Sunday, February 15, 2015

How Things Began, Part 2

Continuing Byter Charles D's contribution on how things began:

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6. Why do people clink their glasses before drinking a toast?

In earlier times it used to be common for someone to try to kill an enemy by offering him a poisoned drink. To prove to a guest that a drink was safe, it became customary for a guest to pour a small amount of his drink into the glass of the host. Both men would drink it simultaneously. When a guest trusted his host, he would only touch or clink the host’s glass with his own.


Authoritative website declares this explanation to be false. Likewise the explabnation that the clinking sound is to drive away evil spirits is also false. Originally everyone toasted from the same drinking vessel that was passed around, person to the next person. The expression “toast” in this context came from the practice of having a piece of spiced, cooked bread in the drinking vessel that the host, as the last person to drink, would consume along with the remainder of the drink. This later gave way to the company having their own, separate glasses with toasts drunk in unison. The clinking of glasses then served a number of purposes:

· It added a fifth sense – sound – to the four other senses already appreciating the toast, namely sight, touch, taste and smell;

· It made everyone a participant in the good wishes being expressed.

· It bonded the participants.

· It symbolically brought the wine, which had been one in the bottle, back together for a fleeting moment.

Today, when there is a large group, a raising of the glass and eye contact is considered an acceptable toast in place of actually touching glasses.

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7. Why are people in the public eye said to be ‘in the limelight’?

Invented in 1825, limelight was used in lighthouses and theatres by burning a cylinder of lime which produced a brilliant light. In the theatre, a performer ‘in the limelight’ was the centre of attention.


Correct.  Limelight is an intense white light which is produced by heating a piece of lime (the stone, not the fruit) in a flame of burning oxygen and hydrogen. The effect was discovered in the 1820s by Goldsworthy Gurney and the application of the process to create a bright light was developed by Thomas Drummond around 1825. It was widely used in 19th century theatres to illuminate the stage and was first used in a public theatre at Covent Garden in London in 1837. Because the process was used to illuminate the centre of the stage, the main actors who were in the middle of the stage came to be described as being in the limelight. From there around the turn of the 20th century it also came to be applied to people in situations beyond the stage

Above: the first form of limelight/spotlight.
The limelight was first employed in the theatre in 1855 and became widely used by the 1860s. Its intensity made it useful for spotlighting and for the realistic simulation of effects such as sunlight and moonlight. It could also be used for general stage illumination. The greatest disadvantage of the limelight was that it required constant attention of an individual operator, who had to keep adjusting the block of limestone as it burned and to tend to the gas that fuelled it.

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8. Why is someone who is feeling great ‘on cloud nine’?

Types of clouds are numbered according to the altitudes they attain, with nine being the highest cloud. If someone is said to be on cloud nine, that person is floating well above worldly cares.


Unfortunately, not so. Neither is it the highest stage of Buddhist enlightenment for a Bodhisattva, one destined to become a Buddha. Both the US Weather classification of clouds and the Buddhist stages of enlightenment have 10 categories and stages. There is no clearcut answer to the origin of the phrase but in the past the idea of befuddled thinking was ascribed to various cloud numbers. The earliest is Albin Pollock's directory of slang, The Underworld Speaks, 1935: "Cloud eight, befuddled on account of drinking too much liquor."

There are subsequent references to other cloud numbers but by 1960 it was used as Cloud Seven and in the context of extremely happy. The Dictionary of American Slang, 1960, contains the first printed definition of the term: "Cloud seven - completely happy, perfectly satisfied; in a euphoric state." By the 1980’s it was known as being on Cloud Nine, probably influenced by the use of 'cloud nine' in popular music - George Harrison adopted the term as the title of his 1987 album and, more notably, The Temptations' 'psychedelic soul' album of the same name, in 1969.

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9. In golf, where did the term ‘Caddie’ come from?

When Mary, Queen of Scots went to France as a young girl, Louis, King of France, learned that she loved the Scots game ‘golf.’ He had the first course outside of Scotland built for her enjoyment. To make sure she was properly chaperoned (and guarded) while she played, Louis hired cadets from a military school to accompany her. Mary liked this a lot and when she returned to Scotland (not a very good idea in the long run), she took the practice with her. In French, the word cadet is pronounced ‘ca-day’ and the Scots changed it into caddie.


There is no proof of the alleged Mary, Queen of Scots connection and it is highly unlikely.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, 'caddy' or 'caddie' comes from the word “cadet,” from the French, meaning a younger son or younger brother, or the junior branch of the family. The first known written use was 1610, when it meant, “a gentleman who entered the army without a commission to learn the military profession and find a career for himself (as was regularly done by the younger sons of French nobility before the French Revolution).” By 1634 it was in use in Scotland as “a young gentleman latelie come from France, pransing . . . with his short skarlet cloake and his long caudie rapier.” By 1730 its use in Scotland had come to mean a “lad or man who waits about on the lookout for chance employment as a messenger, odd-job man, etc.” Eventually the term came to be used for those who carried a gentleman’s golf bags. 

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10. Why are many coin collection jar banks shaped like pigs?

Long ago, dishes and cookware in Europe were made of dense orange clay called ‘pygg’. When people saved coins in jars made of this clay, the jars became known as ‘pygg banks.’ When an English potter misunderstood the word, he made a container that resembled a pig. And it caught on.



A Tudor pygg bank

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