Saturday, May 14, 2022

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 order 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 7, 2022

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. Afterwards, 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 3 for this blog series, another 13 historical trivia phrases about everyday expressions (alphabetically N through Z). 

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Where Did Those Expressions Come From (part 1 of 3)

Ever wonder about those interesting expressions that have been handed down through the centuries?  Phrases that we all use without giving any thought to where they came from or their original meaning?  Let's take a look at the historical origin of some of these expressions.  Here's a list of ten such expressions, part 1 of a 3 part blog series.

1)  God willing and the Creeks don't rise

This expression was originally in reference to the Native American Creek tribe and not a body of water and is attributable to Benjamin Hawkins, a late 18th century politician.  While in the south, he was requested by the President to return to Washington.  In his response, he wrote, God willing and the Creeks don't rise.  Since he capitalized the word Creeks, it was assumed he was referring to a hostile uprising of the Creek tribe rather than water.

2)  It cost an arm and a leg

Since there weren't any cameras in George Washington's day, the only way to portray someone's image was either through sculpture or painting.  Some paintings of Washington show him standing behind his desk with one arm behind his back while others show both arms and legs.  Prices charged by artists were often calculated according to how many arms and legs were being painted rather than the number of people in the painting.  Therefore, if the subject wanted both arms and legs in the painting, they were told, "Okay, but it will cost an arm and a leg."

3)  Here comes the big wig

As ludicrous as it sounds today, back then men and women took baths only twice a year (usually May after the cold winter and October after a hot summer). Women covered their hair and men shaved their heads and wore wigs. The wealthy could afford good wigs made of wool. Since the wool wigs couldn't be washed, they would hollow out a loaf of bread and put the wig in the shell, then bake it for half an hour.  The heat made the wigs big and fluffy, thus the term big wig.  Today we use the expression when someone appears to be powerful and wealthy.

4)  Chairman of the Board

Many houses in the late 1700s consisted of a large room with only one chair.  A long wide board folded down from the wall and was used for dining.  The head of the household always sat in the chair while everyone else sat on the floor while eating.  To sit in the chair meant you were important and in charge and that person was referred to as the chair man.  Today in business, we use the expression Chairman of the Board.

5)  Crack a smile and other related phrases

One result of the lack of personal hygiene back then was that many men and women developed acne scars by adulthood.  Women would spread bee's wax over their faces to smooth out their complexions. If a woman began to stare at another woman's face, she was told to mind your own bee's wax.  If a woman smiled, the wax would crack, hence the term crack a smile.  And when a woman sat too close to the fire the wax would melt, giving us the expression losing face.

6)  Straight laced

Ladies wore corsets which laced up the front.  A proper and dignified woman wore a tightly tied corset and was said to be straight laced.

7)  Not playing with a full deck

Back in the day, a common form of entertainment was playing cards.  When a tax was levied on the cards, it was applicable only to the ace of spades.  To avoid paying the tax, people would purchase 51 cards and ignore the ace of spades.  Since most card games require all 52 cards, those people were thought to be stupid because they were not playing with a full deck.

8)  Gossip

Long ago, before the creation of mass communication such as phones, radio, and television (and certainly the internet and various social media), politicians sent their assistants to local taverns to get feedback from the public and determine which issues people considered important.  They were told to go sip some ale and listen to people's conversations.  The two words go sip were eventually combined into one word, gossip, when referring to the local opinion.

9)  Minding your P's and Q's

In the local taverns, people drank from pint and quart sized containers.  One of the bar maid's jobs was to keep track of which customers were drinking from pints and which from quarts, hence the phrase minding your P's and Q's.

