This week we continue our quest for trivia education. You never know when this stuff will come in handy. Read on to understand past habits and expressions.
You may have wondered why men’s clothes have buttons on the right while women’s clothes have buttons on the left. It seems when buttons were invented, they were very expensive and worn primarily by the rich. Since most people are right-handed, it is easier to push buttons on the right through holes on the left.
Because wealthy women were dressed by maids, dressmakers put the buttons on the maid’s right! And that’s where women’s buttons have remained since. Wouldn’t you think that should have changed years ago, since most of us haven’t had maids for centuries?
Why do ships and aircraft use “mayday” as their call for help? This comes from the French word m’aidez, meaning help me, and is pronounced, approximately, mayday. When I was in the train station in Paris I was locked in a rest room stall and the door went all the way to the floor. It was about 100 degrees in there and I started yelling m’aidez. I am here to tell you it worked! A lady from the outside yanked on the jammed door and got me out. I knew that someday high school French would come in handy.
Here’s more French trivia. Why are zero scores in tennis called love? In France, where tennis became popular, zero on the scoreboard looked like an egg and was called l’oeuf, which is French for egg. When tennis was introduced in the U.S., Americans mispronounced it love.
In the Middle Ages, when many people were unable to read or write, documents were often signed using an X. Kissing the X represented an oath to fulfill obligations specified in the document. The X and the kiss eventually became synonymous.
Long ago, dishes and cookware in Europe were made of a dense orange clay called pygg. When people saved coins in jars made of this clay, the jars became known as pygg banks. When an English potter misunderstood the word, he made a container that resembled a pig for a customer and it caught on. I remember when there was no hole to empty the banks and they had to be broken to get the money out.
Two hundred years ago at local taverns, pubs, and bars, people drank from pint and quart-sized containers. A bar maid’s job was to keep an eye on the customers and keep the drinks coming. She had to pay close attention and remember who was drinking in pints and who was drinking in quarts, hence the phrase “minding your Ps and Qs.”
And finally, in the heyday of sailing ships, all warships and many freighters carried iron cannons. Those cannons fired round iron cannon balls. It was necessary to keep a good supply near the cannon. However, the difficulty was in preventing them from rolling about the deck. The best storage method devised was a square-based pyramid with one ball on top, resting on four, which rested on nine, which rested on sixteen. Thus, a supply of 30 cannon balls could be stacked in a small area right next to the cannon.
There was only one problem – how to prevent the bottom layer from sliding or rolling from under the others. The solution was a metal plate called a monkey with 16 round indentations. However, if this plate was made of iron, the iron balls would quickly rust to it. The solution to the rusting problem was to make brass monkeys. Few landlubbers realized that brass contracts much more and much faster than iron when chilled. Consequently, when the temperature dropped too far, the brass indentations would shrink so much that the iron cannonballs would come right off the monkey. Thus, it was quite literally, “cold enough to freeze the (cannon)balls off a brass monkey.” (All this time, you thought that was an improper expression, didn’t you.)
Now you know the rest of the story!
(Melanie Behrens – firstname.lastname@example.org)
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