Fashionably Speaking

As it’s Halloween time, the latest video looks at the word “Costume”:

The main point behind this one is the interesting fact that costume and custom are essentially the same word, but came into English through different routes. Furthermore costume/custom show a similar semantic development to the two senses of the word habit. This kicked off the set of associations, but I also explore not only the interesting vocabulary of fashion, but fashion as a communicative language itself. The semiotics of fashion, that is the study of how fashion conveys meaning, is a large and very rich subject, of which I can only barely scratch the surface. Already this video was quite a long one, and there were a lot of interesting bits I had to leave out of the video.

First of all some side notes about the words custom and costume themselves. The plural form customs as in a duty that needs to be paid when importing goods comes from the sense a “customary tax”, and by further extension a customer is someone with whom we have customary business dealings. Costume was first used in English, in the periods of art history sense, by diarist John Evelyn, whom I’ve wanted to include in a video for some time as he’s one of those hyperconnected individuals, and is responsible for coining quite a few words and senses of words, and is just generally a very interesting person.

Now as for Halloween costumes and where we get the tradition of dressing up for this holiday, the ancient Celts in their harvest festival Samhain are said to have dressed up in scary disguises, either to blend in with or scare off other spirits who were believed to arise at that time of year. There’s also the English tradition of souling, going door-to-door in costume around All Souls Day carrying turnip lanterns representing the souls in Purgatory, and offering blessings or songs in return for soul-cakes. Similarly there’s the Scottish and Irish tradition of Guising, going door-to-door in costumes asking for handouts. And then there’s Mumming, an old  tradition of costumed dances and little plays performed at various seasons of the year. These various tradition seem to have served two purposes. For one, it relieves the tension from the fear of evil spirits or the souls of the dead. Another is the element of misrule and breaking of taboos which I mentioned in the video. Both of these elements highlight the use of jest and game to lessen the impact of very serious cultural realities. If you’re interested in more about these and other Halloween traditions, I covered many of them in last year’s Halloween video “Jack-o’-Lantern”.

Now getting back to clothing and fashion. One of the sources I looked at suggested that the wimple may have been influenced by or adopted from Muslim women, and thus brought to Europe from the middle east during the crusades. If anyone can provide more information on this I’d be grateful, but there certainly is a similarity between the wimple and the hijab. Sticking with head coverings, I mentioned the 18th century vogue for the wig. An interesting puzzle is the word wig itself. It’s actually short for periwig, which has the earlier forms perwike and peruke, and comes from French perruque and Italian perrucca. But before that the trail runs cold.

On the other hand, I can give some deeper etymologies of some other words mentioned in the video. As I said, jeans comes from Genoa. But where does the name for this Italian city come from? Well there are a couple of theories. First of all the Latin form of the name is Genua. Etymonline suggests it might come from a Proto-Indo-European root meaning “curve, bend” and would thus be cognate with Geneva. This root is presumably *genu- meaning “knee, angle”, and also gives us the words knee, kneel, genuflect, and diagonal. Another theory is that it’s related to Latin janua meaning “gate”, and thus also the Roman god Janus, as well as the month name January. As for denim from the city Nîmes, the French placename come from Latin Nemausus and ultimately from the Gaulish word nemo meaning “sanctuary”. This also seems to be connected to a Celtic god which the Romans referred to as Deus Nemausus, the god of a healing-spring sanctuary in the ancient town there. So if you think you look divine in those jeans, what with Nemausus and Janus, you may be right!

