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Author Topic: Fodder for history buffs  (Read 2857 times)

kyrathaba

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Fodder for history buffs
« on: January 07, 2011, 01:43:08 PM »
There is a bit of  history buff in all of us.

Here are some interesting tidbits that just maybe you didn't know.


In George Washington's days, there were no cameras. One's image was either sculpted or painted.  Some paintings of George Washington showed him standing behind a desk with one arm behind his back while others showed both legs and both arms.  Prices charged by painters were not based on how many people were to be painted, but by how many limbs were to be painted. Arms and legs are 'limbs,' therefore painting them would cost the buyer more.. Hence the expression, 'Okay, but it'll cost you an arm and a leg.'   (Artists know hands and arms are more difficult to paint)

*******
As incredible as it sounds, men and women took baths only twice a year (May and October) Women kept their hair covered, while men shaved their heads (because of lice and bugs) and wore wigs. Wealthy men could afford good wigs made from wool. They couldn't wash the wigs, so to clean them they would carve out a loaf of bread, put the wig in the shell, and bake it for 30 minutes.  The heat would make the wig big and fluffy, hence the term 'big wig.' Today we often use the term 'here comes the Big Wig' because someone appears to be or is powerful and wealthy.

*******


In the late 1700's, many houses consisted of a large room with only one chair. Commonly, a long wide board folded down from the wall, and was used for dining. The 'head of the household' always sat in the chair while everyone else ate sitting on the floor. Occasionally a guest, who was usually a man, would be invited to sit in this chair during a meal. To sit in the chair meant you were important and in charge.  They called the one sitting in the chair the 'chair man.' Today in business, we use the expression or title 'Chairman' or 'Chairman of the Board.'

*******
Personal hygiene left much room for improvement. As a result, many women and men had developed acne scars by adulthood. The women would spread bee's wax over their facial skin to smooth out their complexions.  When they were speaking to each other, if a woman began to stare at another woman's face she was told, 'mind your own bee's wax.'  Should the woman smile, the wax would crack, hence the term 'crack a smile'.  In addition, when they sat too close to the fire, the wax would melt . . . Therefore, the expression 'losing face.'


*******

Ladies wore corsets, which would lace up in the front. A proper and dignified woman, as in 'straight laced'. . Wore a tightly tied lace.


*******

Common entertainment included playing cards. However, there was a tax levied when purchasing playing cards but only applicable to the 'Ace of Spades.'  To avoid paying the tax, people would purchase 51 cards instead. Yet, since most games require 52 cards, these people were thought to be stupid or dumb because they weren't 'playing with a full deck.'


*******

Early politicians required feedback from the public to determine what the people considered important. Since there were no telephones, TV's or radios, the politicians sent their assistants to local taverns, pubs, and bars.  They were told to 'go sip some ale' and listen to people's conversations and political concerns. Many assistants were dispatched at different times.  'You go sip here' and 'You go sip there.' The two words 'go sip' were eventually combined when referring to the local opinion and, thus we have the term 'gossip.'


*******
At local taverns, pubs, and bars, people drank from pint and quart-sized containers. A bar maid's job was to keep an eye on the customers and keep the drinks coming.  She had to pay close attention and remember who was drinking in 'pints' and who was drinking in 'quarts,' hence the term 'minding your'P's and Q's '


*******
One more and betting you didn't know this!

In the heyday of sailing ships, all war ships and many freighters carried iron cannons. Those cannons fired round iron cannon balls.  It was necessary to keep a good supply near the cannon.  However, how to prevent them from rolling about the deck?  The best storage method devised was a square-based pyramid with one ball on top, resting on four resting on nine, which rested on sixteen..  Thus, a supply of 30 cannon balls could be stacked in a small area right next to the cannon.  There was only one problem...how to prevent the bottom layer from sliding or rolling from under the others. The solution was a metal plate called a 'Monkey' with 16 round indentations.

However, if this plate were made of iron, the iron balls would quickly rust to it. The solution to the rusting problem was to make 'Brass Monkeys.' Few landlubbers realize that brass contracts much more and much faster than iron when chilled.


Consequently, when the temperature dropped too far, the brass indentations would shrink so much that the iron cannonballs would come right off the monkey..  Thus, it was quite literally, 'Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.' (All this time, you thought that was an improper expression, didn't you!)

mwb1100

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Re: Fodder for history buffs
« Reply #1 on: January 07, 2011, 02:11:13 PM »
Hmm - I thought there was going to be something about f0dder's childhood or something here.

Stoic Joker

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Re: Fodder for history buffs
« Reply #2 on: January 07, 2011, 02:40:06 PM »
No that would have been history for f0dder buffs. :)

superboyac

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Re: Fodder for history buffs
« Reply #3 on: January 07, 2011, 03:21:33 PM »
Fantastic!!  More!!  MORE!!!
Made my day, man.  I love this shit.

Only one thing was left unexplained: for brass monkeys, why were they called monkeys?  I don't follow that part.  What makes the plate with the indentations a monkey?

