Thursday, January 5, 2017

Some origins


Why is a group of traitors or spies, or those undermining the established order during war etc, known as a Fifth Column?

The term dates from the Spanish Civil War, when General Mola, leading four columns of troops towards Madrid, declared that he had a fifth column inside the city.

Why is confusion and disorder known as being at sixes and sevens?

It is believed that the phrase derives from a complicated dice game called "hazard". It is thought that the expression was originally "cinque and sice" (from the French numerals for five and six). These were considered to be the riskiest numbers to shoot for (to "set on"), and those who tried for them were considered careless or confused.

Why are repressive laws and customs used to oppress black persons known as Jim Crow?

The origin of the term predates the American Civil War. In the early 1830s, the white actor Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice began performing minstrel routines in blackface as the fictional “Jim Crow,” a caricature of a clumsy, dimwitted black slave. Rice claimed to have first created the character after witnessing an elderly black man singing a tune called “Jump Jim Crow” in Louisville, Kentucky. Rice’s minstrel act was a hit among white audiences, and he later took it on tour around the United States and Great Britain. As the show’s popularity spread, “Jim Crow” became a widely used derogatory term for blacks. Jim Crow’s popularity as a fictional character eventually died out, but in the late 19th century the phrase found new life as a blanket term for a wave of anti-black laws laid down after Reconstruction.

What do salads have to do with salt?

The word "salad" comes from the French salade, which in turn comes from the Latin salata (salty), from sal (salt). In English, the word first appears as "salad" or "sallet" in the 14th century. Salt is associated with salad because vegetables were seasoned with brine or salty oil-and-vinegar dressings during Roman times.

A fascinating item on last night’s QI:

An interesting feature of the skull of Richard 111 is that the King’s teeth meet top and bottom. In contrast, modern humans have an overbite, that is, the top teeth are set in front of the bottom teeth. (I bet you just touched your= teeth with your tongue).  This overbite has existed for only about 250 years, roughly the same period as people began using knives and forks. Before that Europeans clamped their teeth together on large chunks of meat to enable pieces to be cut off with a dagger. When the cutting was done on the plate, the overbite developed. Anthropologists submit as further proof the fact that the Chinese adopted chopsticks 900 years earlier, and that their overbite predates the European version by exactly the same amount of time.

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