Etymology, Part 7: Oxford English Dictionary

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines more than a half million words and it took more than seventy years to research and write the original “twelve tombstone-size volumes.” It is the gold standard of the English language.

On August 14, 1879, Scottish polymath James Murray was given the go-ahead by the Philological Society of England to begin the work of tracing the history of every single word in the English language and providing a definition faithful to its meaning. As the editor of the OED, he had the task of finding all the words as used in classical and standard written works in English. His historical starting point was the year 1150 AD.

Denholm, birthplace of James Murray, is located in the Scottish Borders Council Area

Murray was a “self-educated country boy” from the Scottish Borders village of Denholm. He had to leave school at fourteen for lack of funds, but he continued learning on his own, with a special interest in etymology — “He was captivated by words and strange languages.”

Murray mastered Spanish, French, Catalan, Italian and Latin and, “to a lesser degree”, Portuguese, Vaudois, and Provençal, as well as other various dialects. He also acquired a working knowledge of Gaelic, Dutch, German, Danish, Slavonic and Russian. He knew Hebrew and Syriac well enough to sight read the Old Testament and picked up to a lesser degree Coptic, Phoenician and Arabic. He taught school and worked in a bank as an administrator in London, but his real passion was language.

James Murray lived in this Oxford home on Banbury Road from 1885-1915

By 1879, at the age of forty-two, James Murray began his real life’s work creating the Oxford English Dictionary. All eleven of his children lived to maturity and they, his wife, and eventually, grandchildren all helped in the project. He was permitted to use an iron shed on the property of the school where he taught, which he had outfitted with a thousand pigeon-holed rack to hold the quotations slips for the words.

Before long, the “scriptorium” was ready and the project was begun. Through the Philological Society he issued “An Appeal to the English-Speaking and English-Reading Public” in Great Britain, America and the British Colonies, asking for a thousand readers for the next three years to supply him with good quotations, thus determining how various English words were used over the centuries. They were to avoid Bible Concordances, Shakespeare, and Edmund Burke — sources already combed.

Image Credit: Oxford University Press, LA Times

Dictionary slips and their sorting became a major part of life for the Murray family. People from all over the world sent in slips with the desired information. Several sub-editors and the children sorted through them and into the pigeon holes they went. One of Murray’s sons provided 27,000 quotations on his own, according to the introduction in the first volume.

The entire story is amazing — the perseverance, erudition and dedication of Murray became legendary, as did some of the characters that sent in quotes. One of the best, most erudite and apparently brilliant contributors turned out to be a murderer from America, locked up in a prison for the criminally insane in England! (As recounted in “The Professor and the Madman” by Simon Winchester).

Seven of the twelve volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary

When William Chester Minor heard about the project, he heavily got involved with it. At that point in his life, the former American army surgeon was a patient at Broadmoor (an asylum). William had murdered a stranger named George Merrett in 1872 due to paranoia. The assailant thought that his victim had broken into his room. The court ruled that William was not guilty by reason of insanity, and he was sent to the psychiatric facility in Crowthorne, Berkshire.

Image Credit: Unknown Author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In fact, William got a pension for his military service and was not adjudged to be dangerous. Therefore, he had access to comfortable housing and a plethora of books at the facility. This is why it is not surprising that he became one of the biggest contributors to the dictionary. He sent in more than 10,000 entries! It is true that the widowed Mrs. Merrett used to visit him and bring him books on his list. Even though Winchester’s writing suggests that they could have had an affair, the author did say he was unsure about this facet of the surgeon’s life.

Winchester further said this about the man— “Minor concentrated very hard, and some synapse(s) in his brain presumably fired in such a way as to eliminate his symptoms of schizophrenia.” All this time, James had no idea about William’s past. However, when he finally learned the truth, their relationship was unaffected. The lexicographer even described the “madman” as “a fine Christian gentleman, the same as myself.”

However, in 1902, William’s paranoia became worse. He had delusions wherein he was being abducted every night and was made to go as far as Istanbul to commit sexual assaults on children. Therefore, he cut off his own penis. By 1910, James campaigned for William’s release as well. Winston Churchill was the home secretary then and ordered that the patient be deported back to America.

There, William was admitted to St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington D.C. (which is where his schizophrenia was diagnosed). He passed away in 1920 in Hartford, Connecticut. James had passed away in 1915 due to pleurisy. Up until that point, however, he continued to work hard on the dictionary come hell or high water. The year before his death, he was awarded an Oxford honorary doctorate. Moreover, despite being knighted for his efforts in 1908, James continued to be a relative outsider at the university.

After reading all the quotations sent in for a particular word, Murray would write the “concise, scholarly, accurate, and lovingly elegant definition for which the Dictionary is well known.” The task was enormously difficult but for thirty-five years Murray stuck to it till the day of his death.

The dictionary was completed after the two passed away, however, their contributions to the book cannot be ignored. Did you know that in the end, all the information was compiled in 10 volumes? There were 414,825 words that had been defined, and 1,827,306 citations were used to illustrate their meanings.

The magnificent story of this singular Christian lexicographer was finally told by Murray’s granddaughter K.M. Elizabeth Murray in “Caught in the Web of Words: James Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary,” (1977).

K.M. Elizabeth Murray

Words have meaning, but when a culture redefines the fixed understanding of words, demagogues take advantage of the uncertainty and chaos that results, to change the culture itself. We must be wary of the malleable ways that enemies of the original intent of words, deconstruct meaning, to the destruction of morality and truth.

Did you know that the book “The Professor and the Madman” was made into a movie with Mel Gibson and Sean Penn? The script was adapted from Simon Winchester’s book called ‘The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Love of Words.’ (It was, however, renamed ‘The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary’ for the audiences in America and Canada).

Mel Gibson and Sean Penn

Etymology of Words and Phrases, Part 5: ‘Tis the Christmas Season

CHRISTMAS CARDS -The tradition of sending Christmas cards originated in the mid-1800s when a few people began to design handmade cards to send to family and friends. A man named John Calcott Horsley is credited as being the first to actually print Christmas cards. The card depicted a family enjoying the holiday, with scenes of people performing acts of charity. The card was inscribed: “Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year to You.” Some of the other cards of the era were rather bizarre!!!


