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Week of February 21, 2021

Seven-Barreled Facts

Sunday

If someone has “got you over a barrel,” it implies they’re in control and you’re not. People rescued from near-drownings used to be draped a barrel while the water was cleared from their lungs. However, in the more sinister situations which likely inspired the term, people were put over barrels and tied in this position to receive beatings.

Monday

Since booze often used to be shipped in barrels, “barrel fever” can be sickness from excessive drinking, a hangover, or in the longer term, the physical debilitation which often comes with chronic drinking.

Tuesday

The shipping of booze in barrels gave the early oil industry the idea for shipping their liquid in this standardized unit. A standard oil barrel was made 42 gallons, 2 gallons more than a whiskey barrel to cover spillage and evaporation in transport. Though most modern oil never sees the inside of a barrel, this standardized unit remains worldwide

Wednesday

Food was also traditionally stored in barrels, so when you were running out and had to take the leftovers and remains on the very bottom, you were “scraping the bottom of the barrel.”

Thursday

Perhaps you’ve recklessly gone barrelling down the highway in your car, but this term likely comes from the wooden vehicle. Back when barrels were common in households and farms, thrill-seeking youngsters would climb in and roll down hills. You cannot steer nor stop the average barrel from inside, so this pastime was rather dangerous.

Friday

The surname “Cooper” originally meant a person in the business of making and fixing barrels, buckets, and casks. It is now a common first name.

Saturday

The long tube of a gun or cannon which ammunition travels through is called a “barrel” because these tubes were either designed from or had an appearance like actual barrels in early weapons.

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Week of February 14, 2021

This One’s On Your Head

Sunday

When one player scores three goals in a single hockey game, it is called a “hat trick.” However, this term actually originated in a 1858 cricket match in England, when bowler H.H. Stephenson hit all 3 wooden stakes behind the batter 3 times in a row, that is, he bowled three consecutive wickets. Money was collected to recognize his impressive feat and used to buy him a hat.

Monday

But can’t you hang a hat just about anywhere? Yes, which is why the saying “home is where you hang your hat” refers to wherever you happen to live as opposed to a place you may have a sentimental connection to.

Tuesday

Boxing wasn’t always two predetermined fighters facing off in a square ring. It used to be an actual circular ring with spectators all around who could themselves become the fighters. Someone would “throw their hat in the ring” to announce their interest, and the referee would look for a second hat, if needed, to recognize a challenger.

Wednesday

Once all competitors were ready, races and fights had to start on a clear, fast signal. Before starting guns, this was often an official dropping a hat or swiftly swinging one downward. Hence, something done or decided quickly is said to be done “at the drop of a hat.”

Thursday

Tipping your hat to someone, which may include merely touching it or removing it is a sign of nonverbal acknowledgment or respect. It is most often done by men and is likely related to military saluting (see this website’s post of 10/18/2020). However, where there was a difference of status between the tippers, one may only need to touch his hat while another had to remove it, similar to the depth of a bow in bowing cultures.

Friday

This status-indicating hat etiquette described above also explains why a humble person might appear “hat in hand,” acknowledging their subordinate position.

Saturday

Though the first magician or “conjurer” to pull a rabbit out of a hat could have been either Louis Conte or John Henry Anderson, this classic magic trick has been around since the early 19th century.

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Week of February 7, 2021

Sensible Pseudonyms

Sunday

Rapper Jay-Z had the childhood nickname “Jazzy,” and also grew up near the J/Z subway station in New York, so adopted that musical name (he was born Shawn Carter).

Monday

Electronic musician Moby’s late father gave him that nickname because Moby is the great, great, grandnephew of Herman Melville, author of the classic novel Moby Dick (born Richard Melville Hall).

Tuesday

Rapper Eminem is just using his initials; he was born Marshall Mathers III.

Wednesday

Public Enemy’s Chuck D is shortening his real name, Carlton Douglas Riddenhour.

