Me Like Words
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
 
The Grapevine
Gossip spread by spoken communication

We've all heard the phrase, "heard it through the grapevine." It's almost impossible to say without humming along to Marvin Gaye's catchy tune about a cheating woman. But the term is far older than Mr. Gaye. It originated in New York City back in the 1820's and, yes, it does have something to do with an actual grapevine (although not the magic kind that can tell you secrets).

In the 1700's a roadhouse was erected at West 11th Street and 6th Ave (for you out-of-towners, that's the corner where 11th Street intersects with 6th Ave). The house was named the Old Grapevine in homage to the large vine that grew across its facade. By the 1820's, as development moved north, the Old Grapevine became a popular saloon frequented by actors, poets and bohemians. Because the place attracted so many people involved in similar pursuits, news and gossip were disseminated amongst the regulars with lightening speed. The customers started referring to this means of obtaining information as "hearing it on the grapevine." The term stuck and was carried by soldiers into the Civil War during which it was spread all over the country. I heard the rest is history.

As for the Old Grapevine tavern, it stood in the same spot until it was torn down in 1914. Curiously, when the building was demolished, articles published about it made no reference to it as the birthplace of the famous phrase.

Amazing! New York once had trees!
 
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
 
Oscar The Grouch
C'mon, we all know who Oscar the Grouch is.

Though technically not a word or phrase I stumpled upon the origins of Oscar the Grouch in a great book - "Only in New York," by the writers of the New York Times' FYI column - and thought this would be a good place to tell you about it. Oscar, we all know, is the garbage can-dwelling green monster who is always bumming out the rest of the block on Sesame Street. I could make a joke about how I'd be in a bad mood too if I lived in a garbage can, but I would never do something like that. Anyway, the story of Oscar is short and involves two key players: a waiter and a cab driver.

Jim Henson and Jon Stone, two Sesame Street creators, used to dine at a place called Oscar's Tavern in Manhattan. It so happens that one day their waiter was very surly and rude. He must have really been a dick because the two concieved the character of Oscar the Grouch based on that angry, prickish waiter. He was named Oscar in homage to the restaurant where the idea had struck.

The voice of Oscar, provided by one Carroll Spinney, is an impression of one particularly gruff and raspy cab driver who drove him to the studio. There you have it, the origins of Oscar the Grouch.

Interesting sidenote, Oscar was bright orange in the first season and changed to that familiar green before season 2.

See, I wasn't lying.
 
Monday, September 18, 2006
 
Led Zeppelin
Rock band from the 70's


Led Zepplin made the music your parents used to get high to. They - Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and the wonderfully excessive, and deceased, John Bohnam - rocked harder than just about anybody and you can hear their samples today in anything from P. Diddy to Weird Al (that's true, get his new CD). They're also infamous for their supposedly mad partying back in the 70's which ultimately lead to the death of the great Bonzo himself. But all that aside, how did they come up with the name Led Zeppelin?

First off, you need to understand that Zep wasn't just some startup rock n' roll band; they were formed from the rubble of another band. Jimmy Page had been the lead guitarist for the Yardbirds, a popular 60's band. When they were in the process of falling apart, Page talked with some other musicians about forming a super group. All of the other musicians dropped out and what eventually did come together was Led Zeppelin: three virtually unknown musicians and the guitarist from The Yardbirds...not exactly the super group Page had hoped for. In fact, the groups prospects looked so frim that Who drummer Keith Moon - also a lunatic, by the way - suggested that they would go down faster than a "lead zeppelin." That also happened to be a term for a bad gig. The name was catchy but their manager suggested dropping the "a" from "lead" so as not to confuse people into pronouncing it "leed." There you have it, the fathers of heavy metal came from a joke told at their expense.
 
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
 
Cold Shoulder
Snub: a refusal to recognize someone you know

Nothing feels quite as bad as getting the cold shoulder from someone you love, especially if that someone is your Dad...why wouldn't he just play catch with me? Anyway, ignoring a friend is nothing new and neither is this phrase which has its roots in jolly old England at about the time Willy Shakes was writing his plays.

