Categories
Uncategorized

Week of April 18, 2020

Don’t Gain the World But Lose your Sole

Sunday

“Waiting for the other shoe to drop” means anticipating a seemingly inevitable event. In early New York City tenements, the bedrooms of the units were stacked vertically in the building, above and below each other. You could often hear your neighbor upstairs drop a shoe on the floor after taking it off, when you knew the second shoe was coming soon.

Monday

The original “Goody Two-Shoes” was named Margery Meanwell and was the hero of the 1765 children’s book “The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes.” After misfortune leaves her father dead and young Margery destitute, she wears only one shoe until a generous man buys her a second, and Margery is overjoyed. She grows up to be a schoolteacher, marries a rich widower, and helps the poor with her new wealth. Notably, the term “Goody two-shoes” appeared in a poem written about 70 years earlier, and “Goody” at that time was short for “Goodwife,” the polite way to address poor married women. The way we use the term “Goody two-shoes” today, however, is more likely based on the later 19th century phrase “goody goody” which had the more negative connotations of obnoxious superficial do-goodery.

Tuesday

Though physically impossible no matter what your strength, “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” is a popular idiom for personal initiative. The first reference to a bootstrap lift came when inventor Nimrod Murphree announced that he had “discovered perpetual motion” to a Nashville newspaper. Another paper mocked his claim, writing: “Probably Mr. Murphree has succeeded in handing himself over the Cumberland River, or a barnyard fence, by the straps of his boots.” Also on this theme of impossible-lifts-from-a-low-place, one story about fictional German yarn-spinner Baron Munchausen has him lifting himself (and his horse) out of a swamp by pulling upwards on his own hair. Later, it seems that author James Joyce was one of the first to use the bootstrap reference in the modern sense in 1922, and the impossible-yet-familiar footwear act has been referenced ever since.

Wednesday

The idiom “the shoe is on the other foot” actually began as “the boot is on the other leg,” but had the same idea. The shoe/boot is uncomfortable on the wrong foot/leg, meaning the positions between two people or circumstances were reversed.

Categories
Uncategorized

Week of April 11, 2021

It’s All Greek to Me, pt. III

Sunday

Referring to a person as “promethean,” often a pioneering thinker or inventor, invokes the Greek titan Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind as a gift. In some versions of the myth, he gave mankind all arts and sciences also.

Monday

An “Oedipus complex” refers to having an unnatural affection for one’s mother, because in the tragic myth of Oedipus the King, the protagonist unknowingly marries his own mother.

Tuesday

Your phobia, or innate fear, is named for Phobos, god of fear. Phobos kept scary company when with his war god father, often portrayed with his brother Deimos (god of Terror) sister Enyo (war goddess) and Eris (goddess of discord).

Wednesday

Your shoes might be named for the Greek winged goddess of victory, whose name was Nike.

Thursday

Overburdened people complaining that they must carry the weight of the world on their shoulders are invoking Atlas. He was the titan condemned to do just that for warring with the gods. This is also why that book of maps is called an atlas.

Friday

Are you hpynotized by your hypnotist and feeling sleepy? Your state is named for Hypnos, the god of sleep. His parents were gods of night and darkness and his twin brother the god of death, so this guy was for real. At least twice he even put Zeus to sleep…

Saturday

…and if Zeus dreamed, he might have had Morpheus, son of Hypnos and god of dreams, to thank. Morpheus formed and shaped the dreams, which is why “morph” is a term for shape or form. This god is also the namesake for morphine, a sedative, as well as Laurence Fishburne’s badass character in The Matrix films.

Categories
Uncategorized

Week of April 4, 2021

Classically Named

Sunday

While John Lennon certainly had a role in choosing the Beatles’ band name, the record is rather inconsistent about other aspects of this choice. In early 1960, the band, then known as the “Quarry Men,” were playing a lot of Buddy Holly’s Crickets songs, and the alternative insect name idea took shape. During that year, the band played as the Silver Beetles, Silver Beats, the Silver Beatles, and finally, in August 1960, just the Beatles. Band members fielded the name origin question many times, and were sometimes facetious or evasive in answering. However, John answered it this way for the 1968 Beatles authorized biography: “I was sitting at home one day just thinking about what good name the Crickets would be for an English group. The idea of beetles came into my head. I decided to spell it BEATles to make it look like beat music, just as a joke.” Beatle historian Bill Harry credits early band member Stuart Sutcliffe with the insect name, but John with the ultimate “ea” spelling. However, John twice described a wholly different inspiration: “Well, I had a vision when I was twelve. And I saw a man on a flaming pie, and he said, ‘You are the Beatles with an A.’ And so we are.” While this seems playful, Paul McCartney said in one interview that Yoko Ono believed that John had such a vision and hence deserved full credit for the name. George Harrison and others close to the band have suggested that the 1953 Marlon Brando film “The Wild One” inspired the name, since “The Beetles” was a motorcycle gang in the movie. However, band historian Bill Harry refutes this, pointing out this movie was banned in England until long after the Beatles were named, so the band members could have at most heard about the movie, but not actually seen it yet.

