Category Archives: Etymology

Pleased as a Psychopathic Child’s Puppet

Hello Bologna readers. I hope you all had a great weekend. Here’s something to start your week off.

Pleased as Punch: when you hear it, it sounds like an expression that’s a little old fashioned, like “cool beans,” “that’s the ticket,” or some other phrase from the 1930s & 1940s. In reality, the saying, which is another way of describing how pleased you are, dates much further back than that.

In the 1500s, there was no TV, no radio & there were no movies. On top of the this, many people were illiterate, so entertainment had to be found in other things. Children, in particular, found much of their fun in puppet shows. The phrase “Pleased as Punch” has a history that goes back to one of these shows, which began in Italy as a marionette show. The original star was a character named Pulcinella. Always shown wearing a black mask, he was mean & conniving, often pretending to be stupid & inept to weasel his way into things. This proved to be extremely popular with children & it soon spread across Europe & into England, where the character’s name became Punchinello. In time, the character, Joan, was added as Punchinello’s wife & the comedy took off.


The Italian Pulcinella, complete with black face mask. (Image in public domain)

Eventually, this transformed into an even more popular puppet show called Punch & Judy, & it quickly became a part of the youth culture in seaside towns. You can still catch performances in these villages today.

The show features an ugly, red-nosed puppet named Mr. Punch. He is joined by his wife, Judy, who usually doesn’t stick around for long. The scenes are quick & they change from show to show, constantly keeping children supplied with new stories.

There usually isn’t much of a story arc, which is an intentional tactic to allow people walking down the street to join & leave mid-show. Most of the stories focus on Punch, with his wife, Judy, playing a secondary role. A typical show usually starts with Judy asking Punch to look after their baby, a job at which Punch is terrible. Judy arrives later & in finding out the Punch has screwed up, gets very angry. Upon hearing the commotion, a police officer arrives, the plot becomes extremely open ended, & then everything just goes nuts.

Various caracters from Punch & Judy, including Punch, the baby, the Policeman & the clown (Image released into public domain by Immanuel Giel)

Various caracters from Punch & Judy, including Punch, the baby, the Policeman & the clown
(Image released into public domain by Immanuel Giel)

The reason Judy doesn’t stay in the show for long is because Punch is a hilariously sociopathic killer, who takes great pleasure unleashing his endless supply of serial-killing on people with a giant wooden stick called, you guessed it, a slapstick. Judy & the baby are, more often than not, the first to go. After each kill, Punch becomes delighted & very happy with himself, exclaiming in his high-pitched voice, “That’s the way to do it!”

You can watch a performance of Punch & Judy here.

So as it turns out, every time you say you’re pleased as Punch, you’re not referring to that fizzy, sometimes-alcoholic fruit drink you find at a party; you’re actually saying that you’re as happy as a sociopathic, baseball bat-wielding murder-puppet would be, after a fresh kill.

Now you know; you’re welcome.


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Cleaning Clocks on the Rails & Taking a Punch in the Face

Cleaning someone’s clock is an expression mainly used by sportswriters, when they’re referring to an huge defeat. The phrase can also be used to describe someone being punched in the face. In any sense of its use, the implications are the same. The clock is the sufferer of some sort of defeat, while the guy with the rag & the Windex is the winner.


Fenway Park during the 1914 World Series. During game 1, The Boston Braves would clean Philadelphia Athletics’ clocks, 7-1. (Image in public domain)

On written record,”cleaning someone’s clock,” is still a baby. It was first published in its entirety in 1959, but this is just its written history. As I’ve said before, written traditions are way younger than oral ones, so this one most likely goes back a bit more. Without further delay, let’s look into the few ways the phrase may have come to be.

The first is extremely easy. It’s such a simple idea, that it fits in two lines. It’s this:

The word “clock,” when used as a verb sometimes means to hit. The phrase we know may be nothing more than a simple variation of that meaning.

The second meaning comes from the days of steam locomotives.