Back in those days it was common to have visitors and travellers drop in unannounced. Hotels didn't really exist yet and your best bet for finding a bed was to just knock on someone's door. Now, if someone agreed to let you in they were also obligated to feed you, which is a great custom. Most visitors got good hearty food but if someone came in who was a persona non grata he would be given the less than desirable cut of meat: the cold shoulder of beef.

The phrase stuck and travelled the time highway all the way to us. It was the best our ancestors knew how to insult someone; they didn't have "Yo Mama" back then.

Now imagine eating it cold...
 
Thursday, September 07, 2006
 
The Big Apple
The "Big Apple" is a nickname or alternate toponym for New York City.

Ah, New York City: the capital of the 20th century, the crowded island at the center of the world and, most importantly, where I live. New York has many nicknames, from Gotham to the city that never sleeps (not true), but none have stuck out quite as much as The Big Apple. Most of us are so comfortable calling New York the Big Apple that we don't even stop to think about how ridiculous it sounds. So, how did we come to call the greatest American city a piece of large fruit? It all has to do with jazz and horse racing.

The term's first appearance was in a column by New York Morning Telegraph writer John Fitzgerald. He was writing about horse racing and used the term, which he credited to a black stable boy in New Orleans.
J. P. Smith, with Tippity Witchet and others of the L. T. Bauer string, is scheduled to start for “the big apple” to-morrow after a most prosperous Spring campaign at Bowie and Havre de Grace.
New York races at the time were by far the best, hence the need for a nickname. After that, Big Apple started to pop up more and more in horse racing columns and Fitzgerald continued to push it's use. After a short while, Big Apple spread beyond the racing world and was picked up by jazz musicians.

The story goes that jazz musicians had a saying: "Every city you play you pick a little apple; but when you play New York you pick the big apple." Or something like that. Either way, jazz spread the use of Big Apple further and a jazz club called The Big Apple opened in Harlem and a dance was invented also bearing the same name.

It's pretty much been that way ever since. In the 1970's the city officially adopted Big Apple as their symbol to lure tourists to the declining metropolis. Obviously, it worked.


I really do apple New York, now that I think about it.
 
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
 
Skid Row
A city district frequented by vagrants and alcoholics and addicts

Ever since my Dad went to Seattle last month he's been pestering me to post the knowledge he gained there; namely, the origins of the term Skid Row. Being that he just paid for my groceries and some new clothes, I feel it's the least I can do to appease him. So Dad, this one's for you!

Seattle isn't that old but it's certainly done a lot in it's 150 or so years on the map. One of those things was to provide a lot of trees to the rest of the country. If you know anything about trees - and, honestly, you really should - you'll know that they are big and heavy and not easy to move. Enter the coduroy road, a method for moving logs across smaller logs covered in sand. Lo and behold, old Seattle had just such a road.

The corduroy road - or skid road - lead down to water where the logs would be transported to Henry Yesler's lumber mills. The street, which was actually called Yesler's Way, was commonly known as skid road or skid row. But how did it come to mean a trashy street?

That came courtesy of the Great Depression which turned the street into a desolate alleyway filled with 'riff raff.' The term stuck and now almost every big city has a filthy street they have christened their own skid row. Being a New Yorker, we claim The Bowery as ours.

There. Are you happy dad?


The OTHER Skid Row
 
Thursday, August 31, 2006
 
Back with a quicky

Canary Islands
A group of mountainous islands in the Atlantic off the northwest coast of Africa forming Spanish provinces


Ok, so not the most exciting post of all time, but after reading the comments I can see everyone is just aching for a little etymology, so here goes. The Canary Islands. The Canary bird. It makes sense that the islands were named after the little birds that lived there, right? Wrong. In fact it was the other way around. The birds were named after the islands. But then how did this little group of islands come to be called the Canaries? Dogs, actually.

The Latin word for dog was Canis - suddenly canine makes sense - and when explores first landed on the islands they found them overrun with wild dogs. The dubbed the place The Island of the Dogs, which evolved into The Canaries. The little birds that lived there also took on the name and that about brings us to today. Oh, and canaries were particularly adept at dying in coal mines, warning the miners that poisonous gasses were wafting about and it would be a good time to get the hell out of there.

