January 15, 2018:

I received an email from a Mr. John White, Esq., thanking me for recently recognizing his home town of New Haven as the birthplace of the telephone book. He sheepishly acknowledged that aside from the phone book, Pepe’s Pizza, and a certain Ivy League institution, New Haven is not famous for much. I’m happy to inform Mr. White that New Haven had a profound influence on the creation and naming of an American pastime, “frisbee”. 

In the 1890s, the Frisbie family bakery opened in Connecticut and by the 1920s, Frisbie pies had become popular among Yale students. Yalies discovered that by flinging the empty Frisbie pans through the air with a spinning motion you could create a fun game of catch. Throwers would yell out “frisbie” to alert intended receivers. The new game spread to other Ivy league campuses and even though most Ivies didn’t have access to Frisbie pies, they did use the name “frisbie”.

Fast forward to the 1940s, when a Los Angeles building inspector and aspiring inventor Fred Morrison was experimenting with cake tins that could be thrown for sport. He created a plastic disc inspired by flying saucers called the Pluto Platter.  in 1955, Wham-O approached Morrison after seeing him selling his discs in downtown Los Angeles. Wham-O started production of their disk in 1957 and named it the” Frisbee” in order to avoid any lawsuits with the bakery.

Now that we’ve made Mr. White feel better about his humble origins, we turn to the origins of some common phrases. Hopefully these provide some conversation starters for your busy social schedule (not applicable to current residents of New Haven).

Mad as a hatter –  In the 18th and 19th centuries, workers in hat factories used mercury nitrate to produce felt for hats. Prolonged exposure to mercury caused workers to develop physical and mental conditions including tremors, speech problems, and hallucinations. The U.S. banned the use of mercury in the hat making industry in the 1940s, but the phrase endures.

Don’t buy a pig in a poke– This saying originated in England in the 16th century and has become a term that underscores the concept of “caveat emptor” or “let the buyer beware.”  Merchants sold pigs wrapped in pokes (British term for sack). Sometimes an unscrupulous merchant would trick the buyer by placing a lower value animal in the bag. The deceit was exposed when the buyer opened the sack and found that the thrashing animal was a dog or cat – thus giving us the term “let the cat out of the bag”.

Humble Pie– During the Middle Ages when a wealthy lord held a feast, his upper- class relatives enjoyed the finest cuts of meat.  Guests of lower standing were served a pie filled with the entrails and innards of an animal, known as “umbles. Eventually “umble pie” would become “humble pie.”

Whole 9 yards–  I always thought this term was derived from “yard of ale” However the term comes from World War II when U.S. fighter pilots received a 9-yard chain of ammunition. When a pilot used all his ammunition on a raid, he gave it “the whole 9 yards.”

Mind your p’s and q’s –  There are many theories floating around the Internet regarding the origin of this term. Most espouse that this term originated hundreds of years ago in England when bar maids had to remember who was drinking pints of ale versus those who were drinking quarts. The fact checking site, Snopes, debunks this explanation, finding that at the time this phrase appeared, beer was served only in glasses or tankards. In fact, Snopes rejects all of the many explanations of this term and suggests that we just use the one we like best. 

Cold Shoulder– This is usually attributed to a practice from Shakespeare’s time. when a host would serve a tough, cold shoulder of mutton to an unwanted guest. It turns out that this is a myth propagated by British tour guides. The phrase never appeared in print until hundreds of years after Shakespeare when it was used by Sir Walter Scott and Charles Dickens to indicate snubbing a person by turning one’s back.

Warm wishes for a great weekend.

If you are looking for top-notch marketing support, contact www.blackdotmessaging.com

Ted Curtin