Rumkin Trivia
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Origins

  • 2008-07-13: Cellophane was created by Jaques Bradenburger, a Swiss chemist. It is actually created from plant fibers instead of a form of plastic. In 1908, he was trying to create a stain-proof tablecloth and succeeded at making this material. Sadly, his invention did not take off until refrigeration and current-day food preparation.
  • 2008-07-13: The zipper was designed by Gideon Sundback in 1913 and patented in 1917. It was successfully commercialized in 1921, when the B.F. Goodrich company released their new overshoes with these "hookless fasteners." The brand of the shoes were called the zipper, as deigned by Mr. Goodrich himself.
  • 2008-07-13: The "kitchen witch" is a good luck charm, typically clothed in a bright apron and babushka. It has been present in Scandinavian households for centuries. These little totems are believed that they will help prepare meals and prevent a real witch from invading the household because, according to lore, witches will not encroach on each other's territory.
  • 2008-07-13: Dixie cups were created by Hugh Morre to help avoid transmission of diseases. At the time, Americans would drink water from barrels with a communal tin sipper. People did not want to pay 1¢ per cup, but the product was soon used as a 2½ ounce ice cream cup.
  • 2008-07-13: Carnation Instant Breakfast was first in the low-calorie sections of supermarkets, but it was not successful. The manufacturer moved it to the cereal section instead of discontinuing it, and has enjoyed success ever since.
  • 2008-07-13: Mount Rushmore gets its name from a New York attorney who was one of the first contributors. It took 14 years and cost nearly $1 million to construct.
  • 2008-07-13: Mount Rushmore was originally planned to have the western cowboys John Colter, Jim Bridger, and Kit Carsen instead of the presidents. The commissioned artist insisted on using more prominent figures, which is how we now have presidents on the face of a mountain.
  • 2008-07-03: Listerine first appeared in 1880, and was named after Dr. Joseph Lister, a British doctor who pioneered sanitary operating room procedure. Dr. Lister's findings were just starting to be taken seriously even though his findings were published twenty years earlier.
  • 2008-07-03: UPS was started by Jem Casey and Claude Ryan in 1907. They thought the U.S. Postal System was too slow. They created the American Messenger Company, whose name later changed to UPS.
  • 2008-07-03: The Proctor and Gamble logo has gone through a few revisions. They wanted a recognizable symbol that even illiterates could find, so they had a cross in the middle of a circle. Later it was changed to 13 stars to represent the first 13 U.S. states. After that, a quarter moon was eventually added to the logo.
  • 2007-11-28: The male symbol (♂) originally was based on a spear and shield representing the Greek god of war, not a phallic symbol.
  • 2007-11-28: A stagecoach gets it name from the length of the journeys it would take. Sometimes it would have to travel for days or even weeks and the trip was completed in stages.
  • 2007-11-28: People at funerals wear black out of a tradition that came from primitive times. At those funerals, people would paint their bodies as a disguise so that the deceased spirit would not re-enter the world through one of the mourners.
  • 2006-10-23: The WD-40 spray got its name because it took forty attempts to make the water displacing substance.
  • 2006-07-05: Wheaties were invented in 1921 by accident. A health clinician in Minneapolis was mixing a batch of bran gruel and splashed some onto a nearby hot grill. He chipped off the flakes and discovered that baking the mixture greatly improved the taste.
  • 2006-05-27: The peace symbol comes from the combination of the letters N and D, taken from the alphabet used in international flags and symbols. N is an arrow pointing up, D is a straight vertical line.
  • 2006-05-27: Women's "beauty marks" originally came from people hiding scars due to smallpox. Black silk would be worn over the face to hide the effects of the disease. As the vaccine made smallpox more scarce, women started to use small pencil marks to hide their scars. Even after the disease's effects disappeared, women continued to use the pencil marks to accentuate their features and for individuality.
  • 2006-05-27: The first sandwich was prepared for James Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich. He was gambling for 24 hours and suddenly found himself famished. He did not want to leave his lucky streak, so he asked his servant to prepare a meal he could eat with one hand while continuing to gamble with the other.
  • 2006-05-25: The basis of the phrase, "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey," comes from the navy. In the days of Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson, cannon balls on a ship were piled in pyramids on metal trays called monkeys. When it got cold enough, the tray would contract and the cannon balls would fall into disarray.
  • 2006-05-25: Sir Thomas Crapper was knighted by Queen Victoria for introducing the "valve and siphon" adaptation to the 1500 year old design of the toilet, allowing it to flush.
  • 2006-05-25: The phrase, "in the lap of the gods" is believed to come from the pagan practice of placing wax tablets with prayers and invocations on the knees of religious statues.
  • 2006-05-24: "Ring Around the Rosie" was written about the bubonic plague that infected London in 1664 and 1665. The initial symptom was a round, rosy rash on the skin. People thought that flowers and herbs, if carried with you, would protect you from the Black Death. Terminally infected individuals would often sneeze just before they collapsed and died.
  • 2006-05-24: Hangings in England usually occurred on Friday the 13th. The gallows had 13 steps, the executioner was paid 13 pence, the rope was 13 feet long, and the noose had 13 turns.
  • 2006-05-24: The Red Cross was established by the Geneva Convention of 1864. Its flag was based on Switzerland's, due to their historically neutral position.
  • 2006-05-23: The first frisbee was when Yale University students played catch with a local bakery's pie plates. The local bakery's name was Frisbee.
  • 2006-05-23: "Acid test" referred to when peddlers in early America made money by buying old gold and trinkets. Separating brass from precious metals was easy, but it was hard to tell how much gold was available. A small groove would be filed and then it would be touched with nitric acid. The colored reaction from the acid would give a reasonably accurate reading of the gold content of the item.
  • 2006-05-23: The nursery rhyme "London Bridge Is Falling Down" is based on superstition. It was believed that the water gods viewed bridges as unnatural and all structural problems with bridges were attributed to the water gods. The child's game started with two children joining their outstreched hands and other children would pass beneath. When the song ended, the two would collapse their arms and catch their fleeing victims.
  • 2006-05-20: The first coffins were woven out of plaited twigs and were built out of fear of the dead.
  • 2006-05-20: The first person to have buttons on men's jacket sleeves was Frederick the Great of Prussia because he didn't like seeing his soldiers wipe their noses on their sleeves.
  • 2006-05-20: A while back, horses outnumbered humans in North America. Horses were used for ploughing, stump removal, and other heavy tasks. A well-off family would also have a pair of buggy horses and riding horses for the family. A small-scale operation would come to be known as a "one-horse affair."
  • 2006-05-19: The first cocktails were served during the Americna Revolution. A barmaid decided to garnish drinks with tail feathers of a chicken that was "liberated" from a British sympathizer. A drunken French officer said this mixture of French and English: "Vive le coq's tail."
  • 2006-05-19: Boxing Day started in English churches. People brought gifts to church and left them as contributions. On Boxing Day, these gifts were given to people who had rendered small services without pay.
  • 2006-05-19: Back in the days of wooden ships, women were allowed to live on board and sometimes they would have a sexual encounter, typically behind a canvas screen near the midship gun. If the child was a boy and the father uncertain, the baby would be entered in the ship's log as a "Son of a gun."
  • 2006-05-18: "Eeny-meeny-miny-mo" comes from ancient Druidic ceremonies where they chose a sacrificial victim.
  • 2006-05-18: One who reads a lot is sometimes called a "bookworm," due to how they are "consuming" books. However, you can actually find larvae of insects eating the paste of book bindings in old, dusty libraries.
  • 2006-05-18: In the mid-nineteenth century, the pigeon was considered a rare delicacy and was captured instead of shot, in order to preserve the meat. To help capture this bird, the hunter would use another spigeon as a live decoy, which was fastened to a chair where the hunter would wait. Today, a "stool pigeon" means one who is a decoy or informer.
  • 2006-05-17: John Dennis created a good approximation of thunder as a sound effect for one of his failed plays, Appius and Virginia. After its premature cancellation, he attended Macbeth at the same theater and heard his thunder sound effect. He stood up and shouted, "They're stealing my thunder!" which is how the phrase came to be.
  • 2006-05-17: The phrase, "get down to brass tacks," comes from buying fabric. Before things had prices labeled, the consumer would have to inquire and haggle about an article's cost. Once an agreement was reached, the material would be measured using metal tacks in the edge of the counter.
  • 2006-05-17: In the 17th century, bloodhounds were used to track criminals. The fugitives soon figured out that they could throw off the hounds by dragging a cured fish across their tracks, which is the origin of the phrase, "red herring."
  • 2006-05-16: Uppercase and lowercase letters get their names from the days of typesetting. The capital letters were stored in the top part of the case or the top case and the small letters were in the lower one.
  • 2006-05-16: Motorola gets its name from Victrola. At that time, Victrola made the first known record player, and Motorola's first product it started to design was an automobile record player.
  • 2006-05-16: When you call someone a "stuffed shirt," the phrase comes from the 1800's. Mannequins were not available yet, so tailors would make window displays of their shirts, stuffed with tissue paper.
  • 2006-05-16: In the past, if women were in short supply, one would be kidnapped brom another Germanic Goth community. The bride's family might not like what happened, and it was the best man's job to ensure the groom would be able to keep the lady.
  • 2006-05-16: John Hancock was the president of the Continental Congress in 1776 and signed his name so large so King George III of England would be able to read it without his spectacles.
  • 2006-05-02: The red dot and the 'Spot' character for the soda pop 7-up comes from its inventor. He was an albino and had red eyes.
  • 2005-12-30: The term, cliché, comes from typesetters. They used to pour molten lead to make typeset. When the die contacted the hardening lead, a click could be heard. The French word for click initially stood for the piece of type and eventually it meant the entire bar or line of type. A printer was known to save a good "turn of phrase" for future use. However, frugal and lazy printers found the phrases so easy to use that they lost their impact and freshness.
  • 2005-12-30: In 1880, the Earl of Earne's land agent, Captain Charles Boycott, attempted to raise rents once again. The Irish Land League, a coalition of poor tenant share croppers, not only refused to pay the additional rent, they also refused to have any further dealings with this particular agent. After successfully running him out of the territory, his surname came to mean any refusal to do business with someone or something. This is how we get today's word of "boycott."
  • 2005-12-30: Father's Day was first envisioned by Sonora Smart during a church sermon. She proposed it in 1910, in Spokane, Washington. It was quickly received by ministries and soon became a tradition observed by churchgoers. In 1972, President Nixon gave this Father's Day official recognition.
  • 2005-12-30: A sawbuck once referred to any paper currency, but now is generally associated with the $10 bill. Some say that the $10 bill was called a sawbuck because the Roman numeral X looks like the crossbars of an old carpenter's saw.
  • 2005-12-29: When you "shell out" some cash for something, that phrase comes from colonial America. Minted money was scarce and anything of value was used in trade or barter instead. For early America, the common medium of value was Indian corn. Farmers would generally leave the corn on the husk until they needed to pay for something, and then the family would husk the corn from the cob, which is also known as shelling the corn.
  • 2005-12-29: Josiah Wedgewood was born in 1730 to a long line of Staffordshire potters. In the 1760's, he altered the family's formulas for pottery and perfected a technique to uniformly mass-produce colored earthenware. Today, this type of dish is called Wedgewood China.
  • 2005-12-28: The bobby pin was named after a 1920's hairstyle that required it.
  • 2005-12-28: John Duns Scotus was a medieval Scottish theologian and philosopher that combined Christianity and Greek philosophy in his doctrines. At age 15, he was already well known for his superior intellect, but his teachings were soon challenged and he lost momentum. Anyone who continued to follow him was considered stupid and backward. Scotus's name was the origin of "dunce," used to describe dimwitted individuals.
  • 2005-12-28: The disciple Thomas doubted that Jesus came back. "I won't believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands – and put my fingers into them – and place my hands into his side. He was the first person to be called a "doubting Thomas."

    Also, it was said that Peter would deny Jesus three times, which did happen. From this, we get "to Peter out," or something that showed promise that is now fading away and amounts to very little.
  • 2005-12-28: As late as the 18th century, dyed calfskin books were rare and reserved for official records. The town clerk would write the names of the convicted into these books, which saddled them with a tarnished reputation. It became customary to refer to those individuals as "blacklisted" or in someone's "black book."
  • 2005-12-28: The star named Sirius, also known as the Dog Star, is bright and rises high in the sky in late August. This week of the hottest weather in the summer is named the Dog Days after the star.
  • 2005-12-28: Various levels of social strata in Britain were once referred to as an estate. The three were commoners, church, and nobility. In the late 1800's, the press was so influential that they were named as the "Fourth Estate."
