jeudi 14 décembre 2006

How did the poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb” become so famous?

“Mary Had a Little Lamb” was written in 1830 by Sarah Hale, the edi-
tor of Godey’s Ladies Magazine. She was inspired after watching young
Mary Tyler’s pet lamb follow the girl to school, which, of course, was
against the rules. The poem became immortal more than fifty years
later when Thomas Edison used it as the first words ever spoken and
then recorded on his new invention, the phonograph.

Who was Matilda in the song “Waltzing Matilda”?

In the Australian song “Waltzing Matilda,” a billabong is a pool of stag-
nant water. A swagman was someone who carried around everything he
owned in a knapsack. Waltzing meant hiking, and Matilda wasn’t a
woman but rather an Australian word for a knapsack. So Waltzing
Matilda means: walking with my knapsack.

What’s unusual about the music to the American national anthem?

In 1814, after a night in a pub, Francis Scott Key was taken prison-
er during the war between Canada and the United States. When
he saw the American flag still flying over Fort McHenry he
was inspired to write his famous lyrics with one particular barroom
song, “To Anacreon In Heaven,” still in his mind. And so “The
Star Spangled Banner” was written to the tune of a traditional
old English drinking song.

Who owns the song “Happy Birthday”?

“Happy Birthday” began as “Good Morning Dear Children” and was
written by educators Mildred and Patty Hill in 1893. In 1924, a
publisher changed the opening line to “Happy Birthday to You” and
it became a ritual to sing the song to anyone celebrating his or her
birthday. In 1934, after hearing the song in a Broadway musical, a
third Hill sister, Jessica, sued the show and won. The Hill family
was thereafter entitled to royalties whenever the melody was per-
formed commercially.

What is the most popular rock and roll song in history?

Because the lyrics in the Kingsmen’s 1963 recording of the song “Louie,
Louie” were unintelligible, people thought they were dirty, and
although they weren’t, a U.S. congressional investigation assured the

Because the lyrics in the Kingsmen’s 1963 recording of the song “Louie,
Louie” were unintelligible, people thought they were dirty, and
although they weren’t, a U.S. congressional investigation assured the
song’s enduring success. Since being sold by its author, Richard Berry,
for $750 in 1957, “Louie, Louie” has been recorded by nearly one thou-
sand different performers and sold an estimated quarter-billion copies.

Who was Mona Lisa in da Vinci’s famous masterpiece?

Although it’s known as the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci’s famous
painting was originally titled La Giaconda. Painted on wood, it’s a por-
trait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine merchant. X-rays
reveal that Leonardo sketched three different poses before settling on
the final design. The painting of Lisa has no eyebrows because it was
the fashion of the time for women to shave them off.

Why do we call Academy Awards “Oscars”?

Since 1928, the Academy Awards have been issued by the American
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for excellence in
filmmaking. The statuettes were nicknamed “Oscar” in 1931 by
Margaret Herrick, a secretary at the academy who, upon seeing one
for the first time, exclaimed, “Why it looks just like my uncle Oscar.”
Her uncle was Oscar Pierce, a wheat farmer.

How many movies are made annually in Hollywood?

There hasn’t been a movie made in Hollywood since 1911, when, fed
up with ramshackle sets and the chaotic influence of hordes of actors
and crews, the town tossed out the Nestor Film Company and wrote an
ordinance forbidding the building of any future studios. Even so, the
magic of the name was already established, and so the industry we call
Hollywood grew up around that little town in such places as Burbank,
Santa Monica, and Culver City — but not in Hollywood.

Why is a beautiful blonde called a “blonde bombshell”?

The expression “blonde bombshell,” often used to describe a dynam-
ic and sexy woman with blonde hair, came from a 1933 movie star-
ring Jean Harlow. Hollywood first titled the film Bombshell, but
because it sounded like a war film, the British changed the title to
Blonde Bombshell. It originally referred only to the platinum-haired
Miss Harlow, but has come to mean any gorgeous woman of the
blonde persuasion.

Have you ever wondered how Cinderella could have walked in a glass slipper?