And finally an expression that has often been misinterpreted…

10)  Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey

Back in the day when sailing ships ruled the waves, all war ships and many freighters carried iron cannons that fired iron cannon balls.  It was necessary to keep a supply of cannon balls near the cannon while at the same time preventing them from rolling around the deck.  The best storage method was a square-based pyramid with one ball perched on four balls resting on nine which sat on sixteen providing a supply of thirty cannon balls stacked in a small area next to the cannon.  There was a problem, though—how to prevent the bottom layer from sliding out from under the others.  The solution was a metal plate called a monkey with sixteen round indentations.  However, there was still a problem.  If the plate was made from iron, the iron cannon balls would quickly rust to it, especially in the damp ocean air.  The solution to the rusting problem was to make brass monkeys.  But still a problem…brass contracts much more and much quicker than iron when it's chilled.  So, when the temperature dropped too far, the brass indentations would shrink so much that the iron cannonballs would come right off the monkey which means it was literally cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.  Not what you were expecting?  :)

Saturday, April 23, 2022

10 Incredible Scientific Discoveries About Dogs

Dogs—commonly referred to as man's best friend. Somewhere between 11,000 and 15,000 years ago, dogs were among the first of the animals to be domesticated by man and are well known for being loving and loyal. They also have many lesser-known and quite fascinating traits.

Here's a list of 10 of those qualities.

10) They have 3 eyelids. Like people, dogs have top and bottom ones that move up and down. They also have one that originates in the corner of the eye and moves side to side. Its purpose is to clear mucus and debris from the eye, something we humans do with our hands.

9) Dogs really do love their humans. MRI scans reveal that when presented with the scents of various people and canines, the reward centers of the dog's brain is most responsive to the aromas of their human companions.

8) They're just as smart as toddlers. Specially designed IQ tests show that dogs' capabilities are on par with the typical 2-year-old. That means they're capable of learning over 150 words and gestures.

7) Dog paws often smell like snack foods. There's some debate as to whether the particular scent is popcorn or corn chips, but either way the cause of it has been linked to a bacteria dogs pick up while walking.

6) Canines possess the ability of night vision. It's not on the same level as cats, but it is superior to that of humans. A dog's pupils are larger and their central retinas have more cells dedicated to light sensitivity than to color detection. That gives them an upper hand when it comes to making out objects in dim light.

5) Every nose is unique. The Canadian Kennel Club has been using nose prints as a means of individual identification since the 1930s and many organizations have followed suit.

4) They most likely dream. Proof isn't at the 100 percent mark, but there is an abundance of support backing the claim. Much of it is based on brain attributes and behaviors that dogs and humans share. Among them are structure and the occurrence of electrical impulses during the deep sleep stage.

3) Fur isn't just about warmth. In the summer it acts as insulation, keeping heat from reaching their bodies. Fur also protects their skin from the sun's damaging rays.

2) They really do listen when you talk. Even better, they've been shown to understand a lot of what's being said. Though they're not able to decipher the words, dogs can interpret certain sounds and the message's overall emotional tone.

1) Dogs aren't nearly as sweaty as humans. That's largely because rather than having sweat glands all over the bodies, as people do, dogs only have them in their paws. To cool off, they rely mostly on panting.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Cats Have Super, Psychedelic Vision

Science has known that birds, insects, reptiles, and fish can detect ultraviolet light. Recent studies show that more animals share this ability than originally believed. A new study shows that cats and dogs may be able to see UV, too.

Cats are nocturnal and have been thought of as being able to see in the dark. They have long been a symbol of the mysterious. It's now believed they can see things invisible to humans such as psychedelic stripes on flowers and flashy patterned feathers on birds. The secret to this is ultraviolet light detection, an ability shared by many animals but not humans. Snow reflects UV but white fur does not, allowing reindeer to see polar bears at a distance. Humans would just see a blur of all white.

It is assumed that most mammals do not see UV because they have no visual pigment sensitive to UV. They have lenses like those of man that prevent UV from reaching the retina. Certain people, such as those who have had their lenses replaced during cataract surgery, can see some UV, but most humans cannot.

Humans are good at seeing detail. If we didn't have a lens that removed the UV so that we don't see it, the world would appear more blurry.

