Tarheels of North Carolina

picture of a tarheelIn the 1700’s and 1800’s Great Britain relied heavily on the strength of their Navy both for national defense and for trade. Part of having an efficiently running Navy means having the proper gear and keeping it in working order. In the early 1700’s residents in North Carolina in particular were encouraged to harvest the resin found within their plentiful supply of slash pines and longleaf pines. The resin or “pine tar” was particularly useful in maintaining the integrity of maritime ropes and rigging, specifically the tar waterproofed most anything it was applied to. Additionally, pitch (also derived from pine resin) was useful in keeping ship hulls from leaking. From the early 1700’s to about 1865 Eastern North Carolina was responsible for the vast majority of resin production in the United States. Because of the sticky nature of the pine resin workers would often develop blackened feet due to the tar and therefore became known as “tar heels”.

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Origin of Sir and Ma’am

picture of a knightDid you know that Steven Spielberg was knighted in 2001 by the Order of the British Empire and thereby is known as Sir Steven Spielberg in Britian? The “Sir” in his name is a surname that is intended to be a term of honor. In the early days (1200’s) “sir” typically referred to a knight or someone enjoying a certain social status. Before being shortened to sir the word was “sire” and was derived from the French word “sieur”. Similarly, the term “madam” is rooted in the Latin phrase “mea domina” which translates into “my mistress of the house”. The French phrase “ma dame” is derived from the Latin root and eventually gave rise to “madam”. Through time “madam” evolved into the abbreviated form it takes today; ma’am.

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Golf gets its Start

golf ball and clubOriginating in Scotland in the late 1400’s the modern version of the game we now know as golf began in an area of Scotland known as Fife. Fife is, not surprisingly, where St. Andrews golf course is located and is known by many as the Home of Golf however the links at Musselburgh is considered the oldest golf course in the world according to Guinness. The actual origin of the word is, like many words, debatable. Many will often incorrectly quote a theory that the term is actually an acronym for “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden” however a more probable explanation relates to a game that pre-dated golf invented by the Dutch. In the Netherlands, a game involving a stick and leather ball was played in the late 1200’s. The Dutch called this game Chole and later combined this game with a French game called Jeu de mail to produce “Colf”. The game was very popular and made its way to Scotland via regular trade between Netherlands and Scotland. The Scots changed a few aspects of the game to produce the modern version of what golf is now and the name evolved into “golf” through language and pronunciation differences between cultures.

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Days of the Week: Origins

days of the weekNot surprisingly the days of the week were originally based on astronomy. The original naming of the days is, by most accounts, attributed to the early Romans who associated the seven days with seven planets (and stars). Some of the names are obvious in their origin such as Saturday-Saturn, Monday-Moon, Sunday-Sun however some are derived from other cultures through time. For example, the Germanic and later Norse culture post 200 AD adapted the Roman naming system but meshed in their own gods in place of some of the day’s name. From the Germanic/Norse culture we get Tuesday which originates from Tyr’s Day. Tyr was the god of single, hand-to-hand combat. Wednesday originates from the Germanic god Wodan (and later spelled Odin in Norse). Wodan is a major god in mythology who is associated with battle, victory, death, wisdom, prophecy etc. From Wodan’s Day we get Wednesday. Thursday is based on Thor’s Day. Wodan (Odin) had many son’s, the most famous of which was Thor (god of thunder). From Thor we get Thursday. The Norse name for the planet Venus was Friggjarstjarna or “Frigg’s star”. Frigg was most known for being the spouse of Odin. From Frigg’s Day we get Friday.

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Pounds to Lbs –An abbreviation’s origin

lbs to libraMost of the time when a word is abbreviated its plain to see how one would designate such an abbreviation based on the original word. For example, altitude turns into alt., gallons turns into gal., and hours turns into hrs. however how does one get “lbs” from “pounds”? It is the case that the unit of mass known as “pounds” is derived from an ancient Roman unit of mass called the “libra” which was about 327 grams. Libra refers to scales or a balance which would have been a common sight at any given marketplace. So from “pounds” we get “lbs”…in a round about way, of course.

