You think modern warfare started with gunpowder? So did I. But evidently not. According to those renowned historians Will and Ariel Durant: In 399 B.C. in the Greek City-State of Syracuse, Dionysius the Elder wanted a better weapon than a sword. So his engineers invented the catapult.
Mythmakers of ancient England spoke of a monster in the shape of an emaciated cow called "Chichevache" that ate nothing but faithful wives. The bit of lore eventually lost currency. Some English say it was too silly. Some Irish say the old cow starved to death.
In the India of old, certain wise men prescribed that a wife should be one-third the age of her husband. Ideally, they averred, if he were 24, she should be 8.
Item No. 511D in our Love and War man's files: "In 5,000 years of recorded human history, polygamy has been much more common than monogamy."
Historians say those Native Americans called the Nez Perce didn't pierce their noses. Why the early French so named them is a mystery. "Nez Perce" means "pierced nose."
You and I aren't the first to notice that the philodendron likes to grow up tree trunks. In Greek, "philo" means "love" and "dendron" means "tree."
It's only a coincidence that "nasa" in Hebrew means "to go up."
Was the custom in Worcestershire once to give a bough of mistletoe to the cow that bore the first calf after New Year's. You didn't have to kiss her.
"Aggravate" used to mean "to make heavy."
Q: If no asps lived in Cleopatra's Egypt,
how come the story says she was bitten by one?
A: Because "Egyptian Cobra" wouldn't fit in the headline, I suspect. No, too flip. Blame translation errors.
Was a time when the horses in Japan wore straw sandals.
Makers of medieval calendars marked two days of each month as evil days. Called them the "Dies Mali." During which nothing good was supposed to happen. Their label came down as our word "dismal."
Do you regard the renowned painter and sculptor, Michaelangelo, as one of the greatest poets of all time? His contemporaries did.
In Iran, too, shaking your head from side to side means "yes."
Q: How did 13 come to be called a "baker's
A: Bakers in early England were fined for short-weighting bread loaves. So they tossed in an extra loaf for each dozen to legalize the average loaf weight.
Under colonial law, no Pilgrim could wear that Pilgrim's hat — wide brim, high crown — unless he owned property worth at least 200 pounds.
If the chair on which the bishop sat had not been called a "cathedra," the building in which the chair was kept would not have been called a "cathedral." If the saint's cape had not been called a "chapele," the building in which it was kept would not have been called a "chapel," nor would the guard at the building, the keeper of the cloak, have been called a "chaplain."
On tombstones in ancient Sparta were names of warriors killed in battle and women who died in childbirth. No others got tombstone inscriptions.
Q: More naked females than naked males have been
portrayed in works of art throughout history, except in one place. Name
A: Ancient Greece.
Pity the Incas of Peru didn't have movies. They had popcorn.
In the lordly manors of ancient England, one servant was assigned to clean the pots and pans, and this worthy's job title was a noun we still use, but differently: "blackguard."
An "underslave" was what the old Romans called a slave owned by a slave.
Q: How do you account for the fact that fancy rice
dishes seem native to Holland?
A: Because rice dishes were native to the Dutch East Indies where Netherlanders once practiced a little imperialism.
Yes, as reported here, anthropologists know of no human society whose children do not play hide and seek. But I left something out. Other animals play the game, too. Otters do. So do young deer.
In Middle English, "fens" was a marsh, that's true, but also was short for "defense," whence the name of that sport called "fencing."
It's a matter of record that the Aztecs were extremely clean, and the Spanish conquistadors were extremely dirty, and the Spaniards won.
Q: What did Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great have
A: Epileptic seizures and the personal conviction of each that he was divine.
Historians have much to say about William the Conqueror's Domesday Book — England's first official census of who owned what land and who lived on same. William much wanted to know, so he could confiscate property and divvy it up among his friends. But he never got a chance to read the book. His horse stumbled and the iron pommel on his saddle tore him up. Fatally.
"Preposterous" comes from Latin meaning "before and after." Originally it was supposed to convey how ridiculous it is to put something first that ought to be last. Such as a cart before a horse.
The old Romans thought a person's health changed every seven years. They also thought a mirror reflected a person's health, good or bad. It was a twist on this combination that gave us the superstitious notion that a broken mirror foretold seven years bad luck.
Q: How long has the famous Vienna Boys' Choir been
A: Since 1498 — six years after Columbus first sailed west.
Not only can you float in the Red Sea, but you can float on your side. Or so correspondents report.
"Amateur" comes from the Latin "amator" meaning "lover."
A 14th century alchemist named Geber translated into Latin the works of an 8th century alchemist named Jabir ibn Hayyan. But few could understand the translation. According to one word tracer, it was from Geber's name that we got the word "gibberish."
Q: Who first sculpted a nude woman?
A: A Greek named Praxiteles. Insofar as is known. In the 4th Century B.C. Of Aphrodite.
So many words have more than one definition, however outdated. Take "bishop." It once meant "to kill by drowning." And "to file down the teeth of a horse to obscure its true age thus to get a higher sale price."
Unwesternized Chinese never talk while they eat.
Remarkable what governments do to prop up their nations' ailing industries. Take England during the reign of Charles II. The woolen trade was hurting. Badly. So a law was passed that required all coffins to be lined with flannel.
Q: What European is credited with the discovery of
A: One of Columbus' captains, Vicente Yanez Pinzon. He was master of La Niña on Columbus' first trip. Eight years later, he lit out on his own. Pinzon took back an opossum, the first marsupial Europeans had seen. Think of that! A pouch!
In our alphabet, some letters signify more than one sound. Some sounds are signified by more than one letter. Client asks why. When the Romans invaded the British Isles, they imposed Latin on the locals. Latin has only 26 letters. Not enough to handle the 44 sounds in their spoken tongues. So the locals simply wove Latin into their own language. Not an ideal wedding of words, but it served. Still does.
Many Europeans claim to be direct descendants of Charlemagne. Maybe because he had four successive wives and six concubines. Hardly noteworthy numbers for potentates. Some bartenders in Vegas have lengthier lists, I believe. Still, in founding the first empire in Western Europe after the fall of Rome, Charlemagne kept pretty busy, and couldn't be expected to break all the records in romance, too.
England's archives list women charged with witchcraft between 1556 and 1718. The most common given name on lengthy list is Ann.
Leonardo da Vinci knew how to make the camera. He just didn't know how to make the film.
If you want to discipline youngsters the way the Iroquois did theirs, don't spank them, dunk them in water.
If your name is Fletcher, odds are somebody among your ancestors made arrows.
Item No. 3927-C in our Love and War man's file details part of the law in medieval England against illicit romantic affairs. A widow caught in the physical act could be fined 20 shillings, but a young unmarried woman so apprehended was only liable for 10 shillings.
Q: Where'd our words "hocus pocus" come from?
A: Norse legend. Depicted therein was a sorcerer named "Ochus Bochus."
If you committed a murder on a weekday in medieval England, you could be fined 10 shillings. But if you did it on a Sunday, the fine was 20 shillings. So it was writ in William the Conqueror's Domesday Book of A.D 1086.
Greek fighters 35 centuries ago wore boxing gloves on their right hands only.
"Sean-tigh" is Gaelic for "old house." You pronounce it "shanty."
In Cerreto, Italy, lived a family of bunco artists named "Ciarlatano." From them we got the word "charlatan."
Roman soldiers ate onions. Thought that made them brave. If true, there'd be a lot of brave people. Onions rank No. 1 among vegetables worldwide.
A horse can see in just about all directions — except one. It has a blind spot between the eyes directly in front. Am told that's why a horse is likely to rear back, if you try to pat it on its face. You need to pat it on the neck where it can see what you're up to.
In yesteryear's England, a widow didn't have clear-cut property rights. She was suddenly helpless. So vulnerable. To survive, she had to remarry, quickly, if possible. She was prey, therefore, to any romantic fellow who got there first. The etiquette of the era was plain and simple: It was not proper for a widow to receive a marriage proposal while the body of her late husband was still in the house.
Before people gave up meat for Lent, they celebrated with a "carnival." That word stems from "carne vale" meaning "goodbye, meat."
Green, blue and purple may look different to the Navajos, but they use the same word for all three.
The original "esquire" — the man, not the magazine — was a young noble apprenticed to a knight. "Esquire" was one rank below "gentleman."
Q: Where'd we get the word "hello"?
A: From the Anglo-Saxon phrase "be whole" meaning "stay healthy" or something similar.
Plato did not jog, diet or take maintenance medications. Said he: "Attention to health is the greatest hindrance to life."
Q: First kitchen utensil invented is said to be the
ladle. What was the second kitchen utensil invented?
A: The apple corer, probably. Early specimens made from animal bones date far back. Scientists think such instruments were needed by prehistoric elderly who'd lost their teeth.
Greek rainmakers dipped oak branches in water when praying for rain, and sometimes it rained thereafter. The Romans threw clay images into the Tiber River, and that, too, was oftentimes followed by rain. Teutonic rainmakers poured water over nude girls. That never did produce rain, but they clung to the ritual.
Q: Julius Caesar said, "I came, I saw, I conquered." But
where'd he come, what'd he see, who'd he conquer?
A: In what's now northern Turkey, he saw the troops of Pharnaces II, King of Pontus, and beat up same in the Battle of Zela, then sent a message to the Roman Senate: "Veni, vidi, vici."
Saint Jerome was a Dalmatian. Don't get smart. He came from Dalmatia. He said, "Matrimony is always a vice. All that can be done is to excuse and to sanctify it."
The common posture of prayer for centuries was the spreading of the arms with palms and face cast upward toward the heavens. Steepling of the hands under the chin was an artist's creation of recent generation.
Public kissing was serious in old Italy. Early in the 16th century, Pietro Lando, the podesta at Padua, saw his son kiss the young man's one and only girlfriend on a public street, and Pietro had his son beheaded. Harsh.
That Lady Godiva rode nude on a white horse through the streets of Coventry makes an excellent story. It's understandable, I think, that nobody pays attention to the female archivists in Great Britain who claim the records show Lady Godiva was not nude but merely "stripped of all signs of her rank." We do not need archivists like that.
In the Ptolemy Dynasty of Ancient Egypt, each tax collector personally had to pony up the tax of any evader assessed in said collector's assigned group. History records that those collectors became exceedingly dangerous hunters of men.
One of the most brilliant thinkers of the Middle Ages was a scholar named John Duns Scotus. But scoffers in the 16th century ridiculed his name to give us our word "dunce."
Q: The Atlantic Ocean is choppier than the Pacific,
A: Choppier, true. But the Pacific is bulgier. Its sea swells are higher.
Halloween's trick-or-treat started in Ireland.
"Finance" in Latin meant "to end a debt." Ha!
Q: How come chicken pox is called that?
A: The old English word "gican" meant "itch." The ailment started out as itching pox.
The job of the alpine St. Bernard dogs was not to bring to safety the snowbound, but to go by the most direct route to the victim, and thus mark a trail for the rescuing monks.
Jean Nicot was a 16th-century French foreign ambassador who first took tobacco to France. Maybe he shouldn't have. It's in his dubious honor that we got the word "nicotine."
Q: Why is the bathroom called "the john"?
A: An Englishman named Sir John Harrington was involved in the earliest water-closet designs.
In some places around Scotland, it's still the quaint custom for an engaged couple to lick their thumbs and press them together to make the romantic commitment. This is not the only way it's done, however.
Chrysanthemums grow wild in China.
"Shambles" used to mean "slaughterhouse."
Q: Who actually brought the first horses to the Western
Hemisphere? How many? And when?
A: Hernando Cortez, 17, in 1518. That's history's first horses. Prehistoric little horses were here 10,000 years earlier.
You can't call it "Port" wine, according to the law of Portugal, unless the grapes were grown in Porto.
Q: All oil floats on water, right?
A: Not right. Oil of cloves doesn't. Nor oil of wintergreen. Some oils are heavier than water, that's all.
The night before a soldier was to be elevated to knighthood — in the Middle Ages, this — he was given a public bath.
Q: Ancient Romans crucified people. Who put a stop to
A: Constantine I, first Christian emperor of Rome.
"Obstetrics," that medical field dealing with childbirth, comes from the Latin meaning "stand by." Of course, of course.
Q: How can we "shell" corn when corn doesn't have
A: Goes back to when Indians stripped off corn kernels with mussel shells. Or so the word mechanics think.
Hunters in old England fed their dogs the entrails of the animal they killed. Their word for a heap of those entrails collected on the game's hide gave us our word "quarry."
Q: You've talked about kings with harems of women, but
how about queens with harems of men?
A: There've been a few. Queen Kahena, a Berber in Northwest Africa, was one. She kept 400 male athletes in her lockup.
A scholar who has studied the matter says no synonym for the word "stutter" can be found in any American Indian language.
Q: Has there ever been a king or queen who was a
A: Know of none. Unless "The Man in the Iron Mask" really was the twin brother of Louis XIV. But that remains a mystery.
The Netherlands town of Edam — where those redcoated cheese balls come from — has a coat of arms: a cow with three stars.
Q: Why is "Poland" so named?
A: Comes from an ancient Slavik tribe known as the "Polanie," a local word for "field dwellers."
Aristotle thought farming was "natural," but retail trade was "unnatural."
Q: What sort of design was on the first coins ever
A: Face-to-face heads of a bull and lion. About 640 B.C. in Lydia, part of what's now Turkey. So reports a coin expert.
Why the ancient Egyptians so disliked red hair I don't know. But the historical footnotes suggest they feared red-haired people. And their prejudice spread to the Greeks and Romans.
Q: Didn't the older Australian aborigine man have many
A: If influential. The younger man had none. If he wanted one, he had to rent her.
Old Persian Proverb: "Fortunate parents who have fine children usually have fortunate children who have fine parents."
If you're going to own a camel, feed it, or it'll eat your tent. Camels do that.
Was none other than that pioneer medicine man Hippocrates who first put into the record that fat people don't tend to live as long as thin people.
In the Japanese roots of the word "karate," "kara" means "empty," and "te" means "hand."
In old England, 10 families equaled a tithing. 10 tithings equaled a shire. Each shire elected a reeve. That "shire reeve" came to be known as a "sheriff."
Do people learn from history? That mountain called Merapi on Java has erupted 70 times in the last 1,000 years, so is said by some to be the world's most active volcano. Just about everybody in Indonesia knows that. Yet nearly two million people live in Merapi's flanking lava lanes.
What the Pilgrims so sorely wished they'd brought with them was a plow or two, according to the historical footnotes. Still, they made do without. For 12 years. Until they shaped a few with the tools at hand. And more ships came.
In Asia more than 200,000 years ago lived a species of 10-foot ape that weight half a ton.
A luminescent marine worm with a long name surfaces in the Caribbean periodically, and glows. It's now thought Christopher Columbus spotted such worms, and was overjoyed, certain he knew what they were. He got that wrong, too.
In William Shakespeare's day, houses didn't have chimneys. Fires, yes. Chimneys, no. Or if any did, they were most exceptional.
The word "mortgage" traces back into Norman French to something very nearly like "death pledge," but no doubt you suspected as much.
Longevity isn't enough. The Pied Piper legend had been around for a long time. But it took robert Browning's lengthy verse about it to make it famous.
Q: Who were the first people on earth to write?
A: Accountants — people who had to count things.
A long-missing soldier returns to find his wife remarried. She'd thought him dead. Which husband rightfully gets the lady, inquires a client. Usually, it's her choice, but laws vary. The ancient Babylonians gave her back to the returned soldier as though she were property. And so she was back then.
The Greek, Aristotle, thought he was a member of the supreme race.
An archeologist named Peter Schmidt discovered that tribesmen near Africa's Lake Victoria learned how to make steel long before Europeans did.
A certain husband in ancient Athens was advised by a male associate that he had bad breath. He asked his wife, "Why didn't you tell me?" His wife said, "I thought all men smelled like that." This historical footnote shows how isolated women were then and there. The early Athens woman was rarely allowed to meet any man other than her husband and a relative or two.
Bricks in pueblos of New Mexico measure 33 by 15 by 10 centimeters — almost exactly the proportions of the bricks put into Egypt's Temple of Hatshepsut in 1450 B.C.
"Teen" is a Scottish word for grief.
Nor could Aristotle figure out why some whales beached themselves to die. It's an ancient mystery, that one.
Q: Were any women among old England's court
A: Some. Kings and princes designated males as royal fools. Queens and princesses appointed female fools. Historical footnotes suggest female fools were harder to find.
The Dutch word for the fruit "orange" means "Chinese apple."
Q: Where did celery come from?
A: Roman invaders found it growing wild in England and cultivated it.
You may recall our Love and War man has said a popular utterance on a first date is: "I want to know more about you." He now says an occasional literary lover at this point quotes Plate: "You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation."
Q: The word "bamboo" is Malay for "explosion." So why is
the bamboo plant called that?
A: Natives used to clean foliage out of the groves with fire before harvesting the stems. You know those hollow chambers in bamboo? Heat exploded them.
You've read dinner guests in 17th-century France had to bring their own knives. That was lowbrow. In Paris and Versailles, dinner guests had to bring their own waiters. That was highbrow.
In Britain, if the name of the place ends in "by," you can figure it came down from the Vikings. "By" is the common Scandinavian word for village. That's why Scandinavian "by-laws" are so called, too. "Town-laws."
The Pilgrims fattened their hogs on clams.
Ask the card player in your family which of the kings doesn't hold a sword. No, look again. The King of Diamonds holds an ax.
The letter "H" started out as a Phoenician drawing of a fence.
Q: What's the difference between an emerald and an
A: Only the color. Both are beryl. A trace of chromium makes it an emerald — green. A trace of iron makes it an aquamarine, or blue-green.
Clearly, that current penchant for first names only is more than a fad. You know what Michelangelo called himself? Michelangelo.
In A.D. 654, a Saxon monk founded Saint Botolph's Town in England. Time eroded syllables off that name until it became Boston. And the name as such eventually was exported across the North Atlantic to where good little villages grew great. Hardly a Saxon monk left alive would recognize it.
According to the historical footnotes, a common expression in ancient Rome was the Latin version of "Repetition is the mother of learning."
Four out of five species of rose come from Asia.
Q: Who were the first people to use finger rings as
A: The old Romans. They particularly liked the ring with stones set all the way around the band.
Not one person on the Mayflower's historic pilgrimage had a middle name.
Oarsmen powered ancient Greek warships called triremes. With 170 oars stacked in three levels on each side. Trick was to get up to 12 knots within 30 seconds. Ramming speed. That's how they sank the enemy. Rammed them.
An Arabian proverb goes: "If you have health, you have hope. If you have hope, you have everything."
Q: Why is the Adriatic Sea called that?
A: It was named for the Roman port of Adria. But it's no longer a port. The Po River flooded and the bayshore shifted and Adria is now 14 miles inland.
