- In the 1600s a popular game was often played between two people and a referee. The game was partly gambling and partly bartering. The game started when two people had items that they wished to swap. A friend or bystander would be called upon to judge the value of the two items to determine whether or not they were equal in worth. If not, the owner of the item of lesser value was called upon to pony up some extra cash to make the deal even.
- Next, the referee would doff his cap and each of the players would place some coins in the hat. The referee would hold the cap high and each player would reach into it. They then had the choice of pulling out a coin, or pulling out nothing at all. If both players drew out coins, the deal was on and the referee got to keep the coins. If neither player drew out coins, the deal was off and the referee got to keep the coins. If only one player drew out coins, the deal was off, but the lucky player got to keep the coins.
- Through the years the name of this simple betting game where each player places a hand in a cap entered our language. Because of the referee’s judgments concerning equalizing the value of the swap and leveling the playing field, the word now refers to any action taken to make a contest more even: Handicap.
- Around the turn of the century a humorist named Gelett Burgess kept America laughing. He’s best known for a ditty he wrote: “I’ve never seen a purple cow / I hope I never see one / But I can tell you anyhow / I’d rather see than be one.”
- In 1906 Gelett Burgess published a witty book entitled “Are You a Bromide?” The book was selling well when the American Booksellers Association annual banquet rolled around.
- It was customary to distribute free copies of popular new books at the convention, and it was customary to have those books covered in book jackets designed for the occasion. Also customary was using depictions of buxom women to sell everything. Many book jackets displayed a languishing damsel.
- In designing a book jacket for this occasion, Gelett Burgess wanted to mock these conventions, so he lifted the image of a gorgeous beauty from a toothpaste ad and put it on his book jacket, dubbing her with a fictitious name. Her first name was Belinda. She was quoted on the book jacket saying gushy things about the book.
- At the banquet, 500 copies of this book with the spoof book jacket were distributed. Afterwards, Belinda’s last name entered our language meaning a short piece of writing which generally praises or promotes something. Belinda’s last name was Blurb.
SWEET HARD TACK
- In the Roman Empire, bakers invented a new product. First they made a loaf of dough without using oils or butter. Next, they put a slab of dough into the oven. Once cooked, they sliced it into individual portions and baked the slices again. This removed all moisture, making it crisp and dry, and giving it an extraordinarily long shelf life, useful during wars, journeys, and sea voyages.
- After the fall of the Roman Empire, these crackers popped up in Tuscany, Italy, thanks to a local baker who served them with wine. Their popularity spread, and even Columbus packed these sweet crispy crackers on his voyages. In Italy they are eaten with wine; in England with tea; and in America with coffee. The name for this item comes from the Latin words “bis” meaning twice, and “coctum” meaning baked: biscotti, from which we also get the word “biscuit.”