40hz

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Re: Fodder for history buffs
« Reply #4 on: January 07, 2011, 03:59:08 PM »
Some info on related nautical monkey business can be found here courtesy of the U.S. Navy.
8)

Nice to see some interesting info coming out of the U.S. military that didn't first have to pass through Wikileaks before we got to read it.. ;D
« Last Edit: January 07, 2011, 04:05:55 PM by 40hz »

superboyac

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Re: Fodder for history buffs
« Reply #5 on: January 07, 2011, 04:05:13 PM »
From 40hz' link above:
Quote
It has often been claimed that the "brass monkey" was a holder or storage rack in which cannon balls (or shot) were stacked on a ship. Supposedly when the "monkey" with its stack of cannon ball became cold, the contraction of iron cannon balls led to the balls falling through or off of the "monkey." This explanation appears to be a legend of the sea without historical justification. In actuality, ready service shot was kept on the gun or spar decks in shot racks (also known as shot garlands in the Royal Navy) which consisted of longitudinal wooden planks with holes bored into them, into which round shot (cannon balls) were inserted for ready use by the gun crew. These shot racks or garlands are discussed in: Longridge, C. Nepean. The Anatomy of Nelson's Ships. (Annapolis MD: Naval Institute Press, 1981): 64. A top view of shot garlands on the upper deck of a ship-of-the-line is depicted in The Visual Dictionary of Ships and Sailing. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1991): 17.

40hz

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Re: Fodder for history buffs
« Reply #6 on: January 07, 2011, 04:11:29 PM »
I understand the Navy also has a copy of the real lyrics to Louie-Louie (Watch it now. Watch it!;)

Unfortunately, they're classified.   :-\ ;D
« Last Edit: January 07, 2011, 04:20:00 PM by 40hz »

superboyac

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Re: Fodder for history buffs
« Reply #7 on: January 07, 2011, 04:15:47 PM »
I understand the Navy also has a copy of the real lyrics to Louie-Louie (;)Watch it now. Watch it!)

Unfortunately, they're classified.   :-\ ;D
It's in the same place where they keep the lyrics to Yellow Ledbetter.  I saw it once in Warehouse 13; right next to the box with the bag and the sand.

mwb1100

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Re: Fodder for history buffs
« Reply #8 on: January 07, 2011, 04:29:28 PM »
I hope I'm not a party pooper, but most (if not all) of these explanations of phrase origins are fables.  Thankfully, the actual origins often still quite interesting.

There are several people who make serious study of this kind of thing, and one of them publishes a newsletter that I find to be an entertaining read.

Here are links to what the "Word Detective" has to say about many of these stories:

An arm and a leg - (I found it quite surprising that the oldest print use of this phrase he found dates only to 1956!)
The phrase "cost an arm and a leg," meaning to cost a great deal or an exorbitant amount, is simply a hyperbolic figure of speech comparing the cost of something to the grievous loss of two important limbs.  There isn't really any "story" behind the phrase, other than the desire of whoever came up with the metaphor to impress the listener with the outrageous price of something.  Unfortunately, as is often the case, we have no way of knowing exactly who coined the phrase, although it hasn't been around as long as you might think.  Surprisingly, the earliest known use of "cost an arm and a leg" in print dates back only to 1956, in Billie Holiday's autobiography "Lady Sings the Blues"

chairman:
"Chairman" dates back to the 17th century as does, interestingly, the shorter form "chair" meaning the person in charge of a meeting. "Chair" in this sense actually had an odd sort of double birth. In the 1600s and subsequently, the noun "chair" was used as symbolic shorthand (a process known as "metonymy") for the person who sat in the chair of power, much as "the Crown" was used to refer to the King or Queen or "the White House" is used to mean the current presidential administration

bigwig:
And now onward to the wonderful world of wigs. Once upon a time (the 1700's, to be precise), there was no hairspray and no blow-driers. Every day was a bad hair day, as it had been for most of human history. Consequently, almost everybody above the poverty line -- men, women, and sometimes even children -- wore wigs. But not all wigs were equal. While Joe Schmoe trudged through life wearing his ratty little two-shilling bargain number from Wigges 'n Stuffe, Lord Gotrocks sported a luxurious, expensive, and, of course, very large wig. Regular folks found these rich people and their fancy wigs so annoying that by the early 1800's "bigwig" had become a mocking slang term for the wealthy and powerful. And though the wigs are mostly gone (or at least a lot smaller), "bigwig" is still used as slang for someone who probably isn't as important as he thinks he is.

Mind your own beeswax:
The story you've heard about "beeswax hiding pock-marks" has been circulating on the internet for quite a while and, like most stories of this type, was almost certainly dreamt up out of whole cloth by someone working backwards to explain the phrase "mind your own beeswax." While it is true that beeswax (defined in the literal sense by the Oxford English Dictionary as "The wax secreted by bees as the material of their combs?") has long been used in cosmetics, the phrase "mind your own beeswax," meaning "mind your own business," has nothing to do with the wax of bees. "Beeswax" in this phrase is simply a jocular variation on the word "business." It's a little joke, in other words, and quite a useful one at that, since telling someone to "mind your own beeswax" conveys the meaning of "mind your own business" without any unpleasant overtones of hostility. "Mind your own beeswax" first appeared around 1934.