A greeting used on Christmas morning, with the first person saying it traditionally receiving a gift. The custom, which has been traced back to as early as 1844, is no longer observed but ‘Christmas gift!’, which used to be a far more popular Christmas greeting than ‘Merry Christmas!’, is still heard among older people.”

CHRISTMAS PICKLE – Pickle ornaments were considered a special decoration by many families in Germany where the fir tree was decorated on Christmas Eve. It was always the last ornament to be hung on the Christmas tree, with the parents hiding it in the green boughs among the other ornaments. When the children were allowed to view the tree they would begin gleefully searching for the pickle ornament. The children knew that whoever first found that special ornament would receive an extra little gift left by St. Nicholas for the most observant child.

EPIPHANY – January 6 is known in western Christian tradition as Epiphany. It goes by other names in various church traditions. In Hispanic and Latin culture, as well as some places in Europe, it is known as Three Kings’ Day. Because of differences in church calendars, mainly between the Eastern Orthodox and the western Catholic and Protestant traditions, both Christmas and Epiphany have been observed at different times in the past.

Epiphany is the climax of the Christmas Season and the Twelve Days of Christmas, which are counted from December 25th until January 5th. The day before Epiphany is the twelfth day of Christmas, and is sometimes called Twelfth Night, an occasion for feasting in some cultures. The term epiphany means to show” or “to make known” or even “to reveal.” In Western churches, it remembers the coming of the wise men bringing gifts to visit the Christ child, who by so doing “reveal” Jesus to the world as Lord and King.

GOD SPEED THE PLOUGH; PLOUGH MONDAY – God speed the plough, ‘a wish for success or prosperity,’ was originally a phrase in a 15th-century song sung by ploughmen on Plough Monday; the first Monday after the Twelfth Day, which is the end of the Christmas holidays, when farm laborers returned to the plough, soliciting ‘plough money’ to spend in celebration.

HARD CANDY CHRISTMAS – A bleak Christmas — one where the family is so low on money that everyone gets hard candy for Christmas instead of gifts. The phrase is the title of a song written by Carol Hall and sung by Dolly Parton: “Lord it’s like a hard candy Christmas.I’m barely getting through tomorrow.But still I won’t let Sorrow bring me way down.I’ll be fine and dandy.

MERRY CHRISTMAS – England of the Anglo-Saxon period and the Middle Ages was not a very happy place to be, let alone ‘merrie.’ So why the phrase “Merrie Christmas” indicating revelry and joyous spirits, as if England were one perpetual Christmastime? The answer is that the word ‘merrie’ originally meant merely ‘pleasing and delightful,’ not bubbling over with festive spirits, as it does today.

The same earlier meaning is found in the famous expression, ‘the merry month of May.'” Note: In “A Royal Duty,” Paul Burrell said the Queen preferred “Happy Christmas” because she believed “Merry Christmas” implies drunkenness.

SANTA CLAUS – Today, people around the world are familiar with the popularized depiction of Santa Claus: a chubby old gnome with a snow-colored beard, eight tiny reindeer, and an army of freckle-faced elves who leap at his beck and call.

Though commonly thought of as an American folk legend, Santa Claus owes most of his existence to old religious customs that came to this country with immigrants from Europe. Interwoven in our holiday tradition are the traditions of Spain, Germany, Italy and, above all, the Dutch Netherlands, where one of the clearest connections to the Santa tradition can be found.

Before becoming known in America as Santa Claus, this magical gift bearer was commonly referred to as “Sinter Claes” or “Sinterklass,” a Dutch language corruption of both the name and the religious title of Saint Nicholas, a fourth century bishop of the Eastern Orthodox Church. And as Dutch tradition tells it, Sinterklass doesn’t travel by sled or live at the North Pole. He also doesn’t dress up in a red velvet suit trimmed with faux polar bear fur, or manage a year-round sweatshop staffed by toy-making elves.


Making a list and checking it twice to keep an accurate record of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice throughout the year is a monumental task, even for a magical old dude like Sinterklass. So assisting him with his gift-giving enterprise is Zwarte Piet (literally “Black Peter”), a Moorish youth with an old school feathered cap on his head and 24-karat “bling” in his earlobes.

A smiling St. Nicholas, “De Goede Sint” (“The Good Saint”), and Black Pete ride their horse and donkey as Dutch children crowd around them in this artwork by Dutch writer and illustrator, Marie “Rie” Cramer, 1929

XMAS – “The X abbreviation of ‘Xmas’ for ‘Christmas’ is neither modern nor disrespectful. The notion that it is a new and vulgar representation of the word ‘Christmas’ seems to stem from the erroneous belief that the letter ‘X’ is used to stand for the word ‘Christ’ because of its resemblance to a cross, or that the abbreviation was deliberately concocted “to take the ‘Christ’ out of Christmas.” Actually, this usage is nearly as old as Christianity itself, and its origins lie in the fact that the first letter in the Greek word for ‘Christ’ is ‘chi,’ and the Greek letter ‘chi’ is represented by a symbol similar to the letter ‘X’ in the modern Roman alphabet.

Hence ‘Xmas’ is indeed perfectly legitimate abbreviation for the word ‘Christmas’ (just as ‘Xian’ is also sometimes used as an abbreviation of the word ‘Christian’). None of this means that Christians (and others) aren’t justified in feeling slighted when people write ‘Xmas’ rather than ‘Christmas,’ but the point is that the abbreviation was not created specifically for the purpose of demeaning Christ, Christians, Christianity, or Christmas — it’s a very old artifact of a very different language.

SHOPPING DAYS UNTIL CHRISTMAS – American retailer H. Gordon Selfridge (1856-1947) coined this expression ” __ shopping days until Christmas” while working for Marshall Field & Co. in Chicago. Later he coined the slogan “the customer is always right” when he opened Selfridge’s in London.

Marshall Field & Company gained notoriety for a number of unique promotions and features, like the Great Tree, which was a part of the store’s Christmas celebrations. In late fall, the phrase “looking ahead to the holidays” appeared in ads, with a full Christmas promotion following after Thanksgiving. “The Store of the Christmas Spirit,” “A Gift from Field’s Means More,” and “Christmas isn’t Christmas without a day at Marshall Field & Company” were advertising lines used to promote the store during the holidays.

