Thursday, 9 December 2010

Phrase 2: "Web of lies."

Most people assume that the phrase web of lies is a simple metaphor. They assume that it refers to a collection of lies that are as intricately woven as a spider's web. They assume an ass of themselves.

When the British government conducted one of its regular censuses in the 21st century, a startling proportion of the population claimed that their religion was Jedi, in order to irk the powers that be. This British tradition of making a mockery of serious attempts to better administer their grim land has its roots in the Domesday book.

After the 1066 Norman conquest, the Domesday book was compiled as a consensus of who the newly conquered people were and what they possessed. An astonishing proportion of the population took the opportunity to make a mockery of their Norman overlords.

There was a farmer in Somerset who claimed to be in the possession of a 42 ton pig. A blacksmith in Rochdale claimed to have coated his children in molten metal. The Archbishop of Yorkshire claimed to have fathered 4600 children, all of them female.

The Normans, being French, curled their lips and sneered at this typically British mockery. They went about the villages and towns of England with a plan to ensure they would never again be openly ridiculed.

For every untrue thing a person had claimed in their census, the Normans plucked a hair from their head. The hairs were returned to London, where they were woven into a giant web, warning the English to never again be so bloody sarcastic.

The web of lies was over a mile in diameter. Strung between the rooftops of the city centre, every time an Englishman looked to the heavens in his capital during the period of Norman rule, he was greeted with a reflection of his people's idiocy. At least, that was the Norman's intention.

The plan backfired and the impressive web of lies caused people from all across Britain to visit the English capital to ogle it. People would wander the streets searching for a glimpse of the hair that had been plucked from their own head, which they would then boast about. The taverns of London were filled with such tedious boasting for decades after the conquest.

The web of lies became such a recognizable London landmark that it was kept in place long after the Normans had been kicked back across the Channel to their motherland. It remained suspended over the city until its destruction during the Great Fire of London in 1666. The flammable web of human hair played no small part in helping the fire to sweep through the city with astonishing speed.

Many historians contend that this six hundred year old strand of netting was a breeding ground for bacteria, and one theory posits that the bubonic plague which so ravaged London in the years leading up to the Fire was in fact spawned within the web itself. It seems the sneering Normans had the last laugh over their belligerent subjects.

Without realizing, when people today speak of a 'web of lies', they are referring to lies which will eventually spawn pestilence and possibly even cause an entire city to become engulfed in flames.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Word 3: Letter

The art of letter writing formed the basis of modern literature. Much of The Bible's New Testament consists of letters and many of Greek philosophy's great works were edited collection of letters philosophers had written to others explaining their theories. The word 'letter' itself didn't enter the English speaking world's lexicon until far later.

The 'letters' in The Bible were never actually called 'letters' until King James I order the production of the English language King James Bible. The phrase related to a very specific type of letter writing common to the early 17th century England in which The King James Bible was created.

Letter. Slow down and listen to it. Sounds a bit like a Cockney saying 'let her' doesn't it? That's because that's exactly what it is.

The punishment for a woman committing adultery leading up to the 17th century in England was to spend a weekend night in the stocks. This inevitably brought the offender hours of sodomy from the drunken locals. Husbands wishing to follow in the footsteps of the 16th century's King Henry 8th and leave their wives without subjecting them to mob buggery would have to write to the local magistrate explaining that they gave their permission for other men to enjoy the fruits of their wife's genitals.

In London, one of these carnal permission slips quickly became known as a 'let her', which eventually contracted into the single word 'letter'.

Samuel Pepys' diary of the Great Fire of London contains a lengthy passage detailing a friend of Pepys and his production of one of these progenerative legal prophylactics. Pepys' friend discovered on the same dreadful Tuesday that he was afflicted with bubonic plague and that was wife was allowing a playboy beefeater access to all of her areas. The chap decided that before he shook off this mortal coil he would allow for the sparing of his wife's tender sphincter, which, not uncommonly for a 16th century English gentleman, he had never himself defiled.

Next time you lick the tip of an envelope, just remember that you've just licked the seal of a non-consensual anal entry avoidance permit.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Word 2: Buddy

'Buddy' is one of those words that have entered the common lexicon of the English speaking 98% of the planet without forewarning or explanation. Where did it come from?

I'm about to tell you.