Pressure gauges on the engine were called clocks because of their slight resemblance to the timepieces. They were circular & had needles, which looked like the hands of a clock. These needles indicated how much steam pressure was in the different systems of the engine. “Cleaning someone’s clock” is a reference to the brake gauge. This is because when an engineer needed to execute an emergency stop, he would pull a lever, emptying the steam out of the breaking system. The needle on the “clock” would then indicate that the steam pressure was at zero. Zeroing the needle was also called cleaning. It’s easy to draw the connection from this use of the phrase, to sportswriters’ usage: When you clean the clocks on a train, it comes to a complete stop. Likewise, when you clean the clocks of a sports team, the scoring momentum comes to a complete stop & they have no chance of winning.


A Pressure gauge, or clock.                     (Image in public domain)

The third is a simple combination of two different slang terms.

Londoners who speak English with a Cockney accent use the word “clock” as a nickname for a person’s face. On the website, The Phrase Finder user, The Fallen confirms this in a post, where he claims that it comes from the fact that we refer to the part of the clock with the numbers & hands as the face. He remains at a loss as to why cleaning one of these clock faces has come to be a reference to a punch.

Let’s examine the verb “to clean,” as a slang word. According to the website, The Word Detective, it’s quite easy. On this side of the pond, it has been linked synonymously with the verb, to defeat. Most sources date it to the early Nineteenth Century.

Take clean, when used in the above context & put it next to the word clock, meaning face, & you have an expression which means “to defeat someone’s face.” I’d say punching someone in the face would definitely defeat it.

Out of all three options, I would have to pick the last two. There isn’t much to the first one, but then again simplicity might be the key, as it has been before. At any rate, I have always liked this expression & it’s cool to know where it may have come from.

Have a good week & I’ll see you next Monday.

For now, though, now you know; you’re welcome.

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Show Your True Colors: Pirates & Warfare

Hello bologna readers! Happy Tuesday. This one’s a day late, so you have my apologies, but if it’s any concession, this one’s a good one.

Showing your true colors. You think you know someone, right? The phrase refers to someone who reveals their real intentions through some form of deceit. Why is it colors? Why don’t just use the word motive instead?

Well, as with many of these expressions, this one goes back to the high seas, so, let’s go along with it.

What do you think of when you hear the word Pirate? I’ll bet most of you are thinking the same thing: that peg-legged, eye-patched sailor who sails the seven seas with his swashbuckling friends, finds buried treasure & engages in heroic ocean battles while yelling, “Avast!” & “Arrrrrrr!”.

That’s the notion that Hollywood has put into our heads. Who doesn’t like a dramatic story, & if the leading character is a pirate, well, he has to be the good guy, right?

Not so fast. Pirates were a despicable bunch (think of the horrifying pirates of today, only with technology of the Seventeenth & Eighteenth Centuries). They were nasty & weren’t afraid to steal, kidnap, rape, capture ships, spread disease & any other awful thing you can think of. Don’t believe me? Just read this Cracked article by Eric Yosomono & Jean Flynn. One of the entries from this list of terrifying pirates is about a guy who took a bite of a human heart before shoving it into another prisoner’s face & threatening to do the same thing to him. So, needless to say, these guys were not people you wanted to mess with.


A pirate murdering the crap out of someone. (Image in Public Domain)

After hearing that, it might not surprise you to learn that dishonesty was a also common trait among pirates. Law abiding sailors, especially merchants & explorers, were always fearing pirate attacks. These ocean-going outlaws were much harder to detect & combat back then. This caused many ships to be tricked, & seized or sunk. This is due to one pirate battle tactic, which blatant flew in the face of contemporary rules of naval warfare.

