Why do we call women Ms…..?

Miss, Mrs and Ms have a common ancestor: they are all versions of the word mistress (from Old French maistresse, the feminine of maistre). Mistress was used to address all women, but it evolved into two forms designating a woman’s marital status: Mrs for a married woman; Miss for an …

(To be) in someone’s black books

As long ago as 1175 there were a number of official books -bound in black leather which were actually called Black Books – containing straightforward matter concerning the Exchequer or the Admiralty. But the term gained its connotation of someone being out of favour in the reign of King Henry …

Grin like a Cheshire cat…

The first publication to mention this eccentric image was the work of satirist Peter Pindar (the pseudonym of John Wolcot), who wrote A Pair of Lyric Epistles (1795) containing the line: Lo, like a Cheshire cat our court will grin! Seventy years later William Makepeace Thackeray in The Newcomes also …

Good Luck…

The very best of luck to my students taking the CAE examination today, I am confident that you will all do very well. I have received a number of emails from India requesting help for the rather formidable Indian Civil Service Exam – apparently only 0.1 % of applicants get …

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t….

Starting around 1800, an enthusiastic and very eccentric preacher began touring the US, often on horseback, attracting large crowds with his declamatory style and bizarre appearance. Unkempt, far from clean, he yelled and postured, flattered, fascinated and challenged. Lorenzo Dow died in 1834, and in 1836 his writings were published …

Bad hair day….

Having a bad hair day- slang for a time when things are going badly undoubtedly had a limited currency before it reached a wider public. In an interview on Weekend Update, the American television journalist Jane Pauley mentioned having invented the term herself during the 1970s. But according to the  …

Thousand Year Old Eggs…

The origin of this Chinese delicacy, also known as century eggs, is said to go back six centuries to the Ming Dynasty, when, according to legend, a man in the Hunan province found some two-month-old duck eggs in some slaked lime that was being used as mortar in the building …

Tulipmania….

Capitalism isn’t the road to riches for everyone. Take the examples of the 1990`s dot-com boom and bust, or the 1929 stockmarket crash (as well as a series of disastrous depressions across earlier decades), not to mention the imploding speculative European market disaster known as the South Sea Bubble of …

Hair and Superstitions…

Ancient superstition decrees that a person’s hair contains their ‘essential spirit’ (this could be a forerunner of what we now call DNA). Therefore, anyone who has a strand or lock of your hair has the power to command your person and bewitch you. So should you give such a valuable …

The Victorian Internet…

Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web – which is the operating system upon which the internet runs – but what is less well known is that his invention was inspired by a forgotten Victorian bestseller. Enquire Within upon Everything was a ‘how-to’ miscellany that was first published in …