  • 2005-12-27: A road atlas is named after the Greek god Atlas. A group of gods known as the Titans waged war upon Zeus, the most powerful of the gods. The Titans were all defeated, and Zeus gave Atlas the job of forever holding the Earth on his shoulders.
  • 2005-12-27: Sir Robert Peel organized the first modern police force and wanted his men to be uniformly dressed. The uniform was navy blue with copper buttons and badges. Because the buttons were copper, the police were nicknamed "Coppers."
  • 2005-12-27: The Native American Indians were mistakenly named by Christopher Columbus because he believed that he landed in India.
  • 2005-12-27: Samuel Clemens was a pilot on the Mississippi riverboat from 1859 to 1861. At that time, a leadsman stood at the boat's bow with a weighted twine to call out the depth while navigating shallow waters. A typical sounding would say, "Mark on the twine, four fathoms!" It sounded different with a southern drawl, and that's how Clemens came up with his pen name, Mark Twain.
  • 2005-12-27: In the 13th century, archery was the sport of choice. Every good archer had several bow strings. The favorite bow string was called the "first string," and that phrase now means the best a sports team has to offer.
  • 2005-12-27: When a craftsman used to borrow money and then was unable to pay it, the creditors were known to break their stone work table and whatever other tools he required in his trade. This is how "stone broke" was first used to describe poor people.
  • 2005-12-27: Earmuffs were created by Chester Greenwood of Farmington, Maine, when he was 15 years old. He used some wire, a spring, and some of his grandmother's cloth for the first working version. Three years later, Greenwood obtained a patent and manufactured them on a large scale. To this day, Farmington, Maine, celebrates Chester Greenwood day on the first day of winter.
  • 2005-12-16: Lemons are typically served with fish because at one point, it was thought that lemon juice would aid in dissolving fish bones and help prevent choking.
  • 2005-12-16: Before whistles were made of plastic or metal, they were carved from wood. If the inside was not hollowed out properly, the pea inside would not fly freely and the whistle wouldn't whistle. The exactitude of which one cleaned the insides lent itself to the phrase, "clean as a whistle."
  • 2005-12-16: When one originally would "bring home the bacon," they won a pig at a country fair. A greased pig would be released, and the one person who caught it could keep it.
  • 2005-12-16: When a rider loses their reins and their horse can run out of control. This is how the phrase, "out of hand" was started.
  • 2005-12-16: In medieval Europe, people with money were surrounded by an entourage. When they entered a new town, the crew would herald their arrival to clear a path down the narrow streets. Vendors and street salespeople would usually beat a drum. Often, the merchandise wasn't worth the attention, starting the saying, "to blow one's own horn."
  • 2005-12-16: Before the violin, orchestras consisted mainly of harpsichords, lyres, lutes, and flutes. When the violin was adopted, both first and second arrangements were added. Soon after, the fiddle became popular at local dances and parties. Playing backup in a symphony was one thing, but few liked being backup at a country hoedown. This is how "to play second fiddle" was started.
  • 2005-12-15: The chef's hat was designed to facilitate air circulation in a hot work environment. It was also suggested that Maria Antoine Carême decreed two hundred years ago that a cardboard band be inserted into the hat to give cooks added height, grace, and respect.
  • 2005-12-15: All Catholic communion services were held in Latin long ago. The priest would hold up bread and say, "Hoc est corpus filii," which means, "This is the body of the Son." The catholic religion says the bread is transformed into the body of Christ, which is the doctrine known as transubstantiation. Other religions and non-believers say it is "hocus pocus," which is a distorted form of the Latin phrase said by the priest.
  • 2005-12-15: The saying, "to pull one's leg" comes from thieves. In the past, a common ploy by muggers would have a tripper-up use a piece of wire, rope, or cane and trip or pull the victim to the ground. The rest of the gang would grab any valuables.
  • 2005-12-15: The phrase, "a flash in the pan," comes from early firearms. Flintlock muskets were finicky beasts. A shallow pan would hold a thin line of gunpowder, which led from the flint to the charge. If the powder was broken or damp, the gun would not fire properly – the gunpowder would flash, but nothing more would happen.
  • 2005-12-14: "Mumbo jumbo" comes from a West African tribal priest, Ma-ma-dyumbo, who could perform great feats of magic. A scare tactic used by the tribesmen to discipline their wives would be to hire a friend to dress up and act like the magical priest.
  • 2005-12-14: The blue jay was a novel bird to U.S. settlers that withdrew to more desolate areas as cities sprang up. In the mid-19th century, a "jay" referred to a county person in the city. These simple folk were completely ignorant of local law and would walk across the street wherever it suited them. This is how we get the term, "jay walker."
  • 2005-12-14: Eggs Benedict was first made by Oscar Tschirky at the Waldorf-Astoria as a hangover cure for one of his customers. He arranged the ingredients, covered it with hollandaise sauce, and named it after the man with the hangover.
  • 2005-12-14: The firing of guns at funerals, which is still practiced at military funerals, started as an attempt to frighten away evil spirits.
  • 2005-12-14: People started placing flowers on graves because it was believed that the buried individual could only enter heaven if they were truly respected on earth. As proof to God, the living paid their respects with flowers.
  • 2005-12-14: Many years ago, workers would carry their tools in a burlap bag, which was left at the job site until the work was done. Should they be fired, they would get their bag and leave. This was how the phrase "got the sack" started.
  • 2005-12-13: Referring to someone as "a real ham" or "hamming it up" stems from early actors. When makeup was first used, it was a crude, thick substance that dried out the skin, making it difficult to convey facial expressions to the audience. They found that if you apply a base coat of pig fat, it kept the makeup and face supple.
  • 2005-12-13: When you are "in cahoots" with someone, it stems from thieves that lived near in and near the Black Forest in Germany. During medieval times, these bandits lived in ramshackle huts known as "kajutes."
  • 2005-12-12: All acting in early theatres was done by men (even Juliet in Romeo & Juliet). Since men played female roles, they also wore dresses, which would drag behind them like a train when they walked across the stage. They soon acquired the name, "drag queen."
  • 2005-12-12: To "high tail it" comes from wild horses and deer, which would raise their tails when startled and then run away.
  • 2005-12-09: The "bitter end" first referred to when an anchor wouldn't catch to hold a ship. The anchor cable, or bitter, was nailed to an axle known as a bitt. If the bitter was too short, the anchor would not hold on the sea bottom and the ship would drift. The anchor was said to be at the bitter end.
  • 2005-12-09: North and South America were named after Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian navigator. Vespucci boasted about his voyages to far-off lands in the 1400's, but many historians doubt that he was telling the truth. Either way, a young map maker named the Americas in Vespucci's honor.
  • 2005-12-09: When a ship gets stuck on a sand bar or reef, often the only cure is to wait for a high tide. Unless they can get a tow, they will wait patiently for several hours. This is the basis of the phrase, "tide over."
  • 2005-12-09: Originally, to "know the ropes" meant that a sailor was experienced. At one point, the Royal Navy had a shortage of experienced sailors. Criminals were recruited for the job, and they had no previous knowledge of sailing vessels with its complex riggings and many ropes. It usually took them several months before they would know their way around.
  • 2005-12-08: When you refer to something as "first rate," you mean it is the best. The saying comes from naval vessels, where the class was determined by the number and weight of the mounted guns. The mightiest ship afloat was known as "first rate."
  • 2005-12-08: In the past, large sailing ships required many ropes. Captains liked everything neat, so to occupy the sailor's time on voyages, he had the ropes mended and bound. When hands were idle, sailors became nervous and troublesome and were described as being "at loose ends."
  • 2005-12-08: Early Romans thought the left side was erratic because it was ruled by the heart, and the right side was rational. Later, everyone had two spirits; the good on the right, the bad on the left. When entering a building, one used their right leg to insure that only the kind spirit entered. This started the saying, "to put one's best foot forward."
  • 2005-12-07: The first "slush fund" was with sailors. Cooked pork produced large amounts of grease, which the cooks kept in large vats. It was used as a lubricant around the ship, and often was sold when the ship made port in order to buy small luxuries for the ship's enlisted men.
  • 2005-12-07: When one feels "under the weather," point out that the saying comes from sailors. When somebody felt ill, they would go below deck. It usually didn't help with the seasickness, but people tried anyway. The saying stems from the main deck being called "the weather," so when people retreated below, they were under the weather.
  • 2005-12-07: 16th century sailors wore tattoos for identification, since they did not use dental records at that time, and drowned bodies can look very different from when they were alive.
  • 2005-12-07: Large sailing ships of the 16th and 17th centuries employed many ropes to handle the sails. If any rope broke, it had to be replaced or repaired. Repairing the rope was easier and far cheaper, and it required that the two ends be stretched and spliced. This started the phrase, "making ends meet."
  • 2005-12-05: Long ago, scores in competitive events were counted by notching marks ("nicks") on wooden sticks called "tallies." A team that scored a winning point in the last moments of the game was said to score "in the nick of time."
  • 2005-12-05: The game of checkers was discovered in Egyptian tombs. Originally known as alquerque, it was adopted by the upper-class Greeks and Romans. The name was changed to reflect its checkered board.
  • 2005-12-05: In the 15th century, games of chance were started by throwing a stick to a man, who grasped it with one hand. The next man would place his hand just above the first. They would continue alternating until there was no room left on the stick. The winner was the last hand to grasp a portion of the stick. This led to the phrase, "to get the upper hand."
  • 2005-12-05: The first people "to take the cake" were dancers. African Americans would enter a dance competition called the cake walk. The best and most imaginative dancer would get the prize, the first slice of cake.
  • 2005-12-01: To "start the ball rolling" comes from the advantage the first player has in croquet, where it is possible for the first player to reach the goal without letting any others play.
  • 2005-12-01: Parcheesi comes from Akbar the Great. Akbar wa a 16th century ruler in India. He loved games, women, and his gardens. He combined them all into this game where the women were pawns and his gardens were the playing ground.
  • 2005-12-01: The phrase, "knuckle down," comes from the game of marbles in the 16th century. Dutch artisans discovered how to make marbles inexpensively by baking balls of clay. Marbles was played in a 10 foot diameter circle (3 m) and 13 marbles were placed in a cross at the center. The shooter rested a marble between the thumb and index finger, with his knuckles held firmly on the ground.
  • 2005-12-01: Chess is believed to come from India. "Checkmate" comes from the Persian phrase, "al shah mat," which means "the king is dead."
  • 2005-11-29: The word "handicap" comes from an Old English wagering game. Players would ante up by depositing their wager in a hat or cap. A player who usually contributed to the hat but seldom withdrew was referred to as "being at a distinct disadvantage."
  • 2005-11-29: To win "hands down" comes from horse racing. A jockey with a long lead could relax his hold on the reins and let his hands drop.
  • 2005-11-29: Baseball players often use imaginary lines to divide the outfield into "alleys." A perfect hit or a spectacular defensive play that happened in one of these imaginary zones would be called "up his alley."
  • 2005-11-28: When someone says that they will "eat my hat," point out that the phrase started from an Old English recipe called hatte, which was made from eggs, veal, dates, saffron, salt, tongue, honey, rosemary, kidney, cinnamon, and fat.
  • 2005-11-28: Russian soldiers occupied Paris in 1814, and demanded immediate service in French restaurants. They shouted out "Hurry! Hurry!" in their mother tongue ("Bystro! Bystro!"). This was ironically adopted by the French to describe a particular style of restaurant, the Bistro.
  • 2005-11-28: Most dishes in medieval Europe were stews. Meats were thrown in whole and boiled for hours. Fish and animal bones naturally separated and required caution when eating. In 1450, a person making objections of any sort were commonly accused of "finding bones." Someone with an agreeable attitude was said "to make no bones about it."
  • 2005-11-28: A buckhorn knife or marker would indicate the dealer's place when playing poker. When the deal changed hands, the knife or marker was passed along. This started the phrase, to "pass the buck."
  • 2005-11-28: McCoy was the best bare knuckle fighter in the late 1800's. Since this was before television and widely circulated magazines, other boxers were cashing in on his popularity by also billing themselves as McCoy. The original noticed this and started to call himself the "Real McCoy."
  • 2005-11-23: A long time ago, meat pie prepared by the lower class would contain the less-choice pieces (like today's hot dogs). The upper class had far better contents. When eating a lower-class person's pie, one would need to do it with humility, and so started the phrase, "eating humble pie."
  • 2005-11-18: When sheep were cut while being shorn, tar was applied to the wound to promote healing, but also rendered the new wool unusable until cleaned. To remove the tar, it would need to be beaten out vigorously. This lent itself to the phrase, "beating the tar out of someone."
