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Subject: ‘Interesting Words’
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Posted in Architecture, Birds, Historical articles, Interesting Words, Language on Wednesday, 22 May 2013
This edited article about interesting words originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 263 published on 28 January 1967.
Weathervane or weathercock,
The fine church at Etchingham in Sussex, was built by Sir William Echyngham in the 14th century. Much of it has survived unchanged. The wooden canopied seats, known as sedilia seats, in which the clergy conducting the service would sit, still remain, strong and solid. There are beautifully carved misericords, too. These were seats put in out of sympathy for older clergy, who might find it impossible to stand throughout long services.
Misericords have seats that lift up – a bit like cinema seats – and on the underside, they are carved with fishes and keys, birds and knightly heads.
There are some excellent brasses in the church. The one of Sir William, who died in 1388, which has unfortunately lost its head, is the earliest brass in this county inscribed with a date. Stained glass used to fill every window at Etchingham, casting a glorious, mellow haze over the interior. Many of the surviving windows display heraldic shields in a striking range of colours. In fact, medieval craftsmen have never been surpassed in the production of stained glass.
Sitting proudly on the top of Etchingham’s tower is the most famous feature of this church: its ancient weathervane, some say the oldest in England. The vane is our oldest meteorological instrument, and this one was erected in 1387.
An earlier vane was recorded in the 11th century Bayeux tapestry. A scene from the tapestry shows a man climbing up to attach a vane to the roof of the newly finished Westminster Abbey, but that one disappeared long ago.
Vanes come in all shapes and sizes. The Tower of London specialises in vanes topped by the monarch’s crown.
Some vanes are made in the shape of ships. There is a magnificent 19th century model of a single deck warship on the Guildhall at Rochester. It weighs nearly 200 pounds. The ship is 4 feet 6 inches long with a beam of one foot, and has 26 guns mounted on deck. Churchill’s country home, Chartwell, flies a ship – a particularly beautiful one that looks as though it would not be out of place in the fleet of Christopher Columbus.
Most church vanes are shaped like cocks. In the past they sometimes got peppered with gunshot by the country youngsters. The cock was most commonly used as a vane because of his attribute of watchfulness. The cock was the early riser in the farmyard – herald of the dawn – seeming to burst his lungs with early morning vigour. Chaucer wrote of a cock called Chaunticleer in his Nun’s Priest’s tale – one of the Canterbury Tales:
“His voice was jollier than the organ blowing,
“In church on Sundays, he was great at crowing,
“Far more regular than any clock,
“Or abbey bell, the crowing of this cock.”
(From Neville Coghill’s translation)
Chaunticleer knew intuitively of the changing seasons, and he was typical of all cocks. So, the weathervane that blows in the wind is normally called a weathercock even when the device is not a cock.
Posted in Bible, Historical articles, Interesting Words, Language, Plants on Wednesday, 22 May 2013
This edited article about interesting words originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 262 published on 21 January 1967.
September is harvest time in Cyprus for one of its most important exports – the long, flat, chocolate-coloured pods that hang in rich splendour from large, green-leaved trees.
These are carob trees and they flourish throughout the Levant. They grow to heights of 40 to 50 feet, blossoming with tiny red flowers which have no petals.
The pods that grow on the carob tree are about six inches long and shaped like runner beans. They taste sweet, like hardened honey. In Sicily, alcohol is distilled from the pods, and also a sweet syrup.
Carob pods are sometimes called St. John’s Bread or locusts. The Bible tells us how John the Baptist lived in the wilderness wearing “his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.” (Matt. 3, iv.) These locusts were probably carobs, not the insects of the same name, for the substitution of the letter G for R in the Hebrew word for carob changes it into the word meaning locust.
To make sure that the pods are completely ripe, the Government of Cyprus proclaims each year the moment to begin harvesting. It is against the law to gather the pods before this permission has been given.
The pips of the locust are not eaten. They are glistening brown and the shape of watermelon seeds. The locust harvest is gathered into huge sheds where the pods are ‘kibbled’, or cut up, for cattle fodder. The pips are exported for use as industrial gum.
In ancient days, the pips had another use, for not only are they very light in weight, but they are astonishingly regular in size. On a jeweller’s delicate scales each seed hovers at about one carat in weight. There are 142 carats in an ounce.