Seek pleasure. Avoid pain. So advised the philosophical Greek Epicurus. That convinced almost everybody he was smart. Epicurus also thought the sun was about two feet in diameter.
Q: What men started the fashion of wearing
A: Orators of ancient Rome. They feared loss of voice and fancied they needed something to protect their throats. What they wore was called a "chin cloth."
"Sir" comes from the Latin "senior."
Oldest known Last Will and Testament was left by Nik'ure, son of an Egyptian pharaoh. He died in 2601 B.C. In that will was familiar phrasing roughly translatable as "being of sound mind and body..."
If it's a "conclave," it's secret.
French for "sour wine" is "vin aigre." Whence: "vinegar."
Camels don't sweat. Don't pant, either.
Tell the bartender the Chinese invented whiskey, too.
Q: I've read horse collars weren't invented until about
A.D. 1000. So how did earlier horses pull loads?
A: With their tails.
"Flowing in of the tide" was the first meaning of our word "flood."
Q: What makes honey such a good antibiotic?
A: It draws moisture out of everything it touches. Germs can't live without moisture.
First hospitals in the Middle Ages were places where poor people went to die. It has been pointed out the great difference was they were poor before they got there.
Q: What's the difference in sea vernacular between
"ahoy" and "avast"?
A: Ahoy means hail, avast means stop.
Greeks and Persians fought. The Persian king captured the commander at the Greek colony of Ionia. The commander shaved the head of a trusted slave and tattooed thereon: "Incite Ionia To Revolt." In time he sent the slave through the lines to his son-in-law. There the slave shaved his head again, and the son-in-law launched a revolt. It failed. The Persian king invaded Greece, which suffered mightily. As for the slave, he would've fared better with a Page Boy bob.
Q: You said the spinning top has been a plaything in
every society. What did Eskimos make tops out of?
Every Greek statue of a naked female depicts a goddess. Every Greek vase painted with a naked female depicts a prostitute. Can you confirm these two statements by a highly reliable source? Am still checking.
Q: Where'd we get the "late" in the phrase "the late
John Doe" or whomever?
A: From "lately deceased." Started in England four centuries ago.
It was Richard II who introduced the handkerchief into England. Didn't do his reputation much good. His peers thought him a sissy. Or their word for it.
Q: The onion is the national flower of what
A: Wales, almost. Actually, Wales' "National Flower" is the leek. Close enough. The leek is an Old Country cousin of the onion.
If the ancient Greeks weren't sure who'd fathered the baby, they said it was the child of their greater god, Jupiter.
The sage Jana Hollingsworth says: If you pronounce "Caitlin" according to Gaelic spelling rules rather than by English spelling rules, it comes out "Kat'leen."
Q: England's King Charles II acknowledged 14
illegitimate children. How many of his mistresses can historians actually
identify by name?
A: Thirteen, so far.
In the Roman republic of 500 B.C., the senate could appoint a supreme national commander for a limited time in case of emergency. While in charge, his word was law. So he was given a title that in Latin meant "I have spoken." It was "Dictator."
In this one way more than any other have clans throughout history rid themselves of unwanted people — they've set fire to the unwanted's house, hut, hovel, shed, tent, whatever. It's how we came by the idiom "got fired."
What's now Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri once was extremely rugged terrain. Sharp mountains with volcanoes. Ragged gorges. Where are they now? Still there. Rocks and dirt and sediment filled in the gaps, eventually to be topped off with the farmer's favorite friend, rich soil. The fierce landscape of old is two miles down.
When you next eat a pancake for breakfast, if ever, bear in mind it's just about the oldest prepared food in human history. Not that particular pancake, no. But Egypt's wheat cakes of 2500 B.C. weren't all that much different.
The Bedouin nomad rotates his tent panels. So they get even wear. Much as we rotate tires.
A fastball pitcher is much admired today, but not as was his prehistoric predecessor. The tribal champion before device weaponry was the man who killed game with thrown stones. He fed his followers, and defended them, and maybe even won the Fred Flintstone Award or whatever. Some aspects of baseball were devised before the written word.
Q: How did Egypt's King Menes die?
A: A hippo ate him.
Rainstorms in ancient Germany washed over old ruins. They exposed curious gold coins. These, from before Roman times. The coins were called "rainbow plates." They lead to the "pot of gold at the end of the rainbow" fancy.
Q: Why don't I ever read anything about ancient Roman
A: Weren't any. According to historians, some of the convicted were sent to their deaths through hard labor in the mines and quarries, others to their deaths by big beasts in amphitheaters.
There were tattoo artists before there were farmers.
Q: Why do some countries make it a crime to commit
A: Explanations vary, but it should be noted such laws allow governments legally to confiscate the property of the deceased. That's how it worked in ancient Rome.
Back when most people ate off wooden trenchers, many objected to crockery plates because they dulled knives.
First name of the Queen of Sheba was Balkis.
The powerful William the Conqueror became the even more powerful Duke of Normandy, and thereafter enforced the Truce of God. It forbade violence on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. It cut the murderers' work week down to three days.
It's a matter of historical record that the Romans invented the folding pocket knife. No doubt, they didn't call it that. Neither their tunics, the underwear, or their togas, the outerwear, had pockets. Maybe they called it a purse knife, don't know.
King Henry VIII believed the artichoke was an aphrodisiac. Don't know who sold him that notion, but it was a pretty good way to move artichokes. Henry bought a whole bunch of them for the Ladies in Waiting.
Wives and children of the military long were officially designated as "camp followers," once a respectable term. They've only been known as "dependents" since about 1900.
Q: Who were first to play tennis?
A: The French. Eight centuries ago. Only they called it "Jeu de Paume" meaning "Game of the Palm." They batted the ball with open hand.
In no human tribe have left-handers been the majority.
Q: How did the Chinese come up with the idea for
A: Early Chinese ceremoniously jabbed pinpricks into selected compatriots to draw blood drops for sacrifice. Eventually, scholars believe, somebody realized those sacrificial donors enjoyed specific physical benefits linked to placement of the punctures.
It's a matter of historical record that Louis XIV owned 413 beds, plus, in a manner of speaking, an undetermined headcount of livestock therein.
Q: What's a "washed rind" cheese?
A: One periodically washed to keep it moist and supple as it ages. It's also flavored some by what it's washed with — saltwater, brandy, whatever.
That word "junk" started out as a seamen's term for leftover bits of rope and cable.
Archaeologists digging into an ancient ruin near Rome found graffiti on an outer wall with this loose street translation: "Nero is a weirdo."
Q: A man in Dublin about two centuries ago wagered he
could coin a nonsense word that people eventually would use. He won his bet.
What was the word?
A: Such is the fable about the word "quiz." At first it supposedly meant "an odd or eccentric person." But people kept asking what it meant, so their continuing questions finally gave the word a different definition. Not all word tracers support this origin tale.
In northwest Hungary is the town of Kocs where craftsmen built the best wagons of their time. From the name of their community came our word "coach."
In 1915, one Mr. Chubb of England paid the equivalent of $11,000 for Stonehenge and gave it to his dear wife. Some present. It wound up a few years later as a donation to the British government.
Q: Why is that tree called a dogwood?
A: Because a concoction brewed from its bark was thought to cure dogs of mange.
Evidence suggests prehistoric man chewed mustard seed with his meat.
So reproductive is the rabbit that it long has been the symbol of birth, rebirth, new life, however you want to say it. This, in fact, is why it came to be chosen by so many Westerners as the token animal of Easter.
You can say this about the Sahara: Only 15 percent of it is sand. So what's the rest? Gravel and rock.
Q: Why are "cacao" tree beans called "cocoa"
A: Because the name of the cacao tree was misspelled cocoa by an early English trader, it's believed.
Still at large are positive persons who contend the only animal with a straight backbone is the camel.
Q: Did you ever dig up the origin of our word
A: Did indeed. Or one of the several proffered origins. England's King James II ordered his mint in Dublin to make coins of lead, pewter, whatever was at hand. Those coins had little intrinsic value. And the Irish called them "Uim bog" meaning "soft metal." Out of that came "humbug."
Punishment for smoking in India 350 years ago was the slitting of the smoker's nose.
That word "shivaree" — the noisy serenade of newlyweds — comes from a set of syllables that literally mean "headache."
That a "No Loitering" sign was posted at an ancient cemetery near Mill River, Mass., is not noteworthy. What's noteworthy is it was engraved on rock in the Phoenician language called Iberian Punic 200 years before Columbus' 1492 trip.
Q: What's a "scree slope"?
A: A flat pack of rocks on a mountainside. Scree comes from a Scandinavian word for landslide.
Students of antiquity say that petite pup known as the Chihuahua was bred by the Aztecs to be eaten by the Aztecs.
Several major battle scenes in Mel Gibson's "Braveheart" had to be reshot because some extras wore sunglasses and wristwatches in the first takes.
The Old Testament is written with a vocabulary of about 5,800 words. The New Testament, approximately 4,800 words. Today's newspaper, typically, 6,000 words.
Q: Why was it once against the law in France to wear
A: It wasn't. But for a while after the French Revolution some citizens wearing green were apprehended, beaten, jailed, mistreated in whatever manner. Green was the symbolic color of the old-time royalty in France.
An execution by hanging takes 21 feet of rope.
European castles of old were built with rounded walls. Theory was battering rams would be less able to crash such buttresses than to punch down angular corners.
Q: What's the oldest manufactured building material
still in use?
The French word "cahute" means cabin. Whence our word "cahoots." In early America, you were "in cahoots" with somebody if you were camped out together in one shelter.
Q: I've often heard it said so-and-so "can't hold a
candle" to so-and-so. Where'd it come from?
A: Four centuries ago, young male servants called "link boys" held candles to light the way or work of privileged people in dark places. This was the simplest job for the least capable of hired help. Anyone who "couldn't hold a candle" to somebody was thought none too swift.
British kings and queens are expected to be seen both at horse races and boxing matches. U.S. chief executives don't show up at these events. Such are the traditional patterns.
Q: Did Europe ever have a common currency?
A: Under the Roman Empire it did. And some of Europe under Napoleon, too.
In the Vienna of 300 years ago, coffee was regulated as a drug. Coffee houses were suspect, and thought to be the birthing quarters of political conspiracies.
Q: In which sovereign nation are there no human
A: Vatican City.
How many times have you paused to consider that the quince has been under cultivation for more than 4,000 years?
Q: How come fire-breathing dragons were dreamed up long
before anybody knew about dinosaurs?
A: South Pacific boaters in an antique age saw hugh lizards. Their flicking tongues in the sunlight looked like flames. Astonishing tales spread from there through Oriental ports filled China with dragon symbolism, and eventually reached even beyond the British Isles of Saint George. That's the theory.
Clip off a horse's mane and what you've got in stable talk is a "hogged mane."
Q: The people of what national origin are most likely to
have red hair?
A: The Celts of Northern Ireland.
Did I say the King James Version of the Bible didn't contain the word "whale"? Wrong! Scholars report the original biblical texts alluded to them as great fish, but the King James Version used "whale" or "whales" a number of times.
Q: Who invented the screwdriver?
A: Who isn't in the record, but why is. It was devised to bolt knights into their armor.
How many of history's renowned figures were known to the world only by their nicknames? Start with Buddha, whose real name was Siddhartha Gautama. Add the Greek philosopher Plato. His actual name was Aristocles. Then there was the legendary Homer. But I don't know his real name. Nobody knows.
Q: What does a woman's bikini bathing suit and an
ordinary garden trowel have in common?
A: Both have remained in use since antiquity without any design changes, because each is perfect for its purpose.
Some students of the Bible will tell you that you break a commandment when you say "Oh, heaven!" but not when you say, "Oh, hell!"
The metallic pointer that casts a shadow on a sundial is called a "gnomon." It was once a well-known word. Not anymore. Students of the language speculate that digital timepieces will make the word "hands" in reference to clocks as obscure as gnomon.
Where the Atlantic Ocean meets the North Sea above Scotland are the wind-swept Orkney Isles. On one of same is a stone cottage called the "Knap of Howar." Nobody's lived in it for 5,000 years. It's the oldest house in Northern Europe.
Time was under old Roman law when a father could sell his children at will or even kill them. Constantine changed all that. He decreed a father couldn't kill his children without cause.
Irish Catholics, or some of them, recognize more than 200 saints listed as St. Colman.
Q: How much money did William Shakespeare make in a
A: Equivalent of about $400, but I don't know how much that amounted to there and then.
"Geranium" comes from the Greek for "crane's bill." If you've seen more geraniums than cranes, you may not think a geranium looks like a crane's bill. But somebody thought so.
Q: If those sardines in that little can on my kitchen
shelf had escaped the net to grow up, what would they be called?
A: Herring or pilchard, probably, or any of several related species. They became known as sardines after they were first caught near Sardinia in the Mediterranean.
"O" is the oldest letter in any known alphabet.
England's medieval guild, the Fan Makers, got started more than six centuries ago. Still exists, that guild. Its members do central heating and air conditioning.
Not every word mechanic accepts the common explanation that the "bull" in "bulldog" comes from that canine's history in bull-baiting spectacles. The "bull" is from the French "coule" for "ball" in an allusion to the dog's thick round head, say some. A few maybe.
National drink of Poland is mead.
Client asks if intense thought burns calories. How would I know? No, back up. The medicos say the mental energy needed to write Shakespeare's "Hamlet" could have been supplied by a few salted peanuts.
Chinese requires no punctuation.
Q: What was the name of those six males who were sole
survivors of different ship disasters?
A: All were named Hugh Williams. One, on Dec. 5, 1660, when a ship sank in the Straits of Dover. Another, on Dec. 5, 1781, when a ship sank in the same waters. Still another, age 5, on Aug. 5, 1820, when a vessel sank in the Thames River. Yet another, on July 10, 1940, when a British trawler sank after hitting a German mine. Finally, two men, an uncle and his nephew with the same name, in an undated shipwreck.
The people's sweetener of choice for approximately 8,000 years was honey.
India's Butter Tree yields a sort of thick oil much like cow's milk butter, and it's used the same way.
First buttons were carved seashells. Decorations, not fasteners. Circa 2000 B.C. Credit the Chinese.
According to the historical footnotes, it was a tradition of Roman soldiers before going into battle to meet with their beauticians to have their hair curled and lacquered.
Nobody knows why Buddhist monks wear saffron-colored robes, not even the Buddhist monks.
Let me tell you about the real environmentalists of old. England passed its first smoke abatement law in 1273. Enforcers in 1306 convicted a manufacturer of burning coal, and beheaded him.
The Japanese 600 years ago made war kites as big as hang-gliders to hoist men as lookouts.
In the 16th century, Englanders with an opinion on paternity — just about everybody — went around saying, "He that bulls the cow must keep the calf."
Alfalfa came here from Chile. In 1854. How it got to Chile is not clear. Persians grew it in the fifth century B.C. A lot of people are interested in alfalfa. Some anyway.
Philip the Fair ruled France in the early 14th-century. It was he who decreed no unmarried woman could own more than one dress, unless she'd inherited a castle.
The first "belfry" was a war watchtower called a belfry before anyone ever hung a bell in it.
Ancient Ethiopians elected a dog as king.
"Thremilce" is what the Anglo-Saxons once called May, because their cows then could be milked three times a day.
The only Zodiac sign that doesn't have a living creature as its symbol is Libra with its Balance.
Q: What were the ancient Romans looking for when they
A: Pearl fisheries. They found none. Some misinformed messenger had steered them wrong.
Vikings ate oatmeal. Mush. Don't know about cookies.
It was illegal by decree in bygone Cambodia to insult a rice plant.
You most likely didn't eat 4-1/2 pounds of licorice last year. But the average Hollander did. The Dutch call it "drop" — rhymes with "hope." And they've been devoted to licorice since long before they took interest in tulips of the 1500s. Since as far back as the 13th century.
"Jack, be nimble. Jack, be quick. Jack, jump over the candlestick." It was not just meaningless nonsense when first written, that nursery rhyme line. Englanders of old told fortunes that way. He who jumped over a lighted candle could expect good luck if the candle stayed lit. But if it went out, sorry, Jack.
Q: How come nobody knows where coconut palms
A: Because coconuts float. They drift thousands of miles and take root wherever they wash ashore.
It was none other than Leonardo da Vinci who first noted for the record that a tree's age is recorded in its rings. He's the fellow who invented the car jack before cars were invented. That's right. He did.
Q: Who were the original "robber barons" for whom the
term was coined?
A: Castle owners along the Rhine River in the Middle Ages. They forced boating passers-by to pay extortionate tolls.
Another physical act recognized in every known society is the shrug of shoulders to mean "I don't know."
Q: What "Man" was the Isle of Man named after?
A: "Manannan," the legendary Celtic lord of the sea.
Every third man in ancient Athens worked with marble.
Q: What makes you think the umbrella was invented to
block sunshine, not rain?
A: Its name came from "umbra," Latin for "shadow," for one thing.
Much of East Africa is close to the equator. Year around there the sun rises every day at about the same time — 6 a.m. That's our time. In Swahili time, it's 0:00. First the Swahili culture chose to recognize sunrise as the start of each day. Reasonable. Then that culture chose to set the start of each day as the start of the daily time cycle. Reasonable. But we begin each day at midnight in the dead of darkness. Reasonable?
To countless Danes who have never chewed tobacco, the name "Copenhagen" means "Merchant's Harbor" to designate the capital city.
Q: Why do historians insist Nero did not play a fiddle
while Rome burned?
A: Because the violin bow wasn't invented until centuries later in the Middle Ages. A lyre was responsible for that tale.
Chinese proverb: "Even as a hollow building echoes all sounds, so is a vacant mind open to all suggestions."
Q: How long have Mexicans been eating tamales?
A: All I know is history suggests the Aztecs offered them as gifts to the gods.
"To the ancients, the original Seven Seas of the known world were the Mediterranean, Iberian, Ionic, Aegean, Tyrhennian, Black and Red. Man's knowledge expanded greatly, but the old Seven Seas term lived on." So reports that sage C. F. Eckhardt.
Q: Haven't more females than males been depicted in the
nude by painters and sculptors in every country?
A: Except in ancient Greece, yes.
Centuries after Christopher Columbus took molasses to the West Indies, it lubricated Western Hemisphere commerce. As wages for work, tender for goods. In all barter markets, it thrived, and especially in the slave trade. Thus, Georgia was populated in part by free folk offered 64 quarts each to settle there, and unfree folk bound over each for however many quarts. Now triangle traders no longer adore molasses. But it's still much admired by a better class of people, good cooks.
Pinocchio is Italian for "pine eyes."
Q: Did you say Queen Elizabeth never wears any
A: No, no, no, what I said was Queen Elizabeth I didn't wear underwear, nor did any of her contemporary Elizabethan ladies of England.
