Monday, February 2, 2015

Monday Miscellany: Odds, Ends and Personals

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Byter Charles D sent me a list of how different things began. usually I shy away from such lists in that most of the origins asserted are incorrect. Charles's list looked okay and I said that I would post it but, on checking some of the origins set out, I found that a number were questionable. I looked at the rest and found out quite a few were suspect. Sorry Charles. The first 5 items from that list appear below with my comments.  Some more to come.

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Why do men’s clothes have buttons on the right while women’s clothes have buttons on the left?

When buttons were invented, they were very expensive and worn primarily by the rich. Since most people are right-handed, it is easier to push buttons on the right through holes on the left. Because wealthy women were dressed by maids, dressmakers put the buttons on the maid’s right! And that’s where women’s buttons have remained since.

Comments:
This is disputed in a number of commentaries, the following points being made in those commentaries:
· The changeover from right to left for women’s buttons happened between 1810 and 1860. By 1860 it was mostly left for women.
· It is not accepted that rich women being dressed by maids caused a fashion trend that trickled down. Men’s clothes had more buttons, males were assisted in dressing as well and women’s clothes did not have buttons until a lot later,
· In the late 19th century women began to think about equality and emancipation.
· At about the same time female clothing began to take on aspects of male clothing to symbolise emancipation.
· Left hand buttoning was a means of distinguishing between male and female clothing when items were similar eg shirts, and grew as a general practice from there.
· Another theory is that it was a means of flaunting wealth by rich women that caught ion generally.

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Why do ships and aircraft use ‘mayday’ as their call for help?

This comes from the French word m’aidez – meaning ‘help me’ – and is pronounced, approximately, ‘mayday.’

Comment:
Correct. 
From Wikipedia: 

The Mayday procedure word originated in 1923 by Frederick Stanley Mockford (1897–1962). A senior radio officer at Croydon Airport in London, Mockford was asked to think of a word that would indicate distress and would easily be understood by all pilots and ground staff in an emergency. Since much of the traffic at the time was between Croydon and Le Bourget Airport in Paris, he proposed the word "Mayday" from the French "m’aider" ("venez m'aider" meaning "come help me").

That's his gravestone above.  I think it would have been really good if his last words had been "Mon Dieu, Mayday! Mayday!"

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Why are zero scores in tennis called ‘love’?

In France, where tennis became popular, the round zero on the scoreboard looked like an egg and was called ‘l’oeuf,’ which is French for ‘the egg.’ When tennis was introduced in the US, Americans (naturally), mispronounced it ‘love.’

Comment:

From Oxford Dictionaries Language Matters:

It seems to have been adapted from the phrase 'to play for love (of the game)' (i.e. to play for nothing). Although the theory is often heard that it represents the French word l'oeuf, meaning 'an egg' (from the resemblance between an egg and a nought) this seems unlikely. 

Another source says:

A person who fails to score in tennis might be said to be playing for the love of the game. According to this theory, which is widely supported, ‘love,’ for ‘zero in tennis,’ comes from the expression ‘play for the money or play for love [nothing].” The idea here is similar to that behind the word ‘amateur,’ which comes from the Latin ‘amare,’ to love, and strictly speaking means a person who loves a game or subject. But there is another explanation for the term ‘love’ in tennis, an expression used from at least 1742. ‘Love,’ for ‘goose egg,’ or ‘nothing,’ may have been born when the English imported the game of tennis from France. Because a zero resembles an egg, the French used the expression “l’oeuf,’ egg, for ‘no score.’ English players, in mispronouncing the French expression, may have gradually changed it to ‘love.’

The jury is therefore still out on this one.

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Why do X’s at the end of a letter signify kisses?

In the Middle Ages, when many people were unable to read or write, documents were often signed using an X. Kissing the X represented an oath to fulfill obligations specified in the document. The X and the kiss eventually became synonymous.

Comment:

Probably true. 

X also represented the Greek letter “Chi”, short for the Greek for “Christ” as in “Xmas”. Thus signing with an X was also an affirmation of truth, all the more so in that X represented a Christian cross and Christ at this time, so by signing X, you’re essentially saying “In Christ’s name, it’s true / I assert.”

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Why is shifting responsibility to someone else called ‘passing the buck’?

In card games, it was once customary to pass an item, called a buck, from player to player to indicate whose turn it was to deal. If a player did not wish to assume the responsibility of dealing, he would ‘pass the buck’ to the next player.

Comment:

No dispute on this one.

From The Phrase Finder, a good source for checking origins of words and phrases:

Poker became very popular in America during the second half of the 19th century. Players were highly suspicious of cheating or any form of bias and there's considerable folklore depicting gunslingers in shoot-outs based on accusations of dirty dealing. In order to avoid unfairness the deal changed hands during sessions. The person who was next in line to deal would be given a marker. This was often a knife, and knives often had handles made of buck's horn - hence the marker becoming known as a buck. When the dealer's turn was done he 'passed the buck'.
Silver dollars were later used as markers and this is probably the origin of the use of buck as a slang term for dollar.
The earliest citation that I can find of the literal use of the phrase in print is from the Weekly New Mexican, July 1865:
"They draw at the commissary, and at poker after they have passed the 'buck'. "

Others dispute the assertion that that is how a dollar came to be called a buck, saying that The term in this context came from the Indian description of valuing an item against a deerskin. The term Buck came into American culture after 1748.



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