Families lined up to eat under the Great Tree, visit “Cozy Cloud Cottage” and admire elaborate window displays, telling the story of “Uncle Mistletoe” and “Freddy Fieldmouse” which were creations of the store’s promotion department. Notably, one of the store’s windows displayed a beautiful crêche for Christmas, in addition to the commercial promotions that were popular along State Street.

Plimoth Plantation

I was researching the web for details about the first Thanksgiving and came across this website for an Inn (The Captain’s Manor Inn) that advertises for the Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts:

Travel back in time to the 1620’s at one of the country’s most popular living history museums: Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, MA!

We’ve all heard the legends of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock and the first Thanksgiving. Now you can learn the real stories – and so much more – behind one of America’s first settlements. Plimoth Plantation offers an immersive recreation of a 17th-century English Village.

The living history museum recreates 7 and a half months of 1627 every year. The exhibit includes actors portraying historical residents in a painstakingly researched and reconstructed environment. Even the livestock are heritage breeds.

The museum has been in operation since 1947 and includes a colonial village with a fort, water-powered mill, and barns. You can also visit a Wampanoag village and a replica of the Mayflower! Best of all, it’s all just a little over a half-hour’s drive from our Falmouth bed and breakfast, The Captain’s Manor Inn!

Exploring Plimoth

When you visit the 17th-Century English Village at Plimoth Plantation, you’ll feel as if you’ve tumbled through a hole in time. The careful attention to detail and character is completely immersive and truly stunning. You have to experience it to believe it!

The village is filled with modest timber-framed houses and costumed, accented role-players. The homes and many characters you meet represent historical residents of Plymouth Colony. The homes have thatched roofs and include typical furnishings of the time, gardens, and functioning kitchens. Don’t be surprised to discover a pot bubbling away on the fire.

Costumed interpreters act as your intermediary, explaining daily village life and answering any questions you might have. The two-story fort guarding the entrance to the village provides an excellent view of the surrounding area and is a great place for a photo.

Barns at the plantation are home to historic breeds of cows, goats, sheep, chickens, and turkeys. In fact, Plimoth Plantation is part of a global effort to save these old and endangered breeds.

Wampanoag Homesite

The plantation is also home to a recreation of a Wampanoag Homesite that was in the area at the time.

The homesite includes traditional “wetu” huts made of wattle and daub. Staff at the Homesite wear traditional Wampanoag dress. They also demonstrate time honored crafts and activities, such as baking cornmeal cakes wrapped in grape leaves in the embers of a fire.

Unlike the actors at the English Village, however, the staff here are not role-players. Instead, these real indigenous people speak from a modern perspective about their tribe’s history and culture.

The Mayflower II

While in the area, you can also visit the Mayflower II, a full-scale reproduction of the ship the Pilgrims sailed to Plymouth in 1620. The Mayflower II was built in Devon, England in the 1950’s. The faithful replica includes solid oak timbers, tarred hemp rigging, and hand-colored maps.

The ship is just a short drive away in Plymouth Harbor, near Pilgrim Memorial State Park. You’ll marvel at how over 100 people managed to live in this tiny space at sea for more than 10 weeks!

The Mayflower II has been away for restoration but will return to Plymouth Harbor in time for the 400th anniversary during Memorial Day Weekend, 2020.

The plantation is located on Warren Avenue in Plymouth, MA and is open 9am to 5pm seasonally, from mid-March through the end of November.


The Captain’s Manor Inn

What Shall We Make Today?

Everyone knows pumpkin pie is the go-to dessert on Thanksgiving.  But sometimes I’m way too full for pie and a cookie will suffice. So I went searching for Thanksgiving cookie recipes, and I found several options.  Many of these cookies obviously are geared for children—like the cookies with an abundance of candies on them.

Another option is almost painting with frosting!  They can be cute or elegant and definitely time consuming, and it seems like a lot of fuss for a single cookie. What is so cool about some of these though is the creativity in choosing a cookie cutter!  The turkey faces are actually made with an ice cream cone cookie cutter turned upside down.  The turkey legs are made by using a fish cookie cutter.

Personally, I like the last 2 options best—they’re quick and they’re cute!  One is a pilgrim hat—made with a striped graham cracker cookie (upside down), a dollop of icing, a peanut butter cup, and a dash of orange gel icing.  A chocolate wafer cookie could also be used as the hat brim.

The second is even simpler!  A Hershey kiss, a mini Nilla wafer cookie, a dollop and a dot of frosting and a mini chocolate chip!

Of course, you can always skip the cookies, do the dishes, and then later have pie!

The Historical Significance and Contemporary Value of Veterans Day

If you or a loved one has ever served in our nation’s military, you know that November 11 is far more than just a day off of work or school. Veterans Day, the nationally recognized holiday often confused with Memorial Day, pays tribute to all who have served in America’s Armed Forces.

Although Memorial Day also commemorates the sacrifices of our country’s service members, it is a much older holiday established in 1868 and celebrated on the last Monday in May. It pays special tribute to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country, commemorating military members who have died while serving. Veteran’s Day has a different significance.

The Short History of Veterans Day

Originally called “Armistice Day,” Veterans Day was intended to serve as a time that would remind nations to always strive for peaceful relationships. Over the decades, the date took on new significance as more worldwide conflicts erupted into war. The twists and turns in the holiday’s history include:

November 11, 1918– The Allied Nations and Germany agree to put an end to World War I with an armistice on “the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.”

June 28, 1919 – WWI officially ends with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in France.

November 1919 – President Woodrow Wilson proclaims November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day. Celebrations include parades and public gatherings as well as a brief cessation of business activities beginning at 11:00 a.m.

May 13, 1938 – An Act is approved in the United States that designates November 11 an annual legal holiday known as “Armistice Day.” At this time, the day is intended to honor World War I veterans.

June 1, 1954 – In the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War, the 83rd Congress amends the Act of 1938 and replaces the word “Armistice” with “Veterans.” This allows November 11 to honor all veterans. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs the legislation.

October 8, 1954 – President Eisenhower issues the first “Veterans Day Proclamation”

June 28, 1968 – The Uniforms Holiday Bill assigns the fourth Monday of October as Veterans Day to make it one of four three-day weekends for federal employees. Many states disapprove and continue to celebrate the holiday on November 11.

October 25, 1971 – The first Veterans Day under the new law is observed, but not without widespread resistance and confusion.

