Why is a tournament where each team plays the other in turn called a round robin? The answer involves ribbons, religious refugees, and ringleaders.
Why are apples seen as the “default” fruit in Western culture? The answer involves Greek myths, Latin spelling mistakes, and English semantic narrowing.
Why do good spellers compete in a spelling “bee”? The answer involves all the favorite subjects of a spelling bee winner—etymology, philology, and, of course, spelling.
Why does the word salad sound suspiciously like the word for salted in many languages? And where did salads come from, anyway? The answer takes us from ancient Rome to the high-class hotels of New York to Tijuana, Mexico.
Why is the first year of school for children called kindergarten? The answer involves a nature mystic, a case of mistaken identity, and a socialism scare.
Why are the tracking files that websites place on your computer called cookies? The answer (somewhat) involves shopping carts, Chinese takeout, and a German fairy tale.
Why are conservatives referred to as the “right” and liberals referred to as the “left” in politics? The answer involves the French Revolution, the quick spread of information through newspapers, and the tense interlude between the two World Wars.
Why is a good gardener known as a green thumb? The answer involves a vegetable-loving king, a wartime radio show, and a dishonest corn miller.
Where does the phrase “to take a gander” come from? As one of the many delightful goose-related idioms in the English language (see “goose egg” and “silly goose”), the history of “to take a gander” involves male waterfowl and nosy neighbors.
Where do the names of the days of the week come from? And why are there seven days in a week? The answer involves Hellenistic astrology, Roman gods and goddesses, and a takeover by Norse mythology. The concept of the seven-day week was first recorded in the Babylonian calendar of ancient Mesopotamia, which is basedContinue reading “The Days of the Week”