Are you happy now? Have you got your fix?
 
Thursday, August 24, 2006
 
I've
Been very lazy lately

And I'm sorry for not updating this past week. Next week we should be back to our not-quite-daily posts as my knee gets better. Thanks to Oliver and B.E.E. for keeping the comments alive and kicking.
 
Thursday, August 17, 2006
 
Polka Dots
Design consisting of a pattern of regularly spaced circular spots

Things were a lot different back in 1830. For one, blogging was in its infancy and it was just called 'keeping a journal' back then. Another thing that was different was people's taste in music. If you don't believe me then how could you explain the phenomenon that was Polka music. It started in Germany but quickly took over the entire western world as the preferred music of the masses. See? Things were different back then.

But not so different. Just like today, when a new trend in popular culture explodes, companies, entrepreneurs and taste-makers swarm to capitalize and cash in. So when Polka had the whole world thumping to the sweet sweet beats of the tuba, American clothing manufacturers were fighting it out to see who could grab the lucrative Polka market.

Some unknown genius developed a fabric and, thinking he should ally himself with the trend, named it Polka Dot. Thanks to its association with the music the fabric became a hit and children's' clothing has been gay ever since. It had nothing to do with the music other than some clever marketing and a catchy name. Polka, by the way, is simply Polish for Polish Woman, just like Polak means Polish Man or, more specifically, Guy Who Is Comically Inept At Grasping And Executing Simple Concepts, Often With Hilarious Results.


Being in a band is great, if only for the massive sex appeal that comes with the territory.
 
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
 
OK
Indication indicates either a safe or secure condition.


Perhaps no term in the English language has as many supposed origins as OK. Wikipedia lists 11 separate possible explanations on how we got our favorite little term for saying 's'all good.' For the sake of time - and the fact that it's 7:30 in the morning and I don't feel like typing all that much - I'll give you a brief rundown of them all and leave it up to you to decide which etymology you agree with.
There you have it, a bunch of theories about where we got our little term OK. But no matter which one is the true source one fact about OK remains: it is the most recognized and understood term on the planet...right before McDonalds, Disney World and Bush.
 
Friday, August 11, 2006
 
Ginny/Guinea
A slang term for Italian Americans.

It's racial slur day here at Me Like Words and we're starting off with those damn Eye-ties. Ginny is one of my favorite racial slurs only because it seems so quaint these days; like hating Hungarians or something. Anyways, there is a split when it come to the proper spelling of this term so I will give you the background of both.

First up is ginny. In the 19th century Italians began to pour into America, just like every other European ethnic group. There were jobs (kind of), homes (sort of) and freedom (eh?). They came in droves and the Italians decided to set up shop in New York City. To this day the view of the classic New Yorker is a fat Italian guy from Brooklyn in pleated chinos and a wife beater, chomping on a cigar, bitching about Starbucks. These guys were called Ginnys and even their shirts were christened Ginny-T's. So how did we get ginny? Ginny is simply an acronym for "Going into New York, as was the custom of the day.

The second theory regarding this term revolves around a different spelling, Guinea. Now Guinea proper is a region in Africa, not a place in Italy so what does that have anything to do with Italians? It appears that term Guinea is a shortened version of a far more offensive term, Guinea Negro which makes reference to the fact that Italians have darker skin than the rest of Europe and the belief that they were once dominated by the Moors (Northern African Muslims), although the moors only seem to have made quick attacks. Dominated by barbarians: yes. Moors: no.

So there you have it. Anyway you slice it Ginny/Guinea is a hilarious slur to use on all of our Italian American friends. Hey look, some have even started adopting it as their own!


Eyyyyyy! Let's perpetuate some stereotypes, huh?!
 
Thursday, August 10, 2006
 
Guy
An informal term for a youth or man; "a nice guy"

My favorite way to address someone whose name I do not know has an interesting and violent history. But long before we were using guy as a way to hide our forgetfulness, we were using it for the exact opposite reason, as a proper name. And the most famous Guy in history - besides Guy Ritchie, of course - gave us our beloved term for a dude, a bro, a man or pal.