The story of Cinderella was passed along orally for centuries before it
was written down by Charles Perrault in 1697. While doing so he mis-
took the word vair, meaning ermine, for the word verre, meaning glass.
By the time he realized his mistake, the story had become too popular
to change, and so instead of an ermine slipper, Cinderella wore glass.

How did the name Wendy originate?

The name Wendy was invented by J.M. Barrie for a character in his 1904
play Peter Pan. The poet W.E. Henley, a close friend of Barrie’s, had a
four-year-old daughter, Margaret, and because her father always referred
to Barrie as “friend,” she would try to imitate him by saying “fwend” or
“fwendy-wendy.” Sadly, Margaret died at the age of six, but her expres-
sion lives on in Peter Pan and all the Wendys that have followed.

How did the Wizard Of Oz get that name?

The classic tale of Dorothy in the land of Oz came from the imagina-
tion of L. Frank Baum, who made up the story for his son and a group
of children one evening in 1899. When a little girl asked him the name
of this magical land with the Scarecrow, Tinman, and Cowardly Lion,
he looked around the room for inspiration. He happened to be sitting
next to a filing cabinet with the drawers labelled “A-G,” “H-N,” and
finally “O-Z,” which gave him a quick answer: “Oz.”

How did the cartoon character Bugs Bunny get his name?

In 1940, Warner Bros. asked its illustrators for sketches of a “tall, lanky,
mean rabbit” for a cartoon titled “Hare-um Scare-um.” Someone in the
office labelled the submission from cartoonist “Bugs” Hardaway as
“Bugs’ Bunny” and sent it on. Although his drawings weren’t used, the
words that labelled them were given to the rabbit star of the 1940 car-
toon “A Wild Hare,” which introduced “Bugs Bunny.”

Who was Mortimer Mouse and whatever happened to him?

Mortimer was Walt Disney’s original name for a cartoon mouse in the
historic 1928 cartoon “Plane Crazy.” When Walt came home and told
his wife about the little mouse, she didn’t like the name “Mortimer”
and suggested that “Mickey” was more pleasant-sounding. Walt
thought about it for a while and then grudgingly gave in, and that’s
how Mickey, and not Mortimer, went on to become the foundation of
an entertainment empire.

How did Clark Kent get his name?

When conceived in 1934, Superman was endowed with the strength of
ten men, but he couldn’t fly. After being turned down by fifteen syndi-
cators, the Man of Steel took to the air and acquired the needed
strength to become a super legend. Some say Superman’s success is
within the storyline of his secret identity, whose name was derived
from two popular actors of the time: “Clark” Gable and “Kent” Taylor.

Why do we call a cowardly person “yellow”?

Yellow, meaning cowardly, is actually an abbreviation of yellow dog, an
American insult that first appeared in the nineteenth century to
describe a cowardly or worthless person. In the early twentieth centu-
ry, when employers were fighting trade unions, they insisted that new
employees sign a pledge never to join a union. This pledge was called
a “yellow dog” contract by union members with the implication that
anyone signing it was “yellow.”

Why do we say that someone who inherited wealth was “born with a silver spoon in his mouth”?

If someone is “born with a silver spoon in his mouth,” it means that he
was born into wealth rather than having had to earn it. The expression
comes from an old custom of godparents giving the gift of a spoon to a
child at its christening to signify their responsibility for its nourishment
and well-being. If they were wealthy, the spoon was usually silver, and
if not, it would be pewter or tin.

When a man gifted with charm seizes an opportunity, why do we say,“He’s in like Flynn”?

The Australian actor Errol Flynn had an amazing prowess with the ladies,
and of course the tabloids built this into a legend. During the Second
World War, servicemen coined the phrase “in like Flynn” either to brag
about their own conquests or to describe someone they envied. Flynn said
he hated the expression, but his own boast that he had spent between
twelve and fourteen thousand intimate nights ensured its survival.

How did the word gay come to mean homosexual?

The word gay is from the Old French gai, meaning “merry.” It came to
mean reckless self-indulgence in the seventeenth century, and it was-
n’t until the 1930s that its homosexual connotation came out of the
prison system, where the expression “gay-cat” meant a younger, inex-
perienced man who, in order to survive, traded his virtue for the pro-
tection and experience of an older convict.