September 20, 1975 – President Gerald R. Ford signs Public Law 94-97 to return the annual observance of Veterans Day to November 11, beginning in 1978.

If November 11 falls on a Saturday or Sunday, we celebrate the holiday on the previous Friday or Monday. This policy honors the intentions of the Uniforms Holiday Bill while also respecting Americans who feel strongly about the holiday’s significance.

The Veterans Day National Ceremony commences precisely at 11:00 a.m. every November 11th at Arlington National Cemetery. A wreath is laid at the tome of the Unknowns, and celebrations continue inside the Memorial Ampitheater to thank and honor all who have served in the United States Armed Forces.

Veterans Day holds great historical and patriotic value for many in our country, and by marking the date annually, we reinforce our national values of duty, honor, selflessness, civic responsibility, and passion for our country.

The homess Marine who received an honorable burial from his fellow Marines

Lance Corporal Andrew Mauney, a former infantryman with Camp Lejeune’s 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, died in January 2015 at the age of 53. He was from Virginia and served three years in the Marines before being honorably discharged in 1983.

At the time of his death, he was homeless on the streets of Wilmington and without family. No one claimed his body, but one family, the Thompsons, took him in like one of their own. When he died, the family said they did all they could to give Mauney a proper burial, but his body wasn’t allowed to be released to them as they weren’t next of kin.

After all paths had been exhausted by The Missing in America Project to find Mauney’s relatives, it was decided that he would be laid to rest by his brothers in arms. That’s because once a Marine, always a Marine, and for veterans and active duty Marines, the term “unclaimed” is unacceptable.

“He’s our brother,” said Retired Marine Bill Holsclaw. “We don’t know him by face, we don’t know him by name, we don’t know him by actions, but we know one thing…we’ve walked in his boots and he’s walked in ours.” Mauney was laid to rest with full military honors in early November 2015.

The veteran who took an Honor Flight almost 50 years after serving in Vietnam

Jerry Snyder was 20 in 1966 when he entered the war. He lost two classmates who were close friends, four men from his unit were killed and he was significantly wounded six months into his tour. He then returned home to slurs and insults. Now at 69, Snyder was about to receive the long overdue gratitude and appreciation for his service to his country that was missing 49 years earlier.

At the Springfield-Branson National Airport, Synder and his daughter, Stephanie McKinney, were joined by 74 other war veterans and their guardians to take a journey to Washington, D.C. on one of 132 established hubs in the Honor Flight Network. (The Honor Flight gives priority to World War II, Korean, Vietnam, and terminally ill veterans who are flown to view their memorials at no cost.)

Escorted by police officers on all four sides of their charter buses, Jerry’s group began its journey at the World War II Memorial. Stops would also include the Korean War Memorial, Marine Corps Memorial and Arlington Cemetery. But the one Jerry and Stephanie were most anticipating was the Vietnam War Memorial. As her dad approached the structure, Stephanie said his demeanor changed.

“We got up to the wall, and I saw a totally different person,” she said. “He had this resolve, squared his shoulders back, and his pace sped up.” “I wasn’t sure what to expect. It’s a humbling experience,” Jerry said. “Everyone says you get closure, but if you’ve been to Vietnam and seen all of that, you don’t ever really get closure.”

The volunteers who helped a WWII widow fix up her house

Eighty-three-year-old Normena Welcome is amazed that people who don’t know her are helping make her life easier, just because she’s the widow of a World War II veteran. “She’s lives alone,” said Rob Demerski, a department manager at Home Depot in Greenfield, Massachusetts. “We were all concerned with her well being when we heard about her.”

A few months ago, Welcome attended a presentation at South Deerfield Senior Center by Upper Pioneer Valley Veterans Services. After that presentation, she mentioned to Sue Corey, program assistant at the senior center, that she desperately needed a raised toilet seat—she has problems with mobility—and wondered if UPVVS might be able to help.

Corey contacted Mark Fitzpatrick, a service officer with the Veterans Agency, and they checked out her home. They soon realized she needed more help than initially she let on. The house hadn’t been updated in four decades, so 25 volunteers, many of whom are local Home Depot employees and members of VetNet, a veteran-based, community-centered nonprofit, gathered for two days to clean and update her property.

Normena was married to Percy Welcome, one of seven brothers from Charlemont who were drafted at the same time during World War II. They all returned safely, she said. Her husband died in 1993. “This was as much for Percy as it was for Normena,” said Fitzpatrick.

Veterans Personal Stories

Find out about veterans who are living productive lives with visual impairment or blindness.

Isn’t it Ironic?

Yup, American Freedom, made in China IS ironic.  So are the following stories concerning ironic deaths.


Timothy Treadwell loved bears. The problem is, bears didn’t love him nearly so much.  Blonde-haired and a trifle feminine, young Timmy loved animals as a boy, then overdosed on heroin as a young man, and subsequently devoted his adult life to living among bears. Every summer for 13 years he’d have a bush pilot drop him off amid the savage wilderness of Alaska’s Katmai National Park to live among the giant grizzlies. He never got too close to them, but he made up names for them and sang songs for them and filmed them and claimed he loved them far more than he loved filthy humans and their stupid so-called “civilization.” But of course, it was the end of the 13th year that would prove unlucky for the rabid bear enthusiast.

Timothy thought he understood bears. What he clearly failed to understand is that bears are highly capable of killing him, not to mention frequently more than willing to do so.  He stayed a week later than normal as the summer of 2003 started crashing into the Alaskan fall. During his final days, while he was camping out with his reputed girlfriend Amie Huguenard, he mentioned seeing a new bear that for some reason he didn’t quite trust. Perhaps it was this new interloping brown bear that devoured Timothy and Amie on that fateful autumn morning as they screamed in vain. Treadwell’s camera recorded the sound but not the video because the lens cap was still attached.  German director Werner Herzog turned Timothy’s tragically ironic story into the brilliant 2006 documentary Grizzly Man. In the film, Herzog listens to the death audio on headphones and decides that not only shouldn’t it be included in the film, the tape should be destroyed.