The Greeks say: "Not your friend but your enemy will tell you who you are." Interesting.
Q: When did people start using the nickname
A: In late A.D. 700, maybe earlier. No name is more common in nursery rhymes than Jack.
It was in 1676 that the English physician Sir Thomas Millington first discovered that plants have sex lives. Exactly how he found out is not in the record, but I believe it was legal.
Q: In the original Snow White story, the villain was an
evil stepmother. Why did Walt Disney change the character to an evil
A: He said stepmothers don't need that kind of image, they have it rough enough.
Some translations of Exodus XXII, 18 read: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." This was the authority numerous European executioners cited when they put witches to death in bygone centuries. Certain scholars now, however, claim it was a mistake. The passage should have been translated: "Thou shalt not give a witch sustenance."
First thing an Eskimo of old did when he picked up a salmon was check out its gender. If female, he ate it. If male, he threw it to the dogs.
Irish Proverb No. 153B: "Nodding the head does not row the boat."
Q: How do the wildlifers know elephants get drunk on
A: Because the elephants return repeatedly to grazing grounds where they've found fermented fruit.
Wolves can bark, but they don't.
Q: How would I say "hello" in the classic manner of old
A: Bow from the waist, palms on thighs, heels together.
That fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty" — wherein the handsome prince falls in love with the young lady and awakens her with a kiss — dates back to a pair of ancient romantic stories call "Perceforest" and "Pentamerone." In these, the prince likewise falls in love with the young lady, and awakens her but with more than a kiss, then goes away.
Q: Who was the first king addressed as "Your
A: Henry VIII of England. Earlier kings were addressed as "Your Grace," "Your Excellent Grace," "Your High and Mighty Prince" and the old familiar favorite "Your Highness."
Gray wolves mate for life and fight to the death and make no noise at all during either activity.
Q: If camels don't store the bulk of their water in
their humps, where do they store it?
A: In their muscles.
The Egyptians used pitch to embalm. The word "mummy," in fact, comes from the Arabic "mumiya" meaning pitch.
Q: History suggests Nicolaus Copernicus was the Polish
genius who first theorized the earth traveled around the sun instead of vice
versa. You suggested he was the father of buttered bread. How so?
A: As commander of Allenstein castle during a 16th-century plague, he coated baked goods with a paste from churned milk in the hope it would purify the food. It didn't. But the troops liked it. And everybody started wanting bread smeared with milk paste.
The ancient Greeks thought lettuce induced sleep. Many of them therefore served lettuce soup at the end of every evening meal.
Q: What's a tikka?
A: A pendant that many a woman in India hangs on her forehead. It means she's married.
In no society in the history of mankind have men and women been treated alike. Nor have they dressed alike. Nor have they done the same sorts of work. So wrote Vance Packard.
Q: If King Tut wasn't all that important, why is his
tomb a big deal?
A: It was the only such tomb that hadn't been plundered by thieves. In 1922, archaeologist Howard Carter found it under the rubble of a later tomb.
The law of Old Rome allowed funeral processions to move only at night.
"Yacht" is a Dutch word, and such a boat clearly would have been called something else if the Dutch hadn't crafted the earliest version around 1660.
No, Scottish women never wear kilts.
Q: Where in the English-speaking world could a husband
sell his wife to another man?
A: England until deep into the 19th century.
Two gallons of beer a day was part of the rations allocated to each youngster in the Children's Hospital of Norwich, England. This, in 1632. Beer is food, the English said. Maybe so. Serve it warm and it's just like soup. But two gallons per child?
Fishermen along India's Ganges for centuries have bred otters to chase fish into nets.
A Scottish leader named Sir William Wallace in 1305 was hanged, beheaded, disemboweled and quartered. Language mechanics sometimes mention this when they define the word "overkill."
If war is inevitable, so is defeat. For some, anyway. Ancient Greeks wanted nothing but winners in their military. And losers paid dearly. Historians say every great Greek battle commander eventually was exiled, sacked, indicted or fined.
As Marco Polo made his way across what's now Azerbaijan, he noticed surface seepage of oil, and with local advice smeared it on the skin lesions of his camels. It had been so used for ages.V
Spanish explorers saw wisps of mist in Florida's Everglades and thought they were gaseous images of the Holy Ghost. It became known as a netherworld where people went in but never came out. The aura of ominous mystery lasted for centuries.
Already mentioned were the teams of archers who competed in old England. On each side, the best-rated team shot arrows first, then the next-best-rated team did so. But they weren't always called "teams." In that sport, they originated the terms "first string" and "second string."
"Tis not safe to trust a left-handed man with money," penned the Spanish writer Quevedo a couple of centuries ago. A piece of popular nonsense, that. But really believed by many way back when.
Ireland's Irish, who know a thing or two about fighting, eat seaweed to fight the common cold.
Silk merchants centuries ago dug a labyrinth of tunnels under Lyons, France. So they could move their silk without getting it wet on rainy days. And so they could protect their designs from textile pirates. The passageways aren't traveled by silk sellers anymore. But to this day, others skulkers use them.
Some artist gave our ancestors the notion that Atlas held aloft the earth. Globe mapmakers perpetuated it. In Greek mythology, however, Atlas held up the heavens, not the earth.
Some people of the Andes in South America probably have common ancestry with some people of southern Japan. Scientists now so believe after DNA and virus tests of ancient remains.
That vicious fish called the barracuda got its name from a Spanish word for "overlapping teeth."
One band of Vikings did not raid by sea, but swarmed overland into the east. In their Scandinavian identity, they were called Russians, whence the national name Russia. In the eighth to 10th centuries, this.
Johann Sebastian Bach composed almost but not quite one cantata every week for six years.
Q: Understand a few early settlers of the Jamestown
colony went immediately to live with the Indians. Why?
A: To find out what wild foods they could eat safely.
One way to deal with a rebellious son is prescribed in the Old Testament's Deuteronomy 21:18-21. Turn the boy over to the town elders to be stoned to death. That was in another land at another time, yea verily.
Q: What does the traditional woman of India wear under
A: A sort of vest that doesn't cover the waist. And a long half-slip that ties with drawstrings. Remarkable costume, the sari. Believe I said it takes the production of 6,000 silkworms to make one.
The city of Byzantium was named in honor of Byzas the Navigator. But that wouldn't do for the conquering oncomers. They changed it to Constantinople. And that wasn't entirely serviceable for later arrivals. They called it Istanbul.
Parmesan cheese is made from skim milk, Romano from whole milk.
Knights of St. John occupied Malta for 268 years, paying their landlord, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, a rent of one falcon a year. So? So there were 268 Maltese falcons.
Q: Didn't the pharaohs of ancient Egypt believe in sex
A: Devoutly. Hieroglyphics in their tombs prove it.
No doubt you'll readily guess that the old town named "La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis" is now the city called Santa Fe. You didn't?
Q: In all the world, there are only four marble domes
atop buildings. One on Rhode Island's State Capitol. Another on Minnesota's
State Capitol. Where are the other two?
A: Taj Mahal in India and St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome.
Almost every resident of Iceland descends from the few thousand original settlers of the ninth and 10th centuries. This interest geneticists. Nowhere else can they find such a consistent pool of unmixed human genes for scientific study.
Q: A "mugwump" is a political independent. I'm told the
word originated in the Bible, but I can't find any reference to it in my
A: It's from an Indian word that turned up in an Algonquin translation of the Bible in 1661. In the Indian tongue, the word meant captain or chieftain. It became a political label for Republicans who refused to support their party's candidate in the 1884 election.
Hardly anybody on the street knows that elephants have hair all over. Light hair. Very light.
Q: What was the favorite sport, not counting
wife-decapitation, of King Henry VIII?
In a deck of Italian playing cards, there's no queen.
Q: Where in the United States did early natives mummify
A: In what's now Texas, Arizona, Kentucky, Tennessee and the Aleutian Islands.
Magnesia was an ancient city in Asia Minor. Nearby was mined a black iron oxide with polarity properties. Because of the city's name, the ore came to be known as magnetite. And we would up with the word "magnetism."
Q: Why did the Africans love the Roman Emperor
A: Northern Africa was in a five-year drought. On the day Hadrian headed his barge into the Nile, rain came, finally. Many locals thought he'd brought it.
Burn the skin of toads and some chemical therein gives off a smoke that intoxicates. Cherokee Indians found out about this 300 years ago. Their experimentalists sat around smoking pipefuls of dried toadskins, and talking, laughing, and getting shiny-eyed. Or so the scholars now report.
Q: Where in the Bible does it say, "God counts a woman's
A: That's from the Talmud, and it says, more specifically, men should be careful lest they cause women to weep, for God counts their tears.
Chinese proverb: "If a man has no nickname, he never grows rich."
Q: What are "contagious living fluids"?
A: Viruses. At least, that's what a Dutchman named Martinas Willem Beijerinck called them in 1898. He was the first to realize they could infect cells. In Latin, "virus" means "poison."
England's terminally sick kings traditionally pardoned all prisoners except murderers and thieves.
Q: Why do you and others sometimes tack a rhetorical
"what?" onto the end of a sentence? I mean like "Incredible, what?"
A: It's a conversational throwback to the old English "wot." Related to "to wit." And means "know." Bad habit, if overused. Similar to the bad habit of ending sentences with "you know?"
White bread for the rich, brown bread for the poor. That was the color line drawn by the ancient Romans in their devotion to class distinctions.
Q: What mammals don't have pinkish tongues?
A: Some bears and that spitz breed of dog called the chow chow. Science has traced the off-color gene to the same place in Central Asia where both the blue-tongued bears and the blue-tongued chow chows originated. You can get creative with this data.
Under Peter the Great in old Russia, a man arrested for public drunkenness was punished by having a 17-pound medal chained to his neck for some prescribed time.
Q: Who was the first European to smoke a
A: Make that famous European — history records it was Casanova.
It was 650 B.C. Western time that the Chinese licensed lady lovers, history's first organized authorized prostitutes.
Q: Historically, who have been the most isolated people
A: Aboriginal Tasmanians, long gone except for a small scatter of descendants. On an island 100 miles from the most isolated continent, Australia, they had no ocean-going vessels. They lived 10,000 years without the influences of any other societies.
Any historian will tell you Cleopatra was her own sister-in-law.
Q: Where'd the first sugar cane come from?
A: What's now called New Guinea, it's believed. From there to India. Then to China. Both the words "sugar" and "candy" derive from languages of India.
Something else you can do to while away time at stoplights is count things people ceremoniously kiss. Rings. Dice. Garment hems. Holy writ. Blarney stone. Icons. Fingers. Feet. Lottery tickets.
Q: What's the name "Kenneth" mean?
A: "Handsome." Or so it meant once. In Gaelic.
Scorpions look as though they belonged to another age, don't they? They do, in fact. Fossil scorpions date back 400 million years. Among insects, spiders, crabs, that sort, scorpions are the oldest.
Siberians used to pay their taxes with garlic. Good plan.
Portuguese merchants once were known as "guineamen." They were the first to import from South America the rodent that got its name from them: the guinea pig.
Said Confucius: "To see the right and not do it is cowardice."
Water in Brazil's Rio Negro is black. In the Rio Solimoes it's muddy brown. Those rivers fork into each other, but their waters don't. They flow side by side without mingling for about 12 miles. Each of those waters shoves off the other.
Cut something in half, and both its halves in half, then all those halves in half, and you'll finally come up with something too small to cut in half. That's what the Greek scholar Democritus figured. So he designated the smallest particle conceivable in his time as "uncuttable." Or in Greek: "atom."
If you know a "Debbie," however spelled, short for "Deborah," however spelled, ask her what her name means in both Greek and Hebrew. She should say "bee." Same goes for Melissa.
It was customary in the 13th century to baptize children with beer.
Q: When in this country was a woman required by law to
take her husband's name?
A: Never. It was the law in Hawaii, though, when Hawaii was a monarchy. And it was the common law of England.
Clearly, the English astronomer Edmund Halley knew more about what was overhead than underfoot. He said a certain specific light streaking across the sky was a comet; he was right. He said the earth was a hollow sphere with an active social life inside; he was wrong.
Not until 400 years ago was the marriage ceremony considered sufficiently holy to be performed in church.
You maybe and I certainly have thought the term "doozy" was a slang allusion to the renowned name of the "Duesenberg" brothers, but word tracers now report "doozy" was spoken in the streets long before the car makers lived. It's an ancient corruption, they say, of "daisy" even as "daisy" was a corruption of "day's eye."
Q: What are the people of Azerbaijan called?
"Zen" means "meditation," that's all.
Q: Where'd the "brand" in "brand-new" come
A: An allusion to a firebrand "fresh and glowing as from a furnace." Goes back to Shakespeare's time and earlier.
Bananas got their start in India.
Nations run by rulers who want to wage wars of conquest tend to reward families with many children. Nations run by rulers who want to live peaceably are inclined to promote birth control. So say some historians. Julius Caesar, a warrior if ever there were one, offered gifts to old Romans who produced children aplenty. Adolf Hitler took up this policy. So did Josef Stalin.
A rabbit can eat a toxic mushroom that would kill a man.
Even at this late date, an Internet word chaser is still in search of a rhyme for "purple." It has been said repeatedly there's no rhyme in English for that one. Maybe not, if you refuse to admit the Scots speak English. A Scotsman refers to the hindquarters of his horse as its "curple."
Q: How much did tobacco cost in Shakespeare's
A: Its weight in silver shillings. That was the London price. It was an extravagance of dandies who held smoke ring-blowing contests.
Chinese Proverb No. 1453: "To know the road ahead, ask those coming back."
Cooking in Mexico's state of Oaxaca has changed little in 2,000 years. Now archaeologists there dig up shards of cookware. If diggers can't identify their find, they ask local cooks. Oftentimes the cooks can explain just what the original piece looked like, and the way it was used, no matter how ancient the artifact.
Q: Where's the biggest glacier in Europe?
A: Norway. It's the Jostedal. Covers 300 square miles.
"Algernon" was not so uncommon a name in the England of Olde. It came from the notable Norman invader William de Percy. He was nicknamed "aux garnons" — French for "with whiskers" — and that wound up as Algernon.
Sir, our Love and War man advises, "Speak softly to your lady and quote that great Greek Euripides, who said, 'Where there is no wine, there is no love.'" Waiter! Waiter!
In William Shakespeare's time, a "tomboy" was a girl who played around in a most promiscuous manner.
No one wears perfume in a mosque. It's thought to be too sensual. And in Nova
Scotia, few locals wear perfume in public. It's legally termed an allergenic.
Where else are scents unacceptable?
Not everybody realizes there are almost a million sheep in Iceland.
You know how we say "as good as gold"? The French say "as good as bread."
If you like things that go bang — guns and firecrackers — you, too, may claim a patron saint. One in whose honor some cities have been named, in fact. Such as Santa Barbara.
Christopher Columbus was trained to be a weaver.
That authoritative body of Jewish tradition, the Talmud, warns: "Don't use the conduct of a fool as precedent."
That fox may look like a dog, but its eyes have vertical pupils, like a cat's.
Irish Proverb No. 894D: "There is no fool who has not his own kind of sense."
In most of Asia's languages, one word means both "food" and "rice."
Chinese Proverb 893B: "Great souls have wills. Feeble souls have wishes."
One the southern flanks of the eastern Himalayas lies that mystical place called Bhutan. It's name isn't mystical, though. It comes from an Indian word meaning "edge of Tibet."
Behind cloistered walls in old France, a servant served the monks. One of the things he served them — as they played in their court — was a ball. He cried out as he tossed it to them "Tenez," meaning "Take heed." Both our game words "serve" and "tennis" started there.
The Australian aborigines, even as the ancient Greeks, concocted myths about how humankind came into being. But the aborigine myths are more than twice as old as the Greek myths.
It's in the record that St. Augustine once amazed himself by reading without pronouncing the words. From such indications, scholars say they know all writing originally was meant to be read aloud.
That word "golf" itself originally meant "club." So "golf club" must be a redundancy, no?
Old English law required a suicide to be buried near a crossroads at midnight without religious rites.
If it's a winding river, it's either very old or very young. Straight rivers are middle aged.
A metals expert says hot water dulls knives.
Confucius was of the opinion that music gives a sort of pleasure that human beings can't do without.
A marriage between people near the same age meant trouble. That's what the traditional aborigines of Australia once believed. But when older women married younger men and older men married younger women, that was all right. And they were expected to marry more than once.
Marco Polo built an extraordinary reputation for himself in his own time, not as the world's greatest explorer but as the world's greatest liar. Hardly anybody, maybe nobody then, believed him.
Wooden pegs once used to hold beams of houses and barns in place are called "trunnels" — that's short for "treenails."
Woodsfolk say this about wild berries: If they're white, they're poisonous. If red, maybe dangerous. If blue or black, edible.
Scottish Proverb No. 36A: "One may survive distress, but not disgrace."
History records that Sir Isaac Newton lost the equivalent of about $2 million speculating on South Sea stocks. You'd think a fellow described by some as the smartest man in the world would have figured out how to make money on the stock market, no? No.
Q: What's the first masculine name in the
A: Come on, you know that. Adam.
According to one undocumented footnote in history, Sir Walter Raleigh clenched a smoking pipe in his teeth as he bent to the executioner's axe, and there it remained until death did it depart.
What we call whooping cough the Koreans call donkey cough.
Medieval priests invented that ball-on-chain battle club called the mace as a substitute for the sword. Because their Bible prohibited them from shedding blood but not from bashing skulls. So says one historian.
When King James I played cards, one attendant held the cards, another told him which to play, and there are those who say this set a pattern for numerous heads of state even unto this day.
If human history were compressed into one full day and night, you could say the hunters have been around for 23 hours 45 minutes while the farmers have only been around for 15 minutes.
Q: Which end of the horse lies down first?
A: Front legs. Front legs get up first, too.
Can you name any society in human history where it has not been bad manners to point at somebody? No? Scholars queried on this matter said they couldn't think of any, either.
Q: When was it legal in old Rome for parents to kill
A: Until 374 A.D. The good Valentine had been emperor for a decade before he got around to ending the parental death decrees.
The only thing the king cobra eats is another snake.
The Moroccan bride who adheres to ancient custom keeps her eyes closed throughout her wedding ceremony.
Rope cost a lot of money in the old sailing days, so ship owners wanted sailors to save line by splicing together bits and pieces. It gave us the vernacular phrase "to make ends meet."
Q: Didn't the Egyptians once use cats in
A: Not the Egyptians, but the Persians did. In 525 B.C., the Persians fought the Egyptian Army. A cunning Persian officer lined up a row of cats in front of his troops. The Egyptian soldiers thought the cats were sacred. They wouldn't fire off any arrows. But the Persians would. They killed just about everything in front of them except the cats.
