All kinds of stuff you need to know

Published 4:26 pm Tuesday, June 1, 2021

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There are things you are taught in school….and there are things that you learn from others.

The latter is the subject matter of the column I’m writing this week. The following trivia was shared with me recently via an email from one of my lifelong friends….Pat Bolton, formerly of Rich Square now residing down in the Wilmington area.

Did you ever wonder where the term “a shot of whiskey” originated? In the old west a .45 cartridge for a six-gun cost 12 cents, and so did a glass of whiskey. If a cowhand was low on cash, he would often give the bartender a cartridge in exchange for a drink. This became known as a “shot” of whiskey.

“Buying the farm” is synonymous with dying. During World War I, soldiers were given life insurance policies worth $5,000. This was about the price of an average farm so if you died you “bought the farm” for your survivors.

We’ve all heard the term “iron clad contract.” It originated from the ironclad ships of the Civil War. It meant something so strong it could not be broken.

“Riff raff” is another term we’ve used on occasion. Its meaning comes from the Mississippi River. Riverboats carried passengers and freight, but they were so expensive back in the day that most people used rafts. All vessels on the river had the right of way over rafts, which were considered cheap. The steering oar on the rafts was called a “riff” and this transposed into riff-raft, meaning low class.

“Cobweb” is what it is….but it comes from Old English where the word for a spider is “cob.” Hence, the “cob” spun a web.

“State rooms” on a ship are considered the height of comfort. Passenger cabins on the boats were not numbered. Instead they were named after states. To this day cabins on ships are called staterooms.

“Sleep tight” is another word we’ve all heard, dating all the way back to our childhood. It draws its origin from old-fashioned beds that used ropes tied across the frame in a crisscross pattern. A straw mattress was then put on top of the ropes. Over time, the ropes stretched, causing the bed to sag. The owner would then tighten the ropes to get a better night’s sleep.

“Showboat” is a floating theater built on a barge that was pushed by a steamboat. They once made stops at small towns along the Mississippi River. They were gaudy and attention grabbing which is why we say someone who is being the life of the party is “showboating”.

“Over a barrel” is another term with an interesting origin. In the days before CPR, a drowning victim would be placed face down over a barrel and the barrel would be rolled back and forth in an effort to empty the lungs of water. It was rarely effective. If you are over a barrel, you are in deep trouble.

“Barge in” is a term that also traces its roots to the Mississippi River. Heavy freight was moved along the river in large barges pushed by steamboats. These were hard to control and would sometimes swing into piers or other boats. People would say they “barged in”.

“Hogwash” is also derived from a boat. Steamboats carried both people and animals. Since pigs smelled so bad they would be washed before being put on board. The mud and other filth that was washed off were considered useless “hog wash”.

“Curfew” comes from the French phrase “couvre-feu”, which means “cover the fire”. It was used to describe the time of night where all lamps and candles were blown out. It was later adopted into Middle English as “curfeu” which later became the modern “curfew”.

In the early American colonies homes had no real fireplaces so a fire was built in the center of the room. In order to make sure a fire did not get out of control during the night it was required that, by an agreed upon time, all fires would be covered with a clay pot called-a “curfew”.

Did you know that when the first oil wells were drilled there was no provision for storing the liquid so they used water barrels. That is why, to this day, we speak of barrels of oil rather than gallons.

This one is right up my all. The term “hot off the press” comes from the fact that as the newsprint (paper) goes through the rotary printing press, friction causes it to heat up. Therefore, if you grab the paper right off the press, it’s warm to the touch. Otherwise the expression means to get immediate information.

Now for the category “Bet’cha Didn’t Know” you can learn all sorts of different things….such as:

The liquid inside young coconuts can be used as a substitute for blood plasma.

No piece of paper can be folded in half more than seven (7) times. OK….you have my permission to take a break from reading this to try that.

Donkeys kill more people annually than plane crashes or shark attacks. So, in other words, watch you a#$!!

You burn more calories sleeping than you do watching television

Oak trees do not produce acorns until they are 50 years of age, or older.

The first product to have a bar code was Wrigley’s gum.

The King of Hearts is the only king in a deck of cards without a mustache.

American Airlines saved $40,000 in 1987 by eliminating one olive from each salad served in first-class.

Venus is the only planet that rotates clockwise. NOTE: Since Venus is normally associated with women, what does this tell you? Those women are going in the ‘right’ direction!!!

Apples, not caffeine, are more efficient at waking you up in the morning.

Most dust particles in your house are made from dead skin.

The first owner of the Marlboro Company died of lung cancer. So did the first “Marlboro Man.”

Walt Disney was afraid of mice! Makes one wonder how Mickey was developed.

A duck’s quack doesn’t echo, and no one knows why.

Dentists have recommended that a toothbrush be kept at least six feet away from a toilet to avoid airborne particles resulting from the flush. Upon realizing that fact, I now keep my toothbrush in the living room.

Turtles can breathe through their butts. Some politicians speak that way

Remember, knowledge is everything, so pass this on!

Now you have my permission go move your toothbrush!

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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