P's and Q's - (he's not certain of the true origin, but leans towards the following)
Another theory, drawn from the schoolroom, is that any child approaching the mystery of penmanship soon discovers that the lowercase "p" is devilishly easy to confuse with the lowercase "q." Thus, the theory goes, generations of teachers exhorting their small charges to "mind your p's and q's" created a enduring metaphor for being attentive and careful

...

I'd pick the schoolroom theory as being the most likely source. It makes sense right out of the box and sounds like the sort of thing teachers say.

Brass Monkeys
The slang term "brass monkeys" is actually a shortening of the phrase "cold enough to freeze the tail off a brass monkey." (Common variants of the phrase almost invariably specify a more risque element of the monkey's anatomy, but we'll go with "tail" for purposes of this column.) While a brass monkey might seem an outlandish item, such knickknacks were, in fact, quite popular in Victorian drawing rooms, usually found in sets of three, set in the classic kitsch "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" pose. Given that brass monkeys were the Lava Lamps of the age and thus never far from the Victorian mind, their use in the phrase is not surprising. Of course, given the shocking dearth of brass monkeys in modern living rooms, it's also not surprising that the phrase seems so mysterious to us today.

And a 'debunking' of the naval origin story:
The infuriatingly popular (but nonetheless incorrect) explanation for the phrase that you encountered usually posits that the cannonballs were piled into a pyramid within the "monkey" frame. This is indeed a common practice at historical monuments on dry land, but would be a terrible idea on a deck rolling and pitching at sea.

Evidently, at least in the British Royal Navy, cannonballs were stored in holes cut in planks mounted close to the guns, an elegant method assuring both security and easy access. Furthermore, while the young boys assigned to bring powder to the cannon deck from the ship's magazine were apparently known as "powder monkeys," there is no record in contemporaneous accounts of life at sea (which are plentiful) of any storage device called a "monkey."

Anyway, I hope that anyone who considers this post as putting a damper on any fun this topic might be, should visit the Word Detective site where you'll find many well-researched and entertaining explanations of word and phrase origins.


superboyac

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Re: Fodder for history buffs
« Reply #9 on: January 07, 2011, 04:40:50 PM »
mwb1100, you just gave me a site to include in my daily rotation!

Deozaan

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Re: Fodder for history buffs
« Reply #10 on: January 07, 2011, 05:03:52 PM »
Yeah, reading through the original list sounded like someone had too much fun with some strange version of Balderdash.

They just didn't seem true to me. Glad mwb1100 could verify my doubts.


JavaJones

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Re: Fodder for history buffs
« Reply #11 on: January 07, 2011, 09:58:35 PM »
Yeah, reading through the original list sounded like someone had too much fun with some strange version of Balderdash.

They just didn't seem true to me. Glad mwb1100 could verify my doubts.

2nd that. My  BS alarm was going off. But we get the best of both worlds here, the fanciful explanations, and some real ones. :D

- Oshyan

tomos

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Re: Fodder for history buffs
« Reply #12 on: January 08, 2011, 03:26:41 AM »
There was another very entertaining post in a similar vein here a short while back (was that from you too kyrathaba?)

Yeah, these are great fun, but I wouldnt actually believe any without some sort of research ;-)

the only one I checked was gossip:

http://en.wikipedia....iki/Gossip#Etymology
Quote
The word is from Old English godsibb, from god and sibb, the term for godparents, i.e. a child's godfather or godmother. In the 16th century, the word assumed the meaning of a person, mostly a woman, one who delights in idle talk, a newsmonger, a tattler.[4] In the early 19th century, the term was extended from the talker to the conversation of such persons. The verb to gossip, meaning "to be a gossip", first appears in Shakespeare.
Tom

kyrathaba

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Re: Fodder for history buffs
« Reply #13 on: January 08, 2011, 10:03:56 AM »
Quote
There was another very entertaining post in a similar vein here a short while back (was that from you too kyrathaba?)

May have been.  I like sharing things that I find entertaining  :P

tomos

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Re: Fodder for history buffs
« Reply #14 on: January 08, 2011, 11:55:22 AM »
I like sharing things that I find entertaining  :P
I love em, true or no :up:

In George Washington's days, there were no cameras. One's image was either sculpted or painted.  Some paintings of George Washington showed him standing behind a desk with one arm behind his back while others showed both legs and both arms.  Prices charged by painters were not based on how many people were to be painted, but by how many limbs were to be painted. Arms and legs are 'limbs,' therefore painting them would cost the buyer more.. Hence the expression, 'Okay, but it'll cost you an arm and a leg.'   (Artists know hands and arms are more difficult to paint)

^ That one reminds me of a story about the expression "chancing an arm" (to risk something)
Quote from: http://www.english-for-students.com/To-Chance.html
two families had a feud. One eventually took refuge in St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin. They then wished to make peace, but were afraid for their lives if they ventured out; in consequence they cut a hole in one of the Cathedral's doors and put out an arm - the worst that could have happened was that an arm was lost. The hole is present to this day.
unfortunately,
they end up by saying:
>> Sadly, the feud took place in 1492 and the saying is first recorded only in the 1880s
Tom