Monday 29 January 2018

Received Ideas in Quotes 7

Visiting Blenheim Palace over Christmas, some friends were shown a portrait that contained not only the man who commissioned it but another person who had been added to enhance the atmosphere. The guide explained that the man who commissioned it had refused to pay the artist because portraits were charged by the limb and the more limbs, the more expensive the picture. This, he said, is where the expression “it costs an arm and a leg” comes from. (Daniel Finkelstein Times Jan 2018)

One of the Eurostar tunnelling machines lies buried off to the side halfway across. They drilled from each end with different machines because of different predominant geology and had to get one machine out of the path of the other. (FB)

13th century Scottish philosopher and theologian Duns Scotus recommended wearing a conical hat to stimulate your brain and increase your intelligence. This could be why wise wizards are often portrayed wearing pointy hats and why a dunce cap is pointed. (Adam Pidgeon @CineLore)

Dessert is for nuts and fruits after the table has been cleared. Deserted. (FB)

I took a class once on Classical Chinese where we learned how the Dao de Jing didn’t start out that gnomic and mysterious, it’s just that scribes kept dropping out “filler words” to save their hands cramping. (Arthur Chu ‏@arthur_affect)

The ‘h’ in ‘ghost‘ is a historical hiccup. William Caxton, having first practised his trade in Flanders, brought Flemish typesetters back to England to help set up his printing press - they lobbed an ‘h’ into English ‘gost’ because their own native word was ‘gheest’. (@susie_dent)

The most known theatre superstition, "Don't whistle on stage – you'll blow yourself out and the devil in", has its background in lighting. In the baroque era you could mess up the whistled lighting commands, and and in the gaslight era that could mean danger of explosion. (@EevaTenkanen)

Vegetarians just love to be asked “But what do you actually eat?” and quizzed over and over about which meat products they miss the most. (They always answer bacon sandwich; it’s a stock reply.) (

A lot of my clients… thought they were getting bad service because they’ve been told “everyone knows Parisians are rude”. (

Orwell’s guide to the English language is a “misconceived and blundering polemic”. (Oliver Kamm)

Flint was brought North as ballast in ships and dumped in the sea to make way for a return cargo - coal. (Wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to take a cargo north?)

Chasing 'masculine' work goals can prevent women from conceiving, warns fertility guru Fiona Kacz-Boulton. She says women's bodies cannot behave 'in feminine ways if they act masculine' Female bankers and software engineers struggle to conceive, figures show. (Daily Mail)

Others place the toes on a line drawn on the floor of the House of Commons intended to keep at a safe distance opposing gents with swords. There are such lines, but no Speaker has ever been recorded ordering Hon. members to ‘Toe the line!’ (Spectator)

Typos? They're good. Think of medieval cathedrals or Islamic carpets left deliberately imperfect, against hubris of imitating God... (Prof Jackie Cassell‏ @jackiecassell)

Catherine Elwas Thomas, writing in Boston around 1830, went to great lengths to prove that nursery rhyme characters were based on real people. (

In the 19th century the story began to gain currency that the rhyme is actually about Thomas Horner, who was steward to Richard Whiting, the last abbot of Glastonbury before the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII of England. The story is reported that, prior to the abbey's destruction, the abbot sent Horner to London with a huge Christmas pie which had the deeds to a dozen manors hidden within it as a gift to try to convince the King not to nationalize Church lands. During the journey Horner opened the pie and extracted the deeds of the manor of Mells in Somerset, which he kept for himself. It is further suggested that, since the manor properties included lead mines in the Mendip Hills, the plum is a pun on the Latin plumbum, for lead. (Wikipedia)

According to Bobby Pickett himself, the “graveyard smash” part of Monster Mash is explicitly about vandalizing military cemeteries. (Stefan Heck‏ @boring_as_heck)

Wilfred Pickles was chosen as a BBC announcer during the war because the Germans would have difficulty imitating his accent if they tried to broadcast pretending it was genuine BBC material. (Via

Posh people go and see Shakespeare and come home talking in iambic pentameters. (youtube)

More here, and links to the rest.

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