Guy Fawkes was not a happy man. A converted Catholic, he was pretty upset when King James I decided that all Catholics were persona non grata in 1605 and passed some reforms saying as much. Guy was so upset he devised a plan to blow up Parliament on it's opening day while James would have been inside. Luckily, someone tipped off the authorities and Guy was nabbed at the scene of the crime, having already loaded quite a bit of gunpowder into the Parliament basement. After some friendly torture Guy gave up his co-conspirators and the whole group had the pleasure of being hanged. But it doesn't end there.

Guy's death was declared a national holiday and is celebrated every year in England. Aside from getting very, very drunk (trust me, I've seen it), the Brits also like to burn Guy in effigy. These flaming figures were dubbed Guys and the whole kingdom had a real blast lighting them up every year. Since the Guys were always dressed in crappy clothing, obviously, the term guy started to be used more informally as an insulting term for a poor person. It is thought that Mark Twain was the first to introduce guy to the vernacular with it's current neutral meaning; ya know, just a dude, a guy. Oh, and V in V for Vendetta is supposed to be Guy Fawkes, I think.

So there you have it, 400 plus years of linguistic evolution through some of the most important events and people in history all to arrive at our glorious word, guy.


Narc-ed out!
 
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
 
Sundae
Ice-cream sundae: ice cream served with a topping

In this country we'll be damned if we have to spell words correctly. There's drive-thru, niteclub, donut and probably half the words in this blog (I have a bit of a spelling/grammar problem). Sundae is no exception. However delicious a 5-scoop behemoth topped with peanut butter sauce, hot fudge, whipped cream and Reeses Pieces is, it doesn’t change the fact that sundae isn't quite spelled the way one would think.

I hate to be the bearer of boring news but the word sundae doesn't have it's root in some extremely interesting story, but rather a guy with a good idea and healthy fear of God. George Giffy owned an ice cream parlor in Wisconsin back in the 1890s and business was booming. In that white bread world his most popular treat was, obviously, a dish of plain vanilla. But when a customer notified him that pouring on a little chocolate sauce enhanced the taste, Giffy struck gold. Soon the whole town had jungle fever and wanted a little taste of the dark with their white. The problem was he needed to charge 5 cents more for this new treat.

In steps God. Giffy decided to trick his customers by only selling the concoction on Sundays to the after-Church crowd. So why would he name the dish a sundae instead of a >i>sunday. Simple, he didn't want to offend anyone by being blasphemous. Thus was born the greatest creation in the annals of history, the sundae.


A sundae or, as I like to call them, "frozen orgasms."
 
Friday, August 04, 2006
 
Lynching
Putting an accused person to death, usually by hanging without a lawful trial.


While vigilante justice is nothing new - after all, it was the only kind before courts, police and superheroes were invented - the term Lynching is fairly recent. Most people associate lynching with the crimes carried out against black people in the 20's and 30's but it used to apply to much broader, and a little less horrible, practice.

It all started around 1780 when citizens of Pittsylvania County, Virginia got sick of all the criminals running around. They were far away from the courts and any semblance of civil authority. In steps Captain William Lynch who drafts a series of laws now known as Lynch Law. The gist: if we think you're a robber, we're going to inflict justice ourselves. Simple as that.

Interestingly, Ol' Willy wasn't a fan of the noose and instead preferred the punishment for caught criminals to be 39 lashings. Only later did hanging become part of the greater lynching family. Personally, I'd prefer to be tried by a jury of my peers but I guess that's just me...
 
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
 
Run Amok
Wildly; without self-control; in a murderous frenzy.

Is it just me, or is opium just about the greatest thing since the written word? I mean, c'mon, who doesn't love opium, right? People love the ummms so much there was even a war about a century or two ago. And what a coincidence, our term today - run amok - has something to do with opium!