And speaking of jeans, I refer to them as an icon of contemporary fashion, probably the 20th century’s most enduring one. But to complete the look I suppose we could include T-shirts and sneakers. So as for the T-shirt, obviously named for its shape, it was originally designed as an undershirt to go with US military uniforms, but many servicemen began wearing just their T-shirts with their uniform trousers as a casual outfit during their off-duty hours, and when film star Marlon Brando appeared in the movie A Streetcar Named Desire dressed in a T-shirt, a fashion style was born.  And next the sneaker, an early example of which is the Converse All-Stars, which was also one of the first instances of a celebrity endorsement when basketball star Chuck Taylor joined their sales force in 1921, suggesting improvements to their shoe design, and his signature was added to the ankle patch on the shoes we now often refer to as Chuck Taylors or simply Chucks. The term sneaker by the way dates from the end of 19th century and is originally American, though it’s predated slightly by the term sneak. There are of course many other names for different varieties of casual soft-soled shoe including running shoestrainers, sand shoes, deck shoes, tennis shoes, and plimsolls, an eponym from politician Samuel Plimsoll who devised the plimsoll line, the water line markings on the side of a ship which showed the maximum load a ship could safely carry — the shoes took their name from the similarity of their appearance to ships with these lines on the side. And as for celebrity endorsements, they have since become quite the big deal with sneakers, and T-shirts have become an important canvas on which to display a variety of messages the wearer wishes to convey to the world, so again fashion as language.

In addition to T-shirts with political or social slogans (which became particularly popular starting in the 1980s), fashion can often be used to make political or social statements. To give just two such examples of statements calling for change, at the 1968 Olympics  African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos held up black-gloved fists during their medal ceremonies as an anti-racism statement. And the name of  19th century feminist Amelia Bloomer, who advocated against the restrictive clothing women were forced to wear at the time, became associated with bloomers, a kind of loose fitting split-leg garment, sometimes worn as more comfortable underwear and sometimes as trousers. Once again, the language of fashion and fashion as language. Let me know of any other examples of this kind of use of fashion in the comments below.

But getting back to the 20th century US military influence on fashion, one perhaps surprising example is the bikini, which inventor Louis Réard named after the Bikini Atoll where the US military conducted its first peace-time nuclear weapons test. Réard hoped his invention would cause a similar "explosive commercial and cultural reaction", and indeed it did. The placename Bikini, by the way is Marshallese for “coconut place”.

In the video I mentioned Beau Brummell’s influence on the men’s formal suit. Brummell was fond of wearing dark colours as opposed to the more brightly coloured outfits of preceding generations.  But we have another historical figure, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who by the way gave us the cliche novel opening “It was a dark and stormy night” (you may remember him from our “Beef” video), to thank for the habit of wearing black as formal wear, as in the tailcoat and the tuxedo. As for the invention of tuxedo itself, one story goes that Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, wanting a more comfortable formal outfit than the black tailcoat, took to wearing a short military style jacket. His American guest at the time, James Potter, brought the style back with him, and after wearing it at the fashionable resort of Tuxedo Park in New York, a style and its name were born. The place name itself, by the way, seems to come from Algonquian p'tuck-sepo meaning “crooked river”. On the subject of the tuxedo, the term Canadian tuxedo refers to wearing denim on top and on bottom, so jeans and a jean jacket for instance. And the term Canadian passport, according to Urban Dictionary, is another term for the mullet cut. I don’t want to think what all this implies about Canadians!

But while we’re still on the subject of men’s formal wear, the top hat is said to have been invented by John Hetherington, who supposedly first wore this shiny silk hat designed to “frighten timid people” on January 15, 1797, causing a riot with women fainting, children screaming, and dogs yelping, leading to his being charged with a breach of the peace! Unfortunately this story may be apocryphal. Nevertheless, the hat did become a major fashion trend of the 19th century, and already by 1814 we have the first recorded instance of someone pulling a rabbit out of a top hat, the French magician Louis Comte.

Another probably apocryphal hat story is about the invention of the bowler. Finding the tall top hat inconvenient when horse riding as it got caught up in low-hanging tree branches, wealthy British landowner William Coke commissioned a hat with a low round crown. The hat was manufactured by one William Bowlers. Of course it might just be the bowl shape of the hat that led to its name. But I’ll make the hat trick by relaying a third hat story. The fedora takes its name from a play, the only such instance of an etymology I can think of. In the play Fedora by Victorien Sardou, famous actress Sarah Bernhardt wore a soft felt hat while playing the title role of Princess Fedora Romanoff, and the hat became a popular fashion choice.

