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Week of April 26, 2020

Give Peace A Chance

Sunday

While using a handshake as an everyday greeting may go back several centuries to the Quakers, evidence of the practice to seal an alliance dates back nearly three millennia to a sculpture of Assyrian and Babylonian kings. Homer mentions handshakes in both “The Illiad” and “The Odyssey” to indicate trust and pledges, and illustrations of shaking hands also appear on artifacts from ancient Rome.

Monday

“Hippie” derives from the word “hip,” which likely first indicated something current and fashionable during the 1930s and 40s jive music scene. “Hip” was later applied the the Beat poets and thinkers, and soon after “hippie” was used frequently by San Fransisco journalists to describe members of the city’s 1960s counterculture before the word was adopted broadly.

Tuesday

The term “bury the hatchet” has a very literal origin. In this Iroquois ritual, warring tribesmen would meet and mark the end of hostilities by ceremonially burying a hatchet or other battle weapon in the ground. Non-Iroquois tribes later practiced this ceremony as well.

Wednesday

A ploughshare is part of a harvesting plow, and the word often appears in reference to the scriptural passage that the nations “…shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” from the books of Isaiah and Micah. This inspiration to turn weapons into peaceful tools gave the name to the bronze statute at the United Nations garden entitled “Let Us Beat Swords Into Plowshares” as well as similarly-named peace-promoting movements and foundations.

Thursday

The dove as a symbol of peace has long roots in many cultures. It includes the symbolism of love and renewal of life in ancient Greece, the end of war (when the dove carried a sword) in ancient Japan and later on Japanese stamps commemorating peace, and for divine forgiveness in Christian cultures, since a dove returned to Noah carrying an olive branch in the flood story. Doves were released as a symbol of peace starting in the 1920 Olympics’ opening ceremony and for many years thereafter. Pablo Picasso’s dove in his lithograph “La Colombe” also helped make the bird a standard peace symbol when the World Peace Congress chose it as their emblem in 1949.

Friday

Olive branches surround the world on the United Nations flag, are held in one eagle talon to represent peace on the US $1 bill, and are described in the saying “to extend an olive branch” as an offering of peace or truce. In one Greek myth, the goddess Athena planted an olive tree at Attica to promote peace and prosperity, and other well-meaning goddesses were often pictured with olive branches, including Pax, the peace goddess herself. Those defeated in a war held one to plead for peace, akin to a modern white flag. There is symbolism from the biblical flood, and the much later use of the image by proponents of a peaceful American independence from Great Britain. The tree’s own biology may play a role too, since olive trees grow too slowly to be cultivated during wartime, only peaceful times.

Saturday

The familiar circular peace symbol, made famous during the 1960s, was actually designed specifically to promote British nuclear disarmament. Artist and engineer Gerald Holtom designed the symbol for use in a 1958 march outside the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment in London, and the symbol combines the flag semaphore signals for the letters “N” and “D” for “nuclear disarmament.”

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Week of April 19, 2020

Corporate Shortcuts

Sunday

The name “Nabisco” condenses the company’s earlier name of “National Biscuit Company.”

Monday

“Exxon” is derived from the earlier brand name “Esso,” the phonetic for “S.O.” for founding company Standard Oil.

Tuesday

“Geico” is an acronym for “Government Employees Insurance Company,” since the company initially just targeted military and federal employees as customers.

Wednesday

“Capcom” condenses “Capsule Computers.”

Thursday

“3M” is easier to say than “Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company.”

Friday

“Sprint,” for curious reasons, derives from “Southern Pacific Railroad Internal Communications.”

Saturday

That duck never mentioned “Aflac” is short for “American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus.”

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Week of April 12, 2020

Name of Thrones

Sunday

When nature calls, you use “The John” because England’s earliest flush lavatory was developed by Sir John Harrington, godson of Elizabeth I, although he called his creation “Ajax.”

Monday

Centuries later, British manufacturer Thomas Crapper developed the ballcock, a flushing mechanism still used today. His name appeared on these widely-used flush toilets in Europe, which became known as “crappers.”