When a Roman peasant died, friends turned a harrow upside down, used the spikes for candle holders, and put the body on it, thus to drag the remains to burial. Our word "hearse" came from the Latin for "harrow."
Italians wrote the first novels.
What distinguished the Greek physician Hippocrates from the other healers of his time was his contention that diseases had natural causes without the influence of evil spirits.
In England long ago, syphilis was called the French pox. In France, the Spanish pox. In Spain, the Italian pox.
A fighting rooster's crest droops when he's whipped. Whence "crestfallen."
One old English Christmas dish consists of suet, flour, sugar, raisins, nuts and spices tied loosely in a cloth, and boiled. When done, it's unwrapped, sliced like cake, and topped with cream. Boiling swells the ingredients. When swollen enough to fill the cloth, it's called "plum," an old synonym for "plump." That's the "plum" in "plum" pudding.
Mythology had it that souls were ferried to Hades across the River Styx. And fancy fiction writers let that river symbolize any faraway place next door to nowhere. Plain talkers wouldn't put up with it. So it would up in the vernacular as "out in the sticks."
English Proverb: "What good is running if you're on the wrong road?"
Some think a national capital ought to lie at the geographic center of its nation, but insofar as I know, Spain's Madrid is about the only one that so qualifies.
Q: Where'd Mexico get that name?
A: From the name of the Aztec war god — "Mexitili." Curious how so many peoples have had war gods. They far outnumber peace gods, must say.
The modern Hebrew dialect spoken by Israelis is not a precise revival of an ancient language. It's only about 100 years old.
When smallpox flooded through Mexico and Central America in the 16th century, it killed about half the Aztecs. That made it proportionately deadlier than Europe's Black Death of the 14th century. And proportionately deadlier, too, than the pandemic influenza of 1918 that killed an estimated 21.64 million people in North America, Europe and part of Asia.
In Siberia's region of Yakutia, the temperature falls as low as minus 58 degrees F sometimes, and sometimes rises as high as 100 degrees F. No other natural place on earth has a greater temperature range.
Q: What was old China's "bamboo wife"?
A: An air-conditioning device. Specifically, a five-foot cylinder of woven basketwork. A sleeper sprawled against it, resting legs or arms over it. Cooler air circulated through it.
It's written that Sotuku, 12th century emperor of Japan, exiled himself for three years to copy a 10,500-word Buddhist religious work called the Lankauarn Sutra in his own blood.
"Americ" was what American Indians long ago called a Nicaraguan mountain range. Spaniards adapted it as "Amerique." And many, maybe most, scholars now believe that's where Europeans really got the name of "America."
An inventor four centuries ago came up with a new ribbon loom, and it scared everybody in the weavers' trade. In Danzig, most particularly, locals feared it would put them out of work. The efficient city council there promptly hired an assassin to strangle the inventor.
Q: Who was the first woman executed in this
A: A Quaker named Mary Dyer. In 1660, the local powers in Massachusetts told her to get out of their colony. She said: "In obedience to the will of God, I came. And in his will I abide until death." They hanged her.
At least one scholar contends that our distant ancestors stopped hunting to take up farming only after they figured out how to make beer.
Neanderthals ate Neanderthals, that we now know from evidence in recent diggings. We also know they didn't make a daily diet of their own kind. Mostly, scholars surmise, one Neanderthals ceremonially ate another in the hope of acquiring from the devoured denizen such a characteristic as strength or courage.
"Fib" comes from "fable."
Ancient tradition calls for wives and girls to give themselves in courtesy to any traveling man who visits the oasis town of Hami in China's northwestern desert. Our Love and War man reports there are no direct flights to Hami.
Q: What's the difference between a pigeon and a
A: No difference except in the origin of the words: Pigeon comes from the French, dove from old English.
Danish Proverb No. 714C: "Faults are thick where love is thin."
Q: Where'd this country's sheep come from?
A: First flocks were bought in France and Switzerland by the London Company and shipped in 1609 to Jamestown, Va.
Hindus speak of six, not just four, seasons: spring, summer, the rains, autumn, winter and the dews.
It was Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, who suggested a woman with a small bustline could enlarge it by singing, loudly and often.
Christopher Columbus on his explorations expected to find people of such ancient origin that they'd speak Hebrew, so he took along Jewish interpreters.
It's a matter of record that the preferred food delicacy of the Roman Emperor Elagabalus was camel's heels.
Q: What are "polemics"?>
A: Waging war with words, sort of. "Polemics" comes from the Greek for "war."
In the Love and War files about old China is a notation that a bride was permitted to go through her planned wedding ceremony, even if her groom had just died. Thus, she immediately could assume her new status of widowhood.
The color combination most likely to get your attention is black on yellow. Traffic researchers learned that, but they didn't learn why. Some scientists now think the reason dates way back. To when humans had to be deathly afraid of things yellow and black. Tigers. Wasps. Some lizards. Certain poisonous plants.
Skeletal remains show nobody who lived 10,000 years ago in that place now known as Pakistan had dental cavities.
It was a ritual among the Incas to bury selected children alive high above the permafrost line in the Andes. These remains have been found on more than 100 mountain peaks. They are the best preserved mummies in the world.
Q: If there are no finger foods in Finland, how does a
Finn eat an apple?
A: Spears, peels, slices and eats it with a knife and fork.
Rabbit is all white meat.
In Leonardo da Vinci's kitchen notes are designs of gadgets to roll spaghetti, press garlic and slice eggs.
A lifelong trainer of horses says the techniques of his trade haven't changed at all in the last eight centuries.
Last time there was a February 30 was in 11 B.C.
An ancient Polish proverb ranks the intensity of love that others feel for you in this descending order: No. 1. Mother's. No. 2. Dog's. No. 3. Sweetheart's.
Q: Two of Europe's capital cities are built each on
seven hills? Rome. And what's the other?
In Sioux, "thi" meant "dwell" and "pi" meant "used for." That wound up in rough translation as "tepee."
Q: What was Britain called before it was named
A: First known name was "Albion." That meant "white land." So called by Celts or Gauls, presumably as they looked out toward the white cliffs of Dover.
Aristotle defined women as "mutilated males" without souls. Why he so long was regarded as a bright fellow I do not know. Women didn't think he was all that swift.
There was another kind of "straw man" — besides the scarecrow — in early America. Ship captains paid cash to kidnappers by body count for the drugged and drunken men they shanghaied in port cities. Those hired shanghaiers sometimes threw in a few "straw men" — stuffed sacks dressed in men's clothing. In the ship's dark depths, the captain's body counter often couldn't tell the difference.
Russia's Czar Peter the Great was afraid to cross bridges.
Q: Who was the ancient scholar who committed suicide by
A: Eratoshtenes. Born in 276 B.C. at Cyrene, Libya. Educated in Athens, Greece. Died about 194 B.C. in Alexandria, Egypt. He was going blind. Even back then, many realized the Earth was a globe. He was the first known to have calculated its circumference.
Contrary to previous report: When the year 999 slipped over to 1000 at the turn of the last millennium, the Latin date was written: CMXCIX. So advises retired professor Dr. Cliff Tremblay, who taught the history of mathematics.
In India's Konorak, statues decorate the ancient Surya Temple, and some of same are said to be so risque, they startle approaching visitors on the stairs below, and in such wide-eyed, open-mouthed stance, those shocked newcomers sometimes fall backward and injure themselves. Critics said, "Drape the statues or put in handrails." The government took bids on handrails.
Most cultures have had their liquor drinkers, but in none known have women been heavier drinkers than men.
Rulers of ancient Rome required offspring to care for their family's elderly. With a decree called "The Stork's Law." So named because storks had been seen to offer extended wings of support to their aged parents.
A fox hunts alone. A Love and War man item, if ever I've seen one.
Correct, in England, the Speaker of the House is not allowed to speak.
Q: Doesn't the mane stand erect on some breeds of
A: On just one, the only wild breed, Przhewalski's.
Most of the fabric patterns on the oldest dress known — India's sari — are designed by computer now.
Q: Which is the oldest known holiday?
A: New Year's Day. Babylonians celebrated it a couple of millennia B.C. on what would now be around March 25th.
Yiddish Proverb: "If you want to give God a good laugh, tell Him your plans."
Those who know their dogs contend the German Shepherd is not an ancient breed closely related to the wolf. It's relatively recent, purposely crossbred to bring out that wolf look.
The common bamboo of Japan — Ma-dake — grows four feet in 24 hours. No other plant grows faster.
Kim sounds like nothing more than the nickname for Kimberly, however spelled, but in fact, Kim comes from the Old English for "ruler."
Fossil teeth of human beings suggest to scholars that people started out as vegetarians. But made a change, mothered by necessity no doubt. Today's vegetarians cite fossil teeth as proof of what nature intended.
Q: Says here Egypt's pyramids are three miles south of
where they were built. Who moved them? And how?
A: Landmass movement. It's continual. Nothing on earth is where it was when the pyramids were built.
Aristotle ate crickets.
Can you contradict the claim that the Nile is the only river on Earth that flows from the equator into the temperate zone?
Not all historians agree with those who say the earliest sheep in North America came from France in 1609. Others report Coronado brought over the Churro sheep from Spain in 1540.
Q: How did leprosy, once epidemic in Europe, come to be
A: Nobody knows.
The early pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving, but outlawed Christmas.
That word "sphinx" came from the Greek meaning "strangler."
Q: Where are those islands called the "Dry
A: "Dry Tortugas"? They're 10 small keys south of Key West. Ponce de Leon so named them in 1513. "Dry" because there was no drinkable water source on them. "Tortugas" for the "turtles" all over them.
Old Rome used freed slaves as firemen. When fires broke out, roads around them bogged down with private vehicles. So the firemen became traffic cops, too. Those freed slaves turned into a pretty powerful group of officers. They were called "Vigiles." You can tell which word we got from that.
Before electric lighting, almost every grownup on earth knew that the moon rises about 50 minutes later every night than the night before, but hardly anybody remembers that anymore.
Might be stretching it to say the boomerang was invented in Poland, but it's true that the first known boomerang, carved from a mammoth's tusk about 23,000 years ago, turned up in what's now Poland.
Q: What did knights wear under their helmets?
A: Liners stuffed with horsehair, tied below the chin.
Chinese Proverb: "A clear conscience never fears the midnight knock."
The Irish "sionnachuighim" means "I play tricks." It's where we got the word "shenanigan."
Off Galway Bay on Ireland's west coast are the Aran Islands, a barren batch of rocks indeed. Yet locals there grow all the vegetables they need. Without soil? Correct. They haul sand and seaweed up from the shore, there to wash and compost same. Seaweed is rich in a garden's necessary nutrients. Take along some seeds, and you'll never starve on a desert island.
All racing camels are female.
History indicates the Tasmanians never committed adultery. They're extinct, you know.
Story goes an elegant cloth of woven silk once was worn only by kings of France. So it was called "cord of the king." Or "corde du roi" in French. It supposedly came down to us as "corduroy." But research suggests no such king's-cord name was ever used in France.
All African elephants grow tusks. Among Asian elephants, some but not all of the males grow tusks. In Sri Lanka, only seven out of 100 males grow tusks. More about elephants' tusks coming up. Patience.
Chile's oldest mummy is 3,400 years older than Egypt's oldest mummy. Insofar as it's now known. Don't chisel it in stone. Heretofore unknown mummies still turn up.
Q: Can you eat the meat of that shellfish called the
conch straight out of its shell?
A: Indeed. But it's better after you tenderize it.
When you play chess in Poland, your bishop is not a bishop but a "messenger." In Germany, it's a "runner." In Italy, an "ensign." In Russia, an "elephant." In France, a "jester."
Q: If you go back 1,000 years, which was the largest
city in what's now the United States?
A: Cahokia. A Native American settlement in southern Illinois with about 30,000 people.
The Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great loved his horse. Unfortunately, his horse drowned in a river. Cyrus sentenced the river to death.
Q: How long does it take to grow garlic?
A: Nine months. Just like a baby.
Scalping has been common among combatants of different races. The color and texture of the scalp hair served as positive proof of an enemy kill. That atrocity for trophy is ancient.
Q: Where'd our word "nix" come from?
A: The German "nicht" or "nichts" for "nothing."
The word "cream" comes from the Greek "khriein" meaning to anoint. That's also the root of "Christ" as "anointed one."
If you trace "hurrah" through "huzzah" back far enough, you'll get to this dying cry of a Norseman: "On to paradise."
In the hills within north central Italy is a nation of 24 square miles. It has an official name only part of which you've ever heard, I'll warrant: Most Serene Republic of San Marino. At last report, it had 21,537 people, not even half as many as work in the 110-story twin towers of New York's World Trade Center.
First female head of state in world history — insofar as the record shows — was Egyptian Pharaoh Mastkare Hatshepsut. Even as women in general have suffered sever discriminations from the beginning, so have women in particular held extraordinary power. And just as most kings have accepted — nay, promoted — slavery of men, so have most queens condoned the servitude of their sisters.
Q: Which of the renowned kings or queens reputedly never
bathed at all?
A: That might be Empress Anne who ruled Russia during the 18th century. She wasn't much for water. However, history records she did wipe herself down daily with melted butter.
"The devil lurks in square corners." That was a superstition of the Middle Ages. Builders kept it in mind for centuries thereafter. Saint Veran is a tiny village in the French Alps. Its houses are of logs or stone or both. In not a one of them do any walls meet at a 90-degree angle.
"Mafia" comes from a tenth-century Arabic word meaning "sanctuary."
Q: Name the man who asked that his body be thrown into
the ocean so his wife couldn't carry out her threat to dance on his
A: One Samuel Baldwin of Hampshire, England. It was done in 1736. His notes suggest Baldwin dedicated much of his life and that much of his death to preventing his wife from having her way.
When musk oxen fight musk oxen, it's always ox to ox — no two ever gang up on one. You can say this, also, about sheep and goats. But you cannot say it about men and monkeys.
Those who look into the horrors of torture have come up with this terrible truth: Human beings can survive injuries that break all the bones in their bodies.
Chinook Indians had a special term for the tribesman with a big stomach. "Hieu" meaning "plenty" and "macamuc" meaning "to eat." It's how we came by that comfortable bit of vernacular for a very important person — "high mucky muck."
Those who think they can estimate the Intelligence Quotients of bygone personalities say Rembrandt's IQ was about 110. They dare not offer an estimate of Leonardo da Vinci's.
Romans in the reign of Emperor Titus, A.D. 79 to 81, used little hollow tubes filled with boiling water. The first curling irons. Presumably.
Q: Why didn't Queen Nefertiti of Egypt ever ride a
A: Weren't any camels there in her time, the 14th century B.C. To get to North Africa, those animals had to go from lower North America up through what's now Alaska, across the natural bridge to Siberia, and slowly, ever so slowly, down through Asia. Took them a while.
Popcorn came before corn.
Byzantine medics were given bonuses for each of the wounded men they carried alive off their battlefields. Benevolent? No, not in the Florence Nightingale mode 10 centuries later. Those early commanders feared they'd run out of soldiers, and they needed more soldiers to kill more soldiers. It was in a time when Byzantine law prescribed such criminal punishments as nose slitting, tongue cutting and eye gouging.
Q: If the first blacks brought to America were not
slaves, what were they?
A: Indentured servants, not considered slaves then. They arrived in Virginia 42 years before the first slaves came in 1661. The indentured blacks and their descendants contributed mightily to the events of history, but were not written into it.
Ge'ez is an ancient tongue no longer generally spoken in Ethiopia. But it is spoken in Ethiopic Church services, only there. How many of the devout actually understand any of it is debated nowadays.
Q: The horse chestnut tree is so called because its
shelled nut looks like the eye of a horse, right?
A: Not quite. Early Americans thought the nut looked like the eye of a deer, so called it a Buckeye. But according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, that horse chestnut name originated in Turkey, "where the nuts were fed to horses to cure broken wind."
"Taps" dates back to the Thirty Years War, 1618-1648. Not the well-known bugle call. That came along much later. But the name "Taps" to signal the military day's end. At bedtime, the provost visited each military unit to tap the bung into every keg and mark it with chalk. The chalked markings were checked the next day to make sure the keg hadn't be reopened after "taps."
Q: Did you ever find out who authored the first
full-length novel in human history?
A: Research suggests it was "The Tale of Genji" written by a Japanese woman named Murasaki Shikibu. Between the 970s and the 1020s B.C., as the Western world measures time. This was before Buddhism crowded Japanese women out of the literary life.
An expectant mother must be given whatever food she craves, otherwise she could lose her baby. Such was the erroneous belief in Colonial days. The record shows that in 1625 an Elizabeth Hamer took to court one Dr. Pott, first name unknown, claiming his prescribed diet caused her miscarriage. He failed to include in it "a piece of hog's flesh," she complained. If he'd known she craved pork, he would have been liable, ruled the court. But he didn't know. Case dismissed.
Q: How many names are given to babies born into the
British royal family?
A: Four, customarily.
Contestants in the ancient Olympics were penalized instantly for infractions of the rules. Judges carried not whistles but whips.
Q: What do you call that empty space between the cork
and liquid in a bottle?
A: The "ullage."
Charles VIII of France had a little problem with his feet. One had six toes. So he started wearing shoes with broad square tips. This was why men's show fashion all over Europe near the end of the 15th century dictated square-tipped duck's beak shoes.
You may regard the monarch of Great Britain as Queen Elizabeth II. But in Scotland, she's Elizabeth I. Scotland was not part of the United Kingdom when the first Elizabeth was on the throne.
Some rich Romans of old kept moray eels as pets.
It was Marco Polo who revealed to the Western world that the Chinese used paper money.
Q: If William Shakespeare wasn't a drunk, why did
Voltaire refer to him as "that drunken fool"?
A: Voltaire's misjudgment of Shakespeare didn't stop there. He regarded Shakespeare's writings as junk.
It was the custom of women in ancient Egypt to pluck all the hair from their heads and then buff their scalps to a high shine.
Q: When you talk about something without getting to the
point, you're said to "beat around the bush." Where'd that term come
A: Hunter lingo. It refers to the brush beaters long used by hunters to drive quarry animals out of cover.
Bolivian Indians treat arthritis pain with ant stings.
Q: What do you say to the Irish greeting "Top of the
morning to you"?
A: "And the rest of the day to yourself." That's the traditional reply.
The sorcerer of old worked his magic spell with some sort of charm called a "mascot." Whence our word "mascot" with its updated definition.
Scallions are the only sort of onion commonly used in traditional Japanese cooking.
Sheep and goats are exceedingly fond of rape, which some city folk may be surprised to learn is an herb akin to mustard. It's grown most particularly around Tisdale, Saskatchewan, a place also widely known for its beekeepers. The postmark, "Tisdale, Land of Rape and Honey." It was rejected.