  • 2005-11-18: Only the rich had heels on their shoes in the 17th century, which has also spawned the phrase "well heeled" to mean a person that is well-to-do.
  • 2005-11-17: The Can Can gets its name from French children. When the kids first saw adults doing the dance, they thought it resembled a duck, which is "canard" in French.
  • 2005-11-14: "Round robin" comes from 18th century France. When a petition was made, nobody wanted to be the first to sign because it could lead to a short life. Petitioners began signing a ribbon, "ruban" in French, which would be joined into a circle to ensure that nobody's name was first on the list. This was called "ruban rond" and has altered into today's "round robin."
  • 2005-11-14: Television shows require canned laughter to be successful. A Frenchman ran a very successful business in the 1820's where he hired people to be a portion of a theatre's audience. Their job was to laugh, cry, or clap as the performance required. They altered the audience and impressed critics. Soon, one of these emotional ploys was described as a "claptrap."
  • 2005-11-09: Sailors long ago would chew anything from tobacco to fat and hides. One staple was pork skin, and that is where we get the phrase, "chew the fat." On the really long voyages, other chewables would run out and sailors would chew cloth. Today, to "chew the rag" means to be involved in idle gossip and prattle.
  • 2005-11-09: An old nautical term, "three sheets to the wind," was used to describe a ship that is out of control and running free. Now it describes one that is careening about in a drunken manner.
  • 2005-11-09: "Keeping up with the Jones's" comes from a cartoon strip created by Arthur Momand in 1913. He wanted to call it "The Smiths," but renamed it because his next-door neighbor had that same last name. The cartoon made light of people who put on airs or artificially inflated their social status.
  • 2005-11-07: Chicago got its nickname, the windy city, not from the weather but instead from its long-winded politicians.
  • 2005-11-07: "Raising Cain," refers to an individual or group bent on causing trouble. This was based on the bible story of Cain and Abel.
  • 2005-11-07: Young gentlemen in the past liked to drive fast. In 17th century England, they used a four horse drawn carriage. One needed extremely fine control of a whip to get the horses to speed since one would need to strike the lead horse without alarming the rear horse. Novices used the whip too often and usually incorrectly. Older people started calling the lads young whippersnappers and the name has continued through to today.
  • 2005-11-04: During World War I, people in the U.S. really hated Germans. The most common German name at the time was Friedrich, which is shortened to Fritz. It became associated with broken things as people would describe them as being "on the Fritz."
  • 2005-11-04: The Adidas shoe is not named for the acronym, "All day I dream about shoes." Adidas is a contraction of the German's name that made them, Adolph "Adi" Dassler.
  • 2005-11-04: A U.S. soldier is sometimes called a G.I. or G.I. Joe. It started in World War II, when the American troops were provided everything, from weapons to toiletries, by the government. G.I. was stamped on the boxes and referred to anything that was "government issue." Soon the enlisted men would get the same term.
  • 2005-11-04: A Sundae was invented by a Wisconsin store owner in Two Rivers on a Sunday in 1878. Running short on ice cream, he added a sauce to stretch the day's supply. It was originally called a Sunday, but the name was changed to please religious figures.
  • 2005-11-01: Years ago, wig makers placed their wigs on wooden skulls that resembled squares more than a real skull. People then called others "blockheads" to refer to wig makers' stands.
  • 2005-10-27: Benjamin Franklin created the lightning rod.
  • 2005-10-27: A fluke means a lucky break or accidentally successful. It also means the triangular barb on a ship's anchor. It can take several attempts to secure a ship using an anchor, and so the word "fluke" has taken on the other meaning relating to a chance happening.
  • 2005-10-27: Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, St. Paul's cathedral of London neared completion in 1710 but didn't have any bells. The Church of England moved the bells from London's Collegiate Church of Saint Peter (a.k.a. Westminster Abbey) and hung them at St. Paul's. This action produced the saying, "Robbing Peter to pay Paul."
  • 2005-10-26: False eyelashes were invented by D.W. Griffith. He was directing a film and wanted to make Seena Owen's face come alive in his 1916 epic Intolerance. He had a wig maker weave pieces of human hair through pieces of fine gauze, which were glued to Owen.
  • 2005-10-26: Corn meal fried on a griddle in butter or bear fat is called hot cakes. Work camps and boarding houses made them for their large groups of people. The food was consumed so rapidly that it started the phrase, "sold like hot cakes."
  • 2005-10-25: To be "caught red handed" originated with regard to livestock rustling in England. The courts would only convict you if you gave a confession (a little torture might help you out here) or if you were caught in the act. It was crucial that the animal or the blood of the animal was on your person, which started the phrase, "caught red handed."
  • 2005-10-25: One can take doubtful information "with a grain of salt." This comes from people being poisoned, and salt was attributed magical powers due to its rarity. If you thought a plate of food had poison, you would sprinkle salt on it liberally because salt was believed to be an antidote for poisons.
  • 2005-10-24: The saying, "up to snuff," refers to tobacco in the 1700's. Powdered tobacco was known as snuff and was the fad of the day. There was the good tobacco and the poor quality tobacco. People who could tell the difference said the good tobacco was up to snuff.
  • 2005-10-24: High strung horses would have a goat placed in the same stall. The goat had a calming effect on the horse. Prior to a horse race, it wasn't uncommon for a heavy wager to arrange the kidnapping of a goat to unnerve a horse. This stemmed the saying, to "get one's goat."
  • 2005-10-18: Chickens raised in the spring and summer were said to be the most tender. Chickens hatched in colder weather were supposedly tougher. Farmers trying to sell their chickens would sometimes say that they were "spring chickens" in the hopes that the birds would sell faster.
  • 2005-10-18: "Platonic love" refers to how Plato described a second type of love: "The more the pleasures of the body fade away, the greater to me the pleasure and charm of conversation."
  • 2005-10-18: During the time of the black plague in Britain, historians say that rats outnumbered humans. People kept pets in order to help eliminate the rodents. At times, a pet would suddenly scratch the walls to get at a rat. This is the basis for the phrase, "to smell a rat."
  • 2005-10-17: "Chicken feed" used to describe low quality grain that was fed to livestock and poultry. Since then, gamblers had picked up the term to describe a low denomination of money.
  • 2005-10-17: The four symbols on playing cards each represent something in particular:
    • Spear (Spades) - Depicts the military
    • Clover (Clubs) - Symbolic of the farmer and peasant
    • Shield (Hearts) - Represents both government and religious authority of the day
    • Diamond (Diamonds) - An emblem of the mercantile class
  • 2005-10-17: "Keep a stiff upper lip!" This saying comes from the British military in the 1800's. The soldiers wore moustaches, and any movement of the upper lip was magnified by a moustache. Drill sergeants were often screaming the saying to new recruits in order to get them to look more respectable or just shave off their moustache.
  • 2005-10-12: The Ouija board was patented on July 1, 1982 by William and Isaac Fuld of Baltimore, Maryland. They wrote: "A question is asked and the involuntary muscular action of the players, or through some other agency, the frame will commence to move across the table." The name was derived from the French and German words for yes.
  • 2005-10-12: Before the automobile, people would travel by horse and carriage. To trim their conveyance, bells would be strung on a collar around the horse's neck. If they were to get into trouble and needed someone else to help them out, the bells were offered to the passer-by that helped out as a way to say thanks. Thus, if someone intended to arrive at a destination with no problems, they would say "I'll be there with bells on."
  • 2005-10-12: During WWII, a U.S. soldier that volunteered too quickly for a dangerous mission were nicknamed an "eager beaver."
  • 2005-10-11: As a form of punishment, people were flogged with a cat-o'-nine-tails. This was a whip with multiple strands, each tipped with bits of sharp metal, broken pottery, or sharp shell. To make sure that innocent bystanders would not also get hit, the one performing the punishment would make sure there was "enough room to swing a cat."
  • 2005-10-11: A burial place for the poor and unidentified is sometimes called a Potter's Field. This comes from when Judas betrayed Jesus. Judas gave his bribe to the Jewish leaders, who couldn't put the money in their collection since it was against their laws to accept money paid for murder. Instead, they bought a field that was renowned for it clay which was used in the manufacture of pots. This field was made into a cemetery and was the first Potter's Field.
  • 2005-10-10: People who are trying to quit drinking alcohol are sometimes said to be "on the wagon," which refers to that person being on the water wagon   no more alcohol for them. This stems from the 1800's, when water was hauled around on horse-drawn wagons.
  • 2005-10-10: A baby born to a rich family is said to have been "born with a silver spoon in his mouth." A long time ago, spoons were wooden and iron. Later, they were made of precious metals and were eventually given as gifts. Godparents often gave a baby a spoon as a christening gift. It the godparents were wealthy, the spoon would likely be silver. Otherwise, the poor kid only got a wooden or iron spoon.
  • 2005-10-07: Ancient Greeks used a big pot of beans to count votes. White beans were "no", Black were "yes". Voting was a matter of great secrecy, but sometimes the jar was spilled and immediately revealed which way the vote was going. This is the basis of the phrase, "to spill the beans."
  • 2005-10-07: Before pavement, roads were just packed dirt and the tracks where the wheels went would be often cut well below the center. When it rained, people would walk on the center, which was the highest part of the road, to avoid getting muddy. In the late 1800's, members of the American Populist party who opposed union with the Democrats were described as not wanting to get their feet muddy. They were the first "middle of the road" politicians.
  • 2005-10-05: John Wilkes Booth was a Shakespearian actor that never achieved genuine acclaim for his noteworthy talent because of his wild and erratic behavior. His intricate knowledge of the theatre and the stage allowed him to avoid security when he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.
  • 2005-10-05: To "wear your heart on your sleeve" comes from medieval knights who would wear their lady's handkerchief on the sleeve of their armor.
  • 2005-09-30: The fanatical U.S. minister, Sylvester Graham, blamed everything from sexual promiscuity to alcoholism on eating red meat. In the 1800's, he developed a wheat cracker that he deemed as a safe substitute and began to preach that a vegetarian diet with his crackers would overcome a whole multitude of sins. Thus, Graham crackers were created.
  • 2005-09-30: The U.S. tested nuclear weapons on the Marshall Islands in 1946. At the same time, Louis Réard, a French fashion designer, created a skimpy new swimsuit. He named it the bikini in order to cash in on the free publicity the Bikini Atoll islands were getting due to the bombs.
  • 2005-09-30: The first people to "face the music" were professional soldiers several hundred years ago. The corps was their entire life, and should they be convicted of a crime, they were stripped of all military insignia while someone made melancholy music of a beating drum.
  • 2005-09-27: A carpenter named Palmer invented the stocks in 1634 in Boston. He submitted his construction bill to the town council for 1 pound and 13 shillings. The council thought his bill was excessive and charged him with profiteering. He was found guilty, fined 1 pound, and sentenced to spend 30 minutes in his own invention. So, the person who invented the stocks became its first occupant.
  • 2005-09-27: Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix was originally sold in plain paper bags in 1889. Sales were slow until a friendly face was added to the outside of the container. The company's founder saw a New Orleans-style cakewalk and found his inspiration in a Southern female chef in traditional clothing and a red bandanna.
  • 2005-09-27: "To make the grade" started out with railroads in the 1800's. When going up an incline, trains can't handle that steep of a hill. Sometimes, a railroad track would be completed and then it would be discovered that the grade was too steep for the locomotive. Engineers were excited when a train could make it to the top of a particularly difficult hill – when it "made the grade."
  • 2005-09-27: The Alfa Romeo car company made its name from the first letter of the Greek alphabet and the last name of its first manager, Nicola Romeo.
  • 2005-09-15: The first person referred to as a "goody two-shoes" was a character in a story by John Newbery in 1765. The little girl had only one shoe for a long time, and later got another shoe. She was so happy that she couldn't resist telling everyone she met.
  • 2005-09-15: An "Achilles heel" or vulnerable point of something gets its name from Greek mythology. The Queen of the Nymphs gave birth to a son and immersed him in the River Styx to make him invincible. When she dipped the baby, she held onto his ankles, so they didn't get wet and Achilles one vulnerable point on his body was his ankles.
  • 2005-09-15: "Maybe it has a screw loose?" This was common advice in the late 1700's for why the new power looms were broken. These machines replaced a lot of people with unskilled labor, and there was a sudden shortage of trained mechanics for these new machines. When a breakdown occurred, everyone offered worthless advice and theoretical solutions. Now, anything that acts strangely is referred to as having a screw loose.
  • 2005-09-12: When geese get cold, they have thousands of tiny muscles in their skin that will contract for them to stay warm. Historically, they were plucked several times a year, and it was common to see their skin exposed to cold weather. Hence the phrase, "goose pimples."
