21 June 2017

Some very interesting and uncommon words…

Came across some interesting words. How many of these do you know?

1. I have a friend – Narayan Venkatasubramanyan – who was once invited to create one of those Sunday New York Times crosswords. I am sure you know a lot of people who are very good at solving them. Maybe you are one of them. What is the English word for somebody who is adept at creating or solving crossword puzzles?

2. You have heard of being addicted to alcohol, to smoking and all that. Did you know that you can get addicted to tea? In fact there is an English word which means somebody who is addicted to drinking tea. Do you know what that word is?

3. You must have seen that when people sign their signature, usually they put in a flourish at the end – a long line, a curved design, two dots and what have you. Earlier, it was put in to prevent forgery by putting some uniqueness in the signature. What is the English word that means that flourish you put at the end of a signature?

4. There is a single English word that means a striptease performer. What is it?

5. I need to research more to find out why it is so but there is an English word to describe all books printed before the year 1501. (Very early stages of printing). Have you heard of that word?

17 June 2017

How did that come around? – Kick the bucket

This evening a very young visitor to our house was mentioning about the unfortunate passing away of her P.E. teacher. Instantly, the phrase “kick the bucket” came to my mind. And the next instant, I was wondering why is it called “kicking the bucket”?

After the guests left, started doing the research. And finally came to find this…

A common – and wrong – derivation comes from the theory that people used to commit suicide by standing atop a bucket, tying their neck to the ceiling and then kicking the bucket. There is another theory that instead of committing suicide, people were hanged that way. Both are wrong. Buckets are very unnatural choices for this purpose. In fact, statistically, a chair is more commonly used for suicide in that particular way.

There was another theory about the goat kicking the bucket after getting milked and coming to an unfortunate end.

The real derivation has an intersting twist to the word “bucket”. Back in the 16th century, “bucket” refered to a wooden beam or frame. The root comes from a French word. Such a frame was often used to hang an animal up before being slaughtered. Most commonly it was used for pigs. A refernce to this meaning of the word “bucket” can be found in Shakespeare’s Henry IV.

Anyways, the pig while being slaughterd would kick violently as it went thru its death spasms. As gross as that picture is, that is how “kicking the bucket” came around.

Who knew?

8 June 2017

How did that come around? – Mind your P’s and Q’s

Ever wondered why do we say “mind your P’s and Q’s” to mean “be on your good behavior”? Well, I for one, never had a clue. So, started another research – and I am liking to get to know the origins of phrases and words enough that I have started a separate section in my blog dedicated to this.

My first instinct was that it came from trying to keep everything prim and proper by neatly separating your similar looking letter p’s and q’s. Well, turns out it is not “mind your p’s and q’s”. It is “P’s and Q’s”. Those are difficult to get confused with when you read, write or type.

Some people think – which is mostly denounced – it stands for your “Please”s and “Thank You”s. Even I agree that it is too far fetched.

Turns out the most popular theory goes back to the 17th century. In fact, to the bars of England. All beer and ale was served in pint size containers and quart size containers. While there is reference in literature to suggest that it started as a lingo with the barmen, it is not quite surely known whether it was used to warn somebody who has imbibed too much to behave himself or it was used to keep a proper tally of the alcohol consumption itself.

Well, while it is not accepted by everybody, most seem to believe that it was from the bars of the 17th century England came the saying “mind your P’s and Q’s” meaning to mind one’s manners.

Who knew?

6 June 2017

How did that come around? – To get away “scot free”

I was reading a social discourse which talked about a certain category of folks getting away “scot free”. Which got me thinking about where could this phrase possible have come from. Of course, it means to “get away without penalty or unpunished” but how do you put a Scot in that?

Some amount of research showed that actually, this has nothing to do with the Scots. Apparently, “scot” refers to taxes. Specifically, 12th century England municipal taxes. And the Anglo Saxon word was “sceot”. But there were similar words at that time – Swedish “scatt”, Danish “scat”, Icelandic “scattur” – all meaning tax. In fact as recently as in 1921, the US Senate Committee on Finance hearings transcripts read “[The common laborer]He is scot free at 40 cents an hour”.

So “scot free” meant escaping without taxation. And all of us agree taxation is an unnecessary punishment 🙂

And that is how “scot free” came around to mean “get away without penalty”.