Palomino is a color, not a breed.
Q: Peanuts came from Africa, did they not?
A: Not originally. They've been traced back to Brazil and Peru, around 950 B.C. Portuguese traders took them to Africa in 1502. Slave ships brought them back to the Western Hemisphere. In the United States, they were raised for market and first sold about 1845 in Nashville, Tenn.
Some scholars believe more than a fourth of all the gold every mined is in sunken ships on the floors of seas.
The Agua is a dead volcano in Guatemala. Heavy rains filled the great hollow cone with water, making a deep crater lake, and the torrents turned the mountainsides to mud. Then came the earthquake. Not an eruption, just powerful tremors. The weight of the water inside cracked open the crater walls, undamming the deluge. At 2 a.m. on an autumn morning in 1541, mud engulfed the then capital of Ciudad Vieja at the foot of the flow, burying more than 1,000 people. That's how the volcano got its name Agua, meaning water.
Q: If the Egyptian mummies aren't the oldest, which
A: The Chinchoro along the northern coast of Chile. They date back 7,000 years. The Chinchoro kept their mummies close at hand so they could repaint them from time to time, fix their wigs and touch up their colored clay coverings.
The camel is a better swimmer than the horse, but why is a mystery. In Arabian environs, the camel does not frequent a watery world, not usually. Ask a few camels where they learned to swim, and they'll just shrug, I imagine.
Ancient healers dried plants to make medicines. That clarifies why our word "drug" comes from an old German word meaning "to dry."
Q: What was the first western-world book that didn't
quote the Bible or writers of antiquity?
A: "The Prince," 1513, the original dirty-tricks treatise of politics by Niccolo Machiavelli. He's the fellow who wrote: "There is no avoiding war; it can only be postponed to the advantage of others."
History shows lotteries started centuries ago, grew popular, then fell out of favor off and on ever since. Research reveals they've failed invariably after street players learned clever crooks were fixing the drawings. As long as the players believed the games were straight, they remained successful.
When you say you feel a little "groggy," if ever, you allude to the word "grog," the British sailor's term for watered rum.
Reindeer, shmeindeer, the Netherlands' St. Nicholas rides a horse.
It was an ancient legal tradition that a widow had the right to remain for 40 days in the house of her deceased husband. What she was supposed to do thereafter is not in the record at hand.
The word "gas" is common to almost all languages. A flemish chemist named Jan van Helmont coined it about 1625. And because no synonym existed in any old language, his word simply was accepted by all.
Q: Where'd we get the "jack" in "jackknife"?
A: Probably from the name of the maker of the first folding knife, a 17th century Belgian identified as Jacques de Liege — Jack of Liege.
Mouse, Falcon, Elephant and Scorpion — those were some of the names of Egyptian kings before the Pharaohs took over.
Seventeenth-century poet John Donne kept an open coffin in his study. He climbed into it every now and then to remind himself of the fragility of the mortal cord. What good it did him to remain so aware of death-in-a-box, I don't know. But he knew, evidently. He kept the thing open and waiting, like a taxi with the meter running.
That bay leaf tin on your spice shelf has a story in it. What's therein comes from the sweet bay laurel, a broadleaf evergreen with glossy deep-green leaves. Since antiquity, wreathes of it have been awarded as crowns to all sorts of notables. Poets. Soldiers. Scholars. Public speakers. Athletes. Philosophers. Even politicians.
Q: Everybody knows about smallpox, but is there any such
thing as "big pox"?
A: "Great pox" was a common term four centuries ago for syphilis. Smallpox then identified numerous other maladies. Actual smallpox has been eradicated entirely, but great pox is still around.
There was a time in northern Europe when cultists during winter lighted enormous bonfires in the hope of coaxing the sun back north. You can try it, but it doesn't work.
Q: Who invented the soda straw?
A: Ancient Egyptian brewers, probably. To taste beer abrewing without first skimming it.
Earliest auctions on record at hand go back to 450 B.C. in Babylon, where young women in good physical condition were sold on the block.
Through France's Normandy runs the River Vire, in the Vau de Vire valley. A 15th-century songwriter named Oliver Bassel lived there. His convivial tunes were so popular that all such music was identified with his home. It eventually gave us the word "vaudeville."
Man invented the big guns long before the little guns. Cannons around 200 B.C.E. Hand-held firearms around 1300 C.E.
Q: Where did we get the word "venereal"?
A: From the name Venus, goddess of love. And the name Venus came from the Sanscrit "vanas," which had to do with physical desire.
Jurors in Medieval England were not fed until they had reached a decision.
Q: I take it eggs Benedict was invented by some chef
named Benedict. Where did he work?
A: Research reveals "Benedict" in this menu term is a variation of Benedick, a character in Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing." The allusion is to a newly married man, supposedly suggesting "a marriage between the eggs and the ham." Or so one authority states.
England's King Henry I decreed the standard linear measure of one foot was to be a third of the length of his arm. That happened to be 36 inches. Remarkable, is it not, that the length of one man's arm could dictate the eventual measurements of so many of the world's structures?
"Alfalfa" comes from the Arabic "Al-fac-facah" meaning "the father of all foods." Lots of people have eaten alfalfa. Seeds, sprouts and leaves. That's reported by an outfit that sells alfalfa.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley got her idea for the "Frankenstein" novel from the writings of some alchemy experimenters who claimed to have produced a sort of test-tube baby.
The ancient Hebrews believed the kidneys dictated the emotions.
Q: Humans have obtained three valuable products from
bees — honey, wax and ... what's the third?
A: Mead. From fermented honey. It was big among drinkers of yesteryear.
In Tibet once, salt cakes stamped with Kublai Khan's imperial seal were used for money.
Proud of your Irish ancestry? Teach your dog to put up its paw when you say, "Tabhair dom do lamh." That's the canine shake-hands instruction in Gaelic.
What most of us thought we knew about gypsies was wrong. their first homeland was northern India, the Punjab. When they migrated into Europe, they were labeled as displaced Egyptians, so were called gypsies, then identified as wandering Romanians, because in their native language Romanes they call themselves Romanies. They were neither Egyptian nor Romanian. The linkups to those countries are persistent word-of-mouth mistakes.
That country classic "The Streets of Laredo" goes back to an old English tune wherein the young hero did not die of bullet wounds but of a social disease.
A "thimble" originally was called a "thumb bell," but you knew that.
Q: When was the private bedroom invented?
A: Invented? Never, mind, that'll work. It was not customary for people to sleep in private bedrooms until about 500 years ago. Before then, family members bundled together in a common bedding place.
William Shakespeare coined more than 1,700 words. Presumably. Their first known use was in his poems and plays. Studious researchers found he used 20,138 different words in all his works. So 8.5 percent of his entire written vocabulary were words he made up.
Q: What give key lime pie its name — a special recipe or
a special lime?
A: A special lime. Its tree went from Asia to Spain to the Caribbean. Finally, to the Florida Keys, whence the "key" in "key lime."
When a male camel takes an interest in a female camel, he wards off other interested males by spitting in their eyes.
Q: Who invented the fortune teller's crystal
A: One John Dee, a contemporary of Shakespeare. In 1580, it was. Dee made a name for himself as a mathematician while warden of Manchester College in England.
An unidentified feline fancier says: "Thousands of years ago, cats were worshiped as gods, and cats have never forgotten it."
Q: Why is Harris tweed of Scotland called
A: It's woven on Harris Island in Scotland's Outer Hebrides.
Connoisseurs speak of the interior of a cheese as its "paste."
To treat baldness, naturopaths for centuries prescribed varieties of plants with hairy roots.
A footprinted trail of an animal is called a "pug."
That the horses of Shetland are exceedingly small is known by all. Few realize, though, that the cattle of Shetland are likewise diminutive.
Early Romans made napkins of asbestos and laundered them in fire.
The raspberry sound, otherwise known as the Bronx cheer, was a common expression in the old Roman senate. File that under "Why Rome Fell."
It is from the Greek word for "science of poisons" that we get our word "pharmacology."
At one time in ancient Rome nobody under the age of 30 could drink wine legally. Not because of any moral enlightenment. There was a shortage of wine.
Q: What got the Navajo started making those beautiful
A: Spaniards showed up with sheep in Navajo country, and the Navajos acquired some.
Primitive tribes believed they acquired the qualities of the animals they ate. Those who wanted to be swift longed for deer or antelope. Those who admired strength hoped for bear or bull. Some ate birds, too, but that never worked.
Never scrub a sculpture.
The Welsh make bread out of seaweed. Or did.
"To break bread" once was a literal term. Bread of England 700 years ago was so lightly leavened it couldn't be sliced but had to be broken.
Into the stone sidewalks of ancient Rome were carved the borders of special places where pedestrians could pause to play hopscotch, jacks, dice, or whatever.
Pheasants have been seen to get drunk on old grapes.
Divorce was permitted under ancient Chinese law, but only if the divorcing husband could find some home to take in the wife he wanted to divorce. Nor could he divorce his wife if he'd been poor when he married her but since had become rich. And one other thing: If his wife mourned the deaths of his parents for three years, he couldn't divorce her thereafter.
Q: What's the most common name of English
A: Henry. With a king count of eight.
Sheepherders long have claimed the black sheep is smarter than the other sheep. Maybe, maybe not. Science does not know, though, the black sheep has a sharper sense of smell, and that may give it a notable edge.
Am told you have to cook duck longer than any other bird you might choose to eat.
Q: You said Queen Victoria was the first of the European
monarchs to close the bathroom door. What did earlier monarchs do?
A: Treated the bath as a social affair. Thereat, both men and women welcomed visitors. Some but not all tubs were half-covered. In plusher palaces, they were oftentimes placed in a circle of chairs.
Strong evidence in the tombs suggests tuberculosis was rampant in ancient Egypt.
In old China the penalty for stealing a Pekinese was death.
Q: Why do we cross our fingers for luck?
A: Early Christians, for safety's sake, chose not to cross themselves in public. But they duplicated the reverential gesture in secret by crossing their fingers. It came from that.
In ancient Rome, a thief caught in the act of stealing could be made the slave of the person said thief tried to steal from.
Q: If know the names of the kings in a playing card deck
traditionally are David, Alexander, Caesar and Charles. What are the names of
A: Argine, Esther, Judith and Pallas.
People used Roman numerals at the last turn of the millennium. When the year 999 slipped over to 1000, the written date became easier to remember. It changed from DCCCCLXXXXIX to M.
Historically in the marble quarries of Italy's Carrara, some man got hurt every day, another killed every month. Yet nobody really knows what made marble quarrying there the most dangerous of peacetime jobs. Researchers conjecture that Italian men took so much pride in the danger that they ran risks on purpose. But that's a stretch.
In the era of the American Revolution, it took a lot of wood to build a sailing warship. A 100-gun vessel, according to one shipwright's notes, used just about all of an 80-acre oak forest.
In Georges de La Tour's 1621 painting called "The Fortune Teller," an old Gypsy woman sits in a city coffee house, reading the palm of a vain young aristocrat while her daughter squeezes a tiny metal clipper to snip the pompous fellow's watch from its chain. some but not all language scholars think that's where we got the phrase "clip joint."
Q: What's the world's oldest known trademark?
A: "Vesuvinum." It was on wine jars recovered from Pompeii debris after the Vesuvius eruption of 79 A.D.
Persian proverb: "Two things indicate weakness — to be silent when it's time to speak and to speak when it's time to be silent."
Q: "What's the oldest organized spectator sport in
A: Horse racing, certainly. First horse track here was laid out on Long Island in 1665.
When French builders added to a structure something not included in the original design, they called it an "Hors d'Oeuvre." Later chefs took up ther term for snack servings.
Q: What's a typical breakfast in Scotland?
A: Might be oatmeal, kippers, bread and oatcakes with marmalade. A kipper is a herring or salmon, split, salted and smoked.
Our word "melancholy" comes from the old Greek "Melas" meaning "black" and "Chole" meaning "bile." Those ancients thought it was black bile in their systems that made them blue. Not so, no. Aside: Our Language man likes "blue" better than "depressed." Psychiatrists own "depressed." "Blue" belongs to us.
Q: Glass in medieval cathedral windows is thicker at the
bottom than at the top. Because glass is fluid so flows downward,
A: That's one notion. Another is antique handmade glass was unevenly thick, and glassmakers reasonably elected to put the thickest, and strongest, edge at the bottom.
Race-winning camels generally cost more than race-winning horses.
Q: If the owl is so stupid, how come it's always called
A: Goes back to the ancient Greeks. It was the symbol of Athena, goddess of wisdom. That bird, so silent in the night, sees well, hears well and flies well. But smart it's not.
In the French court of Louis XIV, only the King and Queen could sit in chairs with arms.
The deadly Japanese martial art that uses nothing but a fan is called "tessenjutsu."
Q: Where does a one-hump camel jockey sit?
A: Behind the hump.
Nigeria is quite a mix. Of about 250 ethnic groups. It's a hub.
Under the Norman laws of old England, a man convicted of adultery paid his fine to the king, but a woman convicted of adultery paid her fine to the church.
Wordworkers contend the term "cold shoulder" started in medieval France when annoyed hosts served chilled mutton instead of hot beef to unwelcome visitors. Our Love and War man doubts the claim. Even if it did begin that way, says he, it has been perpetuated since, minus the mutton, without benefit of beef, in the bedrooms of the western world. The cold shoulder, he says, is not a figure of speech. It is the sometime condition of the unfriendly night, the first syllable in the body language of irreconcilable differences.
The Duke of Wellington had a big nose. So "duke" became a glib word for "nose." Then somebody referred to a fist as a "duke buster." It stuck for a while, but was too clumsy to last. Eventually, a fist was just called a "duke."
Something else Europe has in common with Antarctica is neither has any native parrots, and you can't say that about the other continents.
Early turquoises came from Iran, not Turkey, but in their shipment through Turkey they picked up the French word for Turkish in their name.
First gypsum quarries were in the Montmartre of Paris. What they produced became known first as plaster, then as "Plaster of Paris."
Cobra is short for "cobra de capello" meaning hooded snake.
Q: How long is the shelf life of popcorn?
A: Can only report that archaeologists have popped 1,000-year-old popcorn.
"Out West" in China is the Xinjiang region wherein lies the desert called the Takla Makan. It was named by the Turks who more than 2,000 years ago trekked the old Silk Road. The name translates as "You go in and you don't come out."
On a tea plant, the farther up the leaf from the stem, the higher its caffeine content.
The Dutch word "bradewijn" means "wine that has been burned" — an allusion to wine distilled over fire — and out of it came our word for "brandy."
Q: What's the title of the national anthem of San
A: Has no title. No words, either.
An archeologist now working in Egypt believes about three out of 10 artifacts ancient Egyptians left behind remain undiscovered.
Q: Ancient Egyptian portraits show the head in profile
but the eyes to the front? Was that on purpose?
A: It was. And ritualized to make sure the gods would recognize the individuals depicted. So say today's scholars.
It's writ that Aristotle, tutor of Alexander the Great, profoundly influenced Western thought. Maybe so, don't know. He taught this: "People with big ears tend to chatter overmuch about nothing in particular." Not the profoundest of his profundities maybe.
Many but not all scholars believe the oldest continuously inhabited city in the western world is Spain's Cadiz.
In 1680, Maryland colonists noted in their records they ran out of supplies so fought off starvation by eating oysters. Also around 1680, an unknown in Egypt devised leavened bread. And in 1680, too, somebody in Hamburg, Germany, used a cymbal for the first time in an orchestra. One more thing in 1680: Hykos tribesmen invaded Egypt and beat the Egyptians decisively under the burning sun — simply because the invaders wore sandals and the invaded did not.
All writings of words descended from drawn pictures.
Q: What's the oldest psychiatric disorder described in
It's now known some ancient Egyptians fed their statues every day.
Q: Do deer in the wild ever die of old age?
A: Rarely, if ever.
One way to kill an elephant was run underneath it and jab it in the bladder with a short spear. At least, that's how the young African pygmy did it, traditionally, to prove his courage. That proved it, all right. The frenzied elephant spun, trunk swinging, to go for a wipeout. The miracle is Africa lost more elephants than pygmies in this ritual.
"Siberia" means "sleeping land."
"Ammonia" is so called because it was first made near the temple of Amen in Libya. From camel dung, as you may have read.
Early Spaniards thought a stone was only an emerald if when placed on an anvil it could withstand a mighty blow with a heavy hammer. They were wrong. But on the coast of Ecuador, it's now known, Pizarro's men so powdered countless bushels of real emeralds.
Few realize cocoa got to Europe before tea did. Before coffee, too.
During the Middle Ages, an occasional convict was put into a prison cell with two bushels of wheat — to serve a sentence of however long it took that prisoner to eat that wheat.
When New York City was still called New Amsterdam — in 1661, this — high-minded locals set up an evening school especially for those children who worked all day in what later came to be known as sweat shops.
A Huguenot named Bernard Palisay expressed the opinion in 1589 that fossils were the remains of living creatures. Those who didn't agree burned him at the stake.
Q: Can a tree be an herb?
A: Two can, I'm told. The juniper and the willow.
Claim is the Roman Emperor Domitian was so accurate with a bow he could put four arrows between the spread thumb and fingers of a volunteer's hand. Where'd he get the volunteer?
Q: Can you tell me the only game the Koran specifically
prohibits Moslems from playing?
The suit of armor is not what saved the knight on horseback. Weapons experts calculate the point of a charging rider's accurate lance struck with three times the penetrating force of a high-powered bullet. It was the deflecting shield that saved the knight.
Q: Where's "Lutetia"?
A: That was an ancient name for Paris.
The North African for centuries ate the gladiolus. The flower was pretty, quite so, but it was that underground stem called the corm that prolonged the life of the hungry. The gladiolus was another of nature's numerous early care packages.
Q: What do seersucker, calico and chintz have in
A: Each was created in India. As were paisley, cashmere, crewel and madras. India has long been tall in textiles.
It was in 1687 that clockmakers first started putting not just one but two hands on clock faces. Memorable year, that one. Paris Opera Director Jean Baptiste Lully stabbed himself in the foot with his long baton that year. And died of blood poisoning therefrom.
Was a time when some people somewhere used the red scalps of woodpeckers for money.
Prescribed punishment for giving away silk secrets in old China was "death by torture."
Italian Proverb No. 392C: "Rice born in water must die in wine."
You also can say this about the people of Peru — they had popcorn first.
"Woo" is the Polish equivalent of "wow."
Catherine de Medici dipped snuff. She was reputed to be the first woman in Europe to use tobacco in any form. Maybe so. Still, that credit more likely belongs to some girlfriend of a sailor who brought it home.
In old Ethiopia, traditionally, the bride's jewelry was removed after the wedding, but its likeness was tattooed on her skin.
