From the Desk of Don Slinger Issue 50

Spring 2004 CSANews Issue 50  |  Posted date : May 05, 2007.Back to list

Hi folks!

For all you history buffs, I thought I would take this opportunity to broaden your knowledge of some activities and sayings that originated in 16th-century England. We still use them today without knowing how they came into being. Wonder no more ­ your prayers have been answered.

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and were still smelling pretty good in June. However, as a precaution, the bride carried a bouquet of flowers.

Baths were a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house bathed first then the sons, then the women and finally the children. The babies were last, when the water was very dirty. Hence, the saying "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water."

Houses had thatched roofs made of thick straw, piled high with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the pets...dogs, cats and other small animals (mice, rats and bugs) lived in the roof. Hence the saying "It's raining cats and dogs."

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a problem in the bedroom, where bugs and other droppings could mess up the bed. They found that if they made beds with big posts and hung a sheet over the top, it addressed the problem. Hence those beautiful, big, four-poster beds with canopies.

They cooked in the kitchen in a big pot that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They had mostly vegetables with very little meat. They would eat the stew for dinner and leave the leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then restart the fire next day. Hence the rhyme, "peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old."

Sometimes they could obtain pork and would feel special. When company came over, they would bring out the bacon and hang it to show it off. It was a sign of wealth and that the man could "bring home the bacon." They would cut off a little to share with the guests and then sit around and "chew the fat."

Those with money had plates made out of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food. This happened most often with tomatoes, so they stopped eating tomatoes...for 400 years.

Lead cups were used to drink ale and whiskey. The combination would sometimes knock them out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the side of the road would take them for dead and prepare the burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table and the family would gather around and eat and drink and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a "wake."

England is old and small, and they were running out of places to bury the dead. So they would dig up the coffins, take the bones to the house and reuse the grave. In reopening these coffins, one out of every 25 were found to have scratch marks on the side and they realized that they had buried people alive. So they thought they would tie a string to the wrist, lead it through the coffin and the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit in the graveyard all night to listen for the bell. Hence on the "graveyard shift," they would know if someone was "saved by the bell" or was a "dead ringer."

And now, something in the more modern world. A little girl was diligently pounding away on her father's word processor. She told him that she was writing a story. "What is about?" he asked. "I don't know," she replied "I can't read!"

God Bless!