When children play tag and hold a tree for safety, they are acting out a four-thousand-year-old custom of the North American Indians who believed that because the oak was most frequently struck by lightning, it was the home of the sky god. The Greeks came to this same conclusion two thousand years later and because both cultures believed that bragging or boasting offended that god, they knocked on the tree either to divert him from their bragging or to seek forgiveness.
Today there are some 4,300 religions in the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world’s population practices one of the five most influential religions of the world: Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. Christianity, which is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, who preached in Palestine about 2,000 years ago, is the most widely practiced religion in the world today, with 2.1 billion followers.
The second most practiced religion is Islam, with 1.3 billion followers.
In medieval France the first-born sons of nobility were known as the “caput,” or head, of the family, while the younger, less valuable boys were called “capdets,” or little heads, and were often sent to the military to train as officers. In English, “capdets” became “cadets,” which the Scots abbreviated to “cads” or “caddies,” meaning any useless street kid who could be hired for the day to carry around a bag of golf clubs.
Kissing the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle near Cork, Ireland, is supposed to transfer the gift of gab to the kisser, but the idea that the word blarney meant a smooth talker came from the mouth of Elizabeth I of England in 1602. She had insisted that Dermot McCarthy surrender Blarney Castle as proof of his loyalty, but he kept coming up with excuses — so many excuses, in fact, that the Queen once exclaimed in exasperation, “Odds Bodkins, more Blarney talk!”
Yes, the salmon is most famous for its life cycle. It is born in tiny streams far from the sea, where it spends the first part of its life in freshwater. In the springtime, it migrates down streams to rivers, sometimes traveling hundreds of miles, until it ends up in the open ocean, where it spends much of its adult life. Then, when it’s time to lay its eggs, the salmon makes the journey back to its birthplace to spawn and die. The salmon’s body is rich in oils that are picked up during its life in the ocean. The oil helps give the salmon the energy it needs to navigate the journey upriver.
When the early Normans brought fire indoors they built semicircular open fireplaces. To keep warm at night or when the air was cool, the family would sit in a semicircle opposite the one formed by the hearth, creating a complete circle where they would spend time telling stories or singing songs within what they called the “family circle.” When neighbours were included, it became “a circle of friends.”
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.
In 1845, scientists believed that the only explanation for Mercury’s confusing and erratic orbit of the sun would be the presence of gravitational pull from an unseen nearby planet, which they named “Vulcan.” Eventually Albert Einstein, through his theory of relativity, explained Mercury’s behaviour, thus eliminating the hypothetical planet Vulcan — until it was resurrected by Gene Rodenberry in Star Trek.
The Egyptian pharaohs, concerned that courtroom theatrics might influence the administration of justice, established the practice of holding trials in darkened chambers with absolutely no light. That way, the judge wouldn’t be moved by anything but the facts. It’s this principle that inspired Lady Justice, the well-known statue of a woman in a blindfold holding the scales of justice that is often found outside contemporary courtrooms.
The word blurb, meaning an inspired recommendation, comes from an evening in 1907 during an annual trade dinner of New York publishers Where it was customary to distribute copies of new books with special promotional jackets. For his book, humorist Gelett Burgess caused a sensation with a cover drawing of a very attractive and buxom young woman whom he named “Miss Belinda Blurb.” From then on, any flamboyant endorsement would be known as a blurb.