Speaking of fashion trendsetters, I mentioned Empress Josephine’s role in popularizing the empire waist dress, a neoclassical reinvention of the ancient Greek peplos. Another important trendsetter in the development of this type of dress was Emma, Lady Hamilton (or Emma Hart as she was known at the time), who was the lover of Charles Greville (whom you may remember as a friend of Erasmus Darwin in our previous video on him). Greville, tiring of his mistress, shipped her off to Italy to become the mistress and eventually wife of Sir William Hamilton, who was the English ambassador in Naples. While there Emma invented a kind of performance art she called Attitudes, posing in various alluring poses recreating scenes from Greek mythology, and wearing that type of ancient dress. The artist George Romney painted many of these scenes, and her fashion sense took Europe by storm. Well, I guess high fashion is all about attitude.

Speaking of ancient Greece, professional barbers or hair cutters go back at least as far as ancient Greece, where the barbershop was already an important location for conversation and gossip. The Greeks introduced the profession to the Romans who called the barber a tonsor, related to our word tonsure. During the middle ages barbers also served as surgeons — after all they already had sharp razors — and that’s the source of the barber pole, the red stripes reflecting the blood involved. The word surgery by the way comes through Latin chirurgia ultimately from ancient Greek kheirurgia meaning literally “hand work”. So some extra tidbits next time you’re gossipping with your barber.

Also in the ancient world, I briefly mention the toga, which connects nicely with our last video “Ambition” and the toga candida, the “whitened toga”, worn by political candidates in Rome, and indeed that’s where the word candidate comes from. Also worthy of mention is the toga praetexta, which had a purple border, and was worn, curiously, by both by young boys who were not yet of age and by magistrates, purple being a colour that signified high status, but more on this when we come to purple in our ongoing series of colour podcasts. Interesting too that the one exception to the rule that only freeborn males were allowed to wear togas was that prostitutes were required to wear them, an example I suppose of boundary crossing. They couldn’t wear the traditional stola, the dress of the Roman matron, and I suppose had something of the male freedom in terms of their status—in the sense that they were not restricted by the modesty of a respectable woman. The toga, though, showed that they also lacked the legal protection of a citizen woman, and that their bodies were essentially common property. 

In the video I highlighted the importance of France as the home of fashion by tracing the series of leaders from Louis XIV and his wigs, to Louis XV and his mistress Madame de Pompadour, to Louis XVI and his wife and “queen of fashion” Marie Antoinette, leading up to the French Revolution, to finally the more reserved styles after the revolution with Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. I could perhaps add one other link to this chain, with Napoleon’s nephew and heir Napoleon III and his wife Eugénie de Montijo. She influence the work of designer Charles Worth, who is known as the father of haute-couture, and who founded the first great fashion house, the House of Worth.

And finally one last point about fashion as language. A friend once pointed out to me that someone mixing clashing styles of clothing was engaging in something like code-switching. Code-switching is a linguistics term that refers to when speakers of more than one language naturally switch back and forth between languages in the middle of conversation. It’s not a random phenomenon, but is indeed itself a communicative element of language — the choice of language at any one instant communicates something of importance in the discourse. Applying this to clothing is, I think, quite relevant, particularly in our modern, uncentred contemporary fashions. So feel free to add in the comments any other ways fashion is like language — I’d love to hear some other views.

Tiki: cultural reflection and fusion

Once again the Endless Knot bar is open, and this time we're serving Mai Tais: 

When thinking about the Tiki craze of the 1940s and 1950s, the elephant in the room is, of course, the cultural appropriation. Tiki culture borrows from Polynesian sources, but it's more about mid-century America than anything else. Rather than just gloss over this, I decided that it was an opportunity to discuss the tension between cultural appropriation and intercultural communication, a story which is also reflected in the history of the World's Fairs, which has several connections to the tiki craze story, so it made a good fit. Also, this was nicely in keeping with my previous cocktail videos. "Cocktail" parts 1 and 2 explore the British / American interrelation and America's colonial period and growing sense of a distinct national identity, and also touch on other international relations, such as the British / French rivalry, US / Mexico connections, the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica, and so forth. And "Gimlet" focussed on colonialism and imperialism, with the East India Companies and other efforts to explore and commercialize overseas territories, often with terrible human consequences, scientific advancement notwithstanding.