Why is the word late used to describe the recently deceased?

To prefix a person’s name with “the late” certainly signifies that he or she
is dead, although you would be correct in using it only with the name of
someone who had died within the past twenty years. Its use began with
medieval rulers, whose first name often had been passed down through
generations of males. To avoid confusion with the living monarch, i.e.,
James II, his deceased father would be referred to as “the late King James.”

Why do we call someone who continually takes the fall for someone else a “whipping boy”?

In the mid-seventeenth century, young princes and aristocrats were
sent off to school with a young servant who would attend classes and
receive an education while also attending to his master’s needs. If
the master found himself in trouble, the servant would take the pun-
ishment for him, even if it were a whipping. He was his master’s
“whipping boy.”

What does the title esquire mean?

The British title esquire, like the magazine, has very masculine roots.
An esquire was a young man who was a manservant to an armoured
knight and whose job included holding his master’s shield. With the
passing of the knights, esquire was applied to any young man of noble
birth who hadn’t yet earned a proper title. Eventually the word became
a term of respect for any promising young man.

Why is someone with a lot of nerve referred to as being “full of moxie”?

Today Moxie is a New England soft drink, but it began as a tonic
invented by Dr. Augustine Thompson in 1884 as “Moxie Nerve Food.”
Although the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act put an end to its medicinal
claims, there are still those who say Moxie gives them energy, and so
to be “full of moxie” means to be full of false nerve.

Why do Mexicans call Americans “gringos”?

Some say that during the Mexican-American war at the end of the nine-
teenth century, locals heard the invaders singing “Green Grow the
Lilacs” and simply picked up “gringo” from “green grow.” Others say that
because the American uniforms were green, the expression came from a
rallying cry: “Green, go!” But, in fact, gringo is a Spanish word on its own
and is a slang insult for anyone who is fair-skinned and looks foreign.

Why are women referred to as the “distaff” side of a family?

In medieval times the marriage bargain held men responsible for the
physical labour outside of the home, while the women provided nour-
ishment and comfort inside. A distaff was a rod used to hold wool dur-
ing weaving and became a symbol of honour and respect to the value
of a woman’s work toward the family’s well-being. The equal to the
female “distaff-side” is the male “spear-side.”

Why does a man refer to his wife as his “better half”?

Most men call their wives their “better half” because they believe it,
but the expression comes from an ancient Middle Eastern legend.
When a Bedouin man had been sentenced to death, his wife pleaded
with the tribal leader that because they were married, she and her hus-
band had become one, and that to punish one-half of the union would
also punish the half who was innocent. The court agreed and the man’s
life was saved by his “better half.”

Why are women temporarily separated from their husbands called “grass widows”?

The expression grass widow originated hundreds of years ago in
Europe where summers were unbearably hot. Because grass was
scarce in the lowlands, husbands would send their wives and chil-
dren, along with their resting workhorses, up into the cooler grassy
uplands while they stayed in the heat to till the land. It was said that
both the wives and horses had been “sent to grass,” which gave us
the expression grass widows.

Why is a private detective called a “private eye”?

In 1850, the Pinkerton Detective Agency opened in Chicago with the
slogan “We never sleep,” and its symbol was a large wide-open eye.
Pinkerton was very effective and criminals began calling the feared
operation “the eye.” Raymond Chandler and other fiction writers of
the 1930s and 1940s simply embellished the underworld expression by
introducing “private eye” as a description for any private investigator.

Why is a college student in her second year referred to as a “sophomore”?

After her first, or “freshman,” year, a college student is called a “soph-
omore,” and has been since the description emerged at Cambridge in
1688. The word is constructed from the Greek sophos, meaning wise,
and moros, meaning foolish. So a second-year student is somewhere
between ignorance and wisdom. Similarly, when we say something is
“sophomoric,” we mean it is pretentious or foolish.

Why do we call someone who does things differently a “maverick”?