As the summer of 1985 drew to an end, the New Orleans Recreation Department was so proud that there were no drownings that season at the city’s swimming pools, they threw a huge poolside party for about 100 lifeguards, 100 more guests, and even four active lifeguards who were assigned to guard the pool and prevent something embarrassing from happening—like, you know, someone drowning to death. But the revelry continued for hours while 31-year-old Jerome Moody, a party guest but not himself a lifeguard, was lying lifeless at the pool’s bottom. His body wasn’t discovered until the party started winding down.


Segways, those annoying and inscrutable electronic sideways skateboard/pogo-stick self-propulsion “Human Transporter” devices that I must confess scare the shit out of me for reasons I cannot quite articulate, have never been more ironically tragic than on that day in 2010 when British investor Jimi Heselden, who’d purchased the company earlier that year, careened a Segway test model off the road and down an 80-foot cliff to his death. A coroner ruled that Heselden had died of “multiple blunt force injuries of the chest and spine consistent with a fall whilst riding a gyrobike.”

After being convicted of sexual assault and murder, Michael Anderson Godwin was sentenced to death in 1983, which in South Carolina during the 1980s was administered via the electric chair. He successfully appealed his sentence and had it changed to life imprisonment. One night while sitting naked on a wet metal toilet and wearing headphones that were connected to his TV, he bit into a wire and accidentally zapped himself to death on his own makeshift prison-cell electric chair.


Fagilyu Mukhametzyanov—no, I don’t know how to pronounce it, either, and probably like you, my eyes just sort of skip over names that complicated—was a Russian woman whom doctors had declared dead in June of 2012. But during an open-casket wake, she awoke screaming in panic. She was rushed to a local hospital, where physicians declared she’d died of a heart attack.


Eugene Aserinsky is considered one of the pioneers of modern sleep research and is most famous for discovering REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep in 1953. Forty-five years later he slammed his car into a tree north of San Diego. It is suspected that he had fallen asleep while driving.


With his cereal commercials and best-selling books such as The Complete Book of Running, Jim Fixx was the inescapable face of the 1970s’ jogging revolution. But in 1984 he fell down dead of a heart attack while performing the act that made him famous. An autopsy revealed one of Fixx’s coronary arteries was 95% blocked, while another was 80% clogged and still another was crammed with 70% fatty plaque.

A Nebraska man named Derek Kieper was so passionate about the idea that seat-belt laws violated his sacred individual liberties, he wrote an opinion column about it. Less than four months later, he died in a car accident. Two of his friends in the car survived. They were wearing seatbelts.


While proudly riding his roaring Harley down the road with his un-helmeted head exposed to the whistling winds of freedom during a 2011 protest ride against helmet laws, New York biker Philip Contos was flung over his handlebars and onto the sidewalk, where he died of a fatal head injury. A State Trooper claimed that a medical examiner told him Contos would have lived if only he’d been wearing a helmet.


Troy Leon Gregg was a plucky and wily and crafty convicted murderer who along with three other Death Row inmates managed to escape the Georgia State Prison in Reidsville in 1980 one day before Gregg was to be put to death. Unfortunately, that night Greg was beaten to death during a bar fight in North Carolina.


Of the five Beach Boys, only drummer Dennis Wilson could legitimately claim the name, for he was the only surfer in the bunch. Late one afternoon in 1983 he drunkenly went diving in Marina Del Rey to fetch some items he’d tossed overboard his yacht a few years earlier. He drowned to death, and the US Coast Guard buried his body at sea.


Steve “The Crocodile Hunter” Irwin was a charismatic, khaki-wearing, danger-seeking Aussie who gained infamy by pressing his luck with all manner of ungodly beasts. His luck ran out in September 2006 while filming an episode of Ocean’s Deadliest in the Great Barrier Reef. An eight-foot-wide stingray struck him several hundred times with its tail spine. It pierced his heart and he bled to death.


Clement Vallandigham was a valiant and noble Ohio lawyer who in 1871 defended a man named Thomas McGehan on murder charges. Vallandigham’s theory was that the victim had actually shot himself while in a kneeling position. To demonstrate that this was physically possible, Vallandigham recreated the event in the courtroom using a pistol he thought was unloaded. To his extremely brief dismay, it was loaded, and he accidentally shot himself to death, proving his legal theory and leading to his client’s acquittal.


From most accounts, Garry Hoy was a brash, confident Toronto lawyer—perhaps too brash. One day in July 1993, as he had allegedly demonstrated so many times before, he showed a group of visitors that the glass window in his 24th-floor office was unbreakable by running headlong into it. Unfortunately, this time the window popped out of its frame and Hoy fell to his death in an act of autodefenestration. The glass, however, did not break, so technically he proved his point. But at what cost?


In the salty old year of 1794 somewhere off the Hawaiian islands, Captain John Kendrick‘s ship the Washington fired a thirteen-gun salute at another ship called the Jackal, which saluted back. Unfortunately, one of their cannons was actually loaded with grapeshot, killing Kendrick as he sat at his table on deck.


Madame Curie is the first woman to ever win a Nobel Prize and is still the only woman to ever win it twice. She discovered polonium and radium but unfortunately spent so much time dabbling in radioactive materials that she fatally succumbed to aplastic anemia.


The Gospel of Mark clearly states that believers in Christ will be able to “pick up serpents” without being harmed, and the almost entirely Caucasian Pentecostal phenomenon of snake-handling is perhaps most vibrant in the tiny, beautiful state of West Virginia. Even though Mack Wolford‘s father had died from picking up serpents, Mack forged ahead to prove his faith in the Lord. After surviving three bites on three separate occasions, he fell dead from a fatal rattlesnake bite in May of 2012.


Two days before Christmas in 2010, a 54-year-old Liverpudlian named Alan Cattarall entered a giant industrial oven that baked plastic at 280 degrees to make kayaks. He sought only to make a minor repair, but the oven’s operator—his future son-in-law, Mark Francis—accidentally locked him in and flipped on the switch. While burning to death, Cattarall screamed for help but the sounds were muffled by the factory’s industrial noises.


As a longtime member of the board of directors for San Francisco’s Golden Gate district, John Moylan had agitated tirelessly to erect suicide barriers on the Golden Gate Bridge, which to date has been the site of at least 1,600 suicides. In 2014—six years after the barriers were erected—Moylan’s grandson Sean successfully evaded the barriers and jumped to his death from the bridge.