There were of course many details I had to leave out of the video. The Maori story of Tiki has parallels in many cultures around the world as a creation story, and the motif of the reflection in the pool is an interesting parallel to the Greek myth of  Narcissus (from which we get the word narcissist). Tiki is furthermore important in Maori mythology as the giver of customs and laws, so we can also think of him as a culture hero. As for the "carved human figure" sense of the word, the Maori also have hei-tiki, small pendants carved out of greenstone, which may be connected with the Tiki myth, or to ancestor worship, or to fertility as  representations of either Hineteiwaiwa, the goddess of childbirth, or a human fetus.

And of course comparison (and sometimes confusion) is often made between the Maori tiki and the Easter Island moai -- the Rapa Nui culture and language are indeed closely related to the other Polynesian traditions, and the moai may also be connected to ancestor worship. So perhaps the creation of the Pacifica statue by artist Ralph Stackpole for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition is an appropriate symbol. The tiki mugs, which were often given away as souvenirs to tiki restaurant goers, are, of course, the American commercial adaptation of the tradition.

Polynesian culture first came to widespread attention in the western imagination in the 19th century, with artistic reflections such as Herman Melville's book Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life and artist Paul Gauguin's trip to and art inspired by Tahiti. These sorts of reflections did much to inspire this notion of a south seas paradise. (Lots more about Gauguin here).

As for the Polynesian languges, I relied mostly on the Polynesian Lexicon Project Online, as well as Edward Tregear's The Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary (1891). The Polynesian Lexicon Project is  great way of checking out cognates in the related languages, and is a lot of fun to play around with, so check it out if you're into comparative linguistics. Even from just the two etymologies in the video, tiki (Maori tiki, Hawaiian ki'i, Tahitian ti'i, and other cognates here) and mai tai (Tahitian maita'i, Hawaiian maika'i, Maori maitai, and other cognates here), some clear phonological correspondences are clear: /k/ and the glottal stop, /t/ and /k/. Also, it's an interesting semantic trajectory to go from the name of the first human, to the carving of a human figure, to an umbrella term for an entire aesthetic in another culture and language.

Of course there is much more that could be said about the history of the tiki craze, and Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic in particular -- there are many who have written much more authoritatively on the subject than I could, so do check out the links on the sources page for some detailed accounts. In particular, have a look at this interview with researcher and writer Sven Kirsten on the history of tiki culture, which goes into much more detail than I could in the video. Don and Vic seem to owe much of their success to their flamboyance and showmanship. Don would spray a water hose onto the roof of his restaurant to simulate a tropic rainstorm (or to convince patrons to stay a little longer rather than leave during a downpour). And while Don was inspired by his actual South Seas travels, Vic mostly invented his adventurer persona, pretending for instance that he lost his leg not in a childhood illness, but in a shark attack. But tiki culture is about creating the appearance and fantasy of something, just like the story of Tiki and the reflection in the pool. And just like that reflection, something new can, as a result, take on a life of its own, as was the case with the tiki craze. Fusion is something American culture excels at, often producing something quite new by combining disparate sources.

And it's appropriate that Monte Proser, the British-born nightclub owner who stole the Zombie recipe, was a press agent for Walt Disney. One of Disney's themepark attractions is the Enchanted Tiki Room (opened in 1963), a Disneyfied reflection of tiki culture, a fantasy of a fantasy. So art imitating art imitating life, I suppose.

The Hawaiian or more properly Aloha shirt is itself an example of cultural blending too. The shirts, originally made from kimono fabrics, seem to have been the invention of Koichiro Miyamoto, the son of a Japanese immigant to Hawaii, and first appeared in the family shop in Honolulu. The style of shirt was then taken up in the 1930s by Chinese merchant Ellery Chun in his Waikiki shop, and soon became very popular with both local residents and tourists.

