“A drinker with a writing problem”……

The greatest Irish writer of his generation who wrote the critically acclaimed Borstal Boy and The Quare Fellow described himself as “a drinker with a writing problem”. Raised on whiskey by his maternal grandmother because “it was good for the worms”, Brendan Behan achieved national notoriety with a series of …

A rather short history of dentures….

Those crazy Etruscans, who inhabited Italy in the area that is now modern Tuscany, are regarded as the best dentists of the ancient world. They extracted decayed teeth, replacing them with full or partial dentures, in which individual teeth were realistically carved from ivory or bone and bridgework was crafted …

The rather odd history of the Penthouse….

Penthouse is a fine example of a word that has come about by the workings of folk etymology. Old French had the word apentis to denote ‘an outhouse projecting from the side of a main building’.The word was a borrowing of medieval Latin appendicium, ‘appendage’, a derivative of the Latin …

Whatever happened to the euphemism?….

Is the euphemism dying out? Growing up in 1960’s England there was an entire sub-lexicon of phraseology to cover just about everything.. It was the Golden age of euphemisms. Nobody died of pneumonia, diphtheria or tuberculosis, they were peaky, then poorly, then passed over. Some adults had to be watched …

The Fork…

Roman patricians and plebeians ate with their fingers, as did all European peoples until the dawning of a conscious fastidiousness at the beginning of the Renaissance. Still, there was a right and a wrong, a refined and an uncouth, way to go about it. From Roman times onward, a commoner …

Easter eggs….

Only within the last century were chocolate eggs exchanged as Easter gifts. But the springtime exchanging of real eggs—white, coloured, and gold-leafed—is an ancient custom, predating Easter by many centuries. From earliest times, and in most cultures, the egg signified birth and resurrection. The Egyptians buried eggs in their tombs. …

Why are kisses writen xxxx……

Lovers who affectionally sign “XXX”s to valentine cards and letters are usually unaware that the custom goes back to the early Christian era, when a cross mark, or “X,” conveyed the force of a sworn oath. The cross was, of course, a religious symbol. Not only did it refer to …

Hey you!…..

Most of us know the difference between the intimate French tu and the more impersonal (and polite) vous. A similar distinction exists in Arabic between anta (‘you’ singular) and antum (‘you’ plural) – addressing an important person with anta (anti is the feminine version)  rather than antum would be considered impolite. In Vietnam there are no fewer than eighteen words for ‘you’, the use …

Exclamations from around the world…….

Exclamations are generally used to express a sudden reaction: to something frightening, incredible, spectacular, shocking or wonderful. Best not attempted by the visitor, they are better heard from the mouth of the native speaker than read off the page:  aaberdi (Algerian) a cry used when learning fearful news  aawwaah (Dardja, Algeria) a …

March 26th…….

English novelist Arnold Bennett died trying to impress his girlfriend. When a Parisian waiter advised him against drinking the café’s toxic tap water, Bennett took a sip to show his lady companion that he wasn’t afraid of a little bacteria. “Ah, ce n’est pas sage, Monsieur, ce n’est pas sage!” …