Monday

The Rolling Stones were named for the Muddy Waters song “Rollin’ Stone.” When early band member Brian Jones was called by Jazz News magazine and asked the name of his band, he looked down at Muddy’s album on the floor and saw that song title.

Tuesday

After some musicians which included two future Led Zeppelin members played a great session together, they pondered forming a band and discussed possible names. Among them was The Who drummer Keith Moon, who said: “We can call it Led Zeppelin, because it can only go down, like a lead balloon.” Keith did not join the later band, but Jimmy Page loved his idea.

Wednesday

Despite mistaken religious zealots declaring that it stands for “Antichrist//Devil’s Children” and others asserting a reference to bisexuality, the inspiration for AC/DC’s name is an everyday electrical term. The Alternating Current / Direct Current label means that a particular device can run on either type of electrical current. The founding Young brothers saw this on a vacuum cleaner and listed it under cool band names, thinking it reflective of the band’s high energy.

Thursday

ZZ Top founder Billy Gibbons once stayed in an apartment which had a lobby pasted with upcoming concert flyers. He noticed many of the bands and artists had two initials, such as O.V. Wright, D.C. Bender, B.B. King, and Z.Z. Hill. He liked the “ZZ” combo and considered ZZ King, but deduced that since a king was on top, he would go with ZZ Top.

Friday

Lynyrd Skynyrd founding members took their name from Leonard Skinner, their Jacksonville, Florida high school PE teacher who was famously intolerant of long hair on his students.

Saturday

The Doors took their name from a book title, which itself came from a poem. The title of Aldous Huxley’s book “The Doors of Perception” was taken from a William Blake poem containing the line “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man is it is: Infinite.”

Categories
Uncategorized

Week of March 28, 2021

Hot Brown Factoids

Sunday

Coffee’s nickname of “java” comes from that Indonesian island, where most coffee was grown when the drink became popular in the 17th century (though coffee seems to have originated in what is now Ethiopia).

Monday

About 12% of coffee consumed worldwide is decaffeinated, and the various processes to remove the caffeine all involve soaking coffee beans in very hot water, then using either a solvent to dissolve the caffeine within the beans or carbon to absorb it. Caffeine adds to the natural flavor of the drink, however, so decaffeinated coffee tends to be milder tasting.

Tuesday

The owners of Starbucks first considered the names “Cargo House” and “Pequod,” which was Captain Ahab’s ship from the novel Moby Dick, but their brand consultant encouraged strong-sounding “st-” words. He also took out a 17th century map of the Pacific Northwest and noted a mining town called “Starbos,” which reminded him of the Pequod’s young first mate, Starbuck.

Wednesday

In the US, women drink slightly less coffee than men, but spend more overall on those coffee drinks.

Thursday

Coffee “beans” are actually coffee plant seeds.

Friday

Instant coffee is brewed coffee which is then freeze-dried or spray-dried, so that re-hydrating brings it back to drinkable form.

Saturday

You might have seen some coffee labeled “shade grown.” This means the coffee trees are grown in the traditional practice among larger trees of different species, as opposed to a “full sun” monoculture of only coffee trees. There are ecological benefits to shade-grown coffee, and since coffee is often grown in the tropics, the reduction of deforestation to replace the forest with all coffee trees is a big one.

Categories
Uncategorized

Week of March 21, 2021

Going Out On a Limb

Sunday

A person can be “disarmed” without amputation because “arms” in this context is short for “armaments,” or the weapons of warfare.

Monday

The association of “bootleg” meaning homemade, smuggled, or somehow unauthorized was boosted by the booming illegal alcohol trade of the Prohibition era, but the term actually started in the previous century to describe smuggling flasks inside the legs of high boots in states which had already banned booze.

Tuesday

To undercut or sabotage yourself is sometimes called “shooting yourself in the foot,” after the common WWI practice of soldiers doing so to avoid being sent into battle on account of their “accidental” injury.

Wednesday

You’ve heard of “the long arm of the law,” but in the US, many states formalize this in “long arm statutes.” These laws give state courts jurisdiction over out-of-state businesses through some connection with the long-armed state, such as selling products or employing people there.

Thursday

Easy, undisputed victory is called “hands down” because horse jockeys who felt sure to win would lower or even drop their reins and relax as they crossed the finish line, according to 19th century racing journalists who coined the term.

Friday

Don’t get caught “flat-footed,” or unprepared. In action stance parlance, this is the opposite of being “on your toes,” or ready, at least in the baseball world where it got the unready connotation. A century before, however, it was a firm and resolute person who stood “flat-footed.”

Saturday

You’ve “got a leg up” on the competition if you have some advantage or extra assistance on your side. Another horse-based idiom, this referred to the help a rider would get from an assistant in mounting a horse.