In the days of sailing ships & cannon battles, “colors” was just another word for flag. Warships were required to display the flag of their respective nation.  A lowered flag meant a surrender (This is also where the phrase, “nailing your colors to the mast” comes from: if the ship had absolutely no intention of surrendering, a flag nailed to its mast would negate the chance of it accidentally being lowered). It was simply a way of identifying a ship’s allegiance & a way to distinguish it from its enemy. Here’s where the pirate’s tactic came in. They would fly the flag of the nation to which the ship they were ambushing belonged. Now that the outlaws had their prey believing they were friendly, they could sneak up really close. Just before attacking, they would lower the flag & replace it with some form of the Jolly Roger, showing their true colors, & therefore, true intentions.


The true colors of pirate ships: the Jolly Roger (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia user, WarX)

Pretty sneaky, huh?

Now you know; you’re welcome.

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A Baker’s Dozen: Avoiding Serious Punishments

Hello everyone. I hope you all had a good long weekend.

Here we go.

For the most part, bakeries sell their food by the dozen, or batches of twelve, but many continue to advertize sales which call for a baker’s dozen. When you ask for this, you’ll always get thirteen pieces of whatever you ordered, for the price of twelve. At first thought, it may seem like an arbitrary number, but the idea are well founded, & probably saved more than a few lives.

To figure out what in the world the tradition means, we have to go back about four thousand years & work our way forward.

One of the earliest milestones of human civilization was the city of Babylon. It was located on the site of modern day Baghdad & as such an important city in our history, it gave birth to many ideas, which we still use variations of today. One of these fundamentals to society was one of the first comprehensive codes of law ever written. Bakers just happened to fit into this set of laws in a very strict way.

Here’s how:

A bustling city needs its inhabitants to be fed & Babylon was no different. So, what did they turn to to feed the population? Bread. Historical records show that because wheat is easy to grow & grind into flour, foods made from the grain have been a primary food source since he dawn of mankind. Because of this need for food & the widespread knowledge of how to cultivate wheat, bakeries were prominent around early cities.

While most of the shopowners were honest, some of them were sneaky & took advantage of their patrons. At the time, the baker’s standard was to give them a box of twelve loaves of bread. This was before any laws were put into practice to protect the customers’ interests, so bakers would produce smaller loaves, or if they were feeling exceptionally audacious that day, they’d short them a loaf. More money could be made because people would unknowingly spend the same amount for less bread.

Well, people started to catch on & quickly became sick of being cheated out of food, so much so that laws were passed to prevent it from happening. If you were a baker in Babylon & you cheated someone out of bread, your hand would be chopped off. Fast forward to Ancient Egypt, & your ear would be cut off & nailed to your bakery door. That’s how important bread was to those early societies.

Rules like this remained the same for almost two thousand years, until they faded into obscurity. Once this happened, the bread based conning started to become an apparent problem again. Slowly, people started to notice again & just like before, became upset. In fact, the issue became so prominent, that King Henry III of England, tired of being shorted, himself, lost his patience. In the 1260s, he called his court into session, specifically to address this. Out of this meeting, a law was passed, which stated that the weight of a wheat kernel in relation to the weight of a coin had a direct correlation on what to charge for loaf of bread & a gallon of wine. The law was called the Assize of Bread and Ale Act & it went something like this:

By the consent of the whole realm of England, the measure of the king was made; that is to say: that an English penny, called a sterling round, and without any clipping, shall weigh thirty-two wheat corns in the midst of the ear, and twenty-pence do make an ounce, and twelve ounces one pound, and eight pounds do make a gallon of wine, and eight gallons of wine do make a London bushel, which is the eighth part of a quarter.


This was groundbreaking, as it regulated the standard weight of a loaf, while letting the price of a loaf to fluctuate based on the market price of wheat. Before long, penalties for cheating customers were brought back into play, with various claims as to what they were. Some historians advocate that the punishment was flogging, while others claim that the Babylonian loss of a hand was the retribution.

