2012-03-01 / Editorial

Lessons to be learned in ‘factual’ trivia

Off the Record By Jim Grisso

Most people who waste their time reading my rantings and ramblings consider what I have to say as useless trivia. So, if you feel that way, let me give you some extremely important factual trivia of historical nature.

I confess it arrived on my computer via e-mail. Some of you intellects out there who already know everything may as well stop reading further. If you’re a dummy like me, read on.

This is all about expressions.

This one will cost you an arm and a leg: In George Washington’s day, there were no cameras. One’s image was either sculpted or painted. Some paintings of George showed him standing behind a desk with one arm behind his back while others showed both legs and both arms. Prices charged by artists were not based on how many people were to be painted, but by how many limbs were to be painted. Arms and legs are “limbs,” therefore painting them cost the buyer more. Hence the expression, “Okay, but it’ll cost you an arm and a leg.”

Hold on. It gets better. I promise, or it will cost me an arm and a leg.

Why the chairman of the board is an important person: In the late 1700s, many houses consisted of a large room with only one chair. Commonly, a long wide board folded down from the wall and was used for dining. The “head of the household” always sat in the chair while everyone else ate sitting on the floor. Occasionally, a guest, who was usually a man would be invited to sit in this chair during the meal. (Now that’s downright discriminatory, right ladies?) To sit in the chair meant you were important and in charge. They called that guy the “chair man.”

I hope you haven’t fallen asleep in your chair.

Ladies, here’s one primarily for you: Back then, personal hygiene left much room for improvement. As a result, many women, and even men, would spread bee’s wax over their facial skin to smooth out their complexions. (Even men? Are you kidding me?) When they were speaking to each other, if a woman began to stare at another woman’s face, she was told “mind your own bee’s wax.” Should the woman smile, the wax would crack, hence the term “crack a smile.” Not only that, if they sat too close to the fire, the wax would melt...as in the expression “losing face.”

This column is on fire now.

If you’re one of those “straight-laced” types, you better read this one: Ladies wore corsets at one time, which would lace up the front. A proper and dignified woman, as in “straight-laced,” wore a tightly-tied lace.

How come some men are called straight-laced. I wouldn’t be caught dead in a corset.

Have a drink on this one: At local taverns, pubs and bars people drank from pint and quart-sized containers. A bar maid’s job was to keep an eye on the customers and keep the drinks coming. She had to pay close attention and remember who was drinking a “pint” and who was consuming from a “quart.” In other words, she had to “mind her Ps and Qs.”

So, mind your Ps and Qs -- and keep reading.

This is pure political gossip: Early politicians required feedback from the public to determine what the people considered important. Since there were no telephones, newspapers, TVs, radios or computers, politicians sent their assistants to local watering holes. They were told to “go sip” some ale and listen to what people had to say. (How can that be true? Politicians have never listened to us.) The political pub runners had many places to cover so their boss would tell one to “go sip” here and another to “go sip” there. Eventually, the two words were combined into “gossip.”

Always mind your Ps and Qs when you gossip.

People have told me I qualify for this expression: Common entertainment back then included playing cards. However, there was a tax levied applicable to the “Ace of Spades.” To avoid paying the tax, people would purchase a deck of 51 cards, minus the ace of spades. Since most games require 52 cards, these people were thought to be stupid because they weren’t “playing with a full deck.”

“You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em. Know when to walk away, know when to run” -- Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler.”

It’s your lucky day, pardner -- I’m foldin’ my 51- card deck.

I know when to run!

Jim Grisso was publisher of the Gaylord Herald Times for 40 years before his retirement in December 2007. He and his wife Sue currently reside on the South Branch of the AuSable River near Roscommon. He can be contacted at jgoblue@live.com.

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2012-03-01 digital edition


What represents the first sign of spring for you?