It's the 1500's and Portuguese traders are raping there way across the world. During one stop in Malaysia the trader/rapers saw some local Malaysians running through the streets wildly, hitting people and screaming. "Sacre bleu!" screamed the Portuguese traders. The Euros described their behavior using the Malay word, amog, which translates to "engaging furiously in battle." Apparently when Malaysians fought they would work themselves into a frenzy beforehand - with a little help from the ol' hashish - and then charge wildly into the fray. Fighting stoned is an excellent idea, especially if you like giggling and bleeding.

Anyways, what the Portuguese sailors didn't realize about the group of unruly Malaysians was that they had all smoked a bad batch of opium. That was what was causing them to go tearing through the streets like madmen. The Portuguese got home, told the tale and, eventually, amog became amok. God bless you, lazy English tongue.
Look at these fucking wild lunatics!
 
Friday, July 28, 2006
 
Buck
Dollar: a piece of paper money worth one dollar.


No, not the Uncle, although that is in my opinion the funniest movie ever made. I'm talking about the kind of buck you tip a terrible waitress with on a $30 check. Why does the name for a male deer mean the same thing as one dollar? I'm so glad you asked!

For about 1000 years buck has meant male deer, but you know how Americans are; we have to change everything. Flash forward to the old west, mid-19th century. Buckskins are the currency of choice among the wild men roaming the frontier. A man with a lot of skins is a wealthy one and wealthy men love to gamble. Poker was all the rage at saloons and these hunter-gamblers ate it up. Hunting and killing a deer is loads of fun, no doubt, but once you shoot the thing you need to skin it. Enter the buckskin knife.

When playing poker it is common to use a counter to keep track of who is dealing. In the old west the use of a buckskin knife as a counter became commonplace both as a counter and as a not-so-subtle reminder that cheating wasn't acceptable. When your deal is over you would literally 'pass the buck' to the next guy at the table. However, as things settled down a bit in the old west some people started to use minted silver dollars instead of buckskin knives as counters and eventually the knife fell out of use. The blade may have been gone, but the lingo that came with it lived on, so the buck came to mean the silver dollar and, later, the regular dollar. Now, who says nothing good comes from gambling?
 
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
 
Doozy
A real knock out; impressive.

1921 was a good time to be an American. We'd just finished winning WWI, the economy was booming and young man named Gatsby had begun to throw legendary parties in Long Island. Oh, to be young again! Anyway, Americans needed a luxury car to go with their new luxury lifestyles and two brothers named Duesenberg answered the call.

Beginning production in the early 20th century, the Duesenberg automobile was considered to be one of the finest in the world. They started out producing mainly sports cars but by the 1920's they had moved to producing consumer autos. They were never a hit on the level that Ford was and, since they dealt in luxury automobiles, the costs of producing the cars led them to bankruptcy.

A few years later the Duesenbergs were hired to design cars for another company. Almost immediately these new cars - Duesnberg Model J's - were a hit with the rich and famous. They became the ultimate status symbol and many considered them to be the best in the world. The price tag on a top of the line model was $25,000, which is roughly twenty five billion dollars in today's currency or something like that.

Anyway, these new cars were so impressive that their nickname - Duesy - became a synonym for impressive. Thanks to our general lack of interest in preserving root origins, Deusy became Doozy and your the writers of "Groundhog Day" became happy men because they had a word for this totally funny scene where Ned the Head tells Bill Murray to "watch that first step, it's a doozy."


Look at this piece of shit.
 
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
 
Siamese Twins
Conjoined twins are twins whose bodies are joined together at birth.

Conjoined twins are natures oldest two-fer, but having being one always a great deal. The survival rate is pretty low (5%-25%) and separation usually means one twin will have to die since they normally share organs. If the twins live into childhood many will lead unhappy lives marked by ridicule and pain. Not Chang and Eng Bunker, though.

We call conjoined twins Siamese Twins because of these two men who were, you guess it, conjoined. The men were born in Siam (now Thailand) which gives us the name, although they were three quarters Chinese. P.T. Barnum decided people would pay good money to see Chang and Eng and they became stars of his traveling sideshow circus in the early-to-mid 19th century. But that's just where the story starts.