Regardless of what the actual punishment was, most bakers didn’t think he extra dollar or two was worth it. Flogging often resulted in death & so did hand-removal, so to combat the risk & to assure mistakes weren’t made (you could also get nailed for an accident), bakers would throw in an extra loaf. It assured that the original dozen would still be there, in case something rendered one of the loaves inedible. This would push the weight of the basket over the legal requirement, even if bread accidentally came out of the oven too light. It was a win-win situation for everyone because customers would walk away happy they had an extra piece of bread & bakers were happy they were able to keep their hands. All in all, I’d say it was a good trade.


A medieval bakery. Notice the baker’s dozen batch of bread on the table (Image in Public Domain).

The act only lasted a few because the king decided that sitting in a jail cell was a better alternative to losing the country’s bakers to whippings & blood loss, right?

Wrong. The law remained unchanged until 1863, when England passed one of its Statute Law Revision Acts,  Parliamentary act which nullifies or revises past laws that have become obsolete. That’s six hundred years of on-the-books flogging & be-handing as a remedy for lying to customers.

So, my friends, the next time you walk into a bakery, take some time to think of all those poor souls who sacrificed their hands so you could get a free cupcake with your twelve others.

Now you know; you’re welcome.

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Mead Drinking on Your Honeymoon

Hello everyone!

I have weddings on my mind because my friend is getting married in a few months & as his best man, I’ve been busy planning & preparing with him. So, Scott & Laura, this one is for  you.

As celebrations of two people sharing their lives together, weddings are always fun times. The party does have to come to an end, though, & once everyone goes home, the bride & groom get to extend their own festivities by going on vacation. Planning & preparing for the wedding can be tiring & stressful, so a break from life & time to enjoy the company of each other is well deserved. We call this the honeymoon.

It’s a weird word when you think about it. The word as we use it doesn’t have anything to do with honey or the moon, but hey, it’s a hell of a lot easier than saying “the vacation the bride & groom take after the wedding.” So, honeymoon, it is. Despite its apparent meaninglessness, the word has been part of our language for centuries & we use it without thinking. So, what does it mean? Does honey actually have anything to do with it? What about the moon, for that matter?

Luckily, you read this blog because I’m going to let you know.

There are a few vaguely connected theories as to how this word came to be. I learned the first one independently from researching for this entry, way before I even had the idea to write about the bologna.

In 2012, my family & I went to Ireland. It was one of the best trips of my life & if I ever get the chance to go back, I will in a heartbeat.

We spent a few days Dublin & quite a bit of time in the beautiful countryside. On our last full day there, we went to Blarney Castle, kissed the Blarney Stone & walked around the town. After a little ways, my father & I came across a little shop which sold various odds & ends. That’s when I saw the bottle. It was full of a golden brown liquid that looked like alcohol, & hoping it was something very Irish, I picked it up. It was mead, a liqueur made from honey. It’s not Irish in particular; it comes from all over Europe & is traditional in some form in almost every country. This brand was Irish mead, so I decided to buy it.

I flipped the bottle around & on the back was a little paragraph, which told of the origin of the word “honeymoon.”

The text explained that in Medieval England & Ireland, mead was thought to make couples fertile. Paired with the notion that a full moon also increased fertility, newlyweds would take a trip to the countryside, so they could try to conceive. That was the entire reason for going away. They’d shack up for a month, drink mead, & when the moon was full, try to have a child.

Other variations of this history include having the wedding on a full moon for luck, followed by a month of mead drinking, while trying to conceive. Either way, mead played an important role with Irish wedding couples.

A bottle of Swedish mead, or honey wine. (Photo courtesy of Tobias Radeskog)

The Online Etymology Dictionary describes it a little differently, breaking up the word into its parts. It strictly describes the etymology & doesn’t give much insight into the tradition. According to the site, honeymoon was originally two words spelled, “hony moone.” It referred to “indefinite period of tenderness and pleasure experienced by a newly wed couple.” When broken down, “hony” described the the “new marriage’s sweetness” & “moone” described how long the period of tenderness was to last, as dictated by the changing lunar phase.