Next week I'll share some facts about dogs.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

9 LOST INVENTIONS…

…some of which could come in handy in today's society.

I discovered this list and thought it would make an interesting blog.

1)  FLEXIBLE GLASS

Lots of stories from ancient times describe incredible inventions, some purported to be real and others attributed to magic and wizards.  It's fair to say that most of them are nothing more than fanciful tales with no relationship to reality.  However…when three separate historians describe something, it wouldn't hurt to take a closer look.  One such story comes from the reign of Emperor Tiberius Caesar and tells of a glassmaker who came to his court with a drinking bowl. The Emperor threw it on the stone floor where it merely bent rather than shattering. He had the man beheaded because he feared the flexible glass would undermine the value of gold. Some speculate that this tale presages the development of tempered glass, but even that doesn’t bend, leaving the truth lost to the ages.

2)  STARLITE

Some truly great inventions came from unlikely sources which is how you’d explain Starlite. Jane's International Defense Review contained the first announcement of Starlite, a revolutionary insulation created by hobbyist Maurice Ward in the 1980s. Live TV tests showed the material keeping an egg completely raw after 5 minutes of a blow torch. Several noted scientists vouched for its incredible ability to resist heat and impact. Unfortunately, Ward died in 2011 before sharing the secret of Starlite to anyone and the material hasn't been seen since.

3)  THE OGLE CARBURETOR

Ever since the invention of the automobile people have been looking for ways to improve fuel efficiency. Most of them are worthless or scams (i.e., the dozens of "gasoline pills"), but every so often one comes along that's more believable. In the 1970s, a man named Tom Ogle developed a new type of carburetor that pressurized gasoline into a vapor and injected it into the firing chambers. After installing it in his Ford Galaxie, the car got a verified 113 miles per gallon. Unfortunately, Ogle died in 1981 before revealing the design of his carburetor.

4) SLOOT DIGITAL CODING SYSTEM

Here's a lost invention that's very modern, one that fascinates data storage experts. In the late 1990s Romke Jan Berhnard Sloot, a Dutch electronics technician, announced the development of the Sloot Digital Coding System. He described it as a revolutionary advance in data transmission that could reduce a feature-length movie down to a file size of just 8KB. Sloot demonstrated this by playing 16 movies at the same time from a 64KB chip. After getting a bunch of investors, he mysteriously died on September 11, 1999, two days before he was scheduled to hand over the source code.

5)  WIRELESS POWER TRANSMISSION

An entire book could have been written about the inventions that Nikola Tesla took to the grave with him. One such invention was the ability to distribute power wirelessly on a global scale. Tesla had dazzled crowds with demonstrations of short-range wireless power through the air, using coils to light the bulbs as far as 100 feet away with no physical connection between the coil and the light bulbs. Tesla claimed he had a significant upgrade on that technique that allowed for electricity to be transmitted through the Earth’s atmosphere, using high-altitude receiving stations. He began constructing a prototype in 1901 but funding fell through and it was never completed.

6)  GREEK FIRE

Warfare has always been a driving force for the development of technology. Apparently we humans never tire of coming up with faster and more painful ways to kill each other. In the 7th century, eastern Roman (Byzantine) emperors were purported to have deployed an incendiary weapon exceptionally effective in naval warfare, as it could be shot from siphon-like devices and continued to burn even when it came in contact with water. The substance has come to be known as Greek fire, and although we've certainly invented other similar weapons, the composition and manufacture of this one was such a closely-guarded military secret that no records remain.

7)  INCA STONEWORK

Some lost technologies don't seem all that impressive on the surface, but modern man still can't figure them out. A good case in point is the stonemasonry of the ancient Inca people of Peru. Working with huge, rough-hewn stones is extremely difficult especially without modern machinery. But the fit of the blocks in Inca structures in Macchu Picchu is so tight and precise that it's been said you couldn't fit a razor blade between them. It's still unknown how the Incas of the time were able to transport the massive stones—some weighing as much as 300,000 pounds—and place them with such precision.