In 2011, a 35-year-old Canadian woman named Chantal Lavigne participated in a “detoxification” seminar called “Dying in Consciousness” that involved her being daubed in mud, wrapped up in plastic, swaddled in blankets, and having her head placed in a cardboard box for nine hours. She wound up being “cooked to death” after her body temperature raised to 105 degrees Fahrenheit.


Soul singer Marvin Gaye possessed a rare talent, but he also hailed from a family that was unusually dysfunctional. Having developed extreme paranoia due to insufflating an estimated one million dollars’ worth of cocaine, Gaye took to wearing a bulletproof vest onstage and surrounding himself with armed bodyguards. For Christmas 1983 he gave his father a .38 pistol, ostensibly to protect himself from those who sought to prey upon the Gaye family fortune. Four months later after a violent domestic scuffle, his father used that pistol to fatally shoot his son.


Jerome Irving Rodale earned a fortune as the publisher of numerous health-food books and Prevention magazine. During a taping of The Dick Cavett Show that never aired, the 72-year-old Rodale allegedly told the host that “I never felt better in my life” and that he intended to live to 100. But he died of a heart attack while the show was taping.


Ex-preacher Sam Kinison built a huge following in the late 1980s as the “screaming comedian.” One of his routines involved a comic defense of drunk driving:

We don’t WANT to drink and drive.…But there’s no other way to get the fucking CAR back to the HOUSE!! How are we supposed to get fucking home?

In April 1992—less than a week after marrying his third wife and while driving to Nevada for a show—Kinison was killed by a 17-year-old drunk driver.

Psycho Body Double Killed in Shower

Myra Davis, whose professional acting name was Myra Jones, was involved in the production of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. She served as a stand-in for Janet Leigh, the woman who (spoiler alert for anyone who was born less than five years ago) was killed in the famous shower scene to the horrific, screechy strings.

In 1988, she was raped and killed by a man who was so obsessed with Psycho’s famous shower scene that he wanted to re-enact it upon Janet Leigh’s body double. Unfortunately for Myra Davis, the producers of the film had kept such a tight lip on how they shot the scene and which actresses they used that the information the killer gleaned over the years was skewed.

Davis never appeared in the shower scene. It was another actress, Marli Renfro, who served as Leigh’s body double and subsequently the body that audiences and the killer saw stab over and over again on the big screen. Not only was she killed in the same way someone was in the movie she was most famous for, but she wasn’t even IN the scene the killer was trying to recreate.

Etymology of Words and Phrases

Someone posted something about etymology and it caught my interest – IIRC, I have Duchess to thank!

I decided to do an open about the subject since I have a book about it. But there is so much more in the book than I can put in one open, I expect I’ll be doing more in the future. If anyone has specific words or phrases they are curious about, let me know and I’ll include it in a future open.

First, the definition of etymology:

– The origin and historical development of a linguistic form as shown by determining its basic elements, earliest known use, and changes in form and meaning, tracing its transmission from one language to another, identifying its cognates in other languages, and reconstructing its ancestral form where possible.

– The branch of linguistics that deals with etymologies.

– That part of philology which treats of the history of words in respect both to form and to meanings, tracing them back toward their origin, and setting forth and explaining the changes they have undergone.


It is a Latin term for “flowing” or “running” that gave rise to the word “cursive” to describe handwriting produced in flowing style. The flow of letters that is produced when a pen is guided by skilled fingers is an impressive art. The name for this efficient and effortless writing style, in this computer age, soon was adapted and bestowed upon the small marker that moves quickly and gracefully across a computer screen. The cursor blinks until it is stimulated into action.



Early computer programmers faced an obstacle: the memories of their computers were wiped clean each time the machines were turned off. To address this problem, the programmers needed to enter a short program called a “bootstrap loader” each time the machine was turned on. When the first desktops first came out, there was a “boot” disc that resided in one drive, while a data disk was in the second drive, where the work was saved. This is the portable laptop I used to take with me on business trips – note the 2 drives side-by-side.

COMPAQ Portable PC

Once this program was read, the computer could then perform more complex functions. The short program gave the machine a “bootstrap” it could then use to perform tasks; without it, the computer was useless. Over time, programmers figured out ways to design software so computers could perform this function automatically, and bootstrap loaders are now part of the basic make-up of any operating system. Pulling oneself up by the “bootstraps” is a means of restarting one’s situation. The expression lives on in the phrase to boot, which today simply means to turn it on, but reflects decades of efforts of computer programmers to make computers easier to use.


As an abbreviation, this cluster of letters has come to function as a word naming a compact disc crammed with an immense amount of data, graphic material, music, or other sounds. The disc can be read and viewed and printed out, but can’t be altered, making deletion of selected portions impossible. Once the basic nature of this disc is understood, it makes complete sense that the abbreviation stands for “Compact Disc [with] Read-Only Memory.


Plantation owners and merchant princes of colonial America took great interest in horse racing. For many generations major contests were supported largely by the wealthy. After the Civil War, promoters began bidding for attendance by the general public and racing then surged to new popularity and prominence.

Skilled jockeys made an art of timing the final spurt toward the ribbon; sometimes a fellow would be so far ahead of the field that he didn’t have to lift his hands in order to urge his mount forward. Expecting an easy victory, the backer of a horse would boast that his jockey would win hands down. Erupting from racetrack lingo about the turn of the last century, the phrase came to indicate any effortless triumph.


Medieval householders made wide use of flax, whose fibers are so tough they had to be carefully worked with a tool called the hackle. Farmers noticed that angry fowls have a way of raising the feathers on their necks. Disturbed in such a fashion, a bird looked as though someone had rumpled his feathers with a hackle. Hence by 1450, such feathers had taken the name of the combing tool.

Medieval Hackle

Since visible hackles indicated anger, it was natural to say that anything causing an outburst of rage raised the hackles of the offended person.


England has few families whose blood is a deeper shade of blue than that of the Stanleys. Descended from an aide of William the Conqueror, this family came into possession of the earldom of Derby in the 15th century. Their name entered common speech because the 12th Earl of a lover of fast horses. With no specific desire for fame, Derby established an annual race for 3 year old horses; first run in 1780, it quickly became the most noted race in England.