During my research, I stumbled upon an Indian resort’s website. The Pavilions advertises itself as a honeymoon destination, & on one of their pages page, they give a history of the word. Here’s where it gets a pretty dark. The page claims that the honeymoon is a remnant of bridal kidnapping, which is exactly what it sounds like. The tradition was apparently started by Attila the Hun. His men would kidnap women, & force them into marriage. The period of time the bride was held captive eventually evolved into the honeymoon. The story is a bit morbid for a resort that wants to be romantic, huh?

Anyway, The Pavilions didn’t cite any sources, so I dug into it myself. It turns out that bridal kidnapping did occur fairly frequently, especially in South Eastern Europe. Many historians do, in fact, believe that this was the honeymoon in its first stage of evolution. By the beginning of the Middle Ages, marriage had become legally & religiously binding, & the outing had naturally transformed into something willful for both parties.

Thankfully, today, it’s is a much lighter & happier tradition. The bride can spend time with her new husband because she wants to & not because she has no choice. Thankfully we don’t live in the Dark Ages, huh?


Now you know; you’re welcome.

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Chess: A Game Full of Foreign Languages

I’ve never been good at chess. It’s one of the most challenging & mentally taxing games in history. The amount of strategy & it takes a lot of hard thinking to outsmart your opponent. Some people are very good at it.

Games can take hours or days & those who play professionally take it extremely seriously. They have every right & whether you’re good at it or not, the game deserves the recognition & respect.  Putting strategy aside, it’s extremely old. “How old? The Dark Ages?” you might ask. Nope. It’s way older. Reports of a Japanese version of chess date back five thousand years, but for the purpose of this entry, we’re going to stick with the variant we know.

Chess as Westerns play it, is believed to have been invented in the Second Century in the middle of the Gupta Empire in India. The game consisted of the same basic principle, with a few different pieces & rules, reflecting life in India, rather than the West. The pieces were:

Raja: King
Mantri: General (later the Queen)
Ratha: Chariot (later the Rook)
Gaja: Elephant (later the Bishop)
Ashva: Horse or Knight
Padati: Foot Soldier (now known as the Pawn)

By the Sixth Century, the game was being called chaturanga, which is Sanskrit for “having four limbs.” As you can assume from the name, it was a four player game. After spending a good chunck of time circulating around the Indian nobility, merchants who did business with the high classes picked it up. Any history buff can tell you that trade & the spread of culture go hand in hand & chaturanga was no different. Chess had begun its global popularization.


The layout of a four player Chaturanga board. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia user MSouza)

By 1000 AD, chess had split into two branches. The first, known as Asiatic chess, spread North & East, through Asia, no doubt lending influence to the ancient Japanese game I mentioned before. The other version is the one we know, & it’s called Occidental or European chess.

As awareness of the game traveled through Western Asia & the Middle East, cultures accepted it very quickly. The original Indian words were absorbed into the hundreds of new languages they were meeting & rules were added. For example, two fundamental changes, which made European chess unique, have their origins in Persia. The first is that chess started to be a two-player game, instead of requiring four. Players also started to warn their opponents of their king’s danger. The changes stuck & once people in England started playing, they began using the word “check” to make the other player aware of the king’s jeopardized safety. In the Middle Ages, the word referred to a temporary stoppage, as nothing can be done until the king is moved out of harm’s way.


The two person Chaturanga board. It resembles European chess quite a bit. (Photo released into public domain by Wikipedia user Adhe)

Now for everyone’s favorite part: victory. Upon realizing that the rival player had no moves left, the winner would say, “shah mat.” Though the common though among the general public is that this means, “The king is dead,” that’s not true. It’s understandable, though because, upon hearing the words, the loser lays the king piece on its side. The death allusion is just coincidence, though; shah mat’s literal translation is, “The king is stumped/helpless/ambushed.” Coupled with the fact that the word “check” was already being used, English ears heard an Anglicized version of the phrase, & adopted “checkmate.”


