A history of sayings
- Francis J. Kong () - July 9, 2011 - 12:00am

… and customs. That’s what I was reading while waiting for our delayed flight from Milan to Rome. I’ll be eternally grateful to whoever can help me discover the original author of this collection of info, so I may give proper credit to the person. For the meantime, enjoy this as I have!

Here are some facts about the 1500s:

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and still smelled pretty good by June. [thus June’s being the wedding month.] However, some would be starting to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence, the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Baths then consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege to use the nice, clean water first; then all the other sons and men; then the women; and finally the children. Last of all were the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Houses used to have thatched roofs – thick straw piled high – with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained, it became slippery, and animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the expression, “It’s raining cats and dogs.” There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up the nice, clean bed. So a bed with big posts and a sheet hanging over the top afforded some protection. That’s how canopy beds came into existence.

Floors then were made of dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the term, “dirt poor”.

The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A

piece of wood was placed in the entranceway. Hence the term, “thresh hold.”

In the olden days, pork was expensive. When visitors came over, the family would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, “bring home the bacon.” They would cut off a little to share with guests, and would all sit around and chew the fat.

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning and death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the “upper crust”.

Now this is the part I personally like.

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

England is old and small, and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins, take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. Upon reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside. They realized they had been burying people alive! So they started tying a string on the wrist of the corpse, leading it through the coffin and up through the ground, so they can tie the other end to a bell. Then someone would sit out in the graveyard all night (“the graveyard shift”) to listen for the bell. Thus, someone could be, “saved by the bell” or was considered a “dead ringer”.

Whoever said History was boring doesn’t understand what he or she is saying.

(Get daily inspirational quotes and thoughts from Francis! Send “Inspire” to 288 for Smart or Sun subscribers, and 2889 for Globe. Visit facebook.com/franciskong2 for more details.)

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