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 …

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 …