An illustration showing Moorish nobility playing European chess. (image is in public domain)

The name chess, itself, comes from the old French word for the game, “echecs.” The French used this word because the board resembled an accounting table called an eschequier, a word which has survived to become a term we use to describe an agency set up to collect royal revenue. Interestingly enough, it’s also where we get the term “checkered,” when we describe the color pattern & obviously the name of the game checkers.


Chess has a much more interesting complicated history than you’d expect. Its popularity & the fact that it’s held in such high esteem is a wonderful testament to the game’s rich history. It’s been around for a good portion of human civilization & I expect it to stick around for a long time in the future.

Now you know; you’re welcome.

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Eating Humble Pie: Sucking it Up & Eating… Guts

Hello all!

Humility- it’s a good thing.

Merriam Webster defines humility as: the quality or state of not thinking you are better than  other people

If you’re showing humility, you’re being humble, & that brings us to the phrase this week: “Eat your humble pie.” We say this when talking about conceding defeat, without being mad or implying that you’re better than the person who beat you. It basically means being a good sport about losing something.

Wait, wait, wait. Humility isn’t tangible, so why do we eat it & why does it come in pie form?

Well, it’s very interesting, but in order to tell you, I need to send you back to the Fourteenth Century.

Put yourself in Medieval England. You’re poor & you work for the local noble family, in exchange for the right to live on their land. Your days are long & filled with manual labor, & most evenings are spent in your small house, eating your ration of the harvest & whatever else you may have saved or canned. It’s a pretty rough life, but every so often you get to experience a taste of the high life.

From time to time, your landlord opens his manor to everyone living on his land. He’s just gotten back from a hunting trip & wants to celebrate his catch. You get to rub shoulders with the local celebrities for a day, right through dinner. It’ll be a great time, as there’s plenty of food & alcohol & everyone gets to party.

Speaking of dinner, this one’s bound to be awesome. The family’s top chefs are going to cook up the meat & serve it to everyone. What a generous landlord! You watch as an amazing cut is presented to him(He gets the first bite. It’s only fair; it’s his house). Your mouth is watering already; it’s bound to be delicious.

Not so fast. You’re a peasant, remember? Yeah, this is feudalism, which is fueled by social class & status. You’re nothing to this guy & the dinner is just a formality. If he doesn’t invite you, he’ll look badly in front of his rich guests.

So, what’s on your menu? One thing: nombles. These are nothing more than the entrails of the hunted animal, which are cooked & presented to you in a pie. Yeah, that’s right, the lord eats steak, while you eat the bag from the inside of the Thanksgiving turkey. Don’t worry, it’s baked in a sweet flaky crust. Feel better? I didn’t think so.

This is how it went for about one hundred years, & by the Fifteenth century, the word “nombles” had evolved into “umble.” According to James Fratter’s article, “10 Misconceptions About Common Sayings,” nomble pie suffered from what etymologists like to call metanalysis, or rebracketing. This is the breaking down of a word into parts which aren’t quite the same as what was originally intended & it’s all because of pronunciation. Since the uniformity of English wasn’t well known to the peasants, common objects such as “a napron” changed to become what we know as “an apron.” For the same reasons, “a nomble pie” became spelled “an umble pie.” Over time, because of certain English accents which don’t pronounce the letter H, umble’s spelling became humble & stuck. Those dialects which do pronounce H, naturally, well, pronounced it.

So, there it is, folks. It’s a long & complicated evolution of spelling & pronunciation of a phrase which very literally meant, “Let the cool rich people eat their delicious food, while you field workers get to sit in the corner with the scraps.  I’d better not hear you complain about it.” So, the next time feel ashamed about eating your humble pie because you lost an argument, just remember, you could be eating an animal-guts pie. Admitting you’re wrong doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?

Well, that’s it for today. Now you know; you’re welcome.


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Indian Givers: Centuries Old Misunderstandings

Hello, Bologna readers.