Thursday

The Beastie Boys’ stage names are related to their birth names: Mike D was born Michael Diamond, Ad-Rock is Adam (Horowitz) and MCA is short for MC Adam (Yauch).

Friday

Notorious B.I.G., aka Biggie, was indeed a large man. Born Christopher Wallace, his autopsy reported that he was 6’2″ and 395 lbs. when he died at age 24.

Saturday

Run-DMC was named for Joseph Simmons’ earlier DJ name, DJ Run, and the D and Mc of member Darryl McDaniels. The other member was Jam Master Jay, born Jason Mizzel.

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Week of January 31, 2021

Of Gods and Telescopes

The namesakes of the planets in our solar system are:

Sunday

Fast-moving Mercury is named for the speedy Roman messenger god.

Monday

Venus is named for the Roman goddess of love and beauty.

Tuesday

Earth, the only planet not named for a Greek or Roman deity, gets its name from Germanic words for “ground.”

Wednesday

Red Mars is named for the Roman god of war.

Thursday

Jupiter, our largest planet, is named for the king of the Roman gods.

Friday

Saturn is named for the Roman god of agriculture, and Uranus is named for the Greek god of the sky.

Saturday

Bright blue Neptune was named for the Roman sea god. Condolences to Pluto, demoted from planet status in 2006, but still named for the Roman god of the underworld.

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Week of January 24, 2021

Factoids Never Sleep, Either

Sunday

Everyone knows that Batman fights the baddies of Gotham City, but Gotham is both a real English town and an old nickname for New York City. Gotham just means “goat’s town” and in an old folk tale called “The Wise Men of Gotham,” the citizens of Gotham hear that the king will travel through their town, a visit which they fear will disrupt their quiet village life. Since madness was believed infectious at the time, they carry out “crazy” stunts and shenanigans until news of the town spreads to the king and he bypasses it. Apparently, author Washington Irving referenced this tale in 1807 when writing about New York City, gently poking fun at its residents, and the name stuck. Indeed, one modern NYC magazine is even called “The Gothamist.”

Monday

Modern New York City was previously the capital of the Dutch colony of New Netherland, so was called “New Amsterdam” before it was surrendered to the English in 1664. Nonetheless, plenty of pre-English reminders remain. “Manhattan” was the name of the Native American tribe from whom the Dutch bought / fought for the island, and Peter Stuyvesant, its last Dutch governor, has his name on a modern New York City neighborhood, housing complex, street and high school.

Tuesday

Like many large cities, New York annexed the towns around it as it grew, and until 1898, its most populous borough of Brooklyn was a separate city. If this was still the case, Brooklyn, with over 2.5 million people, would be the fourth most populous city in the US after New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Wednesday

New York is named after the English city of York, but indirectly. New York was named for James Stuart, the Duke of York, but he, of course, got his title from the town in England.

Thursday

Modern Wall Street is on a site where, in 1652, Manhattan’s Dutch settlers built a cannon-fortified wooden wall 9 feet tall and 2,324 feet long to defend against the British. The earthen parts of the wall were pre-existing fortifications against slaves and Native Americans. Sadly, slaves were also sold on Wall Street for about 100 years of its history as a trading center.

Friday

Broadway, the Manhattan street famous for theater productions and the city’s oldest thoroughfare, was named that by the British after they encountered this unusually wide road. The Dutch had done the widening and called it “Gentleman’s Way,” but hadn’t done the original building; both European nations were building on Wickquasgeck Road, originally cut by Native Americans.

Saturday

NYC’s nickname of “The Big Apple” has the unlikely origin of horse stable workers in New Orleans, who were likely referring to the big prizes “apples” that went to racing winners in New York. In 1920, a visiting New York reporter covering horse racing heard the term used for his city in about and started using it in his own columns. After disappearing for a while, the moniker was revived to promote tourism to New York in the 1970s and has stuck since.