American sportsmen who took in the races after the Civil War were impressed by the odd hats some of the English spectators wore. They brought a few of the “Derby hats” back to the US, where a new model was developed. Made of stiff felt with a dome-shaped crown and narrow brim, the derby won the heart of the American male. By the time the first Kentucky Derby was run in 1875, the derby was standard wear for the man of parts. It is merely incidental that the hat also brought a kind of immortality to the distinguished house of Derby.

English Bowler Derby

As a side note… did the Kentucky Derby get that name?

“The Kentucky Derby is America’s most celebrated horse race, but its inspiration comes from England.

Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, founder of Churchill Downs, wanted to model the track’s major races after the English classics. The gold standard for Europe’s three-year-olds is the Derby at Epsom, which also stages the corresponding race for three-year-old fillies, called the Oaks.

Both the Epsom Derby and Oaks are contested at about 1 1/2 miles. And originally so were the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, in the early years since their inception in 1875. Both were eventually shortened, with the Kentucky Derby firmly established at its traditional 1 1/4-mile distance in 1896. The Oaks was subsequently held at distances ranging from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/4 miles, finally settling at its current trip of 1 1/8 miles in 1982.

But why were the Epsom classics named the Derby and Oaks at their creation in the late 18th century? An aristocratic connection, of course!

The 12th Earl of Derby, Edward Stanley, was instrumental in the development of both. The fillies’ race was established first in 1779, and named after Stanley’s Surrey estate. Fittingly, he won that inaugural Oaks with Bridget.

That prompted the idea to create another classic, open to both colts and fillies, the following year. According to the oft-told tale, the new race’s name hung on the outcome of a coin flip. Was it to be named after the Earl of Derby, or after his friend, Sir Charles Bunbury? Luckily, the toss came up in favor of the Earl, and the first “Derby” was held at Epsom in 1780. Bunbury didn’t go home empty-handed: his Diomed triumphed in that first running.

With the Epsom Derby giving rise to so many spin-offs around the world, racing fans can be grateful for that toss of the coin. The “Kentucky Bunbury” just wouldn’t have the same ring to it.”


For more than two centuries, the English-speaking world has used the expression “stealing thunder” to mean the appropriation of any effective device or plan that was originated by someone else.

An obscure English dramatis was the father of the phrase. For the production of a play, John Dennis invented a new and more effective way of simulating thunder onstage. His play soon folded but shortly afterward he discovered that his thunder machine was in use for a performance of Macbeth at the same theater.

Dennis was furious!!! “See how the rascals use me?!?” he cried. “They will not let my play run, and yet they steal my thunder.


Born in 1799, Mary Anning — the dirt-poor woman said to have inspired the tongue-twister “She sells seashells by the seashore” — would spend her entire life uncovering and piecing together the fossils of one never-before-seen monster after another: organisms that had been hidden away for nearly 200 million years in the cliffs up and down England’s southern coastline.

In short, she provided raw material to the scientists — all male — that would be instrumental in forming their evolutionary theories. Stephen Jay Gould later remarked that Anning is “probably the most important unsung (or inadequately sung) collecting force in the history of paleontology” yet Anning’s place in history happened quite by accident.

By birth, Anning never should have become an influential fossil hunter and geologist. She was marginalized not only by her family’s poverty but also by her sex, her regional dialect, and her nearly complete lack of schooling. But she enjoyed one natural advantage: the very good fortune of having been born in exactly the right place at the right time, alongside some of the most geologically unstable coastline in the world; it was — and still is — a place permeated with fossils.

Beach where Anning searched for fossils

After her father died in 1810, young Mary’s family was in dire financial straits. In order to put food on her table, she was forced to run the shore’s gauntlet of high tides and landslides to hunt for curiosities that she could sell to seafaring tourists. If she hadn’t, her family very well could have starved.

Her first discovery, made in 1811 when she was only 12 years old, was of the fossil of an ichthyosaur, a marine reptile about four feet in length with flippers like a dolphin and a chest like a lizard. At first people thought it must be a crocodile. In time, though, the specimen attracted massive crowds to museums in London, where many soon realized the skeleton was of a creature never before seen.

Ichthyosaur Fossil

The strange fossils found along England’s southern shoreline had baffled the locals for as long as anyone could remember. They came in all forms and sizes — including what later were determined to be bivalves, ammonites, belemnites, and brachiopods — and sometimes even the fragments of giant critters never heard of before.

Her discovery of a nearly intact long-necked plesiosaur (Plesiosaurus dolichodeirus) in 1823 was so incredible that even the celebrated French anatomist Georges Cuvier did not believe it could be valid. It was only after British geologist William Conybeare defended Anning’s find — and verified that the neck did indeed boast at least 35 vertebrae — did Cuvier admit he was wrong. Eventually he pronounced Anning’s fossil a major discovery.

Plesiosaur Fossil

As Anning aged, and began working alongside Britain’s clique of male geologists — most of them Anglican clergymen — there were countless attempts to use biblical stories to explain the new knowledge about the natural world that resulted from her fossil discoveries. For example, Anning’s friend and associate William Buckland — the well-known English geologist and first professor of geology at Oxford — believed that the fossils found at high altitudes proved that a great flood had once covered the planet, just like the Flood described in the Bible.

Mary Anning

Anning’s views on the flood and the disparate theories of the male scientists of her era are not known. But in 1833, she was visited by a tourist, the Reverend Henry Rawlins, and his six–year-old son, Frank. Rawlins believed that God created the world within a week, but Anning described to young Frank how the fossils purchased by his father had been found by her at all different levels in the cliffs, explaining that this meant the creatures possibly had been created and had lived at different times. According to Frank’s journals, his father refused to discuss the issue after they left Anning’s home.

One can only imagine how frightening it must have been for Anning to find the fragments of these exotic creatures — with their bat-like wings, snake-like necks, and big, bulging eye sockets — and wonder if perhaps the live versions were not about to fly out of the sky or come up out of the sea to terrorize her.

Anning tried to reconcile what she was unearthing with her belief in God’s omnipotence, a belief she apparently held until her death from breast cancer at the age of 47. Some of her letters to friends suggest that she grew to accept that there had been a progression of living things. A few years before she died, she remarked that — from what she had seen of the fossil world — there is a “connection of analogy between the Creatures of the former and present World.” From most accounts, it seems she continued to believe in God throughout her life, but that she also came to accept that evolution was part of God’s plan. Toward the end of her life, she copied into her journals many poems and passages laced with religious overtones.

