Wednesday, February 27, 2013

MISINFORMATION

Once again it's time for me to give you some true information to put in place of the misinformation you might have had before, so here goes!


SARDINES

If you go fishing in the ocean, you will not find any fish called "sardines" swimming around.  But if you open a can you buy at the grocery store, you will find sardines in it.  How does this happen?  Well, the little fish that go in the can are really pilchards.  Or they might be baby herrings.  Anyway, the fish are very small and young, and they are just the right size to preserve and put in a can.

The word sardine has been used in English ever since the early 15th century.  It might have come from the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, where there used to be tons of little pilchards for fishermen to catch.

Sardines are very healthy for you to eat because they have good oils and vitamins and stuff to make your coat all shiny and nice.  Also they might keep you from getting heart attacks.  But if you have high blood pressure, then you maybe shouldn't eat sardines because they are preserved with a lot of salt.

In the U.S., people usually eat canned sardines, but in the Mediterranean, people also grill them or smoke them.  I think Mom should buy some sardines for us dogs and cats to eat because we would really, really like them, and they would be good for us, too.  Next time Mom isn't looking, I am going to write "sardines" on the grocery list!



BELLWETHER

Some people think this word has to do with "weather," but it doesn't.  If you look at it closely, you will see that it is spelled bellwether and not bellweather.  In Middle English, a wether was a ram who had been, uh, neutered, and he wore a bell around his neck and led the flock.  Because of the bell, you could always hear where the flock was.  I'm not sure why a flock would want to follow a ram who didn't have all his masculine, ramly parts, but I am just reporting what I read.

So anyway, a bellwether is a leader, like the ram is the leader of the flock.  But people use bellwether nowadays to mean more like a predictor or harbinger, instead of what the word used to mean.  So for example, if a certain state always tends to vote for the party that wins the election, that is said to be a bellwether state.

Sometimes the meanings of words change, and you just can't stop them from changing, especially if the word gets used for something we didn't have a word for, but really needed one.  So we just have to put up with it and try to go on with our lives.



SIDEBURNS

You probably know that if a man has hair growing on his face in front of his ears, those are called sideburns.  The person who first decided this would be a cool way to wear his hair was General Ambrose Burnside, during the Civil War.  General Burnside had very bushy hair growing down to where it connected with his moustasche, but he kept the hair all shaved off his chin.

People started calling the Burnside look "sideburns" because of where the hair was, on the sides of the face.  And also the general was sort of incompetent, and he sometimes got things "the wrong way 'round."  So that was another good reason to turn his name around backwards, too.






THE MAGNA CARTA

If you were paying attention in history class, you might remember that in 1215, a group of English feudal barons went to King John at a place called Runnymede, and they forced him to have a long chat with them.  At the end of it all, King John signed a paper that said he and his heirs would give a whole bunch of rights and liberties to all the freemen of the kingdom.  This paper was called the Great Charter, or Magna Carta.

King John and the other kings who came after him did not always follow what the Magna Carta said, but the ideas in it were what English Law was later based on.  And besides that, it became the ancestor of the American Bill of Rights.

Anyway, the Magna Carta was never really signed.  In fact, historians think King John may not have even known how to read and write.  But he did have a seal, so that is how he put his official kingly mark on the Magna Carta.




BURYING BODIES IN QUICKLIME

Maybe you sometimes have a little fantasy about offing somebody who really annoys you.  Then you would bury the body in quicklime, which would totally eat up the body, and there would be no way to prove that you even killed anybody, and you wouldn't have to go to jail.  At least, in some murder mysteries, this is what happens.  But guess what!  It won't work because quicklime doesn't eat up bodies.  It is actually more likely to preserve a body.

So what is quicklime anyway, and what does it really do?  The chemical name for quicklime is calcium oxide, and it is this harsh alkaline stuff that you get when you heat limestone to a really high temperature.  People figured out how to make quicklime thousands of years ago.  They used it for things like mortar, treating corn, waterproofing boats, and maybe in Greek fire.  Now people use it to make heat, light (limelight), petroleum products, plaster, cement, and paper.  Which means that quicklime is really very useful -- unless you're trying to hide the evidence of a murder!

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