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This is copied from the retirement on-line resource YourLifeChoices Friday Funnies section. How expressions or practices came into being.


Where did the term ‘piss poor’ come from?
Interesting history. Back in the day, urine was used to tan animal skins, so families used to pee in a pot and once a day it was taken and sold to the tannery. If you had to do this to survive you were ‘piss poor’.

But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot – they ‘didn’t have a pot to piss in’ and were the lowest of the low.

The next time you’re washing your hands and complaining that the water temperature isn’t how you like it, think about how things used to be.


Facts about the 1500s
Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and still smelled pretty good in June. However, since they were starting to smell, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odour. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then, the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!’


Houses had thatched roofs – thick straw piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained, it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying, ‘It’s raining cats and dogs’.

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That’s how canopy beds came into existence.


The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, ‘dirt poor’. The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on the floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance way. Hence: a ‘thresh hold’.


In those old days, people cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stews had food in them that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme, ‘Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old’.


Sometimes people could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, ‘bring home the bacon’. They would cut off a little to share with guests and all sit around and ‘chew the fat’.


Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.


Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the ‘upper crust’.


Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom ‘holding a wake’.


In parts of England, some areas started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins, take the bones to a bone-house and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, one out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realised they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit at the grave site all night (the graveyard shift.) to listen for the bell. Thus, someone could be, ‘saved by the bell’ or was considered ‘a dead ringer’.


And that’s the truth.

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Not a lot of truth in many of the explanations, or distorted truth at best. "Lead" cups haven't been used since Roman times, when their drinking vessels contained 30% lead. And lead poisoning doesn't "knock you out", it's a gradual and steady poison that slowly affects your brain cells. Pewter mugs were used for beer, but pewter contained only small amounts of lead even from the Dark Ages, as people came to the realisation of the poisonous nature of lead when it was in contact with the body, in the early AD era.


The word "wake" did indeed come from the "watch" that the living held on a supposedly deceased person. But the watch was held because of the nature of some diseases and illnesses whereby a person could become comatose for a period (thus appearing to be dead), then recover and "come back to life" without medical intervention (not that there was a lot of medical intervention in the olden days, anyway, it was mostly the monks who used herbs and potions made from plants that provided "medical intervention").


The "upper crust" explanation is also quite fanciful, and it gives no credit to skilled bakers who very rarely burn bread, and many varieties of bread have been made with great skill, for thousands of years.



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It spoke a lot of what those old day were like !.

Then again NOT SO OLD !.

As post war north england had gone back to those " old days ".

There was a thing about peopl sleeping ' standing upright ' on a rope , as they couldn,t afford a bed to lay down on.


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I have seen lead pipes used in England for water reticulation. My father took over a pub in Sussex and they needed curtains in a room. No problem my father drove a nail into the picture rail above the window to hang it from. Only problem it was a lead water pipe, we had to plug it with a sharpened wood spile until we could get the plumber. Originally plombeur, meaning worker of lead in French.

One of the biggest suppliers of sayings was the sailing industry. Just one. Drudgery comes from drudging, which is manouvering a boat by dropping a weight on a rope from the bow and letting the tide carry you backwards and using the rudder to move across the channel.

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21 hours ago, red750 said:

Hence the rhyme, ‘Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old’.



It's not "peas" as in several of the things found in a pod, but "pease" "Pease" was treated as a generic noun, similar to "oatmeal", for the seeds of legumes, and the singular "pea" and plural "peas" arose by back-formation. Pease porridge is made from yellow "peas". 


The earliest recorded version of Pease Porridge Hot is a riddle found in John Newbery's Mother Goose's Melody (c. 1760):

Pease Porridge hot,

Pease Porridge cold,

Pease Porridge in the Pot

Nine Days old,

Spell me that in four Letters? (or How many letters in "that")

I will, "T.H.A.T."


For a meat and veg meal you could have this:  260px-Faggott_and_pease_pudding_-_Milkwood_%2849526644286%29.jpg Pease pudding and faggot.


21 hours ago, red750 said:

They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat.

Recent studies have indicated that the average medieval person - rural workers, tradespersons and such - did not eat a lot of beef, sheep or port meat. They tended to get their animal protein from fish, which weren't prohibited game; eels; oysters and other sea food, and  domesticated birds. Add into that seasonal vegetables, fruit and nuts, and you start to get the idea that these people were well nourished in good time. Times of famine would obviously affect the whole food chain, but I think we know from modern experience that famine or lack of any supplies is worse for urban dwellers than rural dwellers.  Notice in medieval artworks and literature that it was the nobles and clergy who were depicted as being overweight. They were the ones who got the meat and sweets. Going on the description of Henry VIII, he suffered from Type 2 Diabetes.


21 hours ago, onetrack said:

Not a lot of truth in many of the explanations,

Maybe not, but it got us thinking, didn't it. And it was entertaining reading.

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I once read that Henry 8th suffered from scurvy, and that eminent physicians of his time opined that vegetables were bad for you.

But type 2 diabetes is also possible. We will never know for sure I guess.

As an aside, does anybody know about goosey gander? The real story?

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I don't know about Goosey Gander, but I have heard that the original Cinderella was definitely not PG-rated.  Apparently it wasn't a glass slipper that the prince wanted to fit, and it wasn't her foot that went into it - it was his (well, probably more like 6 inches).


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On 09/07/2022 at 10:53 AM, Bruce Tuncks said:

does anybody know about goosey gander

Goosey goosey gander,
Whither shall I wander?
Upstairs and downstairs
And in my lady's chamber.
There I met an old man
Who wouldn't say his prayers,
So I took him by his left leg
And threw him down the stairs.


According to the repository of all knowledge - Wikipedia- there are two possible references

1. Catholic persecution under Henry VIII , Elizabet I and Oliver Cromwell. The places wandered into represent a search for a priest hole where Catholic priests hid from Protestant searchers. Once found, the priest was hauled off. Don't know the significance of "left leg".

2. The second links it to illicit rumpy-pumpy as "Goose" was a British term for prostitutes, and "bitten by a goose" was a reference to visible symptoms of STIs; one expert argues that the "wandering" refers to the spread of STIs. There is another verse which implies M'lady doth drink too much.


Goosey goosey-gander,
Where shall I wander?
Up stairs and down stairs,
In my lady’s chamber;
There you’ll find a cup of sack
And a race of ginger …


A “cup of sack” = wine, fortified wine like Marsala that is used in cooking, but often finds its way to the lips. A “race of ginger” = the “root of a ginger plant,” “ginger-root” added as spice. Ginger wine became popular in England in the mid 1700s. It was promoted as an aphrodisiac, and cure-all.

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"Left-footer" comes from the humble spade. The more ancient type had what we would call an off-set handle, so that the digger's weight and effort could be transferred to the spade's cutting edge via the left leg, leaving the right leg to keep balance. This was the type of spade used in Ireland when the English started to occupy it in the 1500's.




In England, the spade had evolved into the two-sided spade, which had the handle half way between the edges. It allowed the digger to use either foot.


The Labor of the Month for March




This design of spade was introduced to the Native Irish (Catholics) by the Protestant English. The Irish continued to use the traditional design. So "left footer" became a derogatory term used by the Protestant English to describe the Catholic Irish.


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