  • 2005-09-12: Denim was created in Nimes, France. It was named after the town and was called 'de nimes.'
  • 2005-09-12: President Theodore Roosevelt was asked how he enjoyed a particular cup of coffee. His reply was used by Maxwell House Coffee: "Delightful! It's good to the last drop."
  • 2005-09-12: 14th century fruit farmers learned to remove most of the blossoms on a plant so that instead of lots of small, inedible fruit, they would receive larger and succulent. The process of cutting off a bad situation early is "to nip in the bud."
  • 2005-09-08: Mercury was once a key ingredient used when making hats. Being exposed to mercury will poison you slowly, which usually leads to facial twitching and mental disorder. This provoked the saying, "mad as a hatter."
  • 2005-09-07: One may say that someone is "not worth his salt." This phrase comes from the tradition of paying ancient Roman soldiers in salt. At that time, salt was both rare and expensive. Since currency was not yet invented, salt was used. Also, the word salary comes from the Latin word meaning salt.
  • 2005-09-06: Post-it Notes were created by accident in 1974 by Geoffrey Nicholson. He was working at 3M and wanted to find a super glue. One experiment almost didn't adhere to anything. The glue was tested on various stacks of paper, which soon found their way around the 3M office as in-house correspondence and then shortly into a usable product.
  • 2005-08-24: The phrase "barking up the wrong tree" comes from hunters that use dogs. Sometimes the hounds would follow the scent of the wrong animal and would end up barking around the wrong tree.
  • 2005-08-23: "Close, but no cigar!" This phrase was used at county fairs at a strength contest. If a steel ball was hit hard enough to slide up the pole and ring the bell at the top, the contestant received a fine cigar. Carnival games are always in the carnival's favor, and few cigars were actually won. When the latest person was defeated, the phrase would be said in order to console the loser and hopefully draw another player to the game.
  • 2005-08-23: In medieval times, a person accused of an injustice would be forced to walk barefoot over fire. If they survived, they must have been innocent, but if they fell, it was deemed that justice prevailed. This was the beginning of the phrase, "to be hauled over the coals."
  • 2005-08-23: A high-rolling gambler who bet on both cards and the roulette wheel was the origin of the term, wheeler-dealer.
  • 2005-08-23: Rich people are sometimes called the "upper crust." This comes from medieval housewives baking pies. The top of the pie crust used expensive wheat flour and the bottom used rye flour, which was much cheaper. It gave the pie an expensive look without all of the cost.
  • 2005-08-18: To be "sold down the river" means to have been cheated, abandoned, or left to the wolves. It comes from American Negro slaves. The farther down the Mississippi river you went, the harder the jobs were for the slaves.
  • 2005-08-18: It was customary between American Indian tribes to bury a tomahawk into the ground when two tribes concluded hostilities. This symbol of peace was later observed by American settlers, which gives us the saying, to "bury the hatchet."
  • 2005-08-18: Women spent a lot of time spinning yarn, even as recently as the 1700's. There were spin houses in England, which served as correctional institutions for women, who were called "spinsters." Later, this word has changed meanings to refer to any woman who is past her conventional period of marriage.
  • 2005-08-18: The Hollywood Walk of Fame was started when Norma Talmadge walked out of a Chinese theater in 1927. She accidentally stepped onto a sidewalk which was under repair, leaving quite the impression.
  • 2005-08-17: In English courts of law, both judges and lawyers wear hair pieces. The judge, however, wears the largest head piece, which symbolizes the most important person. This is how the term "bigwig" came into being.
  • 2005-08-17: The terms "left wing" and "right wing" came from the French National Assembly during the 1700's. All of the delegates of one political party sat on one side of the Speaker, and the other party sat on the opposite side.
  • 2005-08-17: Someone who is called "straight laced" usually means they are reserved or restrained. This stems from the 19th century, where women's fashion required wearing a tightly laced bodice or corset that was reinforced with strips of whalebone for stiffness.
  • 2005-08-16: Urns were once known as pots. If people asked where a deceased person was, they were told that the individual had "gone to pot." Today, the saying refers to anyone or anything that has badly degenerated.
  • 2005-08-16: Years ago, when two gentlemen decided to duke it out, they stripped to the waist. To stop someone from starting a fight, you would say "keep your shirt on," and the saying has remained in use to this day.
  • 2005-08-16: If a boy acted and looked like his father in the southern U.S. states, people said he was the "spirit and image" of his dad. This has been mangled to be the "spitting image" of the father.
  • 2005-08-15: Pepsi was created by Caleb Bradham in 1902. He mixed up a concoction of oil, pepsin, spices, vanilla, and sugar, which gives the soda its distinctive taste.
  • 2005-08-11: In the 1700's, one could get a mug with a funny or ugly face on the outside. This then worked itself backwards, and you can refer to someone's face by referencing their "mug."
  • 2005-08-11: To "kick the bucket" originally referred to committing suicide. A person would stand on a pail, adjust the noose, then flip over the pail with their feet.
  • 2005-08-11: The American rock group, Dr. Hook, took their name from the story of Peter Pan. It also helped that Ray Sawyer, the lead singer, previously lost an eye in a car accident and he wore an eye patch.
  • 2005-08-11: In the ninth century, the Pope decreed that all church weather vanes should have a rooster to symbolize the apostle Peter's denial of Christ. This is the reason that weather vanes typically have a rooster on them today.
  • 2005-08-10: The American cowboys named the ten gallon hat partially because it was used for everything from dousing fires to watering horses. Certainly, it didn't get its name from the volume of liquid it could hold.
  • 2005-08-10: In biblical times, certain tribes would bring two goats to a sacrificial altar. One was slain, the other was said to carry the sins of the congregation and was allowed to escape. This is the basis for the expression "scapegoat."
  • 2005-08-10: Life Savers (the breath mint/candy) was invented by Clarence Crane. He subcontracted a pill manufacturer to make them, but the machine malfunctioned. Crane decided to keep the shape, giving it the unique doughnut-style look. Sales were slow, but picked up when he started marketing them in parlours so patrons could mask their breath from the effects of smoking and drinking.
  • 2005-08-09: Earl Tupper had a hard time selling Tupperware. Mrs. Brownie Humphrey insisted she could sell the product line if she could demonstrate it to housewives by inviting them to her home, which then became an immediate success.
  • 2005-08-09: Oatmeal was originally sold at general stores in open barrels. Henry Crowell developed a trademark and logo for Quaker Oats and packaged it into small bags. Since the logo bore the picture of a happy and healthy looking religious figure, sales went quite well.
  • 2005-08-09: The first person to kiss the Blarney Stone did it to win a legal battle. Cormac MacCarthy, an Irish Lord, was involved in a lawsuit in 1602. He was likely to lose, which meant forfeiting his castle. A druid princess, Cliodna, advised him to kiss a certain stone on the outside wall of the castle. By doing so, she promised, "the words will pour out of you." MacCarthy followed her advice and was able to procure a favorable judgment.
  • 2005-08-09: On oil rigs, "pump wax" forms naturally around the pump rods. A chemist, Cheseborough, started selling it to people. He called it Vaseline.
  • 2005-08-08: Dr. Welch was a Methodist minister and forbade his congregation to drink alcohol. Instead, they drank grape juice, which was later named after him – Welch's Grape Juice.
  • 2005-08-05: The famous American rock group, The Doors, got their name from one of the books from Aldous Huxley that describes the use of mescaline to induce visionary states of mind. The book's title was "The Doors of Perception," which went along with "Heaven and Hell" and "Eyeless in Gaza."
  • 2005-08-05: The Third Degree, relentless and detailed questioning, is based on Freemasons, and the questioning one must go through to become a Master Mason.
  • 2005-08-05: A "Charlie horse" originally referred to an older, stiff-legged horse.
  • 2005-08-04: Bone china got its name from the ingredients used in the tableware: ground up calcium ash mixed with clay.
  • 2005-08-02: The Cunard Lines ship, the Queen Mary, was intended to be named the Queen Victoria. A representative from Cunard Lines visited King George V and asked permission to name a new ship after the greatest Queen that ever lived. The King thought they meant his wife, and was delighted. Cunard Lines had no option in the end, and the ship is still called the Queen Mary.
  • 2005-08-02: Spanish royalty in the 15th century were fair skinned and blond while commoners were dark skinned. A Spanish aristocrat perpetrated a myth that even their blood was a different color from commoners, which also kept the royalty separate from commoners. This was the origin of the phrase, blue bloods.
  • 2005-08-01: Salt was very expensive up until a few hundred years ago. At the dinner table, a salt container had an important position. The closer you sat to the host, the closer you were to the salt container. People sitting at the far end were sometimes said to be "below the salt."
  • 2005-07-28: Death Valley gets its name from the many casualties the gold seekers experienced during the 1849 Gold Rush.
  • 2005-07-28: Military trousers were so tight that they buttoned up the side. The buttons were covered with a stripe to make the pants more presentable. This stripe persists to this day on uniforms.
  • 2005-07-22: Scotch tape was initially thought to be inexpensive to manufacture when compared to other products 3M produced since only one side was sticky. It soon had a slang name, Scotch, which used to mean someone who is tight-fisted and cheap. The name was officially adopted and remains to this day.
  • 2005-07-22: One guard in the 17th century was the first person to be "saved by the bell." At that time, falling asleep while you were supposed to be guarding the battlements of a castle resulted in being sentenced to death. One guard swore that he had not been asleep and, as proof, cited that the bell in the clock tower of St. Paul's cathedral had struck 13 times at midnight. The sentry's story was confirmed, the sentry acquitted, and the phrase "saved by the bell" was started.
  • 2005-07-22: General Winfield Scott was a brilliant strategist and a hero of the U.S. / Mexican War. The Whigs put General Scott up as a candidate for the White House. Scott ran the campaign like any other battle. He was called "Old Fuss and Feathers" and "Great Scott" by his political opponents. "Great Scott" has remained in use as an expression of surprise.
  • 2005-07-21: Wealthy passengers sailing the Atlantic insisted on always being on the shady side of the ship. This started the phrase, "port out and starboard home," which was shortened to just the word "posh," which means anything stylishly elegant and luxurious.
  • 2005-07-21: The Bay City Rollers was formed in 1969 and got its name by having their manger stick a pin at random into a map. It landed on Bay City, Utah.
  • 2005-07-21: When you are extremely successful financially, some may say you are "making money hand over fist." This stems back to fishermen drawing in a net full of fish.
  • 2005-07-19: Saying that someone is "on cloud nine" is based on how meteorologists rate cloud proximity to the surface of the earth.
  • 2005-07-19: Procter and Gamble was started by an English candle maker and an Irish soap maker. They started it in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1837 and named it after themselves.
  • 2005-07-18: Today's redneck once referred to a common, uneducated laborer in the southern U.S. They were called "red necks" because of their suntan/sunburn from working outdoors in the hot sun.
  • 2005-07-18: Lady Godiva's husband imposed severe taxes on his subjects, and she appealed to him to lower the taxes. He agreed as long as she would ride naked through the town of Coventry. Lady Godiva requested that the townspeople keep their doors and shutters closed for her ride. All adhered to her wishes, except a tailor named Tom, who looked through a hole in his shutter. Legend has it that he was struck blind for his impudence. This story is the source for the expression "peeping Tom."
  • 2005-07-14: It was bad luck to open umbrella indoors ever since the 18th century. In England, people often suffered personal injuries when the umbrellas were expanded indoors because of the heavy springs and odd mechanisms.
  • 2005-07-13: Peter Bales of England made a bible in the 1500's that could fit into a walnut shell. This started the phrase, "in a nutshell," when referring to a condensed version of a situation.
  • 2005-07-13: The phrase, "by hook or by crook," was started back in medieval England, with King Henry VIII. Peasants were allowed to gather fallen branches and twigs from Crown land. Farmers used their reapers and shepherds used their crooks to gather up the wood. If the wind blew down a few branches, this fortunate event was soon termed as a "windfall."
  • 2005-07-13: Early British law allowed autopsy only on criminal corpses, which impacted the medical profession severely. Since there was a shortage of bodies, grave diggers (called "resurrection men") would sell bodies on a black market of sorts. The bodies would have to be kept a secret to avoid prosecution and that started the phrase, "a skeleton in your closet."
  • 2005-07-13: Humpty Dumpty is a nursery rhyme that is based on a nobleman of high standing in the court of King Richard III that fell out of favor. Many friends and countrymen tried to help him regain his former status with the King, but all failed.
  • 2005-07-12: Before the 16th century, shoes did not have heels. Queen Elizabeth I had them added to guarantee the Royal family additional stature.
