Sam Wilson was a meat packer who supplied preserved beef to the U.S. Army in the nineteenth century. The barrels of meat were stamped “U.S.” to indicate they were property of the United States, but the soldiers joked that the initials were actually those of the supplier, “Uncle Sam” Wilson. The bearded figure of “Uncle Sam” was drawn and introduced by Thomas Nast, the same cartoonist who created the Republicans’ elephant and the Democrats’ donkey.
The custom of proclaiming wedding banns began in 800 AD when Roman Emperor Charlemagne became alarmed by the high rate of interbreeding throughout his empire.
He ordered that all marriages be publicly announced at least seven days prior to the ceremony and that anyone knowing that the bride and groom were related must come forward. The practice proved so successful that it was widely endorsed by all faiths.
It’s a myth that the camp followers of Union General Joseph Hooker gave us the popular euphemism for a prostitute. It’s true they were called “Hooker’s division,” or “Hooker’s reserves,” but the word predates the American Civil War as, of course, does the profession. It first appeared in 1845 as a reference to an area of New York known as “the Hook,” where ladies of the night could be found in abundance.
The reason the written records of a meeting are called the minutes is because, in order to keep up, the minute-taker wrote in a shorthand or abbreviation. The word used to describe this condensed writing was minute (my-noot), meaning “small,” and because the spelling is the same, the minutes (my-noots) became minutes. The same circumstances apply to Frederick Chopin’s Minute Waltz: It’s really his small or minute (my-noot) waltz.
The word bedlam is a medieval slang pronunciation of “Bethlehem,” and its use to describe a mad uproar dates back to a London hospital for the insane. St. Mary in Bethlehem was incorporated in 1547 as the Royal Foundation for Lunatics. Because people could hear but only imagine the chaos inside, they began referring to any noisy, out-of-control situation as like that in “Bedlam” — Bethlehem hospital.
In the seventeenth century, the British borrowed a Dutch army custom of sounding a drum and bugle to signal soldiers that it was time to stop socializing and return to their barracks for the night. The Dutch called it “taptoe,” meaning “shut off the taps,” and the abbreviated “taps” became a signal for tavern owners to turn off the spigots on their beer and wine casks.
After lights out, taps signals that the soldiers are safely home, which is why it’s played at funerals.
Keeping up with the Joneses has come to mean trying to keep up with your neighbours, in terms of material possessions, at any cost. The expression comes from the title of a comic strip that ran in newspapers between 1913 and 1931 and chronicled the experiences of a newly married man in Cedarhurst, New York. Originally titled “Keeping Up With the Smiths,” the cartoon was changed to the “Keeping Up With the Joneses” because it sounded better.
When early European settlers were moving west and clearing the land, every farm had an abundance of tree stumps in their fields. “Barnstorming” politicians who looked for a place of prominence to be seen and heard by the gathered electorate would invariably find a large tree stump to stand on from which he would make his pitch. This gave us the expression “on the stump,” which is still used to describe a politician seeking election.
In 1801, while second in command of a British fleet near Copenhagen, Horatio Nelson was told that his commander had sent up flags ordering a retreat. Nelson lifted his spyglass to his previously blinded eye and said he couldn’t see the order, and then he ordered and led a successful attack. Nelson’s insubordination became legend and gave us the expression “turn a blind eye.”
There are many cities around the world that are “big,” meaning they have more than 10 million people living in them. Tokyo, Japan, ranks the largest, since it has 33.2 million people living in the city, according to 2005 estimates. The next biggest cities in order of size are São Paulo, Brazil (17.7 million), Seoul-Incheon, South Korea (17.5 million), Mexico City, Mexico (17.4 million), Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto, Japan (16.4 million), and New York City (about 8 million people).
Most of these cities are located in different places around the globe. In the United States, after New York, Los Angeles is the biggest city (with almost 4 million people), and then Chicago (with almost three million people). Populations of cities are constantly changing as people move in and out of them, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, a government organization that estimates how big or small cities are based on their populations, or the number of people living in them.