A kitchen mechanic advises: Wrap cheese loosely. Moisture within cheese lets mold form. A loose wrap lets moisture escape.
Both Socrates and Plato believed students learn best from teachers who speak well rather than from writers who write well.
"Fiscal" traces back to a Latin word meaning "moneybag."
What Leonardo Da Vinci really was trying to do when he invented scissors was demonstrate leverage.
Massachusetts in 1646 made it unlawful to smoke within five miles of any townsite.
In the Middle Ages, it was not a punishable crime to murder a traveling musician.
The pre-Inca Indians of Peru worshipped peanut butter. Not just the kids. Everybody.
Q: Is it not true that people named Chamberlain descend
from the English Royal household's Lord Chamberlain whose main job was to lay
wood in the fireplaces?
A: Not exactly. The Lord Steward managed that line of work, and left progeny named Steward. The Lord Chamberlain's job was to light the fires, and he left descendants named Chamberlain.
Until about a century ago, a pearl was more valuable than a diamond.
Long ago in Southern France, a donkey got loose in a vineyard at the Abbey of Marmoutier, and chewed up a lot of vines. Horrified monks thought their next grape crop would be ruined. But no, it turned out to be the best crop ever. Pruning helps, they realized, and grateful vintners have been pruning ever since.
American Indians used maple syrup before they used honey. There were bumblebees but no honeybees hereabouts until the colonists brought them over.
Q: Did religious people in Biblical times steeple their
hands with touching fingertips under their chins while praying?
A: No, the common posture of prayer for centuries was the spreading of the arms with palms and face cast upward toward the heavens. The steepling of the hands under the chin was an artist's creation of recent generation.
The Mohawk from time to time put a fence in a stream to snare fish. Their lengthy word for such a weir translates "poles in the water." Out of that set of syllables came the name "Toronto."
Q: You said the first written evidence of kissing — a
couple pressing lips together — was recorded around 2000 B.C., but it was
utterly unknown in North and South America, Africa and South Seas. When did it
start to travel?
A: Just about the same time Christopher Columbus did, give or take a few decades.
Time was in England long ago when middle names were illegal.
Women in ancient Rome were massaged after the bath by slaves who used a different fragrance for each part of the body. Don't ask. I don't know.
Q: Both "rape" and "rapture" come from the same Latin
work, I've read. What word? And what did it mean originally?
A: "Rapere." To "seize," to "carry away."
The shores and delta of the Nile River represent only four percent of Egypt's land, but they hold 99 percent of its population. You might say Egypt actually is a very long, very thin country.
Q: When could husbands legally sell their wives in
A: First such instance of record occurred in 1533. Scholars have turned up documentation for at least 387 such wife transactions thereafter. These were handled pretty much like livestock sales. Women on rope halters were dragged down to the marketplace and auctioned off. History offers no low limit to bestiality in dealing wives and slaves.
In what now is northwest Iran was once a country called Media. In the historic footnotes about it is a lone-line report that in battles with Greeks, its cavalrymen rode ostriches.
What we now call "light beer" was known as "small beer" in the Middle Ages, and the historical footnotes aver it was the drink of the lower classes.
Q: Why does the bride stand to the left of the groom at
A: So the groom's right hand can be free to draw a sword and hack down any brute who attacks her. Or so goes the myth of its ancient origin. This takes no account of left-handed grooms.
If you put St. Peter's Basilica, St. Paul's of London and the cathedrals of Florence and Milan all in one spot, they still wouldn't cover as much ground — 13 acres — as does Egypt's Great Pyramid.
Q: Can you name the only sort of animal with bones
sticking out of its head?
A: Deer. Trick query. Antlers are bone, horns are mostly skin.
Anthropologists say they've found no human society's children who didn't play some variation of hide and seek.
In every society worldwide, it's known, men in fear turn to their mothers, if they can.
Q: Among the Tuaregs of the Sahara, I've read, it's the
men, not the women, who wear veils. Why?
A: To keep the sand out of their noses.
Q: What country produces the sharpest knives?
A: If you mean today, no one country claims that credit. But 4,000 years ago, the Mayans in their blood rituals used th sharpest knives ever. Sharper than diamond scalpels. Far sharper than modern razor blades. They were made from that volcanic glass called obsidian.
Hindu Proverb No. 31A: "He who cannot dance blames the floor."
Spain subsidizes falconry.
If a boxer fought the way a swan fights, he'd be disqualified for elbows. A blow of a swan's wing can break a man's arm.
Ancient Egyptians mummified both cats and mice. The cats, presumably, because the mummifiers worshiped cats. And the mice, I suppose, to feed the mummified cats. That's a guess.
Q: Where's the name "Moscow" come from?
A: A Finnish word meaning "waterway."
When you quote Shakespeare, you may be quoting the Bible. William Shakespeare's plays contained more than 1,000 scriptural references.
Only 2.5 percent of Italy's population could speak Italian when that complex of mixed identities was unified into a nation in 1861.
In tombs of ancient Egypt have been found manuscripts with maps to show the deceased how to get to the next world.
It was Leonardo da Vinci who said, "Nature never breaks her own laws." And I have yet to see him proven wrong on it.
"If something is spilled, a drunken man will soon visit." That's one of the numerous superstitions preserved for fun and fancy by the sophisticated population of Iceland. Another is: "If cows lick trees, you can expect rain."
After playing cards went north at the end of the 14th century, it was only a matter of months before tricksters developed methods of marking them. And according to the historical footnotes, that practice immediately spread across Europe.
If Christopher Columbus hadn't reached what's now the Dominican Republic on a Sunday, he wouldn't have called it Dominica.
Q: Where'd Bram Stoker get the Dracula name?
A: "Dracul" in Romanian means "devil," so in that real province of Transylvania the name "Dracula" means "son of devil."
What used to be a farm phrase — "furrow-long" — got tightened up into a racetrack phrase — "furlong." Tudor kings set the standard length of a furrow at 220 yards, an eighth of a mile. Plowboys don't care anymore, but jockeys certainly do.
Q: What did the earliest clockmakers use to set their
A: Sun dials. Just about every invention uses an earlier invention to get it right.
The late Orson Welles had this opinion about the female of the species: "If there hadn't been women, we'd still be squatting in caves, eating raw meat. We made civilization to impress our girlfriends."
Those who've never seen Egypt's pyramids up close find their actual size a little hard to grasp. Consider this: They contain enough stone and mortar, it's claimed, to build a wall 10 feet high and five feet wide from New York City to Los Angeles.
Q: If cheese isn't the oldest manufactured food, what
A: Butter. Cheese is the next oldest.
The Scots long ago came up with an ancient word for a magic spell that creates an illusion of beauty where no beauty exists. The word is "glamour."
Spanish Proverb No. 3120C: "Sad is the home where the hen crows and the cock is silent."
Q: You said Santa Maria, Nina and Pinta — Christopher
Columbus's ships — were just nicknames, not the vessels' real names. But a game
show host says you're battier than a billygoat....
A: The game show host is quite right, but what's that got to do with it? The Santa Maria was formally listed as La Gallicia, Nina as Santa Clara, and Pinta as another name long since lost.
Ivy stems grow toward the smallest shade. Ivy leaves grow toward the largest light. This roughly is why ivy both clings and climbs.
Historical footnotes indicate it was a sin in ancient Rome to eat a woodpecker.
Q: What's the most famous painting in the history of
A: The Mona Lisa is so credited.
If you believe in the sanctity of all life, you just about have to believe in reincarnation. Buddhist priests understand that. They pray the fish they eat will come back to a better fate.
Q: If the job of the original alpine St. Bernard dogs
was not to rescue the snowbound, what was their job?
A: To go by the most direct route to the victim, thus to mark a trail for the rescuing monks.
The great Greek Aristotle didn't always get it right. For example, he taught: 1. Underground winds caused earthquakes. 2. Motion is impossible in a vacuum. 3. Atoms do not exist.
Q: What's the westernmost point in continental
A: Portugal's Cabo de Rocha.
Turkish Proverb No. 41B: "Who seeks a faultless friend remains friendless."
Q: A "tush" is defined in my dictionary as "a canine
tooth of a horse." So how did it come to be another word for backside?
A: That's an alteration of the Yiddish "tokhes," down from the Hebrew "tahat" meaning buttocks.
German Proverb No. 6114B: "Nothing looks so like a man of sense as a fool who holds his tongue."
Q: Before the Italians got tomatoes, what did they use
A: Lemons, quinces, bitter oranges, pomegranate juice and the unfermented juice of unripe grapes.
"Finance" in its Latin origin meant "to end a debt," but that's not exactly how it works anymore.
Q: You said the Japanese "sukiyaki" means "roast hoe,"
but how did it come to be a food dish?
A: Eating meat at one time in old Japan was somewhat like smoking cigarettes today. You went somplace else to do it. Rural folk slipped out to the fields to cook little portions over small fires on blades of hoes.
"Acapulco" comes from the Nahuatl "Acatl Poloa Co" meaning "in the place where the reeds were destroyed." You may ask who destroyed the reeds? Nobody knows. And why? Nobody knows.
Wildlifers say the most widespread carnivore on land is the red fox. Not counting the human.
Q: What's the average life expentacy of a working
A: About 12 years.
The biggest of Borneo's butterflies are bigger than the smallest of Borneo's owls.
Q: Where is that place a husband can divorce his wife
because she's too passionate?
A: Know of nonesuch now. It was the case among the old Anglo-Saxons, though.
In 1670, the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral handed out sugar sticks bent into the shape of shepherds' crooks, highly symbolic in Christian history. These, it's believed, were the first candy canes.
Scientists now say Neanderthals glued points on their spears with a natural derivative of coal called bitumen. If true, that would make it the oldest adhesive known so far.
Q: Why does an eagle immediately behead and disembowel
its captured prey?
A: To lighten the load on the flight back to the aerie.
Chinese Proverb No. 117B: "You must cross the river before you may tell the crocodile he has bad breath."
Q: How do you account for the fact that elephants,
unlike almost all other animals, do not fight for territory?
A: They don't have to. In their natural habitat, they occupy any ground they choose and control any ground they occupy.
Moisture can swell mushrooms 100 times their dry size. On cloudless days, they remain unseen just under the ground's surface. Then comes an overnight rain, and in the morning they're all over the place.
That old Saxon name "Wilbur" meant "wild boar." Spell it right.
Q: You said Indians used to burn fish for candles. Come
A: When dried, a particularly oily type of smelt, eulachon, burns for quite awhile if somebody touches a flame to its tail. It's called a candlefish, and coastal kids in rowboats see it in glistening thick schools.
Some Irish claim their ancestors were the first of the horse whisperers who gentled their quirky equines with caressing conversation.
Although many animals talk to one another with sizable vocabularies of sound and signal, some, the loners, don't. Weasels, minks, badgers, martens, fishers and wolverines, they don't. They only get together briefly during mating season, and they're not much given to conversation then. Wildlifers say their languages are primitive.
Does the cat in your house, if any, accept the notion there are places in your house where a cat can't go? Thought not. An ancient English proverb addresses this: "In a cat's eye, all things belong to cats." When early English writers labeled a woman a cat, they implied she goes where she wishes and takes what she wants.
That word "garlic" came down from the Anglo-Saxon "gar" for "spear" and "lead" for "leek."
A 17th-century Swedish scholar who specialized in classical language studies wrote of his conviction that in the Garden of Eden God spoke Swedish, Adam spoke Danish and the serpent spoke French.
Report out of Germany's Saxony is that approximately 50 classic medieval castles are for sale thereabouts. At $1 million and up, up, up.
Chinese proverb: "Even as a hollow building echoes all sounds, so is a vacant mind open to all suggestions."
Surgeons relied on speed before anesthesia, and among the speediest was Dr. Robert Liston of London. In one operation, it's recorded, he: 1. Sliced the fingers of an assistant, who subsequently died from infection. 2. Slashed the coat of a colleague, who so panicked he died of a heart attack. 3. Sewed up the wound of the patient, declaring success, only to note the unfortunate shortly died of gangrene. One surgical session, three down.
That skullcap worn by popes, cardinals and bishops is called a "zucchetto," and the prescribed colors for these notables are white, red and purple, respectively.
The gladiolus started out in northern Africa, and historically there the short, thick, solid, underground stem called the corm, wherein lie all the nutrients, has been roasted and eaten.
Q: Has anybody ever routinely ridden moose?
A: Swedes and Russians some. And milked them. And pulled sleds with them. In northern Europe, they're called elk. They aren't as manageable as reindeer. They can get weird.
That color of red called magenta was named after a town in Italy, site of a battle where much blood flowed.
Some writers contend "no word ever has the exact same meaning twice." Maybe so. But "hogwash," I think, still means exactly what it meant the last time this subject came up.
What tires a schoolteacher most? Juvenal, the Roman poet, wrote: "Repetition, like cabbage served at every meal, wears out the schoolmaster's life."
"Harass" comes from the German through French words meaning "to set a dog on," according to our Language man.
Q: What were the first dice made of?
A: Animal knucklebones.
Just because it looks like a horse doesn't mean it's a horse. If it's not at least 4 feet, 10 inches high at the withers — that's shoulders, cityfolk — it's not a horse but a pony.
Bread baked in big round loaves stays fresh a lot longer than bread baked in long thin loaves. French peasants centuries ago learned that fact, reconfirmed today by tests.
Not only did the old witch burners of Europe burn many a witch, they usually forced the alleged witches' families to pay for the firewood.
Q: Who was the only monarch of France to remain faithful
to his wife?
A: King Louis XVI has been so identified. It's said he took some quiet pride in the wholesome fact right up until he was beheaded on Jan. 21, 1792.
Am told a traditional Chinese painting has two intriguing features: the open corner, which allows the viewer's eye to enter the painting, and an area left unfinished, which lets observers complete the picture in their own imaginations.
Italian proverb: "He who is not impatient is not in love."
Q: In Shakespeare's day, sassafras tea, made with roots
imported from the colonies, was a craze in England. Entrepreneurs set up stands
to sell it all over the country. Suddenly, nobody wanted it anymore all the
stands closed down. Why?
A: Somebody spread the word that Indians drank sassafras broth to treat syphilis. That killed it.
There was nothing finely fragrant about the original Brut. At least, insofar as I can determine from the big books. Brut is in the legends as the first King of Britain, founder of the line that produced Coel, the Old King Cole of the nursery rhyme, and Arthur, the Round Table king. History suggests all may have been aromatic but none fragrant.
Spanish proverb: "He who wants to grow rich in a year will be hanged in a month."
Q: Where'd we get the goodbye term "so long"?
A: From British soldiers. Who got it from Malays who say "salong." Who borrowed it from the Middle Easterners who say "salaam."
It's reported in a nature magazine some Southwest Indians long ago used sunflowers to treat rattlesnake bites. But they all died out.
Kettle equals pot, does it not? A muzzle-loading rifleman went out there gunning to put meat in the family kettle. And got close enough so he couldn't miss. That's where we got the word "potshot."
Q: Settle an argument. Who talked more in Shakespeare's
plays, Hamlet or Falstaff?
A: Hamlet in one play, Falstaff in several combined.
That renowned Fleur-de-Lis of France is actually a German iris, I'm told.
Romania once was Dacia.
Q: What does "Barbados" mean?
A: "The Beards." Fig trees there appeared to be bearded. To the Portuguese sailors who named the island.
All know many early American Indians used particularly colorful shells for wampum. Some know a few early American Indians taught whites how to counterfeit wampum by staining plain white shells with vegetable dyes. Crime, too, comes with the territory.
Builders of houses in old China traditionally put the roof up first. Or almost first.
What Marco Polo brought back from China in 1295 A.D. — if he actually went there himself, which some scholars now doubt — was a sort of sherbet. It wasn't until more than four centuries later that milk was added to make ice cream.
There were those in ancient Greece who held a track meet as a funeral ceremony. In the fifth century B.C., that. Particularly, soldiers killed in war were so commemorated. With races mostly, some wrestling matches, too.
It was a Portuguese who got to what's now Los Angeles before any other European. Juan Rodriguez, he. A navigator. He looked around and left.
Superheated glass flows like honey. And what can you mold out of honey? Nothing. Art of glassblower is not in the heating, but in the cooling.
Q: How did ancient Egyptians make paper out of
A: Papyrus is a tall marsha plant otherwise known as sedge. Egyptians cut the stems in strips, soaked them, overlaid them while wet, pounded them flat, and left them in the sun to dry. You or I could do the same.
In what regard the Turkmen of Turkmenistan hold their wives, I do not know. But a clue is offered in their favored adage: "When you first wake up, greet first your father and then your horse."
It's a matter of ecclesiastical record that St. Bernard of Clairvaux once excommunicated the flies in a monastery.
People of Morocco traditionally have regarded the stork as sacred. They even built a stork hospital. It's still a hospital. But not for storks.
That horse known as the paint goes way back. It was even depicted in Egyptians tombs around 3400 B.C.
Lettuce used to be considered a weed.
Q: Where'd we get the line "It's Greek to me"?
A: From "Julius Caesar" by Mr. Shakespeare.
Early Spanish soldiers in the Western Hemisphere asked where they could find gold. Cuna natives replied "panna mai" meaning "far away." The soldiers didn't get the message, so stayed. And panna mai turned into the name of a nation. This is among the several origin reports in conflict over the name "Panama."
In Chaucer's Middle English, the "bumble" in bumblebee had much to do with "humming" and nothing to do with "bumbling" as we so well know it.
Penalty for stealing a Pekinese in old China was death.
In the Western Hemisphere where chilies grew, natives liked to eat them. Then Spanish priests ominously warned that they were sex stimulants. Thereafter, natives loved to eat them, and vice versa. Your assignment: List edibles that became popular when street talkers labeled them aphrodisiacs. You can start with tomatoes, potatoes and oysters.
Q: The goddess of love in Greek mythology was Aphrodite.
She was sculpted in the second century B.C. What were the measurements of that
A: At 5 feet 2 inches, it taped 35-1/2 inches at the bust, 27-1/2 inches at the waist, and 36-1/2 inches at the hips.
A Chinese imperial decree — about 1116 B.C. Western time — averred it was a requirement of the heavenly powers that people regularly take a moderate amount of alcoholic drink.
Q: How far back do mules go?
A: Too far to know. Biblical scholars say Solomon's coronation chariot was pulled by a mule.
Among the medieval aristocracy, many saw it as a point of pride to declare they had never had to take a bath. They who didn't do dirty work didn't need to clean themselves, they felt. The full body wash was only appropriate for stable shovelers and their ilk.
Historians claim to know that Hannibal, even while he crossed the Alps, wore his wig.
Wheel, lever, wedge — these always show up on lists of the significant early inventions. But rope rarely does. Why not? It enabled the ancients to snare fish and fowl. It may not have been as important as control of fire, but rope added greatly to what people ate.