  • 2005-07-12: Today's potluck dinners stem from medieval England. Heavy soups and stews were a common dinner, and a large pot would simmer over an open fire. If unexpected guests were to arrive, they were lucky because more food could easily be added to the pot. Thus, the phrase "pot luck" was born.
  • 2005-07-12: Calling someone a "lush" stems back to Dr. Lushington, a chaplain in England during the 1600's. He liked to drink a lot and often invited the Bishop to drink with him.
  • 2005-07-12: Adding cuffs to pants was said to have started when a British guest was on his way to an American wedding. He had to travel through a severe thunderstorm and rolled up his pants so they didn't get muddy. The American host, seeing the British traveler, thought he was witnessing the latest fashion statement from Europe. He had a pair of trousers made for himself and unwittingly started a new fashion trend.
  • 2005-07-11: The triangle was considered an expression of a sacred trinity of gods by many societies. If a commoner passed through a triangulated arch, it was considered an act of heresy and bad luck, which is the basis of the superstition of it being bad luck when walking under a ladder. Besides, heavy paint pails could fall on your head, making it a bad idea indeed.
  • 2005-07-11: In order to outwit evil spirits, people would wish aloud the very evil they feared. The idea was that the evil spirit would hear the person's "desire" and do things to prevent that from happening, which is why people wish you good luck by saying, "break a leg."
  • 2005-07-08: The Marine Corps were once part of the British army. Formed in 1740 in the present-day territory of New York City, they were adopted by the U.S. at the conclusion of the American Revolution.
  • 2005-07-08: The nursery rhyme, "Little Jack Horner" was based on a messenger who was to deliver a Christmas pie. Richard Whiting, the Abbot of the richest abbey in England, attempted to gain favor with King Henry VIII by sending a Christmas pie with titles to 12 manor houses inside. The King was confiscating large portions of church land, and this was to hopefully win the King's favor. Whiting's steward, Jack Horner, stole the deed to the Manor of Mells, a real plum of an estate. His family resides there to this day.
  • 2005-07-08: During the reign of King Henry VIII, criminals and saints were often burned at the stake. The name of the fire was a "Bone Fire," but now it describes any large fire.
  • 2005-07-08: A small explosive used to blow up a door or put a hole in a wall was called a petard. During a siege, it was constructed hastily, and often would detonate while being set. The damage caused by the bomb lent itself to the phrase, "hoist by his own petard."
  • 2005-07-08: The Ritz in London, England, is known as a hotel that goes that final yard. The expression, "putting on the Ritz" is based on that hotel.
  • 2005-07-08: Sir Robert Peel, the Home Secretary of Britain, formed the police to protect the population. Many people didn't like them and Peel's organization was referred to as Peel's Bloody Gang and later as the Peelers. Eventually the people started to accept the police and called them Bobbies after Peel's first name.
  • 2005-07-07: The archbishop of Canterbury in the 1500's, Dr. Matthew Parker, pried into his congregation's lives so much that he got a nickname. This phrase is currently used to describe nosy people, "a nosey Parker."
  • 2005-07-06: Max Kiss noticed that local wine merchants were adding phenolphthalein to their product and the effect it was having on the consumers if they drank too much. So, in 1905, Kriss emigrated to the U.S., mixed the chemical with chocolate, and sold it under the name "Bo-Bo." Sales were poor, so he renamed it to "Exlax" and sales went smoothly thereafter.
  • 2005-07-06: Noxzema was originally sold in small blue jars as Dr. Bunting's Sunburn Remedy. Bunting felt the name wasn't catchy enough, so he combined a list of English and Latin words and phrases, but none stuck. A young man mentioned that the cream had miraculously "knocked out" his eczema, and that is the basis for Noxzema (knocks eczema out).
  • 2005-05-13: in 1984, Mrs. Clara Peller, an 82-year old grandmother, was the lady who was being cheated on a commercial and said the well-known phrase, "Where's the beef?"
  • 2005-05-13: Even in medieval times, there were hunting seasons and regulations. However, when one was out to fill their family's empty stomachs, people would cast all rules aside. They were hunting "for the pot" and so their cheap attacks on the animals were called "pot shots."
  • 2005-05-12: In the days of wooden sailing ships, the seam closest to the waterline was called the devil, and this seam needed regular caulking which involved a sailor smearing hot pitch onto the seam while hanging dangerously close to the swell. This started the phrase, "between the devil and the deep blue sea."
  • 2005-05-12: Playing cards has its roots in early China. In 1932, Jacques Gringonneurs of France made some revisions to the game. Gringonneurs wanted to mirror 14th century French society's four classes, the 13 lunar phases, and the 52 weeks in the year.
  • 2005-05-12: The phrase, "your name is mud," comes from Dr. Samuel A. Mudd. Mudd set John Wilkes Booth's leg. Booth broke his leg while escaping after he assassinated President Lincoln. Mudd didn't know Booth had killed the president, but the doctor was accused of complicity and imprisoned. The ruling was later overturned, but Mudd's career was left in tatters. His family later changed their name to get away from the ill thoughts associated with their family's name.
  • 2005-05-11: Giving someone "the cold shoulder" originally referred to a meal. A guest in medieval France was usually served a hot roast for dinner. If the guest was obnoxious or fell out of favor with the host, he was served the same thing, but it would be cold.
  • 2005-05-11: The very first lobbyists were people that would hang out in the Willard Hotel in Washington. President Grant was known to stay there and was known to grant these people an audience as often as he would just turn them away. Grant coined the term "lobbyists" when he was in a particularly disdainful mood.
  • 2005-05-10: The air conditioner was invented by Willis Carrier in 1902 to stop paper from expanding and contracting in paper plants. This fluctuation caused a lot of trouble because of the unpredictability of both the ink and the paper. By 1919, it was introduced into both cinemas and department stores. It was so well received that people were known to occasionally report to work on their days off!
  • 2005-05-09: "Rock-a-bye, Baby" is the first poem written on American soil. A young man traveled to the New World on the Mayflower and was inspired by a native American custom of suspending their infant's birch bark cradle from a tree.
  • 2005-05-09: Giving tips to service staff originated in English inns and coffee houses. A box would be put out for the receipt of coins and it would have a sign that read, "To Insure Prompt Service." Later, it was shortened to "T.I.P.S."
  • 2005-05-09: Chauffeur is a French word that means "to heat up" or "make hot." Originally, it was a fitting title for someone who "stokes heat" in an 18th century steam engine.
  • 2005-05-06: The word pop originated from carbonated soft drinks. When the early style bottle caps were removed, it would make the distinctive "pop" sound.
  • 2005-05-05: Trees were believed to harbor spirits. Some say that the spirits were protective and were summoned by tapping on a tree. Others said that the spirits were pranksters and would fall asleep when you rap on the tree. Both are the basis of the superstition to "knock on wood."
  • 2005-05-05: Long ago in England, people selling pigs in the market would put them into bags, also known as pokes. The salesperson often tried to make the sale without opening the bag, since if the pig would escape, it would be very difficult to catch. Sometimes a shopper would buy the pigs without looking in the bag and would end up with a bag full of cats. The expression, "pig in a poke," was used then and now to describe taking a chance on blind faith. Also, in the 1700's, Moslems banned the sale of pork, which just made people sneakier and they sold pigs at night. Again, the bag of cats were sold as piglets, and the buyer would realize the secret when they "let the cat out of the bag."
  • 2005-05-05: An ancient Arabian military game for training cavalry had a horseman gallop towards suspended metal rings. Each ring had different amounts of points, and he'd get them if he could spear them with his lance. The highest value ring was brass, thus the saying, "to go for the brass ring."
  • 2005-05-04: The "sirloin" of a cow was actually named by an English monarch. The king was so impressed by this particular cut of meat that he decided to bestow peerage upon it.
  • 2005-05-04: The superstition of it being bad luck to take the third light off of the same match stems back to World War I. At night, a soldier striking a match to light a cigarette would unwittingly alert the enemy of his location. When his comrade leaned over to light his own cigarette, the enemy was taking aim. By the time the third man joined in for a light, the enemy had a well-lit target.
  • 2005-05-03: The saying, "as cool as a cucumber" stems from the fact that the core of a cucumber is typically 11° C (20° F) colder than the surrounding air.
  • 2005-05-03: The word "marathon" comes from an event that happened in Greece. A small Greek army defeated a Persian army many times it size. Pheidippides ran the distance from Marathon to Athens to deliver the victorious news. Upon arriving from his approximately 40 km (25 mi) run, he dropped dead of exhaustion.
  • 2005-05-03: In the sixth century, a deadly plague raged throughout Italy. One of the earliest symptoms of the disease was chronic sneezing. With the onset of sneezing, death was imminent. The Pope beseeched the healthy to pray for the sick and ordered such phrases as "Long may you live," and "Good health" to be replaced with "God bless you." Additionally, it was said that the should would leave the body when you sneezed, so one would bless another so that no evil spirits would invade the soulless body until the original owner's soul came back.
  • 2005-05-02: The word sabotage comes from the Arabic word sabbat, for sandal. The French changed it to sabot, which was a sort of a wooden clog. When used as a verb, it meant "to do work badly."
  • 2005-05-02: New York got its "Big Apple" nickname in a campaign to make the city more appealing. In the 1920's, jazz musicians used to say, "There are many apples on the tree, but to play here is the big time." Later, in 1971, poverty and fear of crime brought the city's reputation to an all-time low. The Convention and Visitors Bureau borrowed the "Big Apple" slogan from the 20's, hoping that the friendly nickname would help change the people's perception of the city.
  • 2005-05-02: Scrabble was developed by Alfred Butts in 1931. He liked playing newspaper crosswords and developed his own game called Criss Cross. At the urging of a friend, he took his idea to a game manufacturer in 1948. They thought the game had some potential and could hopefully turn into a short-term fad. The name was changed to Scrabble, and it's still a top-selling game after all these years.
  • 2005-04-28: The big 'S' on the front of Superman's costume was not meant to stand for "Superman," but rather "Strength."
  • 2005-04-28: During the Civil War, soldiers stationed in Washington D.C. were upset by their general's decision to stop their visits to the "red light" district. The soldiers started calling the prostitutes they weren't allowed to visit by the surname of the general responsible for their abstinence; General Joseph Hooker.
  • 2005-04-27: Porters working in fancy hotels would run a lint brush over your clothes. If you tipped poorly, they would only give a few strokes with the lint brush instead of a full grooming. This was the origin of the phrase, "to give someone the brush-off."
  • 2005-04-27: People were termed "bootleggers" during prohibition because they would hide small flasks of alcohol in their pants and footwear. Often, this was done to sell alcohol to Native Americans living in reservations.
  • 2005-04-25: Sophomore comes from the Greek words sophos (wise) and moros (foolish). That pretty accurately describes many students with a little knowledge and a lot of self-confidence.
  • 2005-04-25: It was the custom for the host to pour some of your wine into his glass to prove that it wasn't poisoned. If you thought highly of your host, you would clink glasses together instead to show that you trust him.
  • 2005-04-25: The phrase, "red tape," was started in 19th century England and originated from the government practice of tying official and legal documents together.
  • 2005-04-21: A poker hand that has a pair of aces and a pair of eights is referred to as a "dead man's hand," even though it is hard to beat. 'Wild Bill' Hickock, a pioneer law enforcement officer, was playing poker in August, 1876. He was shot by Jack McCall. As he slumped over, he showed his hand - two pair, aces and 8's.
  • 2005-04-21: The term 'disc jockey' was coined in Variety back in 1937, describing radio announcers who stayed up all night riding records.
  • 2005-04-21: The "khaki" color came from British soldiers ruling India. In 1857, the British army needed a new color because their crisp white uniforms made the soldiers extremely easy targets for snipers. They hired a cloth manufacturer to make a color that would blend in better. The new color was called khaki, which means "dust colored" in Hindi.
  • 2005-04-20: The word "bedlam" started as a contraction of Bethlehem. The priory of St. Mary of Bethlehem was turned into a hospital for the insane during the reign of Henry VIII. Visitors came by the hundreds to pay admission, stroll the halls, observe patients behind bars, and were allowed to provoke them.
  • 2005-04-20: Stained glass windows were used as illustrations in the 12th and 13th centuries to teach the gospel. This is because books were rare and expensive, and most people were illiterate.
  • 2005-04-20: The phrase "rule of thumb" is said to have started centuries ago because several trades would use their thumb to measure things. Clothiers and carpenters used a thumb's width as an inch. Brewers would stick their thumbs in the fermenting mash to measure the heat of the brewing liquor.
  • 2005-04-19: The custom of dropping a piece of spiced, burned bread into a glass of wine originated in Rome. The charcoal from the burned bread helped to reduce the wine's acidity. This practice has lead to the modern day "toast," or proposal of good health.
