It’s just starting, isn’t it? You are already thinking about walnuts in the stuffing and giblets (whatever they are) in the gravy. How many pies are actually “too many”?
It’s almost Thanksgiving (look at the calendar) and you are thinking about cooking, then pigging out to add just those few pounds you need to get you through the winter chill.
While you are slicing, dicing and stuffing, it would do you good to learn a little about the terms surrounding your annual gluttony.
We bow to www.mentalfloss.com and blogger Matt Soniak for this week’s lesson, because he has done all of our research for us.
Thanksgiving would not be the holiday it is supposed to be without apple pie, my personal favorite. Before Blue Eyes went on her penitent Engine 2 plant-based insanity diet, we had apple pie (and cookies) all the time. Like a Red Sox World Series, these have become things of the past.
When you say (blush) that I am the “apple of your eye,” what does that mean? Our boy, Mattie, has traced that one back to Shakespeare and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” back when they thought the eye’s pupil was actually a solid object. B-Shake wrote, “Hit with Cupid’s archery, sink in the apple of his eye.” But if you really want to dazzle those dullards you call friends, you can tell them the first use of the idiom in Old English is attributed to King Aelfred of Wessex in “Gregory’s Pastoral Care” (885) and its first usage in Modern English is in Sir Walter Scott’s “Old Mortality” (1816). Drop that one while you are passing the candied yams.
Speaking of apple pie (I was), I like mine with a very thin slice of very sharp Cheddar cheese, thank you, because I am a “big cheese.”
Check this. The first American reference to the “big cheese,” meaning wealth or fame, comes from O. Henry’s “Unprofessional Servant” (1910). Throw that around the table while you are pouring the Honig chardonnay. It referred to the big cheese wheels that were on display at American shops, it is reported.
You know how daffy the English are. Our boy, Soniak, thinks the Brits might have brought it back from India when someone misheard the Hindi word “chiz,” which means “a big thing.” One hopes you won’t have any Englishmen around your holiday table, so use this one, too.
Perhaps some bacon quiche will be featured on your table. Where do you suppose the term “bringing home the bacon” came from? Relax. Mattie has done your work for you. Let’s go back to Jolly Old England, back to 1104, back even before David Grima was born. In great Dunmow, Sussex, a local couple managed to stay mar-ried long enough to dazzle the prior of Little Dunmow who then awarded them a “flitch” (never heard that one before), or a side of bacon. The tradition of the Dunmow Flitch continues to this day, even on Thanksgiving, with couples flaunting their devotion to win themselves a flitch.
Would I make this up?
There is an alternate, sporting derivation, which I happen to prefer.
Let’s go back to 1906 when the immortal Joe Gans and Oliver Nelson fought for the world lightweight championship. The New York Post-Standard reported that, before the fight, Gansie got a telegram from his mum, exhorting him to pummel Nelson and “bring home the bacon,” which was, presumably, the prize money.
When Gansie did, in fact, pummel Nelson, he wired his mother that he had “not only the bacon, but the gravy.” I didn’t think that the Post-Standard had that wide a circulation, but there is no written record of the term before that fight. After that fight, there were plenty, in and out of the ring.
No Thanksgiving meal would be complete without “a piece of cake” which has come to mean a very easy task.
This one again came from the boxing ring to describe an easy fight. Soniak traces the first written use to Ogden Nash’s “Primrose Path” in 1936. The phrase seems to come from the “cakewalk” when slaves would strut around at parties, with the most graceful couple awarded a cake. Soniak says the term “takes the cake” probably comes from this activity.
You are free, of course, to take all of this with “a grain of salt.”
Soniak has this covered as well.
I know that you have never heard of Mithridates. Soniak has. Let’s go all the way back to Pliny the Elder (not to be confused with Pliny the younger) and his “Naturalis Historia” when he wrote that the mighty Mithridates was fearful that his enemies might poison him after a big battlefield loss.
Pliny wrote, “After the defeat of that mighty monarch, Mithridates, Gnaeus Pompeius found in his private cabinet a recipe for an antidote in his own handwriting; it was to the following effect: Take two dried walnuts, two figs, and twenty leaves of rue; pound them all together, with the addition of a grain of salt; if a person takes this mixture fasting, he will be proof against all poisons for that day.”
But I would still avoid that holiday fruit cake from Aunt Betty. Even a grain of salt won’t counteract that cement concoction.
If I don’t see you, have a nice holiday. Pass the Dunmow Flitch, please. Hold the rue.
Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at firstname.lastname@example.org.