Q: Which came first, beer or bread?
A: Beer, probably. The oldest known recipe is for beer.
Client writes: "Herders hate hunters and farmers. Hunters hate farmers and herders. Farmers hate herders and hunters. That has been the pattern among humans as far back as scholars can trace. Stupid, isn't it?"
In Italy's Genoa, real windows once were taxed. So many were just painted on. You still see them there.
Few realize the telescope served first as a war weapon. In 1608. The Netherlands was at war with Spain. A Dutch spectacle maker named Hans Lippershey came up with the device to spy on Spanish ships.
Q: Anything to the old sailing vessel superstition that
a naked woman aboard a ship calms the sea?
A: Sailors of old quoted it. For reasons of their own. Superstitions usually have practical origins, do they not? Sailors also had a counter superstition: "A woman aboard ship makes the sea angry."
Gingham. Corduroy. Velvet. Poplin. Satin. We think of them now as types of cloth, but they started out as types of weaving.
We the people are wondrously slow to see the obvious, are we not? We wore eyeglasses for four centuries before a London optician named Edward Scarlett in 1730 thought of anchoring them to our ears.
Q: Sugar pills work as though they were good medicine
because people think they'll work. That's the "placebo effect." Is there an
opposite? I mean, can good medicine fail to work because people think it
A: Indeed, that's the "tomato effect." So called because some people in the 18th century got sick on harmless tomatoes when told they were poisonous.
Bonsai originated in China.
Q: Where was the first horse race of record?
A: Olympic Games, 642 B.C. First prize was a "woman of well-rounded domestic skills."
Trace back the liquids used to christen ships: Now it's champagne. Yesteryear it was red wine. Earlier, animal blood was the christener, a sacrifice to the gods. But earliest, only human blood so stained those ships.
Almost but not quite all the important cities in Europe were founded around monasteries.
Socrates knew nothing of Confucius. Confucius knew nothing of Socrates. Their lifetimes overlapped.
Q: How long has the unrecommended word "ain't" been in
A: About 300 years. Back to the reign of King Charles II.
Mars looks red, so early Mediterranean folk saw that planet as bloody and identified it as a god of war. Whimsies about Mars have been stretched to suggest matters both "murderous" and "masculine." That rosy iron oxide has certainly led to a lot of inane mythology, antique and modern.
In what's now northern Iran are ancient drawings on stone that indicate women around 200 B.C. milked elk.
The great Greek named Solon achieved fame by prescribing landmark laws for ancient Athens. He also decreed that a public brothel must be run by the locals, with one price for all patrons.
Q: Ancient Rome allowed two types of marriage — "with
manu" and "without manu." What was the difference?
A: "With manu" — the wife belonged to her husband, and he could hurt her, sell her, or kill her. "Without manu" — the wife served her husband but belonged to her father, who could repossess her, but she could inherit from him.
Napoleon was a bit compulsive about white horses. He owned at least 50. The "hero on the white horse" was a cliche of drama then, too. And earlier. Even back to armored knights.
In early falconry, a man no longer young enough to fly his own bird wound up toting the wooden frame on which live hawks were carried. It was called a "cadge," pronounced "codge." Some but not all word tracers say that's the very first use of "old codger."
What made the Vikings such a power back in their time, I've read, was their invention of the keel. It let them sail the open sea.
Credit those Spanish explorers, too, with bringing over the game of billiards. First to St. Augustine, Fla., in 1565.
Not all realize the dachshund is one of the oldest breeds of dog in history. Even the ancient Egyptians raised such. But they called it something else. They called everything something else.
Q: Why did people at first think tomatoes were
A: Earlier they threw away the beet and ate the leaves. That worked. But when they threw away the tomato and ate the foliage, they got sick, so assumed...
The law in ancient Rome required prostitutes to wear yellow hair, and that one bit of legal lunacy ruined the reputations of blondes worldwide for many generations.
Q: Where do most of the Mayan descendants live
A: Largest group, Bolivia. Second largest, Guatemala.
Spanish proverb: "Wine has two defects — if you add water, you ruin it; if you do not add water, it ruins you."
Why mistletoe tends to grow on apple trees more than on other trees is still not fully explained.
Q: Didn't Queen Elizabeth I invent the gingerbread
A: So say some historians. What's certain is ginger was the favorite spice in her day. The Queen's good cooks, like many good cooks, don't always get the credit.
Of Limburger cheese, William Shakespeare wrote: "The rankest compound of villainous smell that ever offended nostril." You can see Limburger has been around for a few centuries. But why is not explained.
Odd, isn't it, that almost everybody has heard of the Spice Islands, yet hardly anybody knows their whereabouts. Now called the Moluccas, they're in eastern Indonesia between Celebes and New Guinea. The dutch once controlled them to dominate the spice trade.
The first cooks in Europe to figure out what to do with tomatoes were the Italians. And none too long ago — not even a couple of hundred years, give or take a few.
In 1711, King George I looked upon the newly completed St. Paul's Cathedral in London and turned to the architect, Christopher Wren, and murmured, "Aweful! Artificial!" So it's recorded in the historical footnotes. Language scholars point out that in the 18th century "aweful" meant "awe-inspiring" and "artificial" mean "filled with art."
Which did Egypt get first, pyramids or beer? Say beer. In 1989, the remains of a 5,400-year-old brewery were found near the Nile. Egypt's first known pyramid was built about 2650 B.C.
Chinese physicians 2,000 years ago told patients with goiter problems to eat seaweed. Rich in iodine, that seaweed. Today's medical doctors couldn't have prescribed more appropriately.
Day lilies are edible. So are roses. And tulips. And salvia, too, naturally — it's sage. Did I mention there are people who bake dandelions into biscuits?
Q: The Moors long lived in North Africa. Their identity
is still recognized in the names of which two countries?
A: Morocco and Mauritania.
First toothbrushes with hog bristles showed up in China in 1498. Six years after that best-remembered date, 1492, when Columbus sailed for elsewhere. The Chinese later experimented with brushes of horse hair and badger fur. But the hog-bristle version remained the best for 440 years. Until nylon.
The Pharaoh Ramses was called Ramses the Great in part because he was so tall for his time — 5-foot-8.
That word "toadstool" did not start out as a "stool for toads." The "stool" therein comes from the German "stuhl," meaning the same. But the "toad" comes from the German "tod" meaning "death."
Q: What have we got against eating horse meat,
A: Nothing more than an ancient attitude. Pope Gregory III in A.D. 732 banned horseflesh from Christian tables after he learned that pagans of northern Europe at it in their religious rites. His papal decree stuck.
Q: How did the game of golf actually get
A: Theorists think shepherds batted wool balls around the grazing grounds with crooks. Theorists, it's clear, are those who don't really know.
In Armenian, no word can start with an "R."
A man now remembered only as Heydon started a fasting cult three centuries ago in England. He convinced his followers they'd get sufficient nourishment if they merely inhaled the aroma of cooked food without ever eating any. The cult died out.
Q: Whatever happened to the French adventurer Etienne
Brule who came to North America in 1608 with Samuel de Champlain?
A: The Hurons ate him. That, according to several accounts.
The war chariot of ancient Rome needed a three-man crew. Two up front, a rein handler and a shooter. Behind them, a strap hanger to keep them from bouncing out of the vehicle as it rolled over the bodies.
You know that hand game where you and your opponent mix and match the number of extended fingers? Sioux Indians played it before the Europeans showed up. Old Romans played it. Ancient Egyptians played it.
Did I mention the owl in certain Asian countries is the traditional image of stupidity?
Q: What ended the age of knights in shining armor?
A: Arrows from Welsh longbows. They could pierce armor at 400 yards.
According to some historians, it was the women of ancient Egypt who were the sexual aggressors.
Q: My dictionary says a "wake" is "a watch over the body
of a dead person." What's the point?
A: Originally, it was to make sure said person was really dead. Too many comatose people were buried alive. Earlier, that sad fact created the "lying in state" practice among the high born. Later, it led to medical death declarations and death certificates.
If you have a pet ferret, you've got a ferret. If you have several, you've got a fesnyng.
Not many in this country realize that Austin, Dallas and Houston all are Scottish names.
Q: Where'd the name "Iraq" come from?
A: An Arabic word meaning "origin."
"Kissing" in ancient Rome was of three kinds: "basium" between acquaintances, "osculum" between close friends, and "suavium" between lovers. If your old Latin professor didn't explain the differences in detail, perhaps you learned them elsewhere.
Leonardo da Vinci drew countless hands.
The second day can be significant: Soup, stew and hash taste better then. And sprains, strains and sunburn hurt more.
Gold toothpicks go back at least to 3500 B.C. Such have been found in little gold boxes deep in the Mesopotamian ruins.
Item No. 1177C in our Love and War man's file, labeled "Multiple Marriage," is this Scottish proverb: "Never marry a widow unless her first husband was hanged."
The "yard" wasn't standardized at 36 inches until 1830. It varied greatly for centuries. For good reason. It started out as the girth of a Saxon.
Q: What color lipstick did the women of ancient Egypt
A: Blue black. Around 6000 B.C.
The British do not have much of a reputation for culinary masterpieces, but give them this — they did come up with the Western world's most popular prepared comestible, the sandwich.
Sinbad the Sailor was an Iraqi.
Word Tracers say that one-time sacred oath "for Pete's sake" alluded not to Saint Peter, but to a corruption of the Latin "Pater" meaning "Father," a Christian reference to The Almighty.
Q: Why did women start wearing high heels? To make
themselves look taller?
A: Maybe, but some French court popularized the 17th-century French court popularized high heels for another reason. Women who wore same couldn't walk any too well on cobblestones. So they had to be carted around in sedan chairs. That showed how classy they were.
Numerous irregular points of land jut out into the water around Scandinavia. The Norse of old called them "oddi." That's where we got the word "odd."
On July 5, 1054 A.D., the sky lit up most stunningly, and stayed that way, light enough to read at night, for about three months. A supernova had exploded. Historians say all the world's faiths in those few weeks picked up converts.
Greeks came up with the first textbooks. Credit Dionysius Thrax for grammar. Credit Euclid for geometry. Blame Diophantus for algebra.
Q: Which came first, the hotdog or the mustard?
A: Call it a dead heat. Sausage in a bun and prepared mustard each first showed up at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition. But those early comestibles, sausage and mustard seed, go back a whole lot further. As you might expect, to China.
What we now call a bedroom was known as a chamber a couple of centuries ago. A bedroom then was a little room off the kitchen with nothing in it but a cot.
"Slogan" started out as another name for a battle cry. Or a call to assemble. Scottish highlanders used the word that way. So did some Irish clansmen.
Franciscan monks in the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin wear cloaks with hoods that fall in a V over their foreheads. That's where the organ grinder monkey got its name Capuchin. Its hair falls over its forehead in a V like that.
Q: Where did we get the expression "to paint the town
A: One imaginative word tracer links it to ancient Rome, where students supposedly thought it high sport to get drunk in packs and douse marble statues with red wine. Maybe so. Maybe not.
If you want to serve an appetizer such as the old Romans served, try a tray of radishes with honey for the dip.
Mayan civilization lasted six times as long as the renowned Roman Empire.
Merchant seamen shut down work aboard ships by "striking" their sails — lowering them — and that's where labor's word "strike" came from.
The poor begged for alms. Lacking same, St. Doris of Lucca in 618 passed out violets. The poor stoned her.
Q: What were the first tame birds in the Western
A: Pigeons. Raised near the Mediterranean for food.
Women were the first to plant and decorate. So the deities of fertility and culture were goddesses, not gods.
Among those who staged the "Oberammergau Passion Play" in Bavaria, Germany, it was the tradition of almost four centuries for the actress who played the Virgin Mary to be a virgin. But they gave up on that. For some reason.
Q: Why are "flea markets" called that?
A: First of same was an old Paris institution with a name that translates "Market of the Fleas."
Asians founded all the world's major religions.
The Sumerians may not have been the first people in the world to brew beer, but they were the first to write about it. You recall those Sumerians, certainly. They invented eyebrow tweezers.
Q: What was the first grain?
A: Barley is the scholars' best guess.
"Nothing is said that has not been said before." The Greek-born Roman playwright Terence said that, but not first, evidently.
If it was what seafarers of yore called a "Quaker ship," it was unarmed.
Am told Arabic has 350 words for sword.
"Burg" meant city. "Lar" meant thief. So "burglar" meant "city thief."
Q: Why is Bermuda called that?
A: Because it was first reported back to Europe in the early 1500s by the adventurous Spaniard named Juan de Bermudez.
Ink is older than paper.
Q: Where were headquarters of Attila the Hun?
A: In what's now Hungary. He and his brother Bleda jointly inherited the Hunnish Kingdom. And historians say it was clear where Attila was going when he murdered Bleda to get full control.
You don't hear much about the great French surgeon Ambroise Pare. He was doing his best work about the time William Shakespeare was born. It was he who taught doctors to seal wounds by sewing them up instead of burning them with hot irons.
Chinese chopsticks are blunt, Japanese chopsticks pointed.
"Bells and motley" — no, not a law firm — is the traditional costume of the court jester.
The letter "X" began as a picture of a fish.
Q: How much did a pound of pepper cost in the England of
A: A week's day-labor wages.
Everybody knows the Dalmatian was once the preferred dog of the Gypsies along the Adriatic coast of Dalmatia. But nobody knows where the breed actually got started.
Ancient Egyptian farmers feared five crop destroyers: locusts, worms, mice, sparrows and hippopotamuses.
In China once it was forbidden to step on any piece of paper with writing on it.
How many islands in the British Isles? At least 5,500.
Q: You said the ancient Greeks were the big kissers. But
I've read the Romans had the kissingest culture...?
A: Romans took to it, sure enough. They chewed spices to enhance the experience. They popularized it locally and exported it all over. Another example of how old Rome commercialized Greek art.
Writing worried Plato. Thought it might discourage memory.
Q: Those workers who built the Great Wall of China, what
did they eat?
A: Sauerkraut and rice.
It's said, still, infidelity is extremely rare among gypsy women.
Q: When did kissing first turn up in recorded
A: About 4,000 years ago. In what's now India. Mentioned in a book called "Rig-Veda." From there it went west to Persia and on. The Greeks were particularly taken with it, historical footnotes indicate. Still are maybe, don't know. Check it out with Greeks of your acquaintance.
While playing golf in 1567, Mary Queen of Scots was informed that her husband, Lord Darnley, had been murdered. She finished the round.
Once more: The stirrup changed how men fought. The horse collar changed how men worked. Which was the more important invention?
In some but not all European places during the Middle Ages, it was required of midwives to extract and baptize any child whose mother died in childbirth.
Nothing new about decorative mirrors. They were particularly popular four centuries ago. To multiply the candlelight.
Q: How come Native Americans used to be called
"redskins"? Their skin isn't red.
A: Some early Algonquins mixed fat with berry juice and minerals to blend a vermilion makeup they fancied. That was why Europeans hung the redskin tag on them. It suited the popular prejudice of a long time, so stuck for a couple of centuries.
Sheep find poison ivy particularly tasty.
Among the most powerful men in French politics going into the 17th century, Duke d'Epernon made many enemies. One of same published a 500-page book titled "The Exploits of The Duke d'Epernon," wherein every page was blank.
Brides in early England recited wedding vows wherein they promised to be "buxom and bonny." Then, buxom meant "yielding" and "bonny" meant "attractive."
Richard the Lion-hearted prescribed these punishments for murderers: "Who kills a man on shipboard shall be bound to the dead body and thrown into the sea. If a man is killed on shore, the slayer shall be bound to the dead body and buried with it."
Only two parliaments — Iceland's and the Isle of Man's — are more than 1,000 years old.
Englanders of old thought facial markings on those furry little animals looked like badges of heraldry. So they called said animals "badgers."
The term "Inca" originally didn't mean the whole society, but the royal family who ruled the society.
Andronicus Livius, a Roman actor of the third century B.C., didn't have much of a speaking voice. He lost it entirely during a performance, improvised silently, and the audience liked him better that way. It was he who originated pantomime.
"Eclipse" comes from the Greek for "failure."
You knew "Goodbye" dates back to "God be with you." But you can see it better in the earlier spelling: "Goodbwye."
What teachers once labeled "penmanship" and you and I call "handwriting" is known in its highest form as "calligraphy," and whatever else it is, it's a breathing exercise. Masters of control and timing, calligraphers match each breath to the work of the moment, even as dancers and singers.
Lot of ancient Egypt's pet cats wore ear rings.
Q: If a sheet in sailor-talk is not a sail, what is
A: A line that holds the angle of the sail. That's where we got the phrase "three sheets to the wind" meaning "drunk." On the old ships, three lines loose in the breeze let the ship wallow.
Earliest known recipe was for beer.
Something else happened in 1492. Pope Innocent VIII was given the first blood transfusion of record.
Charlemagne, once the most powerful man in Europe, was illiterate. His name on documents was written by scribes. He drew a cross in it as his personal signature.
Q: Before sailors got hammocks, my dad says, they slept
upside down, hung with their knees bent over yardarms, like bats. Is that
A: Whimsical fellow, your dad. No, before Columbus picked up the hammock trick from New World inhabitants, Europe's sailors just curled up on decks amidst ship junk.
In old Scotland, seaport women of the night wore what the Scots called a "cutty sark." Dictionaries now define it as "short shirt." But back then it had special meaning. Such was what inspired the captain to name the world's fastest clipper ship — with its figurehead of a woman in scanty wrap — the Cutty Sark.
Q: What do you calla two-legged dragon with wings and a
A: A "wyvern" is what classicists call it. What I call it is what you called it.
In 12th-century England, Eleanor of Aquitaine, queen of King Henry II, moved from Nottingham to Tutbury Castle, saying she no longer could put up with "the unendurable smoke."
Most recently invented punctuation marks in English are quotation marks. They've only been around for about three centuries.
Monks in medieval abbeys didn't invent the craft of cheese making, but they perfected it. Had to, maybe. After they swore off meat. Cheese people know the "muenster" in muenster cheese is the name of the French town descended from "monastery."
Am advised chickens were domesticated before cats.
Any British prostitute who worked the docks was called a "docky" in the 16th century. That evolved to "ducky." When she lost her looks, she became a "lame duck." That appellation was then attached to borrowers who defaulted, and finally to politicians serving out their last terms. So says one phrase tracer.
If you like old houses, you might want to visit Ipswich, Mass. Claim is it has more 17th-century homes still standing than any other town in America.
Sparta banished all fat people from its city. Athens grew.
Seek pleasure. Avoid pain. So advised that philosophical Greek Epicurus. That convinced almost everybody he was smart. It's also true that Epicurus thought the sun was about 2 feet in diameter.