After their contract was up with Barnum the twins moved to Wilkesboro, North Carolina, which they had visited with Barnum previously. They bought a plantation and, even stranger, bought some slaves. After all, Chang and Eng made quite a bit of money on the road and could afford such luxuries. But something was missing...they needed a family. So Chang and Eng married sisters - Adelaide and Sarah Anne Yates, respectively - and the dual union produced...wait for it...twenty-two children! Two of their kids even went on to fight for the confederacy in the Civil War...whoops!

Chang and Eng died on the same day (thank God) in 1874 at the ripe old age of 63. They shared a liver which was removed from their body and preserved for all to see. After all, it was the liver of the most famous conjoined twins in history and the source of oft used term, Siamese Twins.


Chang and Eng produced and average of 11 children per penis, an impressive number.
 
Monday, July 17, 2006
 
Sideburns
The part of the beard that grows in front of the ears.


Nothing says 'I'm here to kick some ass' like a nice set of sideburns. I would know, I own a fine pair myself. With hundreds of different styles and variations your sideburns can say as much about you as a mustache or beard. But where did this divine word come from? And what does growing hair down the side of your face have to do with burning? Nothing, actually; sideburns are named after a man.

The Civil War was a great time if you liked destruction, death or freeing slaves. It was a bad time if you wanted to live, were from the south or were General Ambrose Burnside. Burnside had risen to fame by inventing a new kind of rifle that was effective and popular but failed to turn a profit. NDB, he said, and joined the army, eventually rising to the rank of General. That, however, is where his luck ran out. Burnside presided over two of the largest Union Army defeats - Fredericksburg and Petersburg - before being stripped of his command. Bummer.

Next Burnside tried his hand at politics where he had considerable better luck, becoming governor of Rhode Island and, later, a senator. Throughout it all Burnside sported huge muttonchops on his face and, when the style became popular, they were re-christened burnsides. Nobody knows why but at some point in time the word was switched around to sideburns and it has remained the same ever since. So when you see me strolling down the street with my sick chops out for all to see, just remember the failed Civil War general to whom I am paying homage.

The great man himself, accompianed by some sick chops.
 
Friday, July 14, 2006
 
Streeter
Me


Everyone I meet asks me about it so I figured I'd give the breif and somewhat interesting history of my name. The word Streeter has been around for a long time and it's been a last name for almost as long. Nobody knows the exact date when it began as a family name but we do know that every American Streeter is descended from one man, Stephen Streeter, who came over from Goudhurst, England in the 1638. Stephen was a shoemaker and did quite well for himself, eventually marrying Ursula Adams - a member of the Adams political dynasty that would eventually produce John and John Quincy.

Anyway, enough about how I'm related to presidents. The history of the word Streeter isn't nearly as proud. Street comes from a Germanic word meaning, well, 'street.' This transfered over to Old English keeping the same meaning. Eventually the people of England decided they needed a name for all the poor losers pushing carts through the street selling junk. They decided on 'streeter,' because that's where these people did business, in the street. An alternate word for these people still in use (kind of) is Tinker. As often happened back then people would adopt their trade as their last name (Smith, Tanner, etc) so Streeter became a last name. A few hundred years later and here we are.

The Streeters are an amazingly well organized family. Because there are so few (in the greater sense) of us, members tend to be voracious in their attempts to document the geneology. My dad even recieves a newsletter a few times a year about the family. It's pretty entertaining to read and it answered one question I've had for a long time: Where did black families named Streeter come from? I checked on facebook and there are about as many black kids named Streeter as there are white kids. But if we all descended from the same guy - Stephen - what happened there? The Streeter Newsletter came to my aid and informed me that the black families bearing the name Streeter were not genetically related to my family but "probably adopted the name of their former masters." *awkward cough, nervous laugh* But here's what bugs me even more about my family than the fact that we used to own slaves: why are we not fabulously wealthy? We've been in this country since 1638, you'd figure that SOMEONE would have made a fortune and created a trust fund since then, but no. Almost 400 years and not one family member had the decent sense to become a billionaire. Oh well, I guess I'll get back to selling shit on the street.

Update
My Mom offers up an alternate theory for the origins of the name she read somewhere once:

When the Romans ruled what is now England, they, as was their claim to fame, built roads which brought the natives from the hinterlands out to the new streets where they then began to hang out and watch all the action. They were eventually called 'streeters' and became basically the first homeless people.