This week, I have an expression which has a good amount of historical context to it. It’s an extremely common one & I would be very surprised if any of you hadn’t heard it before. Let’s get to it.

I remember hearing the phrase for the first time from my grandmother, while we were visiting her house on Cape Cod. One of my father’s friends was visiting with his young children & they had brought cookies for dessert. As they were leaving, one of the kids grabbed the box of cookies, not realizing that it’s customary to leave the food you bring to someone’s house as a gift. My dad’s friend explained the custom & my grandmother jokingly called him an Indian giver. Being no more than twelve, I didn’t know the phrase either, so I asked what it meant. She explained that it’s a phrase used to label someone who brings a gift & tries to take it back.

For many English people, the phrase implies a reference to Indians from India & for most North Americans, it implies a reference to the Native population.  Unfortunately for the English, the latter is correct, & the widespread usage has given those populations a reputation as people who take back their gifts. This is a big misunderstanding & can actually be drawn back to the ignorance of European settlers in what is now the United States & Canada. After realizing their mistake, they deliberately spun it to make the Natives look bad, labeled it a lack of civility & used it to justify warring & conquering.

See, many of the Native cultures had group mentalities, which resembled communism. They believed that land belonged to the Earth & that humans were just borrowing it temporarily. This idea extended to property as well. Many items were communally owned, so people also borrowed from & shared with others. Everything was done for the good of the tribe.

There wasn’t any problem with this until the Europeans showed up because they were the exact opposite. Land ownership concrete rules regarding possessions & working for personal gain were cornerstones of their society, so when the two cultures met, there was obviously some friction. Trading was the biggest trigger for those tensions.

Many times, when a trade was made, a member of a tribe would come to request the item back, a perfectly acceptable gesture, according Native culture. The Europeans, having the opposite societal values, didn’t take too kindly to this & begrudgingly did so. Other times, they’d flat out refuse, offending the tribe. Sometimes, a tribal member would come & just take it back, which, of course, offend the settlers. On & on it went like this.

The men on the Lewis & Clark expedition met many Native Americans & in no time, predictably ran into these problems. Because neither side had a concept of cultural understanding, for the most part, the groups didn’t get along. This is where the propaganda comes in. Both Lewis & Clark were angry, & knowing that their journals would be published upon their return, they labeled the natives as, “impertinent and thievish.” Well, the journals were published & word spread. So did public opinion.

The propaganda trip that white settlers took would eventually go as far as to use the word “Indian” to describe something fake or a cheap substitute. Indian tea & Indian corn were cheap substitutes for British goods, & the connotation of the wod. Indian summers, or seemingly random spells of warm weather which come right before the turn of the winter season, take the name from this, as well. The unnatural bouts of summer weather are deceitful & essentially fake summers.


Interesting stuff, isn’t it?

Now you know; you’re welcome.

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Deadlines: Civil War POW Security

Good Monday morning Bologna readers. I hope you all had a good weekend.


Many of us have full-time jobs & with that line of work come many schedules we have to meet, or deadlines. It’s a phrase we use every day, without really thinking about it.

Deadlines may be stressful things to meet these days, but when the phrase was first coined, the stress level (understatement of the century), was much higher & they were things you definitely didn’t want to come in contact with.

Let’s go back to the American Civil War.

Before the war started, methods of holding prisoners of war were varied. Some were kept in actual prisons with real criminals, while others were kept on prison ships, where diseases like smallpox ran rampant. After the outbreak of war, the number of POWs rose very quickly. Almost instantaneously, both the Union & Confederate armies had a gigantic number of captives on their hands, the likes of which had never been seen before. Both armies had to begin thinking of new ways to keep prisoners & so, both sides simultaneously decided to build detainment centers, modeled after the first prisoner of war camp, built around the turn of the Eighteenth Century in England, called Norman Cross.