Bud, as in flower bud, rather than a Wolverine aside, was used by the Norse as early as 3AD, while Jewish conmen were still cobbling together the New Testament. 'Bud' meant harmless. It was one of the few things harmless to the Norse in 3AD, when death lurked about every adventure as it does now for a bumblebee. 'Bud' slowly became a term of endearment amongst these early modern time measurement detail Norse. Why the 'y'?

The 'y' chromosome is exclusive to females. The Norse have loved raping the shit out of females since time immemorial. Long before the Vikings defined themselves with phallic tusks protruding from their headwear, the chromosomal pattern modern genetic experts have hung their tuskless hats upon came into being thanks to an 'x' per kill system. The Norse knew of the existence of Roman numerals, in which 'X' demarcated a ten. They found this system an affront to their basic belief in fucking anything with a phallus-containable orifice. They began referring to anything that would let a phallus up inside them as an 'XY', as in 'fuck the Romans'. This sounds strange to you, no? Answer in the comments section if you have nothing better to do, which you probably don't.

The question 'why' was a part of Norse culture since before Thor was a twitch in the synapses of an entity that was yet to become a glimmer of sperm in the prepubescent ballsack of their ancestor's great-great ancestor. 'Why' was asked of anyone not manning up. If a doe, a deer, a female deer, had been felled, and all the meat stripped from her bones, the Norse would say of anyone not unsheathing a phallus to be first in line to defile the bloodied corpses entry wound, 'why? 'Why' came to mean faggishness - the behaviour of a woman carried out by a phallus bearer.

Thus 'y' was married to 'bud', and modern genetics found their lexicon.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Word 1: Weak

Weak. Ask Google to define it and you are met with a litany of ineptitude:
  • wanting in physical strength; "a weak pillar"
  • watery: overly diluted; thin and insipid; "washy coffee"; "watery milk"; "weak tea"
  • unaccented: (used of vowels or syllables) pronounced with little or no stress; "a syllable that ends in a short vowel is a light syllable"; "a weak stress on the second syllable"
  • fallible: wanting in moral strength, courage, or will; having the attributes of man as opposed to e.g. divine beings; "I'm only a fallible human"; "frail humanity"
  • tending downward in price; "a weak market for oil stocks"
  • deficient or lacking in some skill; "he's weak in spelling"
  • decrepit: lacking bodily or muscular strength or vitality; "a feeble old woman"; "her body looked sapless"
  • (used of verbs) having standard (or regular) inflection
  • not having authority, political strength, or governing power; "a weak president"
  • faint: deficient in magnitude; barely perceptible; lacking clarity or brightness or loudness etc; "a faint outline"; "the wan sun cast faint shadows"; "the faint light of a distant candle"; "weak colors"; "a faint hissing sound"; "a faint aroma"; "a weak pulse"
  • likely to fail under stress or pressure; "the weak link in the chain"
  • deficient in intelligence or mental power; "a weak mind"
How ironic that weak is pronounced identically to week, that demarcation of seven days. Ironic... or actual? Not that those two are by any means opposites. But, however, perhaps, just maybe, there's a link you've never opened your eyes to. Prepare to get them eyes ripped open. Lids at the ceiling and floors, ladies and gentlemen - it's time for your daily reality check.

Week derives from weak, believe it or not. Weak can be traced back to the vikings, whose war cry of 'we-ak' rang out throughout the British Isles for centuries, striking fear in the heart of everyone. 'Ak' was a term that covered all the bases of raping, pillaging, murdering, philandering and all the other things we enviously associate with the dirty Scandinavian vikings.

'Ak' itself has evolved into an essential part of modern vocabulary. By itself, 'ak' can be used an expression of disgust. Married to the numerals '47', 'ak' becomes indicative of the ferocious birth of the word 'weak'.

What 'weak' meant to the Vikings was seven days of hard Vikinging. Arson, rape and murder were the three end points of the 'ak' triangle. The 'weak' were the defiled - the dead, the raped, the burnt (in reverse order, just to make sure you're still paying attention).

Kolonov Execritus, commander in the Red Army in the years prior to Operation Barbarossa, was the inspiration for the Russians adoption of the term 'AK47' for their later mass produced weaponry.

Kolonov would catch moths at night and keep them in jars. He would then put these moths through a grotesque ordeal that began with the insertion of the flintless end of a matchstick through their mouths, striking said match, and watching said moth burn. Arson, rape and murder, all writ large on the little corpse of one blundering defenseless creature. It was the Viking concept of 'ak' translated to polite Dostoevsky Russian society.