When discussing the Exotica music genre that went along with the tiki craze, I perhaps should also have mentioned vibraphone player Arthur Lyman. Born in Hawaii, and of Hawaiian, French, Belgian, and Chinese descent,  Lyman was part of Martin Denny's band for his first exotica album, and did much to help define the vibraphone-heavy sound of the new genre. After that first album, Lyman went his separate way and recorded many exotica albums of his own. The genre itself, as well as i's practitioners, is a good example of fusion and cultural blending. As are American musical genres such as jazz, blues, rock, and so forth, which are all predicated on musical fusion.

As an interesting sidenote to the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition, the fairgrounds also included a Japanese Tea Garden, which still exists today. It was here that the fortune cookie seems to have been introduced to America, being served in the Tea Garden. So though we now most associate the fortune cookie with Chinese-American food, it actually had its origins in Japan in the 19th century, and made its way to the US through this World's Fair (or shortly thereafter). So another gift to popular American culture.

As for the drink recipes, much research has been done to uncover the more authentic 1930s and 1940s recipes and syrups, perhaps most importantly by Jeff "Beachbum" Berry, who has written several books on the subject. For a detailed discussion of the Mai Tai recipe, see here, and if you want to make an authentic Zombie, have a look here. So mix yourself up your favorite tiki cocktail, and thanks for watching the video! Mahalo!

What's bugging you

This time we have the deceptively simple seeming word "bug":

This is kind of a mysterious one, and the etymologies presented here (and anywhere else you might see) are tentative and uncertain. The "puffed up" origin is perhaps further strengthened by the Norwegian dialectal word bugge meaning "an important man" (think puffed up or big). Another etymology entirely that has been suggested for bug, which I didn't mention in the video, is that it might come from a West African word bagabaga meaning "insect",  being imported into English during the West African slave trade, along with another West African word bugu meaning "annoy". The insect word comes into English at around the right time for this West African connection, so it's at least plausible, though few etymologists seem to pick up on this idea. On the other hand, if the goat/buck etymology of bug is correct, that would I suppose connect the various boggarts, bogeys, and bugbears to the Julbok I mentioned in the "Yule" video.

On the subject of slang senses for bug, they're quite numerous with some twenty or more listed in various slang dictionaries, between the noun and verb. Some of the more well known senses and expressions I didn't mention are an enthusiastic interest or person (as in " to catch the acting bug" or fire-bug), to bug out or make a hasty retreat (which seems to come from US military slang), and the bug-eyed monster of scifi fame, which really means bulging eyes but is also taken in the insect sense sometimes.

An interesting older slang sense takes us back to the world of criminal lingo: "Bailiffs who take money to postpone or refrain the serving of a writ, are said to bug the writ". This is reported in the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue originally compiled by 18th century antiquarian and lexicographer Francis Grose, also the source of the bugaboo sense "a sheriff's officer" that leads to the burglar alarm. Grose's slang dictionary continued to be added to after Grose's death (you can access the two different editions here and here), and it's one of those later editions that gives us these two senses (though the earlier Dictionary of Slang by Nathan Bailey also lists the bribery sense). Edward Bulwer-Lytton uses the word bugaboo to refer to the police in his novel Pelham: "Many a mad prank ... which I should not like the bugaboos and bulkies to know." I've mentioned Bulwer-Lytton, coiner of many now clichéed phrases, in my previous video "Beef". Pelham, Bulwer-Lytton's first big hit, tells the story of an upper class dandy, and thus reflects the language (like bugaboos and bulkies for the police) and fashion of the hip set of the day, and apparently even set one fashion trend, the wearing of black evening wear by men, which has been the norm ever since the novel came out. So you can thank Bulwer-Lytton next time you don a tuxedo to avoid the fashion bugaboos, I mean, police!

On the topic of burglars and burglar alarms, that word comes into English from the medieval Latin word burgus which is itself a loan from a Germanic root that means “fortified place”, and is related to the words burg and borough, and might be more distantly related through Proto-Indo-European to the word “fort”, which came into English through French, from the Latin adjective fortis meaning "strong". And speaking of Latin, I mentioned the use of guard animals, most commonly