One of the most notorious prisons was built by the Confederates in Andersonville, Georgia to hold Federal prisoners caught in the Richmond, Virginia area. Even though POW prisons were works in progress at the time & mistreatment was common in many contemporary camps, this one was notorious for its sadism towards the captives it housed, as food was deliberately withheld & the prisoners had to make do with a single stream to use as a shower, kitchen & bathroom. It was designed to house 10,000 prisoners, but would eventually contain three times as much. Unsurprisingly, the place was a disease breeding ground & pool of starvation. I’m not going to post pictures of survivors. They’re not pretty.

Around the edge, fifteen foot walls made of logs were constructed, with guard towers nicknamed “pigeon roosts” positioned every ninety feet or so. About 20 feet from the wooden walls, a fairly shallow trench was dug. In some areas, it was replaced with a short fence, but both served the same purpose. What were these built for? Well, let’s let Walter Bowie, a captain in the Confederate Army explain it through one of his inspection reports, dated May 10, 1864:

On the inside of the stockade and twenty feet from it there is a… line established, over which no prisoner is allowed to go, day or night, under penalty of being shot.


Reconstructed walls of Andersonville, complete with pigeon roosts. Note the small fence. You can also see the most basic of tentsPhoto courtesy of Jud McCranie

Yes, that’s right, guards were positioned in these guard towers & they had orders to shoot & kill any prisoner who crossed this line & regardless of whether it was an accident or not.

What did soldiers come to call this marker? They called it the “deadline.”

The Confederates weren’t the only ones guilty of deplorable POW conditions, & many camps in the North adopted deadlines, as well. This includes the Union Chicago-area prison, Camp Douglas, which because of its detestable treatment of its prisoners, especially during the city’s freezing winters, earned the nickname “The North’s Andersonville.”

The website, Today, I Found Out’s article, “Origin of the ‘Deadline,'” describes the natural evolution from POW security measure to time limit. Before its modern use became widespread, it switched from a literal meaning, to a figurative one. For example, in 1900, a parent might have set a deadline on a child’s behavior at dinner. The child might have been sent from the table, if they misbehaved.

The phrase as we know it came to life in the 1920’s, in the newspaper business. If you cross the deadline to get the paper out, people won’t get the news & you’ll most certainly be fired.

So, there it is, everyone. That’s the morbid origin of the term “deadline.” I hope you have a great rest of the week, & be sure not to cross those deadlines at work.

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Quack Doctors: Dutch Frauds

Good Monday morning to you all, Bologna followers!

I have an interesting one, made possible by request, so without any further delay, here we go.

Imagine you’re in the doctor’s office. You’ve been feeling under the weather & have a cough that’s been lingering for a while. Clearly something is wrong. The doctor comes in, checks you out & tells you to go home because you’re fine. You’re not fine; you’re sick & you know it. What a quack.

Quack is one of those lucky few slang words that has made its way into the dictionary. If you open a copy of or head over to Merriam-Webster & read through all the definitions which talk about noises ducks make, it’s there. The word is defined as: a pretender to medical skill. But wait; there’s more! It even comes in verb form, meaning if you’re a quack doctor, you can quack & give bad, or fake medical advice.

Anyway, we’ve lucked out again because the answer to where this one came from is actually really easy. Believe it or not, this has absolutely nothing to do with ducks. It does, however, have everything to do with the Dutch.

Quack comes from the Dutch word, kwakzalver, & it dates back to the 1500s. The literal translation of the word is “boaster who applies a salve,” & it’s is a reference to traveling medicine men. These guys would wander from town to town, peddling their remedies & ripping people off, by telling them they had the cure for anything & everything. In the English world, these medicine men were commonly known as as snake oil salesmen. Since there was no English word for for the phrase, kwakzalver was eventually adopted & anglicized to be “quacksalver.” Then, because saying, “Quacksalver,” is a mouthful, the second part was dropped, leaving, “quack.”

So, if you were to call a doctor a quack, you’re really calling them a Renaissance Era medical con man, & by default, a medical fraud. That’s a pretty serious charge.

Now you know; you’re welcome.

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