  • 2005-04-19: A "3 dog night" comes from Eskimo folklore. During very cold nights, bear skins and blankets were not enough to keep warm. It was a matter of survival to huddle up with the sled dogs.
  • 2005-04-19: Prior to the 18th century, dyes were of vegetable origin, and seldom retained their brilliance for more than a few weeks. Wool was especially difficult to dye, and came out blotched and uneven. The solution was simple; instead of dying the finished cloth, they began dying the raw wool which meant colors were more fixed and uniform. Garments dyed in this manner were known as "dyed in the wool," which was soon used to describe anything of high quality.
  • 2005-04-18: The Oscars were unnamed when first awarded. Eventually an industry employee saw the statue of the knight and laughingly remarked how much it looked like her uncle. The press caught wind of the story and the awards have been named after Oscar ever since.
  • 2005-04-18: Phineas Taylor Barnum, the famous American showman of circus fame, once gave a speech in England entitled, "The Science of Money Making, and the Philosophy of Humbug." The common phrase, "There's a sucker born every minute," is considered to be a Barnum original. The veracity of this statement has been proven so often, people no longer wished to overkill the cliché. Instead of directly using Barnum's quote, they started saying, "Barnum was right."
  • 2005-04-18: Turnpike refers to an early form of road taxation. A horizontal bar, such as a pole, was situated atop a vertical pin enabling it to turn on its pivot. This rotating barrier was found along the main roads and was used to halt traffic in order to collect tolls.
  • 2005-04-13: The first "hooligan" was Patrick Hooligan in the 1800's. This exceptionally loudmouthed and notorious Irishman thrived on displaying his physical strength. It was an impressive sight when he would lift four burly men onto his back and stagger across a bar room floor. He loved to box almost as much as he loved to boast. His reputation for brawling was so well known that taverns he had never visited started posting signs warning to keep his kind out.
  • 2005-04-13: A lot more people have driven a Porche designed car than they realize. Volkswagen cars were originally comissioned by Adolf Hitler and designed by Dr. Ferdinand Porche. The first cars were assembled in 1938 at the cost of about $250. They were named the KdF-Wagon, which meant the Kraft durch Freude Wagon, or literally translated, "Strength-through-Joy-Wagon."
  • 2005-04-13: Scottish landlords would accept rental payments in either produce or silver. Unscrupulous landlords preferred payments in produce because the landlord could "interpret" the value as much lower than what they were really worth. In early Scottish dialects, the word "mail" meant rent, and when the peasants paid rent in undervalued produce, they termed the practice as "blackmail."
  • 2005-04-12: A heavy rain is said to "rain cats and dogs," which is a saying derived from the 17th century. Storm drains and sewer systems were nonexistent, so many household pets and stray animals would drown during heavy downpours, and people would see the bodies floating down the streets with the racing torrents of water.
  • 2005-04-12: A "red letter day" stems from early prayer books and church almanacs. The saint's days and other religious festivals were printed in red ink. This tradition is still retained by modern calendars, which is why holidays are sometimes known as red letter days.
  • 2005-04-11: Ed Flynn in the 1940's was a powerful man. He was the head of the Democratic Party and if you were good friends with him, you stood a good chance of being elected. This is the basis of the saying, "in like Flynn."
  • 2005-04-11: Mercury, the mythological messenger of the gods, had a winged staff with the ability to bring people back to earth from hell. Along the staff were two snakes that represented renewal, since each year they shed their skin. This staff became an obvious symbol for the medical profession.
  • 2005-04-07: The "HOLLYWOOD" sign in California was erected in 1923 to advertise a real estate development. Originally, it was "HOLLYWOODLAND", but over the years the last four letters dropped off.
  • 2005-04-07: In the 1700's, those who gossiped a lot and were very curious about the affairs of others were often compared to the behavior of cats. Cats tend to poke, nose, and pry into almost everything, and because of their inquisitiveness, they sometimes end up the worse for wear. This is the basis of the phrase, "Curiosity killed the cat."
  • 2005-04-06: Flea markets started in Paris and was a collection of second-hand clothing, curio, and antiques at very low prices.
  • 2005-04-06: Shell Oil Company originated in London in the 1800's as a curio shop. Its specialty was the sale of ornamental sea shells. Several years later it added a sideline; barreled kerosene.
  • 2005-04-05: The yo-yo originated as a deadly weapon in the 16th century Philippines. The weapon was made of large wood disks and twine and was hurled at fleeing animals and the twine would become entangled in the prey's legs. In the 1920's, an American saw a demonstration of the weapon and thought that it would make a wonderful toy if it was scaled down.
  • 2005-04-05: "Freelance" applies to anyone who sells services without a long term contract. It is based on the time of King Arthur, where feudal lords often engaged the services of professional soldiers. Usually the mercenary was hired to settle his employer's personal differences and was called a "free lance."
  • 2005-04-04: "That's strictly for the birds," is from the mid 19th century and was heard in the cavalry regiments of General George Armstrong Custer. In cavalry camps, it was necessary to collect horse manure and pile it in an out of the way place near camp. Tiny insects were attracted to it, and these in turn attracted birds in large numbers. Currently, the phrase describes anything of little use or value.
  • 2005-04-04: Gunpowder originated in 10th century China, and was quickly used in fireworks. The hollowed-out bamboo tubes would blow up and later versions of gunpowder would make a whistling noise as it burned. The noise was said to scare away evil spirits.
  • 2005-04-01: Leotards were invented by a French acrobat who enjoyed a large female following. His advice to men who wished to catch the ladies' eye: "Put on a moe natural garb that won't hide your best features." In the 1940's, school dorms were often under-heated because of the war-time rationing of fuel. Claire McCardell convinced school girls to wear leotards for added warmth.
  • 2005-03-30: The first set of conjoined twins to be termed "Siamese twins" were Chang and Eng Bunker (1811 - 1874). They emigrated to the United States from the Far East and were eventually promoted by P.T. Barnum as the "Chinese Double-Boys." They both married and fathered a total of 22 children.
  • 2005-03-30: Ivory Soap did not always float. In 1878, Harley Procter and his cousin James Gamble created Ivory soap. Sales were moving along at the expected rate until an employee allowed the soap to remain in the stirring stage too long, causing excessive air in the mixture. Fearing management's wrath, nothing was said and the batch was shipped. Soon, customers were praising the company for inventing the first bar of soap that floats.
  • 2005-03-28: The "Oh Henry!" candy bar was named after an office worker that was the "gofer." People would ask him to do things, and he was almost always summoned by the phrase, "Oh Henry," as if one more errand was just a simple afterthought.
  • 2005-03-28: Standard Oil Company of New Jersey changed its name after 90 years of doing business. They wanted a new name that didn't have any meaning in any language, wasn't offensive in any language, and didn't infringe on any existing trademark. Ideally, it would be a brand new word that was easy to pronounce and memorable. After three years of study, $100 million dollars, 7,000 interviews, and researching 100 languages, they decided on Exxon because the double "x" was not only eye-catching, but unique.
  • 2005-03-25: The term, "Freudian Slip," started out when Freud wrote his 1904 book, "The Psychopathology of Everyday Life." He said that slips of the tongue actually were meaningful, and that idea quickly became the rage.
  • 2005-03-25: In the 1930's, an advertising campaign for a razor invented the term, "Five o'clock shadow." They said that if you used their razor every morning, you wouldn't get that stubbly look in the late afternoon.
  • 2005-03-25: The St. Bernard is named after a monk who founded a monastery in the Alps. This breed of dog has an uncanny sense of direction and is thought to have foreknowledge of avalanches and snowstorms. St. Bernards are credited with saving thousands of travelers and skiers in the snow capped Alps.
  • 2005-03-25: In 1907, John D. Hertz started the Yellow Cab company, which has become the largest taxi service in the world. Hertz read a study on "Colors and Their Effects," and decided that yellow was the color of choice because of its high visibility. Many other taxi companies have since followed suit.
  • 2005-03-23: In 1949, Edward A. Murphy was investigating a malfunction in a gage he had designed. He was a development engineer at Ohio's Wright Field Aircraft Laboratory, and realized that the malfunction was caused by improper wiring by one of his problem technicians. Upon realizing the problem, he said, "If there is a way to do it wrong, he will." Later on, the saying was changed to "If anything can go wrong, it will," and was coined Murphy's Law.
  • 2005-03-23: In the 1400, wild dogs and wolf packs were found in all of Europe's forests. Eventually, they became so bold and abundant, they could actually be found roaming the streets of Paris. This is the basis of the phrase, "The wolves are at the door," meaning that one is being hounded by a creditor.
  • 2005-03-22: "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth" means that one should accept a present gratefully. This is based on people prying open the horse's mouth to inspect its teeth as a method of determining the horse's age and well-being. When the horse is getting older, the gums tend to recede, making the teeth appear larger. This is the origin of the phrase, "long in the tooth."
  • 2005-03-22: The cash register was conceived by James Ritty in 1879 when he was watching a tachometer-like device count revolutions on a steam ship's propeller. Being a bar owner, he protected himself from unscrupulous bartenders by making a machine that would keep track of the money in the till.
  • 2005-03-21: India ink was developed in China, but received the name from Samuel Pepys when he wrote his diary, "Lie in 17th Century London." In his diary, he referred to it as India ink and the name stuck. It was once made from soot from olive or grape vines, milled with a gum or glue binding agent, and pressed into sticks or cakes.
  • 2005-03-21: "To go the whole nine yards" has several possible origins:

    Clothing industry: Cloth is purchased in bolts, each containing nine yards of material. Some garments required all of the cloth, and were said to go the whole nine yards.

    Penal system: In some penitentiaries had a retaining wall built inside the prison's perimeter. The wall was nine yards high and was placed nine yards from the perimeter. A prisoner who escaped was said to have gone the whole nine yards.

    Fighter planes: Ammunition for fighter planes in World War I came in boxes that had nine yards of ammunition clipped together. If a fighter pilot came back without ammunition after an exhausting aerial battle, they said he went the whole nine yards.
  • 2005-03-10: The children's game, Blind Man's Buff, started with royalty and beggars. Guests would pick servants as their representatives and placed wagers on which servant would be agile enough to avoid a blind beggar. The goal was to get as close as possible to the blind person without getting tagged. The last one tagged was the winner and the blind beggar was reimbursed for his troubles.
  • 2005-03-10: Potato chips were invented by George Crum in 1853. He was a cook at a high class New York resort. A potato dish was sent out and refused by the customer because it was too thick and too soggy. After repeated attempts were rejected, Crum decided to mock the customer and sliced the potato so thin that the customer would not be able to skewer it with a fork. Amazingly, the customer loved the new dish, and the fried potatoes slices (potoato chips) were born.
  • 2005-03-09: The rock group UB40 was formed in Birmingham in 1978. They took their name from the standard British unemployment form.
  • 2005-03-08: The word "corny" was used to describe second rate road shows which had the misfortune of being relegated to the country circuit. These small stage companies performed in old buildings and barns to rural audiences, which were described as "corn fed."
  • 2005-03-08: Jean Jolly of Paris accidentally spilled a bottle of turpentine onto a dress in the 1840's. Rather than cover up the spot, he decided to make the spot uniform by soaking the whole garment. He ended up cleaning the dress, which then spawned the first dry-cleaning business.
  • 2005-03-08: The phrase "That's the ticket," originated from the homeless being given free meal tickets for soup kitchens.
  • 2005-03-08: Velcro was created by George de Mestral, a Swiss engineer. In 1948, he and his dog were hiking in the alps and were covered with burs from cocklebur bushes. Under a microscope, Mestral found little hooks on the burs, which hooked onto any fuzzy or hairy material. Eight years later, he finished development of the hook and loop system that is known commonly as Velcro.
  • 2005-03-04: "Kettle of fish," an old phrase that describes any problematic situation, stems from old Scotland. Clan gatherings took place beside the bank of a river. The meal was usually a large pot or cauldron of fish, cooked over an open fire. The drunk attendees often got boisterous, even to the point that some ended up in the river.
  • 2005-03-04: Liquid paper was invented on March 8, 1951. Bette Nesmith, an executive secretary at a bank, watched a sign painter. She noticed that he never erased his mistakes – he merely painted over them. She adopted the same principle to her own profession, and a custom white paint was soon developed to cover up typing errors. In 1976, Gillette bought the rights for $47.5 million.
  • 2005-03-03: The first vacuum cleaner was patented in 1901 by Cecil Booth.
  • 2005-03-02: An old English cure for thrush and whooping cough was to wrap a frog in cloth and put its head into the patient's mouth. It was believed the animal would contract the disease and the patient would be cured. This was the origin of the phrase "a frog in your throat," which describes a gagging or raspy voice.
