony farther north.

Zest:  Why does 'zest' mean enthusiasm?
In its Greek form, zest meant a piece of orange or lemon peel. The addition of a slice of orange or lemon peel adds 'zest' to a drink or dish and makes us more enthusiastic about it.

And there you have it…a three-part small selection of every day expressions and their origins.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

More Bits of Historical Trivia—Where Did Those Expressions Come From (part 2 of 3)


Last week I gave you a list of 10 bits of historical trivia dealing with those expressions everyone uses, but whose origins have been obscured by time.  This week in part 2 of 3, I'm presenting a list of an additional 13 such expressions, alphabetically A through M.

Annie Oakley: Why do we call a free pass to an event an 'Annie Oakley'?
Free passes were once punched full of holes. Annie Oakley was a famous rifle shot who, as part of her act, would shoot holes in a playing card held by an assistant.

Blurb: What is the origin of the word 'blurb'?
When Gellette Burgess' book, Are You A Bromide, was published, he devised a special dust jacket for 500 presentation copies to be given away at a booksellers' banquet. It was the custom at that time to have the picture of some woman on the jacket of every novel. He featured a sickly-sweet portrait of a young woman and in the accompanying text described her as a Miss Belinda Blurb. From this the usual dust cover jacket 'blow up' of an author and his book came to be called a blurb.

Clerk: How did an office assistant get the name 'clerk'?
At one time only the clergy could read or write so any person with this ability was assumed to be a cleric. From this, the words clerical and cleric were soon shortened to clerk and came to mean written work or one who performed such work.

Dirt Cheap: Why do we say something inexpensive is 'dirt cheap'?
Nothing is of less value. If you gather a big pile of dirt you would not increase your wealth. In fact, you would most likely have to pay someone to haul it away.

Exception Proves The Rule: What is the origin of the expression 'the exception proves the rule'?
Originally the word 'prove' meant 'test.' The phrase merely means that the exception tests the rule, which makes sense and is logical.

Fall Guy: Why do we call a dupe a 'fall guy'?
The word fall not only means to stumble but also to be lured or entrapped. We call a person a fall guy who is entrapped and left to suffer the punishment while the one who did the actual misdeed escapes.

Geronimo: Why do American paratroopers shout 'Geronimo' as they jump?
Several members of the first unit of parachute troops formed at Fort Benning, Georgia, went to see the movie Geronimo. Afterwords, in reference to the mock heroics of their practice jumps, they started calling each other by this name. From this came the paratroopers practice of shouting 'Geronimo' as he leaps from the plane.

Hair Of The Dog: Why is taking a morning-after drink as a hangover cure called taking a 'hair of the dog that bit you'?
The ancients believed one of the best cures for hydrophobia (rabies), or any other disease you might get from a dog bite, consisted of taking a hair of the dog that bit you and putting it in the wound.

Inside Track: Where did we get the expression 'he's got the inside track'?
It came from horse racing. The best position for a horse, the shortest distance around the race track to the finish line, is the one nearest the rail—the inside track.

Jog The Memory: What is the reason we say we 'jog the memory'?
Jog really means shake and when we jog a person's memory, we shake it up.

Killed With Kindness: Where did we get the expression killed with kindness?
This came from the story of Draco, the Athenian legislator, who died because of his popularity. The Greeks used to wave their caps and coats as a sign of approval and when they were extremely enthusiastic they tossed their hats and coats at the object of their enthusiasm. In the 6th century B.C., Draco aroused the enthusiasm of the audience in the theatre of Aegina to such an extent that the entire gathering showered him with caps and coats—and smothered him to death.

Lock, Stock, And Barrel: How did lock, stock and barrel come to mean all or everything?
There are 3 parts to a gun—the barrel, the stock, and the firing mechanism called the lock. By listing all 3, the totality of the rifle is reaffirmed—all of it.

Make The Bed: Why do we say we make the bed when we spread the sheets and blankets?
We speak of making the bed rather than fixing it or doing it because beds were once created anew each night from straw thrown on the floor.

Next week I'll share part 3 of this blog series, another 13 historical trivia phrases about everyday expressions (alphabetically N through Z).