At the Natural History Museum in London, as well as a small museum in Lyme Regis, Anning is recognized as having laid the groundwork for the theory of evolution, not to mention nearly two centuries of discoveries in the still evolving worlds of paleontology and geology. Today thousands of people continue to go hunting for fossils along England’s so-called Jurassic coast — a 95-mile stretch of shoreline declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2001. And, to this day, real and startling discoveries are still being made, such as the skeleton of a 195-million–year-old Scelidosaurus, the earliest of the armored dinosaurs, in Anning’s hometown of Lyme Regis a few years ago.


With over 700 species of dinosaurs already identified and named, reminders of the prehistoric past just keep on surfacing, thrilling paleontologists. But there are plenty of people who are still unsettled by the signs of the completely different world that must have existed on earth before humans arrived — even if they also are able to marvel at the possibilities. It is most likely a feeling that — nearly two centuries ago — Anning would have shared.

Written by: Shelley Emling

Christmas in July? Invention of Christmas Tree Lights

Shall we harken back to 1879, the year of Edison’s light bulb patent? He liked to demonstrate the magic of his new creation and entice investors with it every chance that he got. His bulbs always garnered widespread excitement with plenty of “Oohs” and “Ahhs.” That Christmas was no different, when he decorated his Menlo Park lab with his new lights, bringing spectators from near and far to see the winter magic. Inside or out, nothing adds more of a magical accent to the Holidays than bright, colorful and soothing lights.

Before electric Christmas lights, families would use candles to light up their Christmas trees. This practice was often dangerous and led to many home fires. Edward H. Johnson put the very first string of electric Christmas tree lights together in 1882. Johnson, Edison’s friend and partner in the Edison’s Illumination Company, hand-wired 80 red, white and blue light bulbs and wound them around his Christmas tree. Not only was the tree illuminated with electricity, it also revolved on a base!

The Johnson’s illuminated and revolving tree of the future
Vintage string of Christmas tree lights on display at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, JN

Christmas lights were not mass-produced until 1902, when General Electric, a company founded by Edison in the 1880’s, brought the holiday lights to select consumers. The lights were quite expensive and not available to the mass market until a few decades later. Advertisements that boasted a safer and odorless way to decorate for the holidays stimulated sales for the lights.

Vintage advertisement for Thomas Edison’s Christmas Lights

To this day, a large Christmas tree shines bright in the Thomas Edison’s Glenmont mansion in New Jersey every Holiday Season, which is now decorated by park rangers.

Thomas Edison’s Christmas tree in 2018 vs. circa 1920

Mrs. Edison’s touch was everywhere during the Holidays, with her special Christmas trees set up in the conservatory for her house workers to enjoy. A favorite was the Swedish candle box tree. Many decorations were lovingly placed around the house…and of course a formal printed menu for the big dinner she held every year for family and friends, usually totaling 30 people! That and her husband’s Christmas lights made it all the more memorable.


Though the Apollo lunar modules were built for the sole purpose of landing two men on the surface of the Moon, their usefulness didn’t end after ascending from the lunar surface. While on the moon, the astronauts placed seismic censors and NASA used the spent spacecraft for science, directing these modules for controlled crashed into the Moon. These crashes caused moonquakes, and scientists measured the vibrations moving through the Moon and found it rings like a bell.

Astronaut Bean, Apollo 12

The real goal of the seismic experiments was to figure out the Moon’s internal structure. Measuring how long the reverberations last, how powerful they are, and how big the waves get can reveal what the Moon is made of. Remote seismic stations were instrumental in this investigation, and they were deployed as part of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Packages that astronauts set up on the Moon on Apollos 12, 14, 15, and 16; different versions were deployed on Apollos 11 and 17.

From when they were first set up to when they were remotely shut down in 1977, these ALSEPs recorded all kinds of seismic activity. The data was sent back to receiving stations on Earth where the signal was magnified by 10 million so scientists could interpret the signal.

Apollo 12’s ALSEP on the lunar surface

But something interesting happened on Apollo 12. After Pete Conrad and Al Bean landed at the Ocean of Storms on November 14, 1969, they left the lunar surface 142 hours into the flight. Eight hours later, they were reunited with Dick Gordon in the command module and sent their spent lunar module back to the Moon. It impacted about 40 miles away from the Apollo 12 landing site with the force of one ton of TNT. The resulting shockwave built up and peaked in just eight minutes. Then it took an hour to fully dissipate.


Something similar happened on Apollo 13. The S-IVB impacted the Moon 85 miles from Apollo 12’s ALSEP — CMP Jack Swigert joked at the time that it was the only thing on that mission to go right. It hit with the force of 11 and a half tons of TNT. This translated to a seismic impact peaked after seven minute with shockwaves 30 times greater and four times longer than those from Apollo 12’s LM impact.

The vibrations from these two impacts lasted longer than scientists expected, far longer than any equivalent vibrations last on Earth. It was almost as if the Moon was ringing like a bell. This strange result forced scientists to think differently about the Moon and its composition.

The crater left by Apollo 13’s S-IVB impact.

It turns out that these impacts were characteristic of one of four types of moonquakes scientists studied from ALSEP data. Some moonquakes originate deep below the surface because of lunar tides, some are thermal quakes caused by the Sun thawing the frozen surface at the start of a new lunar day, and others are caused by impacting meteors. The fourth kind of moonquake is a shallow moonquake occurring roughly a couple of tens of miles below the surface. The lunar module and S-IVB both produced this kind of vibration, and these are the most violent types of moonquakes.

Between 1972 and 1977, scientists recorded 28 shallow moonquakes registering as high as 5.5 on the Richter scale. On Earth, that will move heavy furniture and crack plaster, but the vibrations usually die down in a matter of minutes.

It all comes down to water. There’s moisture in the materials that makes up our planet, expanding their structure. As energy from an earthquake moves through our planet, that damp material acts like a sponge, absorbing the energy of the waves and ultimately deadening their effects. But the Moon is dry, cool, and rigid, more like a solid rock than a sponge. So even if a moonquake is less intense, there’s nothing to deaden the vibrations. They just go back and forth through the body until the solid stone eventually stops them. The “ringing bell” is the shock waves reverberating through that stone.