  • 2005-03-01: The phrase, "put up your dukes," originated with the Duke of Wellington. His nose was so big that people started to substitute his title for the word. This led to a man's fist being called a "duke buster."
  • 2005-03-01: Pirates had eye patches and peg legs due to the injuries received on the high seas. Ship's gunners were as likely to get hurt by their own equipment as they were by the enemy. Unpredictable gun powder flashes and flying shrapnel caused lots of injuries; the eye patches and peg legs were just a normal part of life.
  • 2005-02-28: The elevator was invented by Elisha Otis in 1853. His first demonstration was to a group of builders.
  • 2005-02-28: King Henry I of England decreed that the distance between his nose and the tip of his outstretched index finger shall henceforth be known as one yard.
  • 2005-02-25: Camp David was originally built for President Roosevelt during World War II and was called Shangri La. In 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower changed it to the name of his grandson.
  • 2005-02-25: Silly Putty was invented in the early 1940's. The U.S. War Production board asked General Electric to find an inexpensive substitute for synthetic rubber. James Wright, a chemical engineer, was assigned the task. While working with boric acid and silicone oil, Wright came up with an early form of Silly Putty, but didn't find any practical use for it.
  • 2005-02-24: Walter Hunt owed a friend $15.00, which was a large amount of money in 1849. The friend offered to negate the debt if Hunt could fashion a working item out of a piece of wire. After fussing about for a while, Walter made the first safety pin, and made his friend into a millionaire.
  • 2005-02-24: Lloyd's of London was started (quite obviously) in London during the 17th century. It was a social meeting place at a coffee house run by Edward Lloyd.
  • 2005-02-23: Some colonial farm houses have a "widow's walk," which is a vantage point so you can see out over the fields. This started from an observatory deck for homes along the ocean. The fisherman's wife would be able to look out over the water and see when her husband was returning from sea. The deck received the name from the many times when a woman could see the raging sea and know for certain that her husband wouldn't return.
  • 2005-02-23: Gerber Baby Food was founded in 1927 because Dorothy Gerber was fed up with mashing strained peas; so she suggested her husband do it. She dumped a container of peas into a strainer and bowl and put them in her husband's lap. He later commented, "The following 20 minutes shouldn't happen to any man ..." Daniel Gerber was the co-owner of Michigan's Fremont Canning Company and immediately set out investigating the possibility of producing baby food on a large scale.
  • 2005-02-22: If the weather is good and the grass is long, a cow could be content to stay in the field indefinitely. However, a cow knows when it needs to be milked because it is painfully obvious, and will meander her way back to the barn in due course. "Waiting for the cows to come home" would describe an anxious farmer at the end of the day who is waiting for cows that don't need to be milked or that have gotten lost.
  • 2005-02-22: Sting, the British rock musician, got his stage name while wearing a black and yellow soccer jersey. A fellow singer remarked that he looked like a bumblebee.
  • 2005-02-21: When first imported from Iran and Turkey during the 1930's, pistachio nuts had their shells dyed red to hide any dark brown stains. Those discolorations were caused by leaving the nuts to dry in the sun too long and moisture would be trapped. The stains didn't affect the taste, but the American market didn't respond well to the nuts, so the nuts were dyed. Although they are no longer over-dried, they are still available as red or the natural tan colors.
  • 2005-02-21: The early days of prohibition didn't require that people abstain completely from alcohol; just limit their consumption. It was altered to be more demanding and told people to not drink any alcohol at all. The word "teetotaler" was used to describe those who totally gave up alcohol as opposed to the O.P. (Old Pledge) members who promised to limit their enjoyment to beer and wine.
  • 2005-02-21: Margarine was first created in France in 1869. Napoleon III launched a contest to invent a food product for the army and navy that was more economical and durable than the natural version. Hippolyte Mége-Mouriés won the contest by processing animal fat and obtaining a paste which had the color and consistency of the real thing. He named margarine after the Greek word for pearl, because of its natural pearl color. Today it is made from vegetable fat and is dyed yellow to look more like butter.
  • 2005-02-18: The term "earmarked" was used in America to describe the means of identifying cattle. Before that, it describes a practice that happened over 2,000 years ago. After six years of service, a servant had the option of leaving his master or staying on. Those that stayed would have a hole bored in their ear or their ear would be notched, and the servant would remain for life.
  • 2005-02-17: Calling someone a "greenhorn" (one who is new and inexperienced) stems from deer antlers. Initially, they are covered with a skin for protection. Later, a fungus grows on the antlers, giving them a greenish hue.
  • 2005-02-17: The origin of the drink, gin and tonic, was back from the British colonial service in India. Malaria was a very serious problem, and once quinine powder was discovered, malaria had a treatment. The powder tasted awful, so it was mixed with gin and water to help it go down. Today's tonic water still has quinine, but not nearly enough to cure anyone of malaria with a few drinks.
  • 2005-02-16: The term pantywaist started in the 1920's, when some children's underpants were designed to be buttoned to their undershirt. This underwear, known as "pantywaists," were more popular with little girls and soon were seen as a girl's undergarment. If a boy was caught wearing them, he would be called a pantywaist.
  • 2005-02-16: Abracadabra has been thought to have magical powers for over two thousand years. Merely saying the word was said to cure fever, toothache, cramps, and other illnesses. The word was to be written down like an upside-down triangle, for the triangle has long been a sacred Egyptian symbol for life. To write it in a triangle, scribe ABRACADABRA on the first line, ABRACADABR on the second, and drop one ending letter each line until you get down to just the A.
  • 2005-02-14: A French peasant discovered that by boiling, salting, and pickling, one could preserve food. The Napoleonic Empire used this invention and further enhanced it by putting the preserved food inside of cans, which would not break when soldiers dove for cover and crawled around. This was the start of modern day canning.
  • 2005-02-14: The "Adam's Apple" was so named because of the biblical story of original sin. Adam was said to have not chewed thoroughly enough and swallowed too soon, and lodged a piece of food in his thyroid cartilage, and that was then passed down to all of his descendants.
  • 2005-02-10: The number 666 was originally used by St. John to refer to the Roman Emperor Nero without actually saying Nero's name. At that time, criticizing the Emperor was an immediate death sentence, and St. John tried to avoid the penalty by referring to 666 instead of Nero.
  • 2005-02-09: The seventh inning stretch started in 1882, when the coach of a college baseball team felt that the audience was beginning to fall asleep. He thought that if they could get up and walk around, they would be more enthusiastic for the last two innings. Later, when the college team played an exhibition match against the local pros, the student fans went through their routine and the practice has been adopted at the professional level ever since.
  • 2005-02-09: Montezuma, the Aztec ruler, believed that Hernándo Cortéz, a Spanish conquistador, was the personification of Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god-king. Montezuma presented Cortéz with all manner of gold and silver. To ensure their safety, Cortéz took the ruler as hostage. Eventually the Aztecs rebelled, so Montezuma was sent to quell the uprising. The Aztecs felt Montezuma had sold them out and proceeded to stone him. In his dying breath, he placed a curse on all those visiting his land, known as "Montezuma's revenge."
  • 2005-02-08: The word "mile" originally referred to the distance covered by 1,000 paces of a marching Roman legionnaire.
  • 2005-02-08: The phrase "in the limelight" started back when theatres used burning lime (the chemical) and directed the light towards the important action on the stage.
  • 2005-02-08: Louis Pasteur discovered that radiation and heat could destroy microorganisms in their products, thus ensuring them a longer shelf life. This process was named after him – pasteurization.
  • 2005-02-07: The first lease-to-own payment plan was conceived by Isaac Singer. In the late 1880's, his sewing machine cost $125, which is a significant amount, especially considering that the average household only made $500 a year. Sales were very slow. Isaac knew that the machine was spendy, but the end result would be a large time saver. After he set up the payment plan, sales success soon followed.
  • 2005-02-07: The Diners Club and credit cards were conceived by Frank McNamaro in 1950. This New York lawyer was entertaining guests at a local restaraunt and realized that he had forgotten his money at home. While waiting for his wife to arrive with the cash, he thought of a better way to pay for the bill than washing dishes.
  • 2005-02-03: The Rubik's Cube was designed in 1974 in Budapest, Hungary. It was meant to be a teaching aid for Rubik's commercial art students. In 1982, Yale University was offering a course on the math behind the cube.
  • 2005-02-03: Benjamin Franklin was the first person to suggest daylight savings time, back in 1784. William Willet of England encouraged its use in 1907, claiming it would speed up construction. The U.S. adopted daylight savings time in 1918, when the nation needed to conserve resources for the war effort.
  • 2005-02-02: The word hobnob comes from two Old English words, habban ("to have") and nabban ("to have not"). Hobnob was used to describe the practice of alternating the purchase of a round of drinks; it meant having to buy a round and not having to buy a round.
  • 2005-02-02: The Chicago O'Hare Air Field was named after Edward Henry O'Hare. He was a World War II fighter pilot. In one memorable battle, he shot down six enemy aircraft in the Pacific. He died on November 27, 1943 in an air battle where he was credited with saving the U.S. aircraft carrier Lexington.
  • 2005-02-01: The rickshaw was invented by an American, Jonathan Scobie, and was a primary means of transportation in Asian cities. It was manufactured by James Birch mainly for export to the Far East. A rickshaw is a two-wheeled cart, where the passengers would sit just above the wheels and the vehicle would be drawn by a person in front.
  • 2005-02-01: Billboards were created because in 1839, British Parliament passed a law forbidding random placement of advertising fliers and posters around the city.
  • 2005-01-27: The first human blood transfusion was attempted in 1668. They tried sheep's blood, but the experiment was unsuccessful and the patient died. Dr. James Blundel was the first person to successfully try a human blood transfusion, and he accomplished the task in 1818.
  • 2005-01-27: The stethoscope was invented in 1816 by a young French doctor. He was too embarrassed to put his ear up to her chest, so he improvised and used a rolled-up newspaper instead. He went on to construct the first stethoscope; a 30 cm (12 in) cylinder made of wood.
  • 2005-01-21: The term "gobbledygook" originated with a Texas politician in the early 1940's. During a verbal attack against one of his political opponents, he referred to his rival as talking like a turkey, with the end result being a whole lot of sounds and nothing understood.
  • 2005-01-21: Laws that are overly severe are referred to as "Draconian Laws" because of an Athenian lawmaker in the 7th century. Draco said that laziness, vagrancy, and petty theft should be punished by death. When asked about the severity of the punishment for the crimes, he said, "The smallest of them deserve death, and there is no greater punishment I can find for the greater crimes."

    As an amusing side note, Draco was smothered to death in a theatre by garments thrown on him in a gesture of admiration.
  • 2005-01-21: The parachute was first tried and tested over Paris in 1797. Jacques Garnerin went up in an air balloon, strapped on the parachute, jumped, and lived to tell about it.
  • 2005-01-21: Sir Richard Steele was so upset that the word "mob" (shortened from the Latin, mobile vulgus) was being accepted as common English, he wrote, "I have done my utmost for some years to stop the progress of this word, but have been plainly borne down by numbers, and betrayed by those who promised to assist me."
  • 2005-01-20: To get your "second wind" really means your body has caught up with your exercise. When runners start running, the sudden action produces large quantities of lactic acid in their muscles. As a result, their heart rate speeds up. After a bit of time, the entire body adapts itself to the higher speed of operation. At this point, you start to feel good again.
  • 2005-01-20: John Walson operated an appliance store in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania. He wasn't selling many television sets because the mountains surrounding the town made it impossible to receive the network stations from Philadelphia. An antenna tower was built on top of one of those mountains, allowing Walson to demonstrate the television sets. A line was then constructed from the tower to his warehouse, and in June of 1948 to his appliance store, also connecting a few houses along the way. More antennas and boosters were added, and more and more homes were connected to the system, to become the beginning of the huge cable television industry.
  • 2005-01-19: Ping pong was once named Gossima. It started in the late 1880's, when James Gibb couldn't go running on wet weekends. He started the game by batting a champagne cork back and forth to his friend with cigar box lids.
  • 2005-01-19: Sylvan Goldman invented shopping carts in 1937 when he noticed that his patrons weren't buying as much as they could, or in some cases, as much as they wanted to. This Oklahoma store owner introduced his invention and sales increased dramatically.
  • 2005-01-18: The phrase, "a real doozy," came from the early 1920's and 1930's. The Duesenberg Car Company, founded by the Duesenberg brothers, created cars that had handcrafted interiors, high-powered engines, and the latest in engineering technology. They were the benchmark in the auto industry. The phrase eventually grew to describe anything that was considered to be above and beyond the norm.
