Monthly Archives: October 2013

Peeping Tom: A Medieval Creeper

Hello Bologna followers. Are you ready for this weeks lesson? If you are, awesome! If you aren’t, well, that’s too bad because I’m starting… NOW.

Okay so I figure this week, we’ll go full on creeper & I’ll explain the origins of a very common name.

When I say, “Peeping Tom,” I guarantee that 99% of you will understand what I’m talking about. However, if you didn’t already know that a peeping Tom is a sicko who creeps on women by watching through windows & holes in fences & things like that, then you probably could’ve figured it out.

Anyway, this phrase dates back to the 13th century legend of Lady Godiva (who was, in fact, a real person who founded a monestary with her husband in 1043).

Now, according to the legend, her husband, Leofric, Earl of Mercia, was greedy & taxed the peasants in Coventry unfairly. See taxes back then weren’t the same as they were now. The government was very much a mob-like hierarchy, with each rank of nobility kicking a cut of their taxes to the next one, until it reached the king. This resulted in a lot of money being pocketed & the distribution of wealth to be absurdly one sided. Lady Godiva didn’t approve of this & repeatedly asked Leofric to change his tax strategy, but he would’t listen. He finally became sick of hearing about it & made a deal with her. Being the “fair & just” man he was, he proposed lowering taxes, but only if she humiliated herself by riding a horse through town. Not so bad, right? Wrong: he catch was that she had to ride naked. To his surprise, she accepted & did so, but not before warning the townspeople & asking them to shutter their windows & look away. Everyone in Coventry respectfully complied, except for one man. He looked through his partially shuttered window & in some weird case of irony, was instantly struck blind. Try to guess his name.

The legend names him simply as Tom.

Ever since then, dudes who like to creepily & secretly stare at women have been called Peeping Toms.

On that note. Now you know. You’re welcome.


Filed under Etymology

Right & Left: More Than Just Directions

Hey everyone. Welcome to this week’s edition of Bill’s Bologna.

This week, rather than addressing the meaning of a specific phrase, I’m going to dive into a topic which spawned many phrases & expressions. That would be right versus left. Almost every expression, phrase or singular word involving right versus left stems from the same notion & the same time period.

That time period would be Ancient Rome. See, back in the days of the Roman Empire, anything to do with the left hand side was considered to be a sign of bad luck & evil. Let’s start with the most basic root.

The Latin translation for the word left is sinister. Don’t believe me? Check out Google Translate. It’s the third translation down the list. In Latin, the left hand was called manus sinistra. Here’s where all the connections start to be made: People who were born left-handed in the Roman Empire were considered unlucky or cursed & were usually avoided. Fast forward to the fall of the Empire & put yourself in the middle ages & religion started to slip into the superstition. By then, left-handed people were considered straight up evil & avoided like the plague (all pun intended).


I tried to find the most sinister looking picture of a left hand. I think I did okay.

The tradition of teaching left-handed students to use their right hand dates back to Rome as well, &  it’s only recently been phased out. I highly doubt that modern teachers realized that doing this stems back to the notion of “curing” the left-handedness out of someone.

By the way, there’s this phrase that goes something like this: “Hey, it looks like someone rolled out of the wrong side of the bed.” I bet you can guess which side is the wrong one. If you guessed the right side, then you somehow missed the point of the past four paragraphs. Ancient Romans believed that if you woke up & got out of bed on the left side, your entire day was ruined. Apparently, Augustus Caesar was especially mindful of this rule.

When you put your best foot forward, you’re stepping with your right foot. It was considered bad luck to to enter a house & exit a house starting with your left foot. It was also unlucky to put your left shoe on first. Basically, if you started walking anywhere with your left foot first, your trip was cursed.

You know how we use the word “right” as a synonym for the word “correct”? Same roots. Doing something the correct way is directly associated with the right side, as opposed to the the incorrect way, which would be associated with the left.

The same can be said about rights, as in legal rights or First Amendment rights. That also stems from being correct. You have your First Amendment Rights, which implies that you are correct, or right to assume you can speak freely… etc.

As you can see, left versus right is, or at least was a much deeper issue than what we now know is about which side of the brain is dominant.

I’ll leave you guys with that.

Now you know; you’re welcome.

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Hat Tricks: Bowling for Wickets

Good afternoon, Bologna Followers. Are you ready for this weeks edition?

Too bad if you aren’t because here we go.

This one’s for all the sports fans out there & explains one of the most common terms used in the world of sports:

Hat trick.

I’m sure quite a few of you know that the term is used in many sports (water polo, soccer & hockey, to name a few), but what you might not know is that it actually originates in the English game of  Cricket.

Cricket consists of two teams, which are made up of eleven members. Similarly to baseball, one team takes the field, while the other bats.  The bowler attempts to throw the ball past the batsman & hit a wicket, which is positioned directly behind the batsman. If the batsman hits the ball, he gets to run back & forth between wickets, racking up runs. Conversely, if the bowler hits the wicket, the batsman is dismissed (that’s cricket speak for out).

In 1858, a player by the name of H. H. Stephenson was in his prime. He was a bowler, who, according to Wikipedia bowled, “right-arm fast roundarm.” I have no idea what that means aside from the fact that he threw the ball fast. If a cricket lover out there could enlighten me as to what this means, that would be great.

Anyway, one day, while his team was playing the twenty two of Hallam (because apparently nobody cared if teams there wasn’t an equal number of players on each team back then), Stephenson dismissed three batsmen in a row by hitting the wickets. That’s three wickets in three balls. That’s comparable to a pitcher in baseball completing an inning by striking out the side with nine swing & miss pitches. It’s a pretty impressive.