'Ak' would generally last around seven days, which is how the term 'weak' became the modern day 'week'. And the weak were the victims of 'ak'. We-ak. We-ak indeed.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Phrase 1: "Heads will roll."

Did you see the state of the company's finances? Heads will roll. Did you see the sport team's recent poor performance? Heads will roll. Did you hear that young pop starlet utter an expletive on morning television? Heads will roll.

We often make assumptions on the history of a phrase's usage based on the context we hear it in. The truth is many commonplace phrases have evolved from the most surprising of origins. When we hear 'heads will roll', we often assume it to be a reference to beheading. Capital punishment for failure has been a punishment meted out with callous impunity throughout the history of human civilization. We therefore assume when we say 'heads will roll' we are harking back to a simpler time, where payroll imperfections would've resulted in Steve from HR capitulating to the guillotine come Monday morning. The truth is far less morbid.

In the 19th century, 'medicine men' were a phenomenon common to much of the nubile United States of America. These travelling salesmen/conmen went from town-to-town, promising to cure the townsfolk of any ailments with potions concocted, or so would they claim, from the pureed bladders of wild animals, most commonly bears or mountain lions. These potions were, in reality, gleaned from the bladders of lesser beasts, such as the skylark or the house-cat. As time wore on, the people grew suspicious of the medicine man's empty promises. The medicine men, in turn, incorporated endless new techniques in their pursuit to rob the townsfolk of their riches. One medicine man gave birth to a device known in modern advertising parlance as 'the tagline'.

This first tagline?

Heads will roll.

Heads was a slang term used throughout the American mid-west of the nineteenth century that referred to the condition we today call influenza. Throughout the winter of 1858, a particularly virulent strain of influenza spread amongst the populace of many townsfolk. This strain of influenza originated in alligators, common to the American wetlands. Once alligator flu had made the leap from reptilian to hominid, it spread across the land like butter on bread in a sandwich constructed from misery.

Bobby 'The Brain' Jessop had been at the medicine men schtick for years when this opportune outbreak arrived and was well positioned to benefit from it. Many townsfolk had come to regard the most likely cause of the virulent virulence to be exposure to bear bladder and therefore regarded the medicine men as evil witch doctor sadists. The population of entire towns would empty when the medicine man came to town, residents leaving their homes and possessions and forging new lives elsewhere rather than risk contact with the medicine man and his wares.

Bobby 'The Brain' saw a way around all this. He dressed as a townsfolk, moved into a town, stayed there for several months, then pretended to contract influenza and die from the disease. He would then watch from afar as the townsfolk held a funeral service for a bear Bobby 'The Brain' had killed and shaved of its fur. Bobby would then move onto another town and repeat the crazed ritual, having up to twelve towns at a time convinced of his humble townsfolk status and tragic death. He'd then return to each of the towns in turn on the anniversary of his death. He'd dig up his coffin, drag the rotting furless bear carcass into the woods, then leave the townsfolk to wonder what the dickens was going on in their graveyard. Bobby 'The Brain' would return to town later that day proclaiming himself an immortal capable of bargaining with the Gods for the townsfolk's good health. The townsfolk duly poured their every liquid asset down 'The Brain''s gullet.

'The Brain' would then write 'heads will roll' on walls all over town, using the viscous dung produced by the townsfolk's cattle. This reassured the townsfolk of Bobby's good intentions. 'Heads will roll' became a much-loved mantra of social affirmation in the society of mid-19th century America, much as 'simples' is in 21st century Britain.

'Why the modern malice?' the more athletically alliterative amongst you may be wondering. The answer is obvious, when you have researched the question properly. Jessop eventually died of an infection caused by a practice known as 'weaseltestine'. The townsfolk regarded the proposed immortal's inglorious death as proof that they lived in a random, chaotic, ultimately unpleasant world. 'Heads will roll' is an utterance that signifies a general resignation to the brutal reality of impermanence.

What is this?

This is a blog dedicated to etymology - the history of words. Why is this a blog dedicated to etymology - the history of words? Because I find it cretinous that people would use words and phrases without knowing where they came from. I have therefore decide to obliterate the world's ignorance, one blog post at a time. Come along with me for the journey or rot forever in idiocy.