More Origin of English Words

Continuing my series on the origin of English words for us Bruneians. Sometimes you can't imagine how certain English words came about for us to use here in Brunei. Before you think how clever I am writing today's post, I have to admit that I got this article from one of those circulating emails. So, thanks to whoever it is that wrote this. So, the next time you are washing your hands and complain because the water temperature isn't just how you like it, think about how things used to be. Here are some facts from the 1500s:

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and were still smelling pretty good by June. However, even in June they were starting to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odour.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water. Following him, the same water was used by the other men, the sons, the women, and finally the children. Last of all came 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 bath water."

Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw, piled high. It was the only place for animals to get warm. So all the dogs, cats, and other small critters (including mice, rats, and bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained, it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying, "it's raining cats and dogs."

The roof was not always effective in stopping things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom, where bugs and droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Thus, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That is how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor of the house was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, "dirt poor."

The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery when they got wet in Winter. So, they spread thresh on the floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they kept adding more thresh until, when the door was opened, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entryway which came to be known as the "threshold."

Food was cooked in the kitchen in a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They mostly ate vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leave the leftovers in the pot, and then start over the next day. Sometimes the stew had food in it that had been in there for quite some time. Hence, the rhyme, "peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old."

Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of both wealth and that a man could "bring home the bacon." They would cut off a little to share with guests and sit around and "chew the fat."

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with a 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.

Most people did not have pewter plates, but had trenchers - a piece of wood with the middle scooped out like a bowl. Trenchers were never washed and often worms got into the wood. After eating off wormy trenchers, one could get "trenchmouth."

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."

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey. The combination would sometimes knock them out for a couple of days. They might be taken for dead and prepared for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table. The family would gather around and eat and drink for a couple of days and wait to see it they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a "wake."

England is old and small and they started running out of places to bury people. So, they would dig up coffins and reuse the graves. When reopening these coffins, one out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside. They realized they had been burying people alive. So, a string was tied on the wrist of the deceased. It led up through the coffin, up through the ground, and was tied to a bell. Someone sat out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift) to listen for the bell. Thus, someone could be "saved by the bell," or be considered a "dead ringer."


Anonymous said…
I believe that the above story pertains to european environment during their "dark Ages" not to flourishing and enlightened soceities in China, India, Africa and the Islamic world. Also it was in this period that events like the plague occured.

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