The tradition back then was to reward outstanding athleticism by holding monetary collections for gifts, regardless of team affiliation. Both teams pitched in & in this case, they raised enough money to buy Stephenson a hat.

Stephenson went on to have a very fulfilling career, going on to play globally, while posting a bunch of outstanding stats & playing teams named The Ovens. You can check out the stats from his 1861-1862 season here, if you’re interested.


H.H. Stephenson (Middle row: Second from left) with his English touring team, while aboard ship in North America.

In 1878, a newspaper dubbed hitting three wickets on three balls a  “hat trick” & awarding the athlete a hat upon completion became tradition. Now, everyone who hits three wickets in a row earns a hat.

The term translated across the sporting world & made its way to various sports, the most famous use being when a player in hockey scores three goals in one game. By 1940, the Toronto Maple Leafs were awarding their hat tricking players with hats.


In hockey, the formal presentation has given way to fan celebration, apparent here as they shower the ice with hats after Alex Ovechkin’s 2010 hat trick for the Capitals.

I’m not the most gigantic sports fan, but it’s nice to think that this expression has its roots back in a day when playing sports really was about having fun & honoring fellow & opposing athletes alike, instead of pumping full of steroids & throwing fits when you can’t score your eight million dollar deal.

At any rate, I hope you enjoyed this & now there’s only one thing left to say:
Now you know; you’re welcome.

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Mind Your Own Beeswax: Makeup Before There Was Makeup

Hello again.  Welcome to another edition of Bill’s Bologna.

For some reason, ever since I was little, hearing someone say, “Mind your own beeswax,” always made me cringe a little. If another child said that to me, I usually laughed at it. I guess it’s because it always seemed like something my parents would have told me to say as a substitute for a less child appropriate saying. Being a six year old, that wasn’t something I was about to do when I was with my friends. I went for quite a while thinking that this was all it was, although I could never find any phrase it even remotely resembled.

That’s because it’s not a substitute for anything. It does have a specific origin, though & here’s how I found it:

As most of you know, the only things Wikipedia is good for is casual reading & finding jumping off points for research. I’m not here to give a lesson on writing research papers, but it’s the truth. That’s where I started. Wiki Answers gave me 2 arguments. The first one says this:

A man had a jar of beeswax and someone wanted to know what it was so he said none of your beeswax.

Pass. Aside from the fact that it’s a giant run on sentence & has no punctuation,  it’s like back  in middle school when you’ve done no work on a report & realize it’s due the next day. “Some guy… uh… had a jar…” It also doesn’t make sense. If you have a jar of beeswax & you don’t want someone to know what it is, you don’t say what it is when you’re telling them they’re not supposed to know. Also, who’s this man? Just saying. Anyway, I digress. Moving on.

The second possibility was much more compelling & seemed like a legitimate answer. I did my research & yes, most of the etymology sites & dictionaries backed it up. Here it is:

It comes from the days before makeup, & possibly goes back as far as the 17th Century. It most likely wasn’t made popular until the 18th. Up until the invention of modern makeup, women used to put beeswax on their faces. There are two explanations as to what the beeswax actually did. The first is that it was thought that beeswax  softened the complexion & cleared pores. Cover the beeswax with powder & presto, there’s the smooth pale color which was all the rage back then. The other explanation says that it may have also been used by smallpox survivors to cover up pock marks. At any rate, most sources agree that beeswax was some sort of facial cosmetic. It very well may have seen both uses.


Yep, this guy makes the stuff we use to make candle wax & also smear on our faces.
(Photo Courtesy of Benson Kua)

Back then, it was considered rude to criticize another woman’s makeup, so if someone noticed something wrong & mentioned it, the appropriate response was, “Mind your own beeswax.” It was less insulting than telling someone to shut the hell up & go away. That was beneath nobility.

Fun fact: If a woman sat too close to a fire, the wax would melt. This eventually became known as losing face.

Anyway, that’s the general consensus as to where the phrase originated. Hope you enjoyed it.

Now you know; you’re welcome.

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Getting Your Goat: No, Really. Now I Have Your Goat.

Hello, everyone.

It’s time for another installment of Bill’s Bologna. It’s two days late, but hey, here it is!

We all know that when you get someone’s goat, it means you get the best of them. Why a goat? Why can’t you get their…  money… food… beer… prized possession, instead?

Well you’re about to find out.

This one dates back to farmers of Nineteenth Century England, dealing with their…

You guessed goats, didn’t you? If you did, you’d be wrong.
It’s cows. Cows is the answer.

Anyway, farmers kept their dairy cows in stables at night. When a dairy cow became agitated, it produced bad milk. & it being the Nineteenth Century & all, veterinary science was not anywhere near the field it is today. What was the best solution to get a cow to stop being stressed? Well, I think that answer is pretty obvious, isn’t it?

You bring in this guy. Durr:


For some reason (I promise I’ll get around to researching this), farmers of the day believed that goats possessed some weird cow-calming effect. Competition was very strong among the farmers & people held grudges. It was very common for a dairy farmer to steal another one’s goat to encourage their cows to produce bad milk. They’d have gotten the best of their rival by getting their goat.

There are other similar alleged origins as well. These involve keeping the goats in the stables of racehorses scheduled to race the next day because, apparently goats have a weird horse-calming effect as well.

Considering those scenarios are so similar, I wouldn’t be surprised if one evolved from the other, or if they both happened independently.

At any rate, now you know where this came from. Superstition & people who just want to have a glass of cold, uncurdled milk with their cookies. I mean biscuits. We’re talking about England, here.

Now you know; you’re welcome.

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