The pips are so uniform in size that everywhere the carob grew, people came to use the pips as a unit of weight, especially in the markets for small and precious objects like gold and diamonds. Thus, their weight became figured in terms of a carob pip or, as the unit eventually became known, a carat.
The carat which is used in weighing diamonds and other precious stones was not standardised until 1877, when a group of jewellers from London, Amsterdam and Paris agreed that 205 milligrammes should equal one carat. After 1914, 200 milligrammes were accepted as the standard weight of a carat.
The carat is also the term used to describe the purity of gold. Any given weight of gold is divided into 24 parts. Pure gold is 24 carat gold. If a ring is set in 22 carat gold, it means that of the 24 parts, 22 are pure gold and two are alloy. Gold is a ‘soft’ metal, and for this reason a wedding ring, for which a long life is anticipated, is often made of gold with a high alloy content, for it will not wear out so quickly.
Posted in Ancient History, Geology, Historical articles, History, Interesting Words, Language on Tuesday, 21 May 2013
This edited article about language originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 261 published on 14 January 1967.
Roman soldiers were paid in salt
The province of Salzburg, of which the city of Salzburg is the capital, is one of the most beautiful regions in Austria. It attracts many visitors who come each year to see the rich and varied landscape, through which the rivers flow into the broad plains of Bavaria. In winter people flock to the ski slopes; in August they come to the Salzburg Festival.
The Festival was first staged in 1917, and includes the production of plays, operas and concerts, often featuring the music of Mozart, who was born and lived in Salzburg.
Salzburg is on the curve of an alpine river, the Salzach, and once aspired to be the ‘Rome of the north’. Narrow, sloping streets with houses built tall to conserve space, crowd the narrow piece of land between the swiftly flowing river and the steep mountain ledge which towers above.
The grandest buildings are those of the Prince-Archbishops who ruled the region until a century and a half ago. There are princely palaces, churches by the dozen and a cathedral with a dazzling white interior which its builder hoped would rival St. Peter’s, Rome. The nave is more than 100 yards long, the dome nearly 240 feet high, and the building can hold about 10,000 people.
In the middle ages, the Archbishops of Salzburg were Imperial princes as well as churchmen and the importance of Salzburg was firmly established.
In Salzburg, too, is the world’s oldest nunnery, where Julie Andrews was filmed in The Sound of Music, the story of the Trapp family. Frau Trapp had been a novice there.
Salt drew the earliest settlers to this region. Whole mountains of salt have been mined, leaving behind vast caverns. So many of them inter-connect that a person can walk through them for 25 miles without coming to the surface.
Salt is less important to Salzburg now, but for centuries the main job on the river Salzach was to carry salt boats on their way to the Danube. Castles sprang up along the series of rivers to exact tolls from salt and other goods.
Salzburg was a trading centre for salt in Celtic and Roman days. Hence its name – Salzburg, or salt fortress.
The Romans ruled this area for several centuries. They settled amongst the Celtic population, building settlements in places where the river was wide enough to facilitate trade. They began to build up a network of roads. The region prospered because, as men’s diet broadened to embrace agricultural products, extra salt became a valuable seasoning, imperative to health and almost as precious as gold.
Surviving phrases emphasise the value of salt – phrases like being ‘worth one’s salt’, ‘the salt of life’, or, as a measure of distinction, ‘sitting above (or below) the salt.’ At one time the Romans paid their soldiers in salt, for which the Latin word is sal. Later, the Romans replaced salt with a money allowance for buying it. They called this sum a salarium, or salary. Today, the salary is still the term used to describe the regular payment made to people at work.
Posted in Historical articles, History, Interesting Words, Language on Monday, 13 May 2013
This edited article about pins originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 253 published on 19 November 1966.
Pin Money – the first of two cartoons highlighting the different worlds of the rich and the poor
Pins of one sort or another have been holding clothes together for thousands of years. We know this for certain because, amongst the finds which archaeologists have dug up, pins appear again and again.
Many of the oldest ones are fatter and more lethal than anything we know now – almost like miniature daggers! In a Bronze Age grave, two pins for securing a robe were found, and they were twelve inches or more in length.