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The Whole Nine Yards

Though most phrases are often thought of as antiquated this phrase wasn’t actually seen in print until the early 1960’s. There are a few competing theories as to its origins but perhaps the most plausible comes from WWII. During pre-flight preparations combat planes would be outfitted with munitions. In particular, 0.50 caliber ammo came in belts and would be fed into the machine gun of the plane -a full load measuring 27 feet or 9 yards. If a gunner unloaded all his ammunition he would have given the enemy the “whole nine yards”

WW II Fighter plane

WW II Fighter plane

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Led Zeppelin –when giants walked the Earth

Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin Album Cover

Forming in 1968 this band was comprised of the same four members for the 12 years that they produced music. Even after the death of their drummer, John Bonham, in 1980 they never replaced him and decided to dismantle the band instead. One of the most successful and influential rock bands in history they initially used the name “The New Yardbirds” however they received a letter from Chris Dreja of The Yardbirds asking them to drop the infringing name. Later, while in a conversation with 2 band members from The Who it was suggested that they all form a super group to include Keith Moon, John Entwistle, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. That super group it was thought, would go over like a “lead balloon”. It was decided that the name concept was a good replacement for The New Yardbirds and they adopted it after changing “lead” to “led” to avoid it being pronounced “leed” and used “zeppelin” in place of balloon. Led Zeppelin as we know it was therefore born. “Stairway to Heaven” from their 4th album, is often noted as being the most requested song to be played on the radio. They would later disband following the death of John Bonham in 1980 but not before being called “the heaviest band of all time” by Rolling Stone magazine. Interestingly, John Bonham’s son went on to be a professional drummer like his father and is most known for his contributions to the band Foreigner.  For Zeppelin memorabilia click here.

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Don’t call it a comeback! –L.L. Cool J

L.L. Cool JOn January 14th, 1968 an American hip hop artist was born. His name was James Todd Smith and he would later go on to change his name to a more appealing stage name; “L.L. Cool J” which translates into “Ladies Love Cool James”. He has involved himself in many different industries and professions including music, acting and book writing but he also helped launch the urban clothing line FUBU in the mid 90’s. Even though the “ladies” may “love” Cool James he has been with the same woman since 1987.  For Cool James memorabilia click here.

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A Foot: What’s so special about 12 inches?

example of foot length

Example of a foot

In the early days (and especially in rural areas) when measurements had to be made there wasn’t often any calibrated and standard measuring device handy. Therefore people did what people do best and improvised with what they had available to them. In many cases people would pace out a distance by walking it and give the unit of measure in “feet”. It is said that King Henry I of England, whose rule began in 1100, decided to standardize this unit of measure with his foot as the new standard unit of length. Most likely, due to the fact that people were generally shorter back then and also had shorter feet, the foot measurement standard was based on a booted foot rather than a naked foot. Additionally, there are many historical accounts of the width of a man’s thumb being used as a standard for an inch.

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Rock n’ Roll: Origins of the Phrase

Rock n' Roll Instruments

Some Tools of Rock n' Roll

It is the case that this phrase developed at different times in history within a different context. In the beginning, the phrase was used to describe the movement of ships at sea but with respect to music it really described the kinds of movements you would see from a gospel choir singing and experiencing a spiritual rapture. A prime example of this is found on a 1904 phonograph recording by the Haydn Quartet that contained the words “We’ve been rockin’ an’ rolling in your arms/ In the arms of Moses”. Later, the words “rock” and “roll” began to take on more of a sexual meaning in music (which had been around for quite some time as seen in the phrase “a roll in the hay”). Throughout the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s it popped up in many recordings and referred to either the motion of the dance or was sexual in nature. It enjoyed more widespread use in the 40’s when in 1942 the term “rock and roll” was used by Maurie Orodenker to describe certain albums in his reviews in a Billboard magazine column. Perhaps better known for the popularization of the phrase is Ohio disc jockey Alan Freed who used the phrase when playing and promoting this genre of music on his radio show in 1951.

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