  • 2005-01-18: The drive-in theater was invented by Richard Hollingshead in 1932. The first show was in his driveway, and he patented it the following year. By 1958, there were more than 4,000 sites operating in the U.S.
  • 2005-01-17: British sailors were nicknamed "limeys" in the 19th century. This is because they received daily doses of vitamin C in the form of a hunk of a lime. Without vitamin C, one would get scurvy, which onsets within 6 weeks. Since sailors spent long voyages at sea, in the 16th - 18th centuries, many fell ill due to scurvy.
  • 2005-01-17: U.S. soldiers were nicknamed "doughboys" during World War I because their diet consisted primarily of grains and carbohydrates.
  • 2005-01-14: Iced tea was created in the summer of 1904 at the World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. A beverage vendor wasn't selling much tea due to the extremely hot summer, so he broke with tradition, added ice, and was a huge success.
  • 2005-01-14: The Harvey Wallbanger was named after Tom Harvey in 1970. Tom was a Californian surfer, and after a rough day at a Manhattan Beach tournament, he went out for a drink. Arnold Upbottom, the bartender, served him one of the house's special concoctions. After two drinks, Tom was bouncing off the walls.
  • 2005-01-13: Spinach does not contain a lot of iron. This myth started when a well-respected nutritional study made a typo and moved a decimal point. Spinach was listed as having 10 times the amount of iron it actually contained. Iron is good for building strong muscles, and that's why Popeye eats his spinach to get strong.
  • 2005-01-13: When bowling was brought over by Dutch settlers in the 17th century, it only had 9 pins. The tenth pin was added to circumvent a law that sprang up in the 1940's that banned bowling due to widespread betting.
  • 2005-01-12: The silo or grain elevator are considered to be the most completely American of all buildings. They were designed to both protect the contents from the elements and to store grain in order to take advantage of fluctuating stock prices.
  • 2005-01-12: The phrase, "Say uncle," is thought to be coined by American soldiers during World War II. When training for hand-to-hand combat and wrestling, the person in control of the match would tell the opponent to "Say uncle." When the opponent would reply with "Uncle," it meant he gave up.
  • 2005-01-11: Invisible ink was first used in 1788. This mixture of milk, lemon juice, and cobalt chloride was used to pass secret messages.
  • 2005-01-11: Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals so he could see two things at the same time.
  • 2005-01-11: Dom Pérignon champagne was invented 300 years ago. A Benedictine monk, while tending to his duties as cellar master, invented it quite by accident. He was the first person to use a cork stopper. After drinking his experiment, he was said to exclaim, "I am drinking the stars!"
  • 2005-01-10: The dentist's drill was invented by an American in 1788. He used parts from his mother's spinning wheel.
  • 2005-01-10: The concept of a microwave oven was started during World War II. A new device, known as the cavity magnetron, allowed the British to detect Nazi submarines surfacing off the coast of England. The magnetron produced electromagnetic waves that served as an invisible search light. In 1946, Dr. Percy LeBaron Spencer was working with a magnetron in his lab for the Raytheon Company. He noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket had melted. The general public was able to purchase one in 1952 for $1,300 U.S.
  • 2005-01-07: The dishwasher was invented in 1880 by Josephine Cochrane. She said, "That's it, I've had enough, if no one else is going to invent it, I will." It had individual compartments attached to a motorized wheel, which was linked to a copper boiler.
  • 2005-01-07: The electric razor was invented by Jacob Schick. During World War I, he was in the U.S. Army and was in an Alaskan army base. Tired of breaking the layer of ice that formed in the washbasin so that he could shave, he developed the first hand-held motor, which he patented in 1923. In 1931, he finished his razor and it was on the market for $25. By 1937, he sold nearly 2 million.
  • 2005-01-05: The word "hobo" comes from just after the American Civil War. Soldiers returned home to find a lack of jobs, so many grabbed a hoe and looked for farming work. This word is a contraction of "hoe boy."
  • 2005-01-05: The bowler hat was invented by William Coke, an English land owner, in 1849. He apparently hit his head on low branches while hunting, so he commissioned a hat maker to make this new hat for his personal protection. After stomping on it twice to prove that it worked, he bought the first one for 12 shillings.
  • 2005-01-04: According to legend, swans will sing one song in their life, just before they die. In reality, they never sing, but this myth has led to the phrase "swan song," referring to a final act or farewell appearance.
  • 2005-01-04: Before there was a standard for measuring alcohol content in beverages, it was risky business buying booze. A popular test to measure the alcohol content would be to mix gunpowder, water, and some of the alcohol. If it lit, there was a minimum of 57% alcohol by volume. The sellers established the word "proof" as a suggestive marketing technique to convince buyers of a high alcohol content.
  • 2005-01-03: During a heavy rain, turkeys will look up and open their mouths, and some will drown. During heavy snowfalls, turkeys will get snow stuck in their airways and suffocate. Because of the stupidity of turkeys, the expression "they don't have enough sense to come in out of the rain" now describes people that aren't so bright.
  • 2005-01-03: In 1917, King George V changed the British royal family name to Windsor. Originally it was Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, but was altered during the first World War because of the anti-German feelings.
  • 2004-12-30: The phrase "to go haywire" started with Moses P. Bliss in 1828. He invented the first hay press, which used wire to bundle the packed bales instead of being loosely tied with string or twine. Unfortunately, when the wire was cut, it would fly off and manage to snag clothing and wrap around the legs of nearby people and animals. The motion of the "haywire" acting erratically is the foundation for the saying.
  • 2004-12-29: Arabic numbers were not easily accepted when they were first introduced to Europe. In about 1300, they were banned from commercial dealings because they were much easier to forge than Roman numerals. It wasn't until the late 1700's that they became universally accepted throughout Europe.
  • 2004-12-29: The word "guerrilla" was first used by the Spaniards while harassing Napoleon's army during the Peninsular war. It is the diminutive of the Spanish word for "war."
  • 2004-12-29: The phrase "to fork over" started back in the 19th century. Tenant farmers in Britain often had to pay their rent in silver. Large land owners hired peasants to collect the dues, and they became overzealous in exercising their power. They would drive their wagons onto a farmer's field and demand immediate payment in silver. If the farmer couldn't pay, he was ordered to pitch his grain into the wagon until the collector was satisfied. He would use his pitchfork and "fork over" his crops.
  • 2004-12-29: The Leaning Tower of Pisa was used by Galileo to prove his theory about mass. It has a serious flaw which will eventually lead to its downfall; the architect built it on a foundation of sand.
  • 2004-12-28: The phrase "elephants never forget" has been supported by zoologists. When compared to other animals, elephants are slow learners but are able to remember it indefinitely. It can remember long migratory routes and can obey commands much better than a dog, for example.
  • 2004-12-28: Sailing ships used to have an elaborate system of signals to transmit orders. A special pipe was used by the boatswain that would carry orders even through the noise of a storm. "Pipe down" meant for the hands to get below deck, and occasionally a captain would give this order to the sailors to get them to settle down. Upperclassmen at the U.S. Naval Academy silenced junior cadets with the phrase, and it is now widely known as a silencing order.
  • 2004-12-27: The phrase "to fly off the handle" started from the olden days, where axe handles were whittled. The axe head would inevitably loosen and fall off. An axe head that sails away in the middle of a job obviously would cause anger and frustration. This eventually was changed to refer to an angry outburst.
  • 2004-12-27: Tennis started out in France, and its name is derived from the French for "there you are." It became popular with Europe's royalty, and Mrs. Mary Ewing Outerbridge is credited with introducing it to the U.S. She saw some British soldiers playing it in Bermuda, while she was on vacation in 1874. It looked so fun that she introduced it to her club: The Staten Island Cricket and Baseball Club.
  • 2004-11-30: Buddhism was not founded by a man named Buddha. Buddha is a Sanskrit word meaning "enlightened." The religion's father was named Siddhartha Gautama.
  • 2004-11-24: In 1789, George Washington proclaimed a national day of thanks, starting the national celebration of Thanksgiving.
  • 2004-11-10: The modern day calendar has undergone many transformations. Circa 700 BC, Numa Pompilius (the second king of Rome) decided to change the months to have odd numbers of days because odd numbers were considered lucky. He also added Intercalaris, the inter-calendar month, between February and March, which would occasionally be part of the calendar. He also added January and February and decided that the year would start with January instead of March.

    Julius Caesar changed the calendar to what we know today in 46 BC. He also eliminated Intercalaris and added the leap-year day in February. Augustus Caesar put some finishing touches on the calendar and it remains unchanged to this day.
  • 2004-11-02: The elephant for Republicans and donkey for Democrats are said to have been assigned to them in an 1874 cartoon by Thomas Nast in the New York Herald newspaper. He combined a fake story about animals breaking out of a zoo and a series of articles against Ulysses S. Grant running for a 3rd term. Nast had a donkey dressed as a lion, trying to scare away the animals in the forest. The donkey roared "Caesarism," like the ads against Grant, and scared an elephant, which was a symbol for Republican voters. In Nast's view, Republicans were abandoning President Grant and were about to fall into the Democrat's trap. Cartoonists ran with the animals, and the images overrode the parties' own wishes. The Republicans accepted the elephant as a sign of strength and intelligence, while their opponents portrayed it as a timid and clumsy behemoth. Although the Democrats never officially adopted the symbol of the donkey, they transformed the stubborn "jackass" label and attached a clever and courageous image to the beast of burden.
  • 2004-10-12: According to Christopher Columbus's log, he observed strange magnetic variations (his compass went a little wild), a great ball of fire fall from the sky (likely a meteor), and a greenish glowing light that would move about at times (supposed to be a cooking fire in a canoe by the tribes in the area). They were at all at different times, but this started the Bermuda Triangle legends.
  • 2004-09-01: America's first roller coaster was actually a track on which coal cars rode. During the day, coal miners would send loads of coal down to the boats below. During the evenings, people would climb in and ride down.
  • 2004-07-14: The tradition for the bride to wear white began in the 16th century and is still commonly followed today. This is a symbol of the bride's purity and her worthiness of her groom. The tradition became solidified during the time of Queen Victoria who rebelled against the tradition that Royal brides wear silver gowns. Instead, the queen preferred the symbolism expressed by wearing white. The brides of the time quickly emulated the queen, and the tradition has continued in full force to this day.
  • 2004-07-14: The tradition of tying tin cans to the back of the newlywed's vehicle originated long ago when items which would produce noise were tied to the back of the couple's carriage to scare away evil spirits.
  • 2004-07-07: It was accepted practice in Babylon, about 2,000 BC, that for a month after a wedding, the bride's father would supply his son-in-law with all the mead he could drink. Mead is a honey beer and because their calendar was lunar based, this period was called the honey month – we know it today as the honeymoon.
  • 2004-06-17: Each king in a deck of playing cards represents a king in history:
    Clubs → Alexander the Great (the first world conqueror, known to have worn celestial designs on his clothing)
    Diamonds → Julius Caesar (always cast in profile on Roman coins)
    Hearts → Charlemagne, King of the Franks and Holy Roman Empire (shown carrying the handle of a sword)
    Spades → King David of Israel (played the harp and carried the sword of Goliath)
  • 2004-06-15: The band, Lynard Skynard, was founded in 1966 and named themselves after their gym teacher, Leonard Skinner. The gym instructor expelled them for having long hair and at some point told them, "You boys ain't never gonna amount to nothin'."
  • 2004-04-06: The Chinese are on record as having eaten pasta as early as 5,000 BC.
  • 2004-03-11: Ketchup was originally a spicy pickled fish condiment in 17th century China known as ke-tsiap, kecap, or koechiap (meaning "brine of fish"). British seamen brought the sauce back to Europe, and substitute spices were needed for some not available at the time. Walnut and mushroom ketchups were the first to be created and eventually the tomato-and-vinegar version became popular.
  • 2004-02-06: Before the Battle of Agincour in 1415, the French proposed to cut off the middle finger of all captured English soldiers. Without the middle finger it would be impossible to draw the renowned English longbow and therefore they would be incapable of fighting in the future.

    The longbow was made of the native English Yew tree, and the act of drawing the longbow was known as "plucking the yew" or "pluck yew". The English surprisingly won the battle, and began mocking the French by waving their middle fingers, saying, "See, we can still pluck yew! Pluck yew!"

    Since "pluck yew" is rather difficult to say, the difficult consonant cluster at the beginning has gradually changed to a labiodental fricative "F", and thus the words are often used in conjunction with the one-finger-salute.

    It is also because of the pheasant feathers on the arrows used with the longbow that the symbolic gesture is known as "giving the bird."
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