Me Like Words
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.
 
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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