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Week of June 13, 2021

The Eyes Have It

Sunday

The term “apple of my eye” has roots back to the King James Bible, but the modern sense of a highly favored person or object goes back to the 9th century…still not too shabby in terms of long lineages. It was previously believed that the pupil of the eye was a solid object, and the term apple – another familiar sphere – came to describe it. Mind you, in these days effective eye care was in a primitive-to-nonexistent state, so eyesight was highly valued. Hence, the term lent itself to other things which were similarly precious.

Monday

Another popular eye idiom, “see eye to eye,” also has King James Bible roots, where Isaiah 52:8 reads “…for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion.”

Tuesday

The term “private eye” to describe private investigators has two plausible origins. The famous Pinkerton Detective Agency, which began in Chicago in the 1850s and was the original in the business in the US, used in their logo the image of a staring eye and the words “We Never Sleep.” However, the equally likely origin is simply the letter “I” in “private investigator.”

Wednesday

The adult eye color of a human baby is not always knowable at birth, as there are many genes and pigments still at work. In some babies, particularly lighter-skinned ones, it may take up to 3 years for the iris color to fully establish.

Thursday

The idea of an “evil eye” that brings misfortune and undoing to the victim, often after they enjoy praise or success, goes back at least 5,000 years and is still prevalent in many cultures. Many eye images worn on clothes and jewelry are mean to repel this curse.

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Week of June 6, 2021

Clean Up Your Act

Sunday

The fanciful story behind soap’s name is that it came from fictional Mount Sapo in Rome. Here, the oils and ashes from sacrificed animals washed down the mountain in the rain, where locals noticed clothes got cleaner when washed in that part of the river. While it is true that wood ash and oils from plants or animals are the traditional main ingredients of soap, the origin of the word soap is more likely from “sapo” or “saipa,” meaning tallow or fat.

Monday

Soap operas are called that because soap manufacturers were among the first companies to sponsor the female-targeted serial radio shows which played during the daytime in the 1930’s, and this term eventually got extended to television shows.

Tuesday

By coincidence, the term “squeaky clean” came into use in about the same decades as soap operas, and was intended to describe things so clean they squeak when rubbed. The term later got a boost by Ajax cleaning product advertisements in the 1970’s, though the term now also applies to people without blemished histories or past practices.

Wednesday

Keeping your nose clean doesn’t just mean wiping it thoroughly, but avoiding corruption and shadiness in general. This term seems to be an American variant of the British term to “keep your hands clean,” which arose in the 19th century, and with the same general meaning.

Thursday

The soap molecule gives it cleaning power. One end of the long molecule bonds with water, the other with oils and fats. The result is that soap can pry into the fatty outer membrane of germs, rupturing them, and also encapsulate dirt, oil, and germs so that they can be washed away in water.

Friday

Soap scum only forms in hard water, since calcium and magnesium, both components of hard water, are necessary to from this precipitate.

Saturday

Though they have similar uses, detergent is often synthetically created, and true soaps are of naturally-occurring ingredients. There are chemical differences between them too.

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Week of May 30, 2021

Everydayus Latin, pt. 2

Sunday

“Alma mater” means “nourishing mother,” but usually indicates the school one graduated from.

Monday

“Cum laude” means “with praise” and indicates someone who earned grades among the best in their class.

Tuesday

“De facto” means “from the fact” and indicates the true reality of a situation, whether formalized or not. For example, “Since she was experienced and assertive, Sasha became the de facto team captain.”

Wednesday

“Et cetera,” unsurprisingly, means “and the other things.”

Thursday

“Carpe diem” is usually translated as “seize the day,” but likely is closer to “pluck the day,” as if to make time to gather ripe fruits or flowers and enjoy an opportune moment to do something in nature.

Friday

“Emeritus” means “one who has served their term” and usually applies to retirees who keep their old title as an honorary gesture, such as “Pope Emeritus.”

Saturday

“Caveat emptor” means “let the buyer beware,” and indicates that the buyer is taking the risk for a purchase, usually an item with no express warranty.

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Week of May 23, 2021

True Tails

Sunday

Plan to cure that hangover with a few more of what got you there? “Hair of the dog” shortens “hair of the dog that bit you,” since early medical theory held that a bite wound (including the rabies it may have caused) could be treated by rubbing into it some hair of the biting animal.

Monday

You’re “barking up the wrong tree” if you are misdirected in your efforts. This comes from the habit of hunting dogs standing at the base of whatever tree the hunted animal escaped up and bark to indicate its location. When the dogs are mistaken about which tree the prey is in, they are literally “barking up the wrong tree.”

Tuesday

The idea that a dog year is equal to 7 human years seems to derive from the idea that dogs live about 10 years and humans live about 70. Happily, human life expectancy in the developed world is now a good bit older than 70, and dogs do not all “age” at the same rate, with smaller dogs typically living much longer than very large ones.

Wednesday

To “wag the dog” means that a smaller part of a thing controls the larger part or the whole. It can also refer to a deliberate political distraction. The term derives from the saying “A dog is smarter than its tail, but if the tail were smarter, then the tail would wag the dog.”

Thursday

The saying “to walk away with your tail between your legs” to describe someone defeated, guilty, or embarrassed is indeed similar to natural dog behavior. Dogs can also indicate sadness or fear with this.

Friday

Although not entirely accurate, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is one of the English language’s oldest sayings, and traces back to a 16th-century book advising shepherds to train their dogs young.

Saturday

With the practice linked to Australians, Siberians, and native Alaskans, a “three dog night” is one so cold that you would bring three dogs into the bed with you to keep warm.

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Week of May 16, 2021

Be A Good Sport

The notable backgrounds of several US and Canadian pro sport team names:

Sunday

Boeing was headquartered in Seattle until 2001, and one airplane planned for assembly at that facility called the “Supersonic Transport” inspired the name of the Seattle Supersonics, even though the Concorde-like airplane was never actually developed.

Monday

The Indian Packing Company, former employer of Green Bay Packers founder Earl Lambeau, sponsored the new team and let them use the company field. Later, Acme Packers bought out Indian Packers and their name appeared on the jerseys, but after Acme went under, “Packers” remained.

Tuesday

Also on the meat theme, when the Bulls were established in 1966, Chicago had been a meatpacking center since Union Stockyards was built there a century before. But when then-team owner Richard Klein proposed the names “Matadors” and “Torreadors” to his family, his youngest son declared “Dad, that’s a bunch of bull.”

Wednesday

The Philadelphia Eagles were named in 1933 after the eagle logo of the National Recovery Act, part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation during the Great Depression.

Thursday

Although the NHL’s Flames play in Calgary now, the team began in Atlanta, and that name was chosen because Union soldiers burned that city and much of Georgia during the US Civil War.

Friday

The panther is the Florida state animal, yet it is critically endangered there. The Florida Panthers were named to bring attention to this big cat’s plight.

Saturday

Do you know which US city experiences a record number of lightning strikes each year? Why, it’s Tampa, Florida, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning.