Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Myths Disguised as Trivia

` I got this in my inbox today: Facts To Impress Your Friends, Part III. 'Tis an abomination to human knowledge! People who pass around this kind of swill to me will learn to get what's coming to them...

` Anyway, I have finally collapsed under its taunting weight of inaccuracies galore...
must... set... record... straight!
` Then I'll e-mail this to the bastards who sent it to me...
` Here goes:

1. In Shakespeare's time, mattresses were secured on bed frames by ropes. When you pulled on the ropes the mattress tightened, making the bed firmer to sleep on. Hence the phrase "goodnight, sleep tight".

` While it is true that for centuries, people really did use bed keys to tighten the ropes under their mattresses, I doubt the phrase 'sleep tight' had anything to do with winding bed ropes! This is an old saying, probably not much older than 1900 - there are many variations (Wake up bright, In the morning light, To do what's right, etc), and the phrase 'sleep tight', I think, used to mean 'sleep soundly'.

It was the accepted practice in Babylon 4,000 years ago that for a month after the wedding, the bride's father would supply his son-in- law with All the mead he could drink. Mead is a honey beer and because their calendar was lunar based, this period was called the honey month we know today as the honeymoon.

` I don't know how much Babylonians had to do with this one, considering there still seems to be more to it than that: Apparently, long ago the term referred to the way couples' affection tends to wane (like the moon?), as in this 1552 reference in Richard Huloet's Abecedarium Anglico Latinum:
` 'Hony mone, a terme proverbially applied to such as be newe married, whiche wyll not fall out at the fyrste, but thone loveth the other at the beginnynge excedyngly, the likelyhode of theyre exceadynge love appearing to aswage, ye which time the vulgar people cal the hony mone.'
To translate for you "vulgar people":
` 'Honeymoon, a term proverbially applied to the newly-married, who will not quarrel at first, but they love the other at the beginning exceedingly, the likelihood of their exceeding love appearing to assuage [the quarrels]; this time is commonly called the honeymoon.'
` In all honesty, I don't think anyone really knows for sure what exactly the phrase first came from.

3. In English pubs, ale is ordered by pints and quarts. So in old England, when customers got unruly, the bartender would yell at them mind their own pints and quarts and settle down. It's where we get the phrase "mind your P's and Q's"

` Okay... that is probably not true. I don't think anyone is even really sure about the origins of this phrase, so spouting an answer as a fact is probably not a good idea. There are a lot of ways it could have come to be. For example, the expression 'pee and kew' is known from the seventeenth century, as in Rowlands' Knave of Hearts in 1612:
"Bring in a quart of Maligo, right true: And looke, you Rogue, that it be Pee and Kew." (Cited by Oxford English Dictionary.)
` Some have speculated that this stands for 'Prime Quality', but you'd think that would be said; 'Pee-Kew'.
` Another phrase, 'learn your Ps and Qs' was common around the 1820s, as advice to children who might be confused about the letters, though the phrase 'mind your Ps and Qs' was first recorded in 1779.

4. Many years ago in England, pub frequenters had a whistle baked into the Rim or handle of their ceramic cups. When they needed a refill, they used the whistle to get some service. "Wet your whistle" is the phrase Inspired by this practice.

` Uh... no. Nobody had mugs with whistles in them until after they began saying this. (In fact, if you were lucky enough to get table service, why would you blow a whistle?) In reality, the 'whistle' in question was a jocular reference to one's mouth or throat, and as you know, it is difficult to whistle when your mouth is dry. The expression dates back to the 1300's - as we see in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

5. In Scotland, a new game was invented. It was entitled Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden.... and thus the word GOLF entered into the English language.

` Here's a good rule: Whenever you see acronyms as etymology, suspect them. To be truthful, nobody is really sure where the term comes from. The Dutch word kolf, meaning 'club' or 'bat' may have had a hand in inspiring the name.
` There is indeed a Scots word, gowf, which means a blow or a slap, though this word seems to have come from the game, not the other way around!

6. Q. What is the only food that doesn't spoil?
A. Honey

` Actually, honey can spoil, but of course, that's only if it's not sealed. It won't if it's in a jar or even a honeycomb, so technically, I guess it 'doesn't spoil'. Don't forget: Mead is made from adding a certain kind of sugar-tolerant yeast, though other kinds of yeasts cause less pleasant fermentation to occur.
` Honey is also hygroscopic - a.k.a. hydroscopic - meaning it takes moisture out of its surroundings. This includes the air itself, which is what helps to preserve baked goods it is put into. Honey also tends to dehydrate mold and bacteria, which kills them.

7. Q What trivia fact about Mel Blanc (voice of Bugs Bunny) is the most ironic?
A. He was allergic to carrots.

` As far as I know, this is not true, despite what WB publicity has said - this is known as one of those trivia questions that will not die!

` Anyhow, I feel better that I've e-mailed this text to the idiots who passed it onto me. Seriously, do people do this on purpose just to spread informational chaos?


Joey M. said...

Interesting...hey! You stole my word! I got "swill" from a MAD back cover, and it's MY word! I use it for's even the name of my conglomerate, Swill inc. But I'm pretty sure Mel Blanc WAS allergic to carrots, and the other 6 sound like speculation.

S E E Quine said...

And who told you this?