Keeping a Breast of Things


We’ve been bosom friends since the end of the 16th century, but it took W.W.II to make us bosom buddies — from  buddy’s common use as a synonym for a “pal” in the armed services.

Every guy needs a buddy, a mid 19th century variation of butty companion — from the booty fellow, an associate with whom you shared your plunder.

The bosom’s  the perfect place to carry your friendships, because of its proximity to the heart and its innocuous nature. In the middle of the 19th century, breasts fell out of favor and “nice” people stopped referring to them. When invited out for turkey dinner, and you wanted some white meat, you always asked for the turkey bosom, never the breast.

Over time, the breast came to be perceived as increasingly impolite to the point of being considered savage, and the bosom, as refined and gentle.

Though bosoms had a brief wild fling as bazooms (mid 20th C.), they ultimately reverted to their conservative character and traditional spelling.

At a time when acceptable words are hard to come by, the bosom’s there for you. Here’s to the bosom and all its friends.

Catch a Ride


Securing a taxi in a major metropolitan area is never easy. Once done, hang on for dear life.

Starting life as a taximetercabriolet, its capricious nature derived from the cabriole, a two wheeled carriage, which in turn got its name from its bouncing and leaping motion — from the Latin caper, capr-, “goat.“

What left you emotionally and financially spent was the taxing nature of the trip — from the Latin taxare, “to charge.”

For added “measure,” they included the meter. Any wonder we reduced it to a taxi or a plain old cab?

On August 13, 1907, the first taximeter motor cab took to the streets of New York City. Most New York cabs were once Checker cabs, sporting a bright yellow exterior with a distinctive black-and white checker pattern. Sitting high off the road, they featured incredible leg room, spacious jump seats and extra-wide doors.

Checkers stopped manufacturing in 1982, leaving only two such taxis in New York operating by special dispensation from the city.

An American institution, the Checker cab. Hail to thee!

Finger This


Who knows when the fickle finger of fate may beckon you to stardom? So began the popular segment of Rowan and Martin’s “Laugh-In” (1968-73) — offering that award to the winner of a mock talent contest.

Fingering also has its negative side. Who of us hasn’t  suffered the ignominy of being f****d by the fickle finger of fate (1940s) — a favorite expression of the Canadian Armed forces for an unpredictable and particularly injurious event?

It was Shakespeare who first pointed the finger at another in Othello —  “To make me the fixed figure for the time of Scorne to point his slow, and moving finger at.” Though blame has been at our fingertips only since the second half of the19th century.

Helping further asseess blame, were fingerprints, first put into use by law enforcement agencies on October 10, 1904, assisting us in fingering the guilty party.

None of this is to be confused with giving the finger to someone, the meaning of which is universal — though from 1890-1920, it meant  simply “to disappoint or snub someone.”

A popular expression of discontent on our nation’s highways, the gesture goes back to Ancient Rome where charioteers passed each other while offering the digitus impudicus. 

Now Ear This


Our era may feature the most sophisticated technology for listening in on other people’s conversations. It’s nothing, however, compared to the times when the walls literally had ears.

In Ancient Syracuse, the tyrant Dionysius, carved a large, ear-shaped underground cave out of solid rock, enabling him to eavesdrop on the conversations of prisoners.

In yet another historical period, the royal family installed ear-shaped whispering galleries at  Hastings Castle. While Catherine de Medici had the walls of the Louvre constructed with tubes called auriculaires, enabling her to hear the conversation in any room, no matter where she was.

What can you do about all this bugging? Shakespeare would have you “Seal your lips and give no word but — mum. (Henry VI, Part II) — the only sound you can make with your lips sealed.

There’s also the option of doing things sub rosa, Latin for “under the rose.” Roses were once sculpted or painted on the ceilings of banquet halls, as a reminder to revelers to watch their words.

Given how totally unforgettable most conversations are, perhaps John Heywood  (1546) said it best with “in one ear an.”