Any young man in search of a romantic partner ought to watch a parade. Our Love and War man didn't say that. Ovid did. In his "The Art of Love." He was of the opinion that parade-watching was a great way to meet girls.
Consider place-names such as "Westchester," "Lancaster" and "Worcester." The suffix syllables are drawn from the Latin for "camp." Roman legions left them all over England.
An anonymous student of humans wrote: "History repeats itself because nobody was listening the first time."
Consider the half-man half-horse centaurs of Greek mythology. Some historians think they were dreamed up by people astounded at their first sight of horseback riders. And when onlookers saw a man fall off his horse, it's believed, they thought one weird creature suddenly divided itself into two weird creatures.
An old Greek map drawn by Heratosthene in 2 B.C. showed three continents about equal size labeled Europe, Asia and Libya.
The trinity — three — is lucky. The trinity of trinities — nine — is even luckier. From that it came to be said the lucky cat has nine rather than some other number of lives.
Warrior chiefs in what's now England once picked out special-duty soldiers by tapping the toughest fighters on their helmets. Each so tapped was designated as a "William." That's where the name came from.
Q: What did the Irish of Ireland eat mostly before they
Ancient Rome had rent-a-chariot businesses.
Sir, if you don't like your haircut, you can always mention that "barber" and "barbarian" came from the same root.
In Soest, Germany, is a 15th century church with a stained glass window depicting the Last Supper. On the table are pumpernickel, Westphalian ham and beer.
The law of early England stipulated that a condemned lord could choose to be hanged with a silk rope.
Ancient Roman saws had bronze blades.
What are believed to be literature's first space aliens got here in 1751 — in Voltaire's "Micromegas."
Cabbage was thought to be a cure-all in ancient Rome. Taken by mouth. Rubbed on wounds. General attitude among slave masters was: If one cabbage treatment or another can't heal a sick or injured slave, get rid of the slave.
"Manhattan" came from Indian words meaning "high island," according to most authorities. But it's also a matter of record that Henry Hudson in 1609 gave brandy to Indians there. It knocked them cattywampus. The chief passed out. They renamed the place "Manahachtanienk" — "meaning "where everybody got drunk."
Chopped cabbage aged in rice wine was the first sauerkraut. Chinese builders of the Great Wall ate it. Tartars took it to Russia. Then sea merchants took it to Germany.
It was physicist Benjamin Thompson who in the late 1700s while experimenting with heat, invented baked Alaska.
"There is no genius without a mixture of madness," said Seneca the Younger.
Vikings colonized all of Sicily.
In women's clothing, one sort of costume has remained in style longer than any other: The sar of India has been popular for 5,000 years.
Early Arabs used petroleum seepage as a mange medicine for camels.
Aristotle believed men have more teeth than women.
The ancient Greek historian Herodotus claimed cotton trees grew little live sheep. These nibbled grass roundabout. Then died. Left nothing but their wool. This suggests why he became known as "The Father of History."
Go back to medieval Frenchmen who hunted with dogs. Their version of "Sic 'em!" was the cry "Hare!" Through twists in talk over the centuries, we got a word out of that: "harass."
Scholars examined mummies found in the Chilean Desert. Many had bone fractures — 20 percent of the males, 50 percent of the females. What the scientific detectives thought significant was the females' fractures mostly were in face and forearm. A horror story, clearly. Domestic violence of 7,000 years ago.
Q: How come Italy's Rome doesn't have a subway
A: Every time the denizens start to dig one — they've tried repeatedly — they run into "priceless archeological treasures" and quit.
It's recorded that women of old Italy put belladonna in their eyes to makes themselves appear more attractive. Researchers recently wanted to find out if it worked. So asked a sizable sampling of men to point to the best-looking of two photographs of a woman. In one, her eyes were dilated. They all picked that one.
Those who know all about ancient Greece say natural blondes thereabouts, imported or otherwise, dyed their hair black.
Q: What were the first standardized serially produced
items made by humans?
A: Printed pages.
"Royal purple" wasn't purple. It was sequined.
Why St. Vincent is the patron saint of wine I do not know. He never drank any.
Q: Wasn't it western writer Zane Grey who coined "bite
the dust" as a synonym for dying?
A: No, sir. Credit Homer. In "The Iliad."
All the Eskimo whalers at Greenland's Cape Horn make their harpoon blades from chips off the same chunk of iron — a 34-ton meteorite that fell there 10,000 years ago.
A rhino must be put together in some special way. It survives falls that kill other big beasts. Long falls. Over cliffs. Experienced African hands see it. Ahead, a 20- maybe 30-foot drop. The rhino charges aimlessly and — whoosh! — over it goes. Gets up. Trots off.
Anna Joralemon weighed 225 pounds. So? Nothing, except the record shows she gained the most weight after she opened her store in New York City in 1673. Anna was the first person known to make a business of selling doughnuts. She sold some, anyhow.
Q: What did you say happened to Sir Walter Raleigh's
A: Wound up embalmed in a red leather bag that hung from his widow's bedpost for the last 29 years of her life.
"Laura" is the feminine of "Lawrence." Client asks, Who got such names originally, and why? People who lived where laurel trees grew.
The original flag of pirates was plain red. Flag of ships carrying disease was the skull and crossbones. Pirates thought the disease emblem might scare off unwanted boarders so they took it for their own.
Q: Any reason why a clock's hands move clockwise instead
A: A sundial's shadow rotates clockwise in the northern hemisphere. European designers of the early mechanical clocks spun off that.
Item No. 614R in our Love and War man's file folder labeled "Beginner's Luck reads: "Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II had his own harem at age 10.
Prostitutes in 15th-century Venice were required by local rule to solicit business only by appearing bare-breasted at open windows — thus to distinguish themselves from the many women thereabouts in other lines of endeavor.
Pilgrims riding to Canterbury Cathedral distinguished themselves from other wayfarers by putting their horses into a special gait. The Canterbury. Later called the canter.
Native jugglers have been observed in so many separate places on earth that scholars have come to believe juggling is instinctive.
Q: Was divorce common in ancient Rome?
A: Among the upper classes, indeed. Seneca wrote, "...Distinguished ladies count their years...by the number of their husbands."
Best looking King of France ever was said to have been Francis the First. Women adored him. When the Italians tossed him into jail in 1525, an estimated 500 of his mistresses wept inconsolably. He brightened their spirits the next year by softly selling his way to freedom. Francis was smooth.
Some of the more fashionable Romans of old wore transparent togas.
Q: Why is sheep meat, once it's roasted, called mutton?
A: Anglo-Saxons herded the flocks. Their word was sheep. Normans banqueted on the meat. Their word was mutton.
Honor was never more idealized than in the tales of King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table. In reverence of piety, valor, loyalty, courtesy and gentleness toward women. Original book called "Morte d'Arthur" was written by Sir Thomas Malory, while in jail. He had been convicted of extortion, looting a monastery and two counts of rape.
The Vietnamese beat the daylights out of Kubla Kahn, too. In 1284.
Q: If a "fresco" isn't just another painting on a wall,
what is it?
A: Not just on the wall. In it. The word comes from the Italian for "fresh." Paint is applied while the plaster is wet. So plaster and paint meld and dry together.
Genius Relay: Same year Galileo died, Newton was born.
Q: What was the point of the hoop skirt?
A: It was invented to conceal the pregnancy of the French Empress Eugenie.
Peruvians in 1610 made mortar with the whites of 10,000 eggs instead of water. To stick together a structure that still stands — "The Bridge of Eggs."
Typical street dentist of 300 years ago sallied down the byways of Europe in the company of horn players and drum beaters. These musicians served dual purpose: To alert everybody the puller was at hand, and to drown out the cries of the pullees when the puller pulled.
Q: How many islands make up Greenland?
A: Nobody knows.
Trace back the word "butler" and you'll get "bottle bearer."
The illegitimate son of King Edward VII was Edward James. According to the historical footnotes, he had to walk on crutches because his toenails were 10 inches long.
Another thing that makes the ruling dynasty of Japan unique is it has no name.
Q: How long did the real Robinson Crusoe live on that
A: Alexander Selkirk? Nine years. In 1703, the old pirate got mad at his ship's master, one Capt. William Dampier, and jumped overboard. Slept that night on the beach. Next morning he hailed the ship, but the captain just laughed at him and set sail. It was the same Capt. Dampier who saw Selkirk's campfire smoke nine years later and sent a boat ashore. Selkirk was still mad. Madder. Took two days to talk him into going aboard.
The Laws of the Twelve Tables in ancient Rome — dating from about 450 B.C. — permitted a father to imprison his children, chain them, whip them, sell them into slavery, or kill them. Not just when they were young. Even after they grew up. Even after they went into politics. Even after they attained high office. Nowhere else in western history has there been anything quite like that patriarchal system.
Odds are the precious rubies and sapphires you see in the jeweler's window have been heat treated to fix their clarity and color. No recent artificial trick, this. Pliny the Elder wrote of it in ancient Rome. Records noted it a dozen centuries ago in what's now Sri Lanka. Controlled heat brings out the best in such stones.
The Chinese didn't start out with tea, rice and soybeans. Imports, all.
Q: Wasn't Paris once the world's biggest city?
A: Once is right. For a year only — in 1684.
Many 17th-century Londoners objected mightily to umbrellas. Wanted them outlawed. The historical footnotes say they were serious in their stated belief that "the purpose of rain is to make people wet."
You go through lands of seven languages when you float from source to mouth of the Danube River.
The Palace of Versailles was built without any toilets. None. Likewise the Louvre.
Q: Why is that tableware called "China"?
A: Chinese of the power class started dining off translucent porcelain plates 900 years before Europeans figured out how to make such.
Many Scandinavian campers carry potatoes. They boil them at campsites, and with whatever other comestibles they may elect to tote in pocket packs, that's the meal. So easy. No ice chest. One pot to wash. Scandinavians simplify.
That bull ring cheer "Ole" originated as the shout of the devout, "Allah!"
Q: What was going on in the New World when Columbus
first sailed in 1492?
A: The Inca Empire extended from what's now southern Colombia to central Chile. Columbus didn't get that far. He certainly didn't think of his whereabouts as "the New World." Neither did the Incas.
Nik'ure, son of an Egyptian pharaoh, died in 2601 B.C., leaving the oldest known last will and testament. He bequeathed his wealth to his wife, three children and to an "other woman" not now identifiable. Clearly, the "other woman" — even as the last will itself — is a social phenomenon of ancient origin.
Q: If Saint Joan of Arc was not French, as I've read,
then what was she?
A: She was born in 1412 in Domremy, then an autonomous state outside the control of the French monarchy. But it's not thought to be significant.
Ancient Egyptians made room in their mythology for a god named Sia whose only chore was to protect the genitals of the dead.
Q: What's the "henge" in Stonehenge mean?
A: It alludes to "something hanging" or "something in suspense," according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Some archaeologists think the mysterious stone construction in England started out as a cattle corral, then turned into a ritual butchering ground. Others believe it was a judgement court for pagan trials. Most say nobody really knows.
What would you do without the letters j, k, q, v, x and z? The Welsh get by without them.
Many Greeks of old drank too much. So thought some who didn't. They invented a jug with such a small opening it took six hours to fill. But the device was about as successful as Prohibition.
Labor doesn't strike these days for what it used to strike for. Take the laborers who built the Great Pyramid of Cheops in ancient Egypt. They struck to get a daily ration of garlic.
Q: What's "jus primae noctis"?
A: A medieval tradition throughout Europe which held that any manor lord had the right within his domain to sleep first with any bride on her wedding night.
The marble floors of the palace at Versailles were renowned. But so was King Louis XIV. During a cold snap, he had them covered with wood parquet to keep his feet warm.
Q: What's "Van" signify as the prefix to a Dutch
A: The original so-named ancestor owned land.
Any pirate could tell you that the "main" in "Spanish main" alludes to South America's mainland.
Q: What's the oldest known offensive weapon?
A: A broken wooden spear estimated to have been shaped earlier than 200,000 B.C., before radiocarbon dating limits. It was found in April 1911 at Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, England.
Native Americans also made arrowheads out of the front teeth of beaver.
Q: Why is New York City referred to as
A: An allusion to Gotham, England. Legend suggests outsiders thought the Gotham folk dimwitted. But insiders said the clever Gotham locals merely pretended to be fools to discourage costly royal visits.
Which person is likely to be the most famous—the one who's first or the one who's last? Not so fast . . . . Egbert was England's first royal monarch. Will he live on in history as long as England's last, if ever such there be?
A black-footed ferret will eat a prairie dog, fur, bones and all, except the paws.
An algebra scholar named Robert Record of England's Oxford created the equal (=) sign in 1557. He said he chose that particular symbol because "no two things can be more equal than two parallel straight lines."
Q: Why did the ancient Greeks use mollusk shells as
A: Because their votes scratched thereon couldn't be erased.
It was in the 1490s — the decade of the Columbus sailings — that a professional pig gelder named Jakob Nufer performed the first successful Caesarean operation of record on a living woman. In Switzerland, it was.
"Three Blind Mice" was published in London in 1609. Can you refute the contention it was the first non-religious song ever printed? I cannot.
Q: Why did Cleopatra dissolve her pearls in
A: She bet Marc Antony she could drink 10 million sisteria — maybe $500,000 — worth of wine at one sitting. He bit. She dropped two pearls, supposedly her bet's worth, into her cup, waited however long, then drank the contents to win. Or so goes the story.
In sports lingo, the camper has "gear." The bowhunter has "tackle." The muzzle loader has "paraphernalia."
Q: How come "tortilla" means omelet in Spain but
cornmeal flatbread in Mexico?
A: Spanish explorers knew all about hens' eggs, but nothing about corn. The Aztecs knew all about corn, but nothing about hens' eggs. Explorers adopted the locals' food, and the locals adopted the explorers' word.
Far forerunner of the ordinary necktie was the "chin cloth," popularized by orators of old Rome. They feared loss of voice. Thought they needed something to protect their throats. What they started — men's neckwear fashion — has stuck.
Q: Isn't garlic an antibiotic?
A: You can say that. First sulfur compound formed when you crush a garlic clove is allicin, an antibiotic said to attack about two dozen sorts of bacteria plus numerous fungi. So say the experts.
History records that the notable Roman Cicero was an avid autograph collector.
Rain storms in ancient Germany washed over old ruins. They exposed curious gold coins. These, from before Roman times. The coins were called "rainbow plates." They were what led to the "pot of gold at the end of the rainbow" fancy.
What's not always explained in tales of medieval knighthood was just how chivalry worked. A knight was only supposed to be chivalrous to women of his own class. What he did with the peasant girls didn't count. And he did a lot that didn't count.
In the 14th century, believers thought mild-mannered people who chewed catnip would become violent. So it became the custom for the royal hangmen to take a bite or two of it before going to work.
French for "sour wine" is "vin aigre," whence: "vinegar."
Item No. 1729C in our Love and War man's file is the recorded advice of experienced wives to unmarried girls in 15th century England: "Does he clink his coins with glee? Pass him by. Misers make unholy lovers."
Q: Oxen wear neck yokes. But horses, I've read, do
better with broad-breast collars. What's the advantage?
A: The horse collar doesn't press against the windpipe. That quadruples a horse's efficiency. Handlers of draft animals figured that out in the 10th century, and it was the technological marvel of the age.
The "stable" in "constable" suggests the first constables had something to do with stables. Quite so. The original constable was a stable boy. The "mar" in "marshal" suggests the first marshals had something to do with mares. Quite so. The original marshals likewise tended horses.
Why all the mythical dragons are portrayed in art with eagles' claws I do not know.
According to the historical footnotes, the most widely flown battle flag in Europe during the Middle Ages was a windsock, shaped like a dragon, with a whistle in it. In a fair breeze, it twisted, turned and screamed. Scary.
In 1639, the Connecticut Colony adopted what's said to have been the world's first written constitution. It was called "The Fundamental Orders." Relatively late in human history, that. Curious, is it not, that it took people so long? I mean to get enough control? To get comprehensive coded definition in government? In writing?
Q: A TV show about English says women saved the language
from extinction. How?
A: When William the Conqueror from France's Normandy invaded England in 1066, he decreed French the official language. His troops, however, married local girls, and they taught the children not French but English.
Chevrons, those insignia that look like roof rafters, originally represented roof rafters, in fact. They noted in ancient heraldry that the bearer had done something significant, had built a house maybe, and had founded a family.
Q: Is it true the Mongols put their children on horses
as soon as their toddlers could walk?
A: Not quite. They put them on goats. To train them for horses. Or so say the archives examiners.
A full set of armor is called a "panoply." So is a porcupine's quill coat.
King Matthias I of Hungary in the 15th century ordered every 20 houses to provide his fighting force with one horse soldier. In Hungarian, "husz" means 20. So such a conscripted light cavalryman came to be known as a "one in 20" — a Hussar.
Researchers with recording gear have determined that most sheep go "M-a-a" rather than "B-a-a."
Q: Where'd we get the expression "to wear your heart on
A: From the armored knights who rode into combat with their ladies' scarves on their arms.
Michelangelo never got around to completing two-thirds of his sculptures.
Q: Something old, something new, something borrowed,
something blue . . . . Why blue?
A: An allusion to biblical times when blue symbolized purity, and both brides and grooms wore blue bands around the bottoms of their wedding clothing.
"The anger of lovers renews the strength of love." Credit Publilius Syrus. He wrote such balmy lines for Julius Caesar to quote to the lovers he abused.
Those who lived on England's Isle of Ely honored St. Audry with an annual festival. Cheap lace necklets sold there were so poorly made they gave a new common meaning to St. Audry's nickname: "tawdry."
China's archives indicate Tang Dynasty officials in the seventh century elected to declare their status by wearing embroidered goldfish badges.
Ancient healers dried plants to make medicines. That clarifies why our word "drug" comes from a Middle Dutch word meaning "to dry."
One sort of military equipment or weapon or whatever you want to call it was more important than any other for 6,000 years — the horse.
It is a scientific fact that if you spray yourself all over with garlic oil, the mosquitoes will leave you alone, too.
A retiree quotes this old Italian proverb: "Once the game is over, the king and the pawn go back into the same box."
Winemaking once pretty much belonged to the church. But the cork let makers age wine in small quantities, and ship it. Everybody could get into wine, and did. One historian says nothing more imposing than the little cork cost the church its exclusive franchise.
The word "business" comes from Anglo-Saxon syllables of similar sound meaning "active," "worry" or "fatigue."
From Scotland's County of Moray spread countless folk whose progeny you now may know by the surname of Murray.
Artists in the Middle Ages painted pictures — friezes — on outside walls between the floor and roof of buildings, and also in those spaces between the levels. Each frieze illustrated some sort of narrative. That's how "story" got to be a word in architecture. Two-story buildings, three story buildings, so on.