Pontifications – answers to the fluff of everyday life

Was the London Bobbie named after a real Bobby ?

Yes—Bobby, or rather, Sir Robert, Peel, established the London Metropolitan Police in 1829.

Was there ever any cocaine in Coca-Cola ?

Yes, but not for over a hundred years. The cocaine-bearing coca leaf was part of the original recipe for the drink until, on the orders of Coke headquarters, the coca leaf was “decocained” (much as coffee is decaffeinated). This was because people had started buying the drink for its, ahem, restorative qualities—it was, after all, marketed as a pick-me-up and, indeed, some people felt more than a little “picked up” once they’d imbibed a few beakers. Mind you, the Coca-Cola company still denies that their drink ever had any Charlie in it.

Why do we clink glasses when we say cheers ?

This dates back to the days when people might attempt to poison their enemies. Consequently, to prove that a drink was safe, a host would pour some of his guest’s wine into his own glass— or, indeed, goblet—and drink it first. Later, this evolved into crashing tankards together in such a way that a little of both drinks spilled into each other. Eventually, guests and hosts would demonstrate their friendship for each other by touching— or clinking—glasses. In other words, by clinking, they showed that they were aware of the possibility of poisoning, but by doing it so lightly, they were showing their trust.

Why do we say an outlaw is beyond the pale ?

In the twelfth century, the Norman conquerors of England decided to set their sights on neighboring Ireland. They managed to capture much of the area around Dublin and some other coastal cities. For protection from Irish attacks, the Normans (later, the English) fenced off their property with pales (from the latin palus) or “stakes.”

The region around Dublin became known as “the pale,” and pale became a noun signifying any territory. The expression beyond the pale was originally applied to an untamed Irishman but was clearly popularized by the Rudyard Kipling story of the same name.

Why do we say that someone who is fired gets the sack ?

The ancient Romans didn’t believe in mollycoddling convicted felons. Rehabilitation wasn’t their style. Those convicted of parricide or other heinous murders were tied in a sack and dumped into the Tiber River, instantly solving any potential recidivism problem.

The practice spread throughout many other European countries, and, as late as the 19th century, murderers in Turkey were tossed into the Bosporus in a sack. To get the sack, then, was used figuratively as a threat of any sort of punishment, such as losing one’s job.

There is however another theory to explain “getting the sack”. In 1611 in France it was recorded that it referred to craftsmen of the Middle Ages. Artisans carried their tools in sacks; while they worked, they handed the sacks to their employers. When a craftsman got the sack, it meant that his services no longer were required. He was left, literally, holding the bag.

Author: Robert

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