I can assure you this is a bold faced lie. I do not know one person named Streeter who is homeless so I cannot faithfully endorse the validity of this claim.
 
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
 
Lobster Newburg
Lobster in Newburg sauce served on buttered toast or rice


As a man who enjoys a good gluttonous feast now and then I know my way around Lobster Newburg. If you've never had it I can assure you that you haven't yet lived. It's chunks of lobster meat in a rich cream and sherry sauce, poured into a flaky pastry shell. It's by far one of the best meals out there because it combines two great things: lobster and high fat cream. But who or what is Newburg and how did he or it come to mean the greatest lobster dish of all?

It all started in the 1890s at a little restaurant in New York called Delmonicos. Now, aside from inventing the Delmonico steak (which is delicious), Delmonicos was at the time the best restaurant in the city and attracted a host of weathly gourmands. One such person was our hero, Ben Wenburg.

One night old Ben showed the chef how to prepare a South American dish he had eaten probably while doing whatever rich people back then did in South America. Everyone liked the dish so much it was added to the menu as Lobster Wenburg. But Wenburg had a problem; he was a huge drunk. One night, after a rowdy brawl in the restaurant, the owners decided to ban Wenburg from their restaurant forever. They also decided to ban him from their menu by simply switching around the letters in his last name: Wenburg = Newburg. And thus was born the reason that I will die at a young age of high cholesterol, Lobster Newburg.

Behold the dish that will take my life at an early age.
 
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
 
Bury The Hatchet
To make peace.


It's only been a short couple hundred years since the white man has been living here and, as much as it's shocking to think about, there were people here before us. Most of us know the Indians (It's OK to call them that, I checked) as either bloodthirsty savages or intelligent businessmen with an accute understanding that white and black people really, really like to bet on things. But the reality of it is that the Inidans conducted their day to day lives much like we do: grow up, get married, have kids, make war, end war, do business, die.

But for as much as some Indian customs were familiar to the confused and lonely settlers, other customs left them scratching their heads. Their method for signifying that a peace treaty had been struck was particularly odd. There were no papers, no signers, no adjustment of land holdings, etc., there were simply two hatchets burried in the ground. The symbolism isn't hard to see: we used to make war with these and now they are being laid to rest.

Whether or not the settlers tried the method out themselves is up for debate but they certainly took a liking to the phrase Bury the hatchet and we use it to this day.
 
Thursday, July 06, 2006
 
Pants
You know, pants. Like what you wear to cover your underwear and what not.

Here is an interesting and made up fact, everyday five billion pairs of pants are worn. That could be true for all I know, but what is true is that pants are pretty much the universal choice of below the belt garment for men and a nice, if not sexy, alternative for women. But Pants the word has only been around for a few centuries and has been in competition with the likes of Slacks,Trousers and, in some strange places, Knickers. So how did we arrive to call these wonderful garments pants? It all started in Italy during the 15th century.

Italians in the 1400s spent there days much like the rest of the medieval world: dying, fighting, coughing up bile, going to church, dying and dying. But that didn't stop them from going to see a play every now and again. And when they got to the play no character was more beloved than the ever present skinny old Venetian fool wearing slippers, spectacles and ridiculous trousers, who appeared in every play for comic relief. He was known as Panteleone to the Italians but when this particular form of play (a pantomime) became popular elsewhere, Pantaleone was given different names: Pantalon in France, Pantaloon in England. The ridiculous pants he wore - skin tight up till the knee, then blooming above - were so symbolic that any kind of trouser covering the upper and lower leg were simply called Pantaloons,.

This went on until the French Revolution, when the masses were dubbed san-culottes (no breeches) by the aristocrats for their tattered clothing. But when the unwashed masses won that war they embraced the Pantalon as their clothing of choice to off set them from the knee-length breeches worn by the rich. Pantaloons had become the leg wear of the people.

