T Nation



The next time you see something go a little pear shaped, think about how things used to be in the olden days.
Here are some facts about the 1500s: Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and still smelled pretty good by June. However, they were starting to smell so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odour, hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.
Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children-last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it, hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water."
Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the dogs, cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof, hence the saying "It's raining cats and dogs."
There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could really mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.
The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt, hence the saying "dirt poor". The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on the floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they kept adding more thresh until when you opened the door it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entranceway, hence the saying a "thresh hold."
In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes the stew had food in that had been there for quite a while, hence the rhyme, "Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old."
Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man "could bring home the bacon." They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and "chew the fat."
Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning and death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.
Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or "upper crust."
Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock them out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a "wake."
England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a "bone-house" and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realised they had been burying people alive. So they thought they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the "graveyard shift") to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be "saved by the bell" or was considered a "dead ringer." And that's the truth
Now, whoever said that History was boring?


Now that's funny ...sometimes we have to take a look at where we came from before we decide where we're going.

Oh ...you're little whachamacallit at the top looks like a couple of recruits I once saw trying to do pushups!!!


O'Shea, that is some very cool info. Very cool. I enjoyed it thoroughly.


That was some pretty cool stuff. You never know where our little sayings come from, but now we know.


Cool stuff. Bring more of that anytime. =0) What`s your source?


Sorry, It was an e-mail so I can't ref it. I might do a search later though.


Yeah, that's fun stuff... but unfortunately, a hoax.



Any one in the Victoria BC area can take a tour of "Anne Hathaway'a Cottage" and get a good load of these types of things. Such as:

  • The part about the canopy bed is totally true. But along with that, the base of the beds were ropes strung between the side boards. Occasionally, these ropes would need to be re-tightened because of stretching. In addition, all those bugs falling out of the thatch roof had a tendency to stay in the beds. Thus the admonishment of "sleep tight (referring to the ropes), and don't let the bedbugs bite."

  • Lanterns of the time were nothing more than a metal hook, with a rush dipped in wax balanced on the hook. You would light one end, and as it burned, push it through to maintain balance. When people came to your house in the evening, you would light one, and when the light went out, it was basically the signal for the guests to go home. When there was some one there that you really didn't care for, you'd use a shorter rush, which would burn out sooner, and became known as "the bum's rush." In addition, for more light, you could light each end of the rush, thus generating the phrase "burning the candle at both ends."

  • It was a pretty common practice for the men to go to the local tavern in the evenings. Most people weren't all that good at math, especially when a little tipsy. Barkeeps would track the intake of the patrons and charge them accordingly. Of course, given that the men would get a bit drunk, it was also common for the barkeeps to overcharge. The wives would admonish their husbands to "mind you p's and q's", which meant to keep track of their pints (p's) and quarts (q's) so that the barkeep didn't overcharge them.


Ok... I know the 'mind your Ps and Qs' thing is not unequivocal fact. I'm not going to bother digging up the sources right now, but there are quite a few different takes on the etymology of that saying, and most of them fall into the 'folk etymology' category. That is, they're explanations that get repeated because they sound good.

Actually, here's an article on the subject:

Remember, just because something is written in a museum/historical monument, that doesn't make it automatically true. Double if it just 'sounds right.'


That all sounds good - too good. I doubt much of it is true. I am fascinated by origins of idioms (correct term?) though. I once heard that the phrase "the whole nine yards" refers to the length of a machine gun blet circa WWI. hence "give em the whole nine yards" true?


apparently yes, the 9 yards thing is true.

Brider - are you in Victoria? I was just there 2 weeks ago.