Popeye the fraud…….

  It appears that the poster boy for spinach is a fraud. Popeye would have been just as better off munching on a celery stalk, for spinach does not contain much of anything apart from Vitamin A, which is excellent for night vision but pretty useless as an aid for …

Manufacture and manure…….

It’s always rather pleasant to watch a word shift in meanings until it means the opposite of itself. Such a word is manufactured, which is Latin for handmade. Manus is hand, as in manual, and facture is making as in, well, a factory, where things are made. But the difference …

When is turkey not a turkey…..

  It seems that the poor old turkey has had an identity crisis. For this we can blame the Portuguese. Following Vasco da Gama`s voyage around Africa by the 16th century they were perhaps one of the leading traders along the Americas. Anxious to preserve their monopoly on certain goods …

The wonderful Monsieur Allais …..

  Alphonse Allais (20 October 1854 – 28 October 1905) was a French writer, humorist and painter. In 1883 Alphonse Allais exhibited a painting called First Communion of Anaemic Young Girls In The Snow, which was of course a white canvas. Allais’ painting was the companion piece to his Apopleptic …

Sing a song of sixpence……….

Sing a Song of Sixpence, A bag full of Rye, Four and twenty Naughty Boys, Baked in a Pye. The earliest mention of this rhyme dates from the eighteenth century. The reference to blackbirds in a pie may refer to a medieval practice for putting live creatures, and even musicians …

Merry Crimbo and a cool Yule………

  Idily reading the sports pages this morning, I noticed a stray reference to “crimbo”, meaning “Christmas”. Crimbo! This word, which must have seemed cheerful, irreverent and rather modern at one point, today feels rather dated – to me, it is somehow redolent of the 1980s, although the OED has …

A very brief history of Boxing Day……

  Today is  boxing day. Once upon a time, there was a thing called a Christmas box. A Christmas box was a box with a small hole cut in it, like a piggy bank, through which coins could be dropped. It was kept in a church and, like a piggy …

Let`s talk about Apostrophes….

  I used to be taught by a teacher who insisted on apostrophising everything. He would always refer to the ‘phone and the ‘papers, the punctuation point standing in for the missing tele and news. The habit was at the same time wondrously fastidious and gloriously silly. It would be …

A very short history of chastity belts…..

  In his 1969 book Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask), Dr David Reuben, a physician and surgeon, described chastity belts as an “armoured bikini” with “a screen in front to allow urination and an inch of iron between the vagina and temptation.” …