After the French Revolution, the world began to take notice of a new style of tight-fitting, full length pantaloons coming out of France. The English grabbed them up when they were introduced in the early 18th century but it's when they made their way across the pond that Pants' journey came full circle. Just as in England, these new pantaloons were popular in America where, as we so often do, the word was shortened to Pants. Pants: 600 years in the making and started by some skinny Italian asshole prancing around in tights. Ah history, you never fail to amuse me.

Stylish beyond a doubt.
 
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
 
Hazard
A source of danger; a possibility of incurring loss or misfortune.


Me Like Words took the long weekend off to focus on more pressing issues like eating an absurd amount of hot dogs and getting a mean farmers tan, but he's back and he's talking about the word Hazard. Hazard has been around for a while and most of us know it as a word describing a risky nature of a situation. However, some of you from the southern states may be more inclined to use the word in conjunction with it's 'Dukes Of' association, therefore creating a prude double entendre invoking a place name (Hazard County) and a risky state of affairs. Anyway, the word has been around a lot longer than Bo and Luke Duke have been jumping cars over gullies and outwitting Boss Hog.

Hazard has its roots in an Arabic game known as "Al Zahr," which means "the die." No, not "die" like the kind the terrorists want us to do; "die" like the word for multiple dice. Anyway, the French liked this game so much they adopted it and through a bastardization, the name became Hasard. After a few years the French got antsy and decided to invade England, which they did in 1066. This was the Norman invasion and it was the last time anyone would successfully invade and conquer the English, but that's neither here nor there.

The English learned this dice game from their French overlords and it took root in the gaming halls of London, where that pesky French S was replaced by a neat English Z. According to my source ("Thereby Hangs A Tail" by Charles E. Funk) the game was played for very high stakes, which I can only take to mean fingers and eyes. After all, it was a different time back then.

So now we have our word, Hazard, meaning a popular high stakes gambling game. Through the natural progression of time the word just comes to the usage we know today. But what about that dice game, whatever became of that? It too evolved and exists today with an equally catchy name and, just like Hazard, it's name goes two ways: Craps.


As is clearly show in this illustration, Craps is an easy-to-understand dice game without an overly complicated betting system. Perhaps that is the source of its popularity.
 
Friday, June 30, 2006
 
Peeping Tom
Peeping Tom is a slang term for a voyeur.


Who doesn't like a little voyeurism every now and then? It's what's made reality TV so popular, after all. But a Peeping Tom is more than a casual voyeur, he's the kind of guy who watches the Big Brother webcam, waiting for someone to take a shower. Creepy? Indeed it is. But who was the Tom who inspired the phrases? It all goes back to Medieval Times. No, not the dining/entertainment establishment where knights fight each other and you eat chicken with your hands; the real Medieval Times where knights killed each other and you'd probably be too poor to afford chicken.

A local noble named Leofric, earl of Mercia and Lord of Coventry, decided he wanted to lay a heavy tax on his peasants. They were pissed because, hey, they're peasants and could barely afford to eat cabbage with their hands. Leofric's wife, the famous Lady Godiva, begged him to lift the tax and he agreed he would under one circumstance; she ride through the town stark naked on a horse."

"Fine," she said, and ordered all the townspeople to shutter their windows and not to look. The townspeople were cool with missing the show because the tax would be lifted but one pervy little tailor named Tom just couldn't resist poking his head out, or peeping if you will. The tax was lifted and Lady Godiva passed into legend for her selfless act of kindness. But the story doesn't end there.

Since Tom had seen the divine naked body of Ms. Godiva he had to be punished, but how? The Middle Ages were a cruel time and this story is no exception, he was blinded in both eyes. Lady Godiva may have been a saintly woman trying to save her peasants from tyrannical rule but take one look at her good stuff and you'll find both your eyes removed. Just ask the world's first Peeping Tom.

As shown by this very ancient Medieval woodcut, Lady Godiva did indeed have the finest chest meat in the land.
 
I (me) like words. And even more than liking words I like to know where they come from and how they ended up in my mouth. It's called 'Etymology,' and I hope you like words as much as me do. If you have a word or phrase you've been pondering send it to me at Streeter@StreeterSeidell.com with 'Me Like Words' as the subject.

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