The truth about Harems

  Nothing evoked more mystery and romance to Europeans in the nineteenth century than the veiled women of the sultan’s harem. Harems started as a way for Ottoman warriors to “protect” their women when away from home for long periodsthe system was then adopted by the Sultanate. The reality of …

Pisse Prophets…..

  The examination of the urine had always been an important diagnostic tool. As far back as the thirteenth century there was a textbook on the subject called De Urinas. By the sixteenth century this had developed into a full blown discipline known as uroscopy. Specialists known as “pisse-prophets” would …

Chlorophyll and deodorant……

    In the sci-fi obsessed 1950s, for a short time chlorophyll was mooted as the new panacea for all things whiffy. It all started with a fellow called Benjamin Gruskin, , who in the 1930s developed a water-soluble form of chlorophyll, now known as chlorophyllin. Gruskin tested his chlorophyllin …

A brief history of knickers…….

  It seems hard to believe, but until the end of the 18th century, “decent” women had always gone knickerless. “Until the late 18th century, [women`s] underwear consisted only of smocks, shifts, stays and the highly important petticoats of all kinds” states the wonderfully named C. Willet Cunnington in his …

Evil Literature……

  In 1926 Ireland, the Catholic Church was so concerned about saving souls that they established a committee to decide which publications should be deemed as “sordid” and “objectionable” The good fathers decided upon the following titles: Woman`s World Woman`s Realm The Sporting Life Girls Companion Home Companion News of …

The pickled herring sandwich……

  “At 6.00 he took a shower. He boiled some potatoes and had open sandwiches of pickled herring in mustard sauce with chives and egg on a rickety table outside the cottage, facing the bridge. He poured himself a shot of aquavit and drank a toast to himself. After that …

oops-a-daisy……

  The other day somebody asked me where the phrase oops-a-daisy comes from. Of course, I didn’t know, but I never feel that Ignorance should stand in the way of Opinion, so I muttered something about lackadaisical and tried to look wise. By extraordinary coincidence, it turns out that I …

Stationary/stationery…….

  Those who have never liked the fine distinctions of English spelling will rejoice to learn that the first recorded use of the word stationery, in Nathan Bailey’s Universal Etymological English Dictionary of 1727, goes thus: Stationary – Stationers Wares The -ary -ery distinction was only introduced in the nineteenth …

The big cheese……

It’s a delightful little oddity of the English language that the phrase the big cheese has nothing whatsoever to do with milk products. The Urdu word for thing is chīz. This meant that back in the days of the British Empire Anglo Indians wouldn’t talk about something being the real …

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 …