Square Meal


Have you ever had a square meal?  Here’s why:

Most origin stories of the phrase claim it came from British and American naval ships of the 1700 or 1800’s. There are two versions of this story. The most common claims that sailors aboard ship had their meals served to them on square wooden trays or plates, that they either carried back to their bunks, where the plates could be stored easily, or that were stored elsewhere. Since they only used these squares when they were getting a full meal, probably dinner, the phrase ‘a square meal’ came to be associated with a full and satisfying dinner.

The Presidency


Journalist H. L. Mencken observed in 1920:

“As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their hearts desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

The Riot Act


Did your Mother ever read you the riot act?  Well, she had really good history behind her.

In 1714, Parliament, at the behest of King George I, enacted the Riot Act.  He was nervous about his subjects. If 12 or more people gathered in “tumultuous assembly,” a magistrate could read aloud the the Riot Act.  Thereafter, they had one hour to disperse or could be arrested.

You only had to contend with your father.

The Mark


Con artists call their victim a “mark.”  Ever wonder how the term was derive.  In the old carnival days, the barkers would look for a chalk mark on a suckers back, put there by a prior barker.  Then he knew he had a mark.

The Cat


I’d like to let “the cat out of the bag,” but golly, I can’t:

The derivation of the phrase is not clear. One suggestion is that the phrase refers to the whip-like “cat o’nine tails,” an instrument of punishment once used on Royal Navy vessels. The instrument was purportedly stored in a red sack, and a sailor who revealed the transgressions of another would be “letting the cat out of the bag.” Another suggested derivation is from the “pig in a poke” scam, where a customer buying a suckling pig in a sack would actually be sold a (less valuable) cat, and would not realise the deception until the bag was opened.
Both of these suggestions are rejected by Snopes.com, who find no evidence of it originating in naval slang, nor of whips being stored in sacks, and consider it “nigh on impossible to mistake a cat for a pig.”

I favor the naval version myself.  Your guess may be better than mine.

The Stationers


We were just with our friend in London, Captain Peter Hames, RN, Retired.  After Peter left the sea he became the Clerk to the Stationers, a member organization of the Livery Company. We went to see the Stationers Hall, a beautiful 17th Century hall built after the Great London fire to replace the old hall.

The Livery Company was a corporation organized with the approval of the Crown which incorporated the various Guilds.  The Guilds were the trade organizations formed to regulate the trades and prevent competition in old England.

I thought of Livery as meaning delivery or chauffeurs or the like.  But it is a broader term, meaning the right to wear certain dress.  The Livery Company has produced many Lord Mayors of London.  Meaning the City of London, the financial district within the old city walls, comprising a square mile.  While not an important position, the Lord Mayor exercises a lot of political influence.

A Clerk of the Stationers is a key person, worthy of a carved wooden plaque listing all the Clerks going back hundreds of years.  It sits beside the plaque of all the past Masters of the Stationers, the elected head of the trade organization.  There is a similar arrangement in every musical organization, like the L.A. Philharmonic, which has a Music Director and an administrative President, who is a paid and powerful full time employee.

Several interesting etymological facts.  The Stationers, who began as the organization to control the content of printers, to assure that nothing was printed that was salacious or seditious, evolved as time changed into an organization whose approval had to be obtained in order to reproduce a printed work. Copies could be sold.  It is there that the term  “copyright” was born.

And originally, members of the Stationers were the only ones allowed to sell their manuscripts from fixed stalls in the courtyard of St. Paul’s.  All other sellers were itinerant.  They were “stationary,” even if the term is spelled differently.

Thank you Peter.