One of my Christmas presents was a delightful volume called The Little Book of Answers by Doug Lennox. A radio program producer, Lennox collected bits and pieces of history that answered questions as to how some verbal expressions originally started. Some things we say every day go as far back as the sixteenth century. As Lennox explains, "These are our living links to the past" and he offers a multitude of sayings that include sports, politics, war, holidays, animals and trivia.
One interesting story is how the comic strip Superman, introduced in 1934, got the name Clark Kent. Turns out that it came from two popular actors, named after Clark Gable (of Gone With The Wind fame) and Kent Taylor. Have you ever wondered how Cinderella could have walked in glass slippers?
When Charles Perrault wrote the story in 1697, he meant to say vair, meaning ermine, but wrote the word verre, meaning glass. By the time he realized the mistake, the story had gone too far to change. And why do we say "hello" when answering the telephone? At first it was "ahoy" because this phone phenomenon took place in nautical Connecticut. But inventor Alexander Graham Bell preferred the Gaelic word "hoy". It was Thomas Edison who finally settled on an exclamation of surprise going back to the middle ages. That's how we now say "hello".
Men, who can we blame for making us shave every morning? In many cultures shaving is forbidden. But young Alexander the Great just didn't have the facial growth of older men. So he scraped off his peach fuzz with a sharp knife. Since he was such a popular and successful warrior, those around him didn't dare offend him. And that's how the custom started. Who said blue for boys and pink for girls? Blue is the color of the sky and therefore heaven. So, the ancients believed that color would ward off evil spirits. Girls were given the color red, which eventually was softened to pink.
When you backed into the pot-bellied stove, who kissed it and made it better? Ever wondered how kissing a wound would make it OK? Well, way back before suction cups were invented, victims of snake bites could sometimes be saved if someone could suck the venom out of the point of entry. Early doctors began treating infections by putting their lips tot he spot. But today, a kiss in the right place goes a long way toward smiles and satisfaction.
Hey baseball fans! Ever wonder why the famous baseball team was called the Dodgers? Although they now play in Los Angeles, the team originated in Brooklyn, New York. Way back in the 1800's working class fans had to dodge the dangers of horse-drawn trolleys and carriages.
They called themselves "trolley dodgers". The team called themselves Dodgers in their honor and kept the ID when they moved to California. Although Lennox did not include this in the book, I'd like to ask how many of us remember their colorful manager "Lippy Leo" Dorocher, who was called that name because of his gift of gab?
Ever hear anything "through the grapevine"? During our Civil War, crude telegraph wires were hung in big loops in trees so it would look like wild grape vines. But the messages were slow and often outdated and misleading. That's why we mustn't place too much trust in stuff that has that label.
When I was stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia many years ago, my BOQ (bachelor officers quarters) was located very near the jump towers where young soldiers learned to become paratroopers. I saw and heard them training, so the next one has a particular significance for me. When jumping out of planes, defending their country (God bless them), they shout "Geronimo". According to legend, when this fierce Apache Indian Chief was cornered at the edge of a cliff by the U.S. Cavalry, he screamed his own name and leaped to certain death. However, he survived the jump and escaped both injury and capture. And so, in his name, our young heroes hope to land safely as well.
Ever wonder how New Year's Resolutions started? It goes way back to the Babylonians, who promised to return all farm and cooking tools and pay off personal debts. Then, much later, during medieval times, during the last week of Christmas, knights were required to vow to continue living up to their pledge of chivalry.
This book is a delightful bit of history and nostalgia. It could be a pleasant introduction to the new year. Have a happy one.