Canola: the Canuck oil

Commonly used in cooking this oil can also be used as biodiesel. Canola is made largely from rapeseed. In the 1970’s Baldur Stefansson and Keith Downey of Canada were growing rapeseed that, when processed, resulted in an oil of low erucic acid. By 1978 they had produced a low acid oil fit for consumption by humans and livestock –this oil was then given the name Canadian oil, low acid for its origin and properties.

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The Dalmation:Trusted Firehouse Dog

Dalmation at rest

The dalmation is a widely recognized dog whose breed has been traced back to Dalmatia in the Republic of Croatia. Its spotted appearance has been associated with Disney’s 101 Dalmations and Budweiser but perhaps is best known as the “firehouse dog”. Originally they found a place in American firehouses because they were intelligent and easily trained and could lead the horse-drawn fire wagon through the streets to the emergency. The dogs would clear a path for the wagon or would help to move the horses along as they pulled the fire wagon. In addition to their wagon duties the dogs have an excellent guardian instinct and would also guard the firehouse and equipment while the fire fighters were away at an emergency.

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On the wagon, on the water

It is said that if you are abstaining from drinking alcohol you are effectively “ on the wagon”. The term has been associated with the Salvation Army and their push for temperance, especially during the days of horse drawn wagons in America. It was said that the Salvation Army would drive their wagon down city streets and call upon drinkers to get on the wagon and off alcohol by getting help with their organization. However, the actual etymology of the phrase is related to a water wagon of the old days (early 1900’s) that would spray water onto the unpaved roads in order to keep down dust. Hence, if you were “on the wagon” you were on the “water wagon” and not drinking alcohol.

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Origin of the LEGO

In 1916 a Danish woodworker purchased a woodworking shop in Bilund, Denmark. In the beginning the new owner of the shop, Ole Kirk Christiansen, put his efforts into making furniture. The Great Depression hit around 1929 and caused there to be a shortage of carpentry needs and customers. As a result Ole began working on smaller projects and eventually began experimenting with wooden toy production. The thirties was a time of toy production for Ole’s shop but business was still not booming. It wasn’t until after World War II that Ole had access to plastics and plastic molding machines. He began working with plastics as well as a system for children to build novel things with his toys. Eventually, the idea of the versatile brick came along where they could be locked into place with other bricks allowing nearly anything to be built (and taken apart). It wasn’t until the late 50’s when the system was really perfected and sales started taking off for the company. Since its humble beginnings in a small woodworking shop, LEGO has become a world wide name in children’s toys. The name for the company was derived from the Dutch words “leg godt” which means to “play well”.

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Tips: it’s not just a restaurant thing

It is often customary in many countries that after a service is rendered the recipient endows the one performing the service with a gratuity. Often called a “tip” this extra money is often incorrectly described as meaning “To Insure Prompt Service” however the slang term for gratuity dates back to the 1600’s when the word for “to pass” or “to give” was used. Nowadays we can see tip used in sports such as basketball when the game begins with a “tip off”. Though the acronym seems a perfect explanation for the origin of the term the truth is much less complicated than that.

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Mistletoe: What’s “up” with that?

The mistletoe, as it turns out, is largely a parasitic plant that can live on its own as a free standing plant but is more often seen tangled within the branches of trees and shrubs. For many cultures throughout history this plant has been regarded as having mystical properties. One of the proposed properties of mistletoe is that is was hung in the house to prevent fires or lighting from striking the house. Additionally, it was thought to possess powers of fertility and act as an aphrodisiac. In Scandinavia it was believed that the plant was a plant of peace under which fighting spouses could kiss and make up. Later in the 1700’s in England, in order to promote social interaction, balls were held which featured mistletoe hung overhead and any girl standing underneath could not refuse a kiss of a potential suitor. One caveat of mistletoe, practiced by some, is that each kiss under a mistletoe meant one of its small, white berries had to be plucked. Once all the berries had been removed the mistletoe lost its kissing privileges.

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Caught between the Devil and the Deep Sea

When someone is caught between a rock and hard place one might say that they are “between the devil and the deep sea”. Like many phrases there is no hard and fast explanation for this phrase but there are some popularized meanings. One of them is nautical in origin and relates to the days of wooden ships and their upkeep. There is a seam that runs from bow to stern that separates the deck planking and the first planks on the side of the ship. This seam is called the “devil” and has to be caulked with a water resistant material such as tar to inhibit water seepage. The popular explanation is that a deckhand who was doing the caulking would be suspended in a bosun’s chair either over the deck or the sea –either was dangerous. Unfortunately, the term “devil” as it referred to the seam wasn’t ascribed to the wooden ships until the 1800’s whereas the phrase was seen in print in 1637. In the 8th century BC however a lengthy story was written by Homer called The Odyssey that describes sailors having to navigate between a six-headed sea monster (Scylla) and a giant whirlpool (Charybdis). This scenario would put them between a devil-like monster and the deep blue sea in the form of a violently swirling whirlpool.

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A loose cannon

Not surprisingly this phrase, which is used today to describe someone or something out of control and able to cause harm or damage, is attributed to a nautical origin. During the time of wooden ships and naval warfare vessels carried heavy cannons on board for battles at sea. Due to the massive recoil of firing these cannons they were mounted on wheels with a heavy gauge line to restrain the cannon from straying too far. At times when the seas took a turn for the worse a cannon might become loose on the deck rolling about and generally causing casualties and structural damage. The first recorded use of “loose cannon” was seen in 1875 in a novel by Henry Kingsley.

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How England got its name

Flag of England

Flag of England

It is said that the people of England most likely originated from three groups of people:
1) The Angles who came from Northern Germany
2) The Saxons who came from Lower Saxony in Germany
3) The Jutes from the Jutland area of what is now Denmark
Germany accounts for the majority of England’s ancestry and it is thought that in the Early Middle ages (5th Century A.D.) the Germanic Tribe known as the Angles came to what is now Great Britain and settled. In Old English Engla Land means “land of the Angles”. Over time Engla Land evolved into the modern spelling of the name England.

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Knock on Wood: The Origin

Image of Irish ForestMost people have been in a situation in which a person has made a statement about something good happening then proceeded to knock on wood. The origin of this phrase and tradition is not fully explainable however there are some scholars that point to its origin being in Eastern Europe (most likely Ireland). Centuries ago people believed that trees were sacred and contained spirits. When the trees were cut their spirits were subsequently released thereby making the wood available to house other spirits such as evil spirits. By knocking on wood one would effectively drive any evil spirits away and protect the one making the statement of fortune from any future ill-fortune. Another explanation is that one would knock on or touch wood to thank the leprechauns for their good luck. In the U.S. the phrase used is “knock on wood” whereas the original phrase is actually “touch wood” and is used in the U.K. and elsewhere.

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