The Romans made many pins in both metal and bone. Most of them were quite plain, for everyday use, but some had ornately carved heads. On some a glass ball was clasped on to the top, or a carved hand stretched out its fingers; even human heads were carved on some, sporting elaborate hairstyles which must themselves have been secured by pins!
Beautiful medieval pins have been found, too, several with carved heads bearing crowns. Others can be seen in illustrated manuscripts.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Historical articles, History, Interesting Words, Language, Scotland, Sport on Saturday, 11 May 2013
This edited article about Scotland originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 251 published on 5 November 1966.
Few places in Britain have a more time-worn atmosphere than the long street in Edinburgh called the Royal Mile. The street runs from the grim, black castle on the crest of the hill, down past the ruined Holyrood Abbey and the restored royal palace of Holyrood House.
Medieval ‘skyscrapers’, among the oldest in Europe, still cling precariously on the height close by the castle. More than half a dozen storeys high, these old tenements are black and shabby, but they were once the best houses in town. This was before people of influence moved down into the flat land below the castle, where Edinburgh’s New Town was laid out in the early 19th century.
This ‘new town’, which had squares of classical proportions and long, wide streets such as Princes Street, Queen Street and George Street, was inspired by the Scottish-born architects, the Adam brothers.
The tall assembly hall of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland stands on the hill alongside the tenements. Farther down the street are St. Giles, the Presbyterian’s principal ‘kirk’, the black stone official chambers of the city’s Lord Provost, and the restored medieval cross where royal proclamations are still made.
The errand boys of Edinburgh once congregated here. They were called ‘caddies’, a Scottish version of the French word, cadets, meaning ‘youngsters’ or ‘juniors’. An English traveller, Edward Topham, referred to them in 1776 as “a set of men who are called in this country caddies, who constantly attend the Cross in the High-street and whose business is to do anything that anybody can want and discharge any kind of business . . .” In other words, they were jacks-of-all-trades, willing to turn their hands to most tasks.
Golf was the principal sport in Scotland, and one of the most frequent tasks of the caddies was to carry the players’ clubs on the links. The term ‘links’ referring to a golf course, which has now become world wide, originated in Scotland and is still the term used in Scotland to describe any stretch of semi-waste land along the sea. (Early golfers had found their courses among the natural plateaux and hollows of sand dunes near the sea shores.)
When Scotland’s King James VI came to London as England’s King James I, he played golf on Blackheath, near the old Greenwich Palace, and here two caddies were employed. One of them was called the forward caddy, and players used to cry “fore” to warn him to follow the ball that had just been hit.
Caddies no longer serve as messengers and handymen in Edinburgh, and mechanical devices are replacing caddies on the Scottish links, as elsewhere. But, especially in big matches, a golfer will still occasionally call for a caddy.
Posted in Historical articles, History, Interesting Words, Language, Royalty on Saturday, 4 May 2013
This edited article about Elizabethan food originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 242 published on 3 September 1966.
Main meals in Elizabethan days were gargantuan affairs. Held at quite different times of the day from our lunch or dinner, they consisted of several elaborately concocted meat dishes, followed by numerous dainty puddings and tartlets.
Kitchens were huge, hot places where teams of servants laboured over open fires. The Elizabethans had their own form of pressure cooker: a large cauldron containing earthenware jars submerged in water, filled with preserves and custards, and a wooden platform on which puddings were steamed. Vegetables were cooked below the jars, and bacon was boiled at the bottom of the cauldron. In this manner an entire dinner could be cooked in one pot.
Roast meats were cooked separately on a spit turning above the hearth, basted by the youngest scullion.
Meat went off quickly, so most of it was cut up, combined with spices and fruit, and eaten with a spoon-shaped implement. The main joint was served whole, pieces being hacked off with a knife and eaten with fingers by the family and guests.
A typical banquet of the day, served either at eleven in the morning or in the late evening, might include peacocks on a bed of parsley, garnished with chestnuts or a special sauce made from rams’ carcasses; or a goose stuffed with carps’ tongues. Rare singing birds were roasted and eaten as a delicacy – or else concealed in a large, empty pie, to fly out, singing, and delight the guests.
Afterwards there would be custard tarts, little meringues gilded with pure gold, and perhaps biscuits baked in walnut shells with artfully concealed poems; cheese, fruits, green ginger, pickled cherries and nuts, and lozenges of lemon and rose water.