8)  SILPHIUM

This item is a plant rather than an actual invention.  It's what the ancient Romans did with it that makes it notable. This member of the fennel family grew wild in North Africa and was used as a primitive contraceptive, with its leaves ground into a resin and used as a spermicide. The settlers of the area quickly began exporting silphium in large quantities resulting in the plant quickly being rendered extinct. To this day, we don’t know what in silphium's biological makeup allowed it to serve as birth control.

9)  TESLA DEATH RAY

Another Nikola Tesla creation. This one never saw the light of day. In the late 1930s, Tesla approached the U.S. military with a proposal.  He would create a new style of weapon for them that could be fired great distances. The exact blueprints for this weapon have never been revealed, but there are a number of speculations. Some believe it might have been a primitive laser, while others think it was an electrostatic generator that blasted microscopic pellets of tungsten at intense force a distance of over 300 miles. Tesla’s death device has since been lost forever.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Words Of Wisdom From T-Shirts

For the most part, T-shirts seem to have a lot to say.  They tell us where their owner went on vacation, what school he or she attended, what kind of car they drive, where they work, what organizations they belong to, what causes they support, and a multitude of other miscellaneous information.  Some are serious and others are just fun.  I've collected several interesting T-shirt sayings, including some from just a few weeks ago, and I'd like to share them with you.

I don't like to brag about expensive trips, but I did just return from the grocery store.

It's weird being the same age as old people.

I wish I could drop my body off at the gym and pick it up when it was ready.

I wonder what the part of my brain that memorized phone numbers is doing nowadays.

Theiyr're—take that grammar police.

I thought I saw a spider, but it was just a piece of yarn. It's dead yarn now.

Etc.—End of Thinking Capacity

I thought growing old would take longer

My alone time is for everyone's safety

BOOKS—helping introverts avoid conversation since 1454

You matter.  Unless you multiply yourself by the speed of light…then you energy.

I'm not arguing, I'm explaining why I'm right.

In my defense, I was left unsupervised

Interested in time travel?  Meet me here last Thursday at 6pm

"To be, or not to be" William Shakespeare, "To be is to do" Jean-Paul Sartre, "To do is to be" Bertrand Russell, "Doo be doo be doo" Frank Sinatra

Hand over the chocolate and no one will get hurt.

At what age am I old enough to know better?

When spelling, it's the letter I before E except after C…weird?

Wine improves with age.  I improve with wine.

Everyone has to believe in something.  I believe I'll have another glass of wine.

I love to cook with wine.  Sometimes I even use it in the food.

If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research.

If I'm talking, you should be taking notes.

Why can't I be rich instead of good looking?

To err is human, to arrrrrgh is pirate.

Searching for the meaning of life, but will settle for my car keys.

I'm often confused with my evil twin.

Flying is the 2nd greatest thrill known to man.  Landing is the 1st.

I'd be a vegetarian if bacon grew on trees.

Disheveled…not just a look, it's a lifestyle.

I used to care, but I take a pill for that now.

I'm confused…wait, maybe I'm not.

Where's the switch that turns you off?

Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the hell happened.

Don't worry about what people think.  They don't do it very often.

Everything I say can be fully substantiated by my own opinion.

I'm always late.  My ancestors arrived on the Juneflower.

Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.

Old age comes at an inconvenient time.

Irony.  The opposite of wrinkly.

Raisin cookies that look like chocolate chip cookies are the main reason I have trust issues.

I'm not weird, I'm a limited edition.

I have CDO—it's like OCD but with the letters in alphabetical order, as they should be.

Sometimes I need to put on my crown just to remind people who they're dealing with.

The past, the present, and the future walk into a bar.  It was tense.

I talk to myself whenever I need expert advice.

And that's my list for now. Have any of you come across any fun or interesting T-shirt sayings you'd like to share?