Tuesday

Brits also call the toilet “the loo.” Before flush toilets, many Europeans did their thing in chamber pots, then threw the contents onto the street below, a practice which now might get you arrested. Before throwing, the courtesy was to yell out “Guardez l’eau!” (“Look out for the water!”), which eventually got shortened to just “loo” to mean toilet.

Wednesday

“Lavare” means to “to wash” in Latin, and this is the source of the word “latrine.” English speakers have been using this term for about 350 years.

Thursday

“Toilette,” the French word from which we get “toilet,” means dressing room, and itself comes from the word “toile,” or cloth. In the 1600’s, the toilet was the process of doing your hair, clothes, makeup, etc. By 19th century America, this term referred to the room where this process occurred, and more particularly, the useful device in it.

Friday

“Potty” derives from “chamber pot,” a portable toilet people used in times past for doing their business at night.

Saturday

The room where you can find a toilet and a sink is called a “restroom” or “bathroom” more often in the US than in Britain.

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Week of April 5, 2020

Random Abbreviation Week (RAW!) #1

Sunday

CVS = Consumer Value Stores

Monday

TED (as in TED conferences and talks) = Technology, Entertainment, and Design

Tuesday

YMCA = Young Men’s Christian Association

Wednesday

OK = “oll korrect,” a humorous misspelling of “all correct.” OK first showed up in 1839 in the Boston Morning Post in a satirical article about a group called the “Anti Bell-Ringing Society.” At the time, there was a strange literary fashion of abbreviating misspellings of common sayings, such as “K.G.” as “know go” for “no go” or “O.W.” as “oll wright” for “all right.” However, the year after the article was published, OK got a boost by the presidential election of Martin Van Buren. By chance, his nickname was “Old Kinderhook,” and his supporters kept the letters around by forming OK Clubs. Soon after the letters also proved a short, handy way to confirm reception of telegraph messages, and OK/okay is now one of English’s most common expressions, usable as a noun, verb, or adjective.

Thursday

DNA = deoxyribonucleic acid (pronounced “dee-OX-ee-RY-bo-noo-CLAY-ick acid”)

Friday

TNT = trinitrotoluene (pronounced “try-nitro-TAAL-yoo-ween”)

Saturday

SAT = Scholastic Assessment Test

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Week of March 29, 2020

It’s All Greek to Me, pt. I

Sunday

Chaos, according to Greek mythology, was the primordial void at the beginning of all existence. It was in a state of “complete disorder and confusion” until the first deities were born from the Cosmic Egg that formed in Chaos’s belly.

Monday

Enormous things (including that ship) are called “titanic” after the Titans, the “immortal giants of incredible strength,” also called “The Elder Gods” because they ruled before the Olympian gods in Greek mythology.

Tuesday

Speaking of ships, among those titans was Oceanus, the god who ruled the giant waterway believed to encircle the earth known to the Greeks.

Wednesday

The word “hysterical” is derived from the Greek word for uterus, and in modern English usually means uncontrollable laughing or crying. Beginning with Hippocrates (who, ironically in this case, is credited with making medicine more evidence-based), ancient Greeks believed that a “wandering and disconnected” uterus was the cause of excessive female emotion, as well as most female emotional and physical ailments. Strange and elaborate remedies were devised to lure the roaming uterus back into place.

Thursday

Simple, minimalist living is called “spartan” after ancient Sparta, whose inhabitants traditionally eschewed luxury and comfort. A courageous and disciplined person is called “spartan” after these famed qualities of ancient Spartan soldiers.

Friday

The “Stoics” in ancient Greece sought to be free from “passion” by pursuing logic, focus, and reflection, though the word is now more used for an unemotional and/or patiently enduring person.

Saturday

Things related to sexuality and physical passion are called “erotic” after the Greek god Eros, who could make both mortals and gods fall in love. Eros was the precursor to the Roman Cupid, and some sources indicate Eros had an understandably less popular brother Anteros, the God of spurned and unrequited love.