But probably pride of place in the whole meal would be taken by a joint of beef, which might take anything up to twelve hours to cook. One of the best cuts was the lean sirloin, or joint of meat taken from the middle back of a bullock. This joint took its name from the old Norman French word for it, surloyne, meaning ‘above the length’.
King Henry VIII, a great trencherman with a reputation for pounding the table to demand more food, greatly fancied a sirloin of beef. On one occasion, so the story goes, one such joint so suited his palate that he decided to reward the meat instead of the cook.
Rising to his feet and calling for silence among his gorged courtiers, Henry took up a sword and tapped the remaining hunk of beef on the bone in front of his plate, solemnly declaring: “I dub thee Sir Loin.” Gales of laughter must have greeted this royal witticism.
The story of this pun on the French name for the joint has also been attributed to James I and Charles II, but it was much more likely to have originated with Henry (1491-1547), since it was some time in the mid-16th century that the ‘u’ in surloin was changed to an ‘i’.
Henry was so fond of beef that he often ate it for breakfast as well, washed down by beer. So did his daughter, Elizabeth I. But Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, preferred to breakfast on fried eels, barley cakes and mead.
Although in restaurants today most meat is served ready-sliced, in some places it is still customary to carve a loin of beef before the table of the eaters. It is courtesy to place a coin on the trolley for the white-clad carver, in appreciation of the meal to come.
Posted in Cars, Historical articles, History, Interesting Words, Language on Friday, 3 May 2013
This edited article about the limousine originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 240 published on 20 August 1966.
Two hundred and fifty miles south-west of Paris lies the large and modern city of Limoges, built around the remains of an ancient town that dates back to Roman times. In 1768 large deposits of kaolin (china clay) were discovered in the area, and there sprang up an industry which today produces some of the world’s finest porcelain china and decorative enamel work.
The surrounding countryside is hilly and the valleys are deep and thickly wooded, while small but rich meadows and well-tilled land show that agriculture is the predominant occupation.
In medieval times, this part of France was the home of the troubadours, the travelling minstrels who accompanied themselves on stringed instruments.
Limoges stands in the old province of Limousin – a name also given to a special kind of garment still worn by some of the country people. Like a large cloak, a limousine is made from black wool, and the person wearing it has complete protection against wind, cold and rain.
In the early days of motoring, France was one of the leading countries in car manufacture. The bodywork of these early automobiles was copied from the open horse carriages of the day. Passengers had to wrap themselves up in clothes that were as all-enveloping as a limousine cloak if they were to have a comfortable journey.
When glass windows and leather hoods were introduced into the body designs, people were protected from the weather and it became unnecessary for them to wear such bulky clothing.
The enclosing bodywork became known as a limousine because it was as protective as the cloak.
Nowadays the term has been replaced by saloon, or sedan, a word used to describe a car with a fixed roof and wind-up windows.
Posted in Historical articles, History, Interesting Words on Thursday, 2 May 2013
This edited article about the history of personal cheques originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 239 published on 13 August 1966.
In European countries until the twelfth century, numbers were written in Roman numerals These were very difficult to use in mathematical calculations, so a new method of accounting was introduced. Under this system, counters were used on a squared or “chequered” table.
The word “chequered” comes from the board game of chess, which was introduced into Europe before the Crusades. Since the object of the game is to trap or stop the opponent’s “king,” chess became known by the old French word for stop, “esched” and the square board upon which the game was played, was called an “exchequer.”
The Government department which dealt with the financial interests of the King of England was named the Exchequer because it used the chequered counting system. Reckoning slips were known as cheques.
Officers known as sheriffs brought in to the Exchequer money they had collected for the king, in the form of taxes. Here it was counted, tested for weight and purity (at this date all money was coin) and the amount was recorded on a parchment roll.
As a receipt for the money he brought in, each sheriff was given a receipt or “tally”, which was a stick of wood about 8 ins. long. The receipt was made by cutting notches down each edge of the wood. A cut as broad as the palm of the hand stood for £1,000, the breadth of a thumb for £100, of a little finger for £20, etc. The sheriff’s name was marked on the tally, which was then split in half. The Exchequer kept the smaller piece, called the “foil”, and the sheriff was given the larger piece, which was called the “stock” or “counterfoil”.
To verify that the money had been received, the two pieces were brought together and shown to match. A hole was bored at one end of the tallies so that several tallies could be strung together on a rod as a file.
Arabic figures have long since replaced Roman numerals, and the need for the “squared” system of accounting has vanished. But the Treasury is still called the Exchequer, and banks still call a reckoning slip a cheque.
So that’s why people write cheques.
Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Interesting Words, Ships, War on Wednesday, 1 May 2013
This edited article about Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 238 published on 6 August 1966.
In the 1730s feeling ran high between England and her maritime rivals, France and Spain. There was fierce competition for trade and colonies, and whenever an Englishman met a Spaniard on the high seas, he saw him as a rival and a foe.
The people of England seethed with indignation when they heard that English vessels, trading in the Spanish Main, were being roughly searched by Spanish guardships and that English sailors were being thrown into Spanish prisons!
The Government, under Sir Robert Walpole, would have preferred to turn a blind eye to the situation, but early in 1739 the story that a Spaniard had lopped off a Captain Jenkin’s ear outraged the country, and Walpole had no option but to declare war.
As a result, Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon was sent off to command a punitive expedition against the Spanish in the West Indies.
Vernon’s frank, down-to-earth manner made him popular with his men, to whom he was known affectionately as ‘Old Grog’, from his habit of wearing a cloak made of grogram – a heavy silk and mohair material stiffened with gum and supposed to be waterproof.
This same manner did not, however, always endear Vernon to his elders and betters. He had clamoured for war with Spain, and many parliamentary eyebrows had been raised when he had scornfully stated that he could capture Porto Bello, a Spanish port in the West Indies, with only half a dozen ships if necessary.
It was mere chance that when his instructions came through ‘to destroy the Spanish settlements in the West Indies and to distress their shipping by every method whatever’, he had, in fact, only six vessels available.
Vernon arrived off Porto Bello on 20th November, 1739. The next morning he attacked. His ships swiftly routed the unprepared Spanish vessels and the main fort. The boats landed, the other forts and the town capitulated and it was soon all over.
England went mad with excitement. Parliament graciously voted its thanks and London gave Vernon the freedom of the city. The principal towns and cities sent their congratulations to the king, George II. Commemorative medals were struck. Places called ‘Porto Bello’ sprang up in various parts of the country, and ‘Vernon’s Head’ became the favourite name for public houses.
In the year following the outbreak of war and the Porto Bello capture, Vernon became worried about the bad effect raw rum was having on his men’s health and general discipline. On 21st August, 1740, he issued the memorable order that one quart of water was to be added to the daily rum allowance of one-half pint per man. The men promptly labelled this mixture ‘grog’, after their nickname for Vernon and thus, inadvertently, gave the English language a new word. It was probably one of the most effective improvements to discipline and efficiency ever produced by one stroke of the pen.
Posted in Customs, Historical articles, History, Interesting Words, Language, Law on Monday, 29 April 2013
This edited article about crime and punishment originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 233 published on 2 July 1966.
We sometimes say that a person held up to ridicule has been “pilloried”. That expression had a very real meaning in England until June 30, 1837, when the punishment of standing in the pillory was abolished by Act of Parliament.
The pillory consisted of a wooden post surmounted by a wooden frame with holes through which the head and hands of the culprit were thrust. The frame was in two parts, an upper and lower, which were closed over the neck and wrists and then locked.
First used to punish a variety of petty crime, a law of 1266, called the Statute of Pillory, laid down that it was to be the punishment for perjury, forgery and for shopkeepers who gave short weight.
A pillory was usually set up in some public place, like a market square, and the crowd were at liberty to pelt the victim with rotten eggs, and decayed vegetables.
Under the Stuart Kings, the pillory became the usual punishment for anyone who criticised the king or the government. Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, was, in 1703, sentenced to stand for an hour in the pillory in Cheapside for writing a pamphlet pleading for religious toleration. The public were in sympathy with his ideas, and threw flowers and garlands.
The last person to be pilloried in London was Peter Bossey, who stood outside the Old Bailey for an hour on June 22, 1830, for perjury. The pillory continued to be used in some country districts until it was abolished altogether in 1837.