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What is a cow tree?

May 10, 2017 | Posted in Biology

Cow tree or milk tree is the popular name given to several species of evergreen trees native to the mountains of South and Central America. They get their name from the fact that when the trunks or branches are cut a large quantity of white, milklike juice exudes. The “milk” of one species, Brosimum galactodendron, is …

How did “fan” originate?

May 9, 2017 | Posted in Language

Fan, in the sense of an enthusiast over baseball, football, radio or any other sport, amusement, entertainment or avocation, is modern and is believed to be a contraction of fanatic. The theory, often advanced by popular writers, that fan in this sense is derived from the verb to fan, signifying to blow upon, to stimulate …

What is a “shivaree”?

May 8, 2017 | Posted in Language

Charivari, in the sense of a mock serenade of a newly married couple, is popularly spelled and pronounced shivaree in the United States. It is a French term and is correctly spelled charivari and pronounced sha-ree­va-ree in English. Some authorities suppose the word was of onomatopoeic or imitative origin and was suggested by the sound …

How did “booze” originate?

May 7, 2017 | Posted in Language

Booze is not a word of recent coinage, as commonly supposed. It is an example of a good word that degenerated into slang. In varying forms the term has been part of the English language at least since the fourteenth century. It occurs variously as booze, bouze, bouse and bowse. Apparently it was derived from Middle …

What country coined platinum money?

May 6, 2017 | Posted in Central Banking

In 1828 the Russian government began the coinage of platinum money. Platinum was produced in considerable quantities in the Ural Mountains in Russia and its general scarcity and great value were not at first appreciated. For many years the Russians considered the metal of such small value that peasants used pots and pans made of …

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What was the Spanish Main?

May 5, 2017 | Posted in Geography

Spanish Main was originally applied to the Spanish mainland colonies on the northeast coast of South America between the mouth of the Orinoco River and the Isthmus of Panama. At first the Spanish Main was merely this strip of mainland stretching some 1,250 miles from Panama to the Gulf of Paria opposite Trinidad. The term …

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How did “cutting a dido” originate?

May 4, 2017 | Posted in Language

This phrase means to play the mischief, to cut up, to cut capers. In some sections of the United States dance a dido is used instead of cut a dido. Dido as applied to a caper, trick, antic or extravagant action is an Americanism of unknown origin, having thus far baffled all etymological research. Efforts …

What is the philosopher’s stone?

May 3, 2017 | Posted in General Knowledge

A person looking for a short-cut to riches is said to be searching for the philosopher’s stone. In Poor Richard’s Almanac Benjamin Franklin said: “If you know how to spend less than you get, you have the philosopher’s stone.” The ancient alchemists believed that somewhere in nature there existed a substance that would transmute all …

What is meant by Robin Hood’s barn?

May 2, 2017 | Posted in Language

Robin Hood’s barn is the great out-of-doors and alludes to the fact that Robin Hood, the legendary English outlaw and ballad hero, stabled his horses under the canopy of the blue sky. To go around Robin Hood’s barn is an old phrase meaning to attain one’s end or the desired result by a round about …

Who were the Blue Devils?

May 1, 2017 | Posted in Military

The French soldiers belonging to the Chasseurs Alpins were called Blue Devils by the Germans during the First World War because of their dark blue uniforms and their dashing attacks in the fighting in the Vosges. Chasseur is derived from French chasser (“to hunt”). The Chasseurs in the French military service may consist of eight …

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