In the nineteenth century, Samuel A. Maverick was a stubborn Texas
rancher who, because he said it was cruel, refused to brand his cattle
even though it was the only way to identify who owned free-range live-
stock. Instead he would round up all the unbranded cattle he could
find, even those not from his own herd. At first any stray unbranded
cow was called a “maverick,” but the word has grown to mean anyone
who doesn’t play by the rules.

Why is someone who challenges what appears to be an obvious truth called a “devil’s advocate”?

During the Roman Catholic proceedings leading to the assignment of
sainthood, a specific individual is given the job of investigating the can-
didate and the validity of any associated miracles. He then argues vehe-
mently against the canonization by denigrating the potential saint on
behalf of the devil. His official Vatican title is the “Devil’s Advocate.”

Why are strangers who plead for help called “beggars”?

The name of a twelfth-century monk, Lambert de Begue, whose fol-
lowers wandered the French countryside depending on handouts, gave
us the verb to beg. When in 555 AD the Roman general Belisarius was
stripped of his rank and wealth, he became one of history’s most
notable beggars, and his frequent cry, “Don’t kick a man when he’s
down,” gave us a maxim for all who are on very hard times.

Why is a newcomer called a “rookie”?

A rookie is anyone new to an organization requiring teamwork and
whose lack of experience may cause errors. The word originated in the
American military during the Civil War when massive numbers of
young and untrained soldiers were rushed into battle, causing major
problems with discipline. The veterans called these incompetents
“reckies,” an abbreviation of recruits, which through time became

Why do we say that someone with a hidden agenda has “an axe to grind”?

As a boy, Benjamin Franklin was sharpening tools in his father’s yard
when a stranger carrying an axe came by and praised the boy on how
good he was with the grindstone. He then asked Franklin if he would
show him how it would work on his own axe. Once his axe was sharp-
ened, the stranger simply laughed and walked away, giving young
Franklin a valuable lesson about people with “an axe to grind.”

Why is a lazy, irresponsible person called “shiftless”?

The word shift means to change or rearrange, which is why we call
those who work during differing blocks of time “shift workers.” This use
of the word shift also applies to an individual’s ability to change or
adapt. Therefore, if you’re “shiftless” you lack the initiative or resources
to change with the circumstances. On the other hand, someone who is
“shifty” is too adept at change and isn’t to be trusted.

Why do we call wealthy members of society “the upper crust”?

In the days of feudalism, when noblemen gathered for a meal in the
castle, those of higher rank sat at the head of a T-shaped table, and the
rest sat in order of diminishing importance away from them. For such
occasions a yard-long loaf of bread was baked, and the honour of mak-
ing the first cut belonged to the highest-ranking person at the head
table, who would then pass the bread down in order of rank, but always
keeping for himself the “upper crust.”

Why do we call an enthusiastic amateur a “buff”?

A buff is someone with a keen interest in a subject that is not related
to his or her profession. The term was coined by New York firemen,
who were often hindered by crowds who gathered at fires either to help
or stand around and criticize. At the time, around 1900, most winter
coats worn by the spectators were made of buffalo hide, and from those
the firemen came up with the derogatory term “buffs” to describe those
pesky amateur critics.

Why is a self-employed professional called a “freelancer”?

The word freelance came out of the period between the fourteenth
and sixteenth centuries, when mercenary knights with no particular
allegiance would take their lances into battle for the prince or state
that paid them the most money. They were referred to as freelancers
by authors in the nineteenth century and operated much like the
gunfighters in the American West. Now, a freelancer is anyone who
works independently.

What exactly is a “family circle”?

When the early Normans brought fire indoors they built semicircular
open fireplaces. To keep warm at night or when the air was cool, the
family would sit in a semicircle opposite the one formed by the hearth,
creating a complete circle where they would spend time telling stories
or singing songs within what they called the “family circle.” When
neighbours were included, it became “a circle of friends.”

mercredi 13 décembre 2006

Why do we call prostitutes “hookers”?

It’s a myth that the camp followers of Union General Joseph Hooker
gave us the popular euphemism for a prostitute. It’s true they were
called “Hooker’s division,” or “Hooker’s reserves,” but the word pre-
dates the American Civil War as, of course, does the profession. It first
appeared in 1845 as a reference to an area of New York known as “the
Hook,” where ladies of the night could be found in abundance.

