In George Washington's days, there were no cameras. One's image was
either sculpted or painted. Some paintings of George Washington
showed him standing behind a desk with one arm behind his back while
others showed both legs and both arms. Prices charged by painters
were not based on how many people were to be painted, but by how many
limbs were to be painted. Arms and legs are "limbs," therefore
painting them would cost the buyer more. Hence the expression,
"Okay, but it'll cost you an arm and a leg."
As incredible as it sounds, men and women took baths only twice a
year (May and October)! Women kept their hair covered, while men
shaved their heads (because of lice and bugs) and wore wigs. Wealthy
men could afford good wigs made from wool. They couldn't wash the
wigs, so to clean them they would carve out a loaf of bread, put the
wig in the shell, and bake it for 30 minutes. The heat would make
the wig big and fluffy, hence the term "big wig." Today we often use
the term "here comes the Big Wig" because someone appears to be or is
powerful and wealthy.
In the late 1700s, many houses consisted of a large room with only
one chair. Commonly, a long wide board folded down from the wall, and
was used for dining. The "head of the household" always sat in the
chair while everyone else ate sitting on the floor. Occasionally a
guest, who was usually a man, would be invited to sit in this chair
during a meal. To sit in the chair meant you were important and in
charge. They called the one sitting in the chair the "chair man."
Today in business, we use the expression or title "Chairman" or
"Chairman of the Board."
Personal hygiene left much room for improvement. As a result, many
women and men had developed acne scars by adulthood. The women would
spread bee's wax over their facial skin to smooth out their
complexions. When they were speaking to each other, if a woman began
to stare at another woman's face she was told, "mind your own bee's
wax." Should the woman smile, the wax would crack, hence the term
"crack a smile." In addition, when they sat too close to the fire,
the wax would melt . . . therefore, the expression "losing face."
Ladies wore corsets, which would lace up in the front. A proper and
dignified woman, as in "straight laced". . wore a tightly tied lace.
Common entertainment included playing cards. However, there was a
tax levied when purchasing playing cards but only applicable to the
"Ace of Spades." To avoid paying the tax, people would purchase 51
Yet, since most games require 52 cards, these people were thought to
be stupid or dumb because they weren't "playing with a full deck."
Early politicians required feedback from the public to determine what
the people considered important. Since there were no telephones, TV's
or radios, the politicians sent their assistants to local taverns,
pubs, and bars. They were told to "go sip some ale" and listen to
people's conversations and political concerns. Many assistants were
dispatched at different times. "You go sip here" and "You go sip
there." The two words "go sip" were eventually combined when
referring to the local opinion and, thus we have the term "gossip."
At local taverns, pubs, and bars, people drank from pint and
quart-sized containers. A bar maid's job was to keep an eye on the
customers and keep the drinks coming. She had to pay close attention
and remember who was drinking in "pints" and who was drinking in
"quarts," hence the term "minding your "P's and Q's."
One more: bet you didn't know this!
In the heyday of sailing ships, all war ships and many freighters
carried iron cannons. Those cannons fired round iron cannon balls.
It was necessary to keep a good supply near the cannon. However, how
to prevent them from rolling about the deck? The best storage method
devised was a square-based pyramid with one ball on top, resting on
four resting on nine, which rested on sixteen. Thus, a supply of 30
cannon balls could be stacked in a small area right next to the
cannon. There was only one problem...how to prevent the bottom layer
from sliding or rolling from under the others. The solution was a
metal plate called a "Monkey" with 16 round indentations.
However, if this plate were made of iron, the iron balls would
quickly rust to it. The solution to the rusting problem was to make
"Brass Monkeys." Few landlubbers realize that brass contracts much
more and much faster than iron when chilled. Consequently, when the
temperature dropped too far, the brass indentations would shrink so
much that the iron cannonballs would come right off the monkey.
Thus, it was quite literally, "Cold enough to freeze the balls off a
brass monkey." (All this time, you thought that was an improper
expression, didn't you.)
You must send this fabulous bit of historic knowledge to unsuspecting
friends. If you don't, your floppy is going to fall off your hard
drive and kill your mouse.
"If you can read this, thank a teacher".... "If you are reading it in
English, thank a soldier."
If you lend a friend $50.00 and never see them again, it was probably
Thanks Barry & Louise D.