Why do we cross our fingers?……

  If you cross your fingers when making a wish, or if you tell a friend, “Keep your fingers crossed,” you’re taking part in an ancient custom that required the participation of two people, intersecting index fingers. The popular gesture grew out of the pagan belief that a cross was …

A very short history of wallpaper……..

  Wallpaper originated in the latter part of the fifteenth century as a relatively inexpensive substitute for densely woven, richly embroidered tapestries. Bearing stenciled, hand-painted, or printed designs, it developed shortly after the rise of paper mills in Europe. The earliest preserved examples date from the year 1509. Because the …

Why noon is really 3pm………..

Noon traces its origins directly to the Latin adjective nona, which was used to refer to the ninth hour of the day. Since the Romans set daytime hours as those from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., the ninth hour was actually 3 p.m. As the influence of the early Christian …

A very short history of 16th century manners…..

As England became more prosperous in the 16th century there was a renewed focus on etiquette and manners. As befitting the influence of the renaissance this was also a time which saw a renewed interest in ‘household ordinances and serving manuals’- namely a series of Anglo-Latin courtesy poems which gave …

A very short history of Birthdays…….

  It is customary today to celebrate a living person’s birthday. But if one Western tradition had prevailed, we’d be observing annual postmortem celebrations of the death day, once a more significant event. Many of our birthday customs have switched one hundred eighty degrees from what they were in the …

A very short history of the wedding ring……

  The origin and significance of the wedding ring is much disputed. One school of thought maintains that the modern ring is symbolic of the fetters used by barbarians to tether a bride to her captor’s home. If that be true, today’s double ring ceremonies fittingly express the newfound equality …

King of the colons…..

Apologies for the lack of recent posts. I have been finishing off my new book on Irish eccentrics which will be out sometime in September. On the subject of eccentrics, I would like to point you in the direction of a Sir William Arbuthnot Lane (1856 – 1943) There have been …

A very short history of St Patrick…….

Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was born in either Scotland, England, Wales, or France, but definitely not in Ireland. His given name was not Patrick but Maewyn. Or Succat. He barely became bishop of Ireland, because his superiors felt he lacked the finesse and scholarship the position called …

To catch a Tartar……

While opinions vary about the origin of the word “Tartar,” all agree that 13th-century western Europeans used the term to refer to invading Mongol tribes. The word was actually a derivative of the name the ancient Romans used to refer to Tartarus, the area in the underworld where evil people …

The flip of a coin……

In ancient times, people believed that major life decisions should be made by the gods. And they devised ingenious forms of divination to coax gods to answer important questions with an unequivocal “yes” or “no.” Although coins—ideally suited for yes/no responses—were first minted by the Lydians in the tenth century …