How did feminists come up with the expression “male chau-vinist pig”?

The word chauvinism originally meant excessive patriotism and came
from the name of Nicolas Chauvin, a French general who was known
for his extreme devotion to Napoleon Bonaparte. “Male chauvinism”
became a description of a man preoccupied with masculine pursuits
during the 1950s, and the word pig, borrowed from a slur on police-
men, was added by the women’s movement in the 1970s.

Why do we say,“When in Rome, do as the Romans do”?

If you wish to gain esteem and avoid grief, then it’s wise to respect the
customs of the majority within any culture you may find yourself.
When St. Ambrose was sent on a mission to Rome by St. Augustine,
he was concerned about which holy day to observe since the Romans
fasted on a different day than was his custom. St. Augustine’s wise
advice is still with us: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

Why are the people of Oklahoma called “Sooners”?

In the 1800s, when the American West was first opened, the early pio-
neers were offered free land east of the Rockies, but to ensure fairness,
they could only stake out forty acres after a race to the region on a spe-
cific date and time. Those heading for Oklahoma who jumped the gun
and settled on the best land before the official start of the race were
cheating and were called “Sooners” because they arrived “sooner” than
those who obeyed the law.

How did the centre of the song publishing industry become known as “Tin Pan Alley”?

Tin Pan Alley is an actual place in New York City. It’s the nickname for
the side streets off Times Square, where for generations music publishers
have auditioned new songs. The name came from the late 1800s, when
the awful sound of cheap tinny pianos coming through the open office
windows of hundreds of publishers was likened to the beating of tin pans.

How did the centre of world commerce, Wall Street, get its name?

In September of 1653, the settlers in what is now New York City felt
threatened by the local Natives and by the possibility of an invasion by
Oliver Cromwell’s army. For protection, they built a large protective
wall that stretched a half-mile across Manhattan Island. That wall was
situated on the exact spot that we now know as the financial centre of
the world: Wall Street.

Why is the American presidential home called the “White House”?

From 1800, when John Adams became the first president to inhabit it,
until 1814, when the British burned it because the Americans had
torched Toronto, the presidential building was a grey Virginia freestone.
It was painted white to cover up the fire damage done by the British. It
wasn’t officially called the White House until Teddy Roosevelt began
printing its image on the executive mansion stationery in 1901.

How did an English police force become known as “Scotland Yard”?

In the tenth century, in an effort to stop hostilities between their two
countries, the English gave a Scottish king land in London with the pro-
vision that he build a castle on it and live there for a few months every
year. Seven centuries later, with the two nations united under one king,
the land returned to English ownership. In 1829, the London police took
up residence on the land, which by then was known as Scotland Yard.

Why are the Southern United States called “Dixieland”?

The nickname “Dixieland” didn’t come from the Mason-Dixon Line,
the boundary between the free and the slave states. Rather it’s from the
word dixie, which was what southerners called a French ten-dollar bank
note of New Orleans that was already in use in 1859 when Daniel
Emmet, a northern black man, wrote and introduced his song “Dixie,”
which spread the South’s nickname and somehow became a battle song
for the Confederacy.

Why is Chicago called the “Windy City”?

Most people believe that Chicago got its nickname from its prevailing
winds, but that isn’t the case. In 1893, Chicago hosted the World’s
Columbian Exposition, celebrating the four hundredth anniversary of
America’s discovery. The city’s aggressive promotional campaign for
the event offended the people of New York, whose press nicknamed it
the Windy City to mock its bragging ways. The moniker stuck, but, for-
tunately for Chicago, its original meaning has been forgotten by most.

Why do we call New York the “The Big Apple?”

During the 1940s, Robert Emmerich, who played piano in the Tommy
Dorsey Band, wrote an obscure song called “The Big Apple.” It was
soon forgotten by everyone except legendary reporter Walter
Winchell, who liked the song so much that in his daily column and on
the air he began referring to his beat, New York City, as “The Big
Apple,” and soon, even though Emmerich’s song was long forgotten, its
title became the great city’s nickname.