Feb
28
2011
4

How did Argyle socks and knitwear get their name?

blue, green, black argyle sockArgyle socks have centuries of history, and yet that particular name wasn't used until nearly 1940. Socks with the typical “Argyle” diamond design used to be called tartan hose or plaid stockings. They were knee-length, and made from wool, sometimes rather scratchy wool. The pattern of lozenges in two or more colours, criss-crossed by narrow [more...]

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Jun
29
2010
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What is the origin of the “Tom and Jerry”?

tom-and-jerry-life-in-londonFor those who don’t know, a Tom and Jerry is a mixed drink, a variety of eggnog made with rum and a little brandy, usually served warm, popular at Christmas time. So why is it called a Tom and Jerry? It is a long story and has a long history. The drink was invented by [more...]

Mar
19
2010
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What is a vomitorium?

vomitoriumWell, yes, a vomitorium may also refer to what comes to mind, but originally it was an exit from a Roman theater to allow the crowd to spew out. Many people like to believe that the Romans also had a room or basin called a vomitorium for people to relieve themselves after overindulgence, but this [more...]

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Mar
17
2010
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Do lingonberries have a traditional English name?

lingonberries or cowberriesOver the last few years lingonberry has become a fairly familiar English word. Thanks to a well-known Swedish furniture store putting lingonberry jam, jelly, and cordial on its shelves, and a few foody articles in lifestyle sections of the newspapers, many of us have a general idea that this small red berry is from Scandinavia, [more...]

Feb
28
2010
1

What is the history and meaning of the phrase “There are no rules until they are broken”?

Image by Katiya (CC-BY)There are no rules until they are broken. The idea behind this phrase is that the boundaries of acceptable behavior are complex and subtle, and cannot be codified by a simple set of rules. Therefore it’s best to start out with a set of general expectations backed up by a few rules, and to add [more...]

Feb
24
2010
3

Why do they shout “Hear Hear!” in the British Parliament?

Houses of Parliament (photo by victoriapeckham CC-BY)The British Parliament is steeped in history and tradition, and parliamentary debates in the House of Commons are often very lively and noisy with Members of Parliament calling out to the opposition party, waving order papers, exaggerating laughter or deriding the speeches of the opposition members. Critics liken it to a bear pit or a [more...]

Feb
23
2010
1

When did the White House get its name?

The White House .circa 1860 (photo from D.C. Public Library NKCP)The home of the President of United States was officially named the White House in October 1901. Construction of the building started in 1792, and the John Adams was the first President to occupy the building in 1800, even though it was far from finished. During the 19th century it was variously known as the [more...]

Feb
22
2010
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What popularized the expression "…and have used no other since"?

Cartoon by Harry Furniss (PD-EXP)If you think the expression sounds like a product endorsement, you are right. If you think it sounds like a soap ad, you are absolutely correct, perhaps envisioning an well-known lovely smiling from a magazine page or speaking in a television spot. The soap manufacturer in question didn't hesitate to advertise with testimonials. Lillie Langtry [more...]

Feb
20
2010
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What is red tape?

Photo by Paul Lowry - CC-BYRed tape is when bureaucracy gets in the way of what you need: local government asking for obviously unnecessary documentation for something you want to do to your house—that you probably could have gotten away with without asking for approval; or it's taking ages to just get a stamp of approval on a simple form, [more...]

Mar
11
2009
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When was iced tea invented?

Iced tea in a goblet - as served in the 1870s. (photo by kankan - CC-BY)“Iced tea is now coming into use in the hot summer months; but this is an eccentric innovation, not likely very soon to become a common custom” This opinion appeared in 1869, in the not very far-seeing Herald of Health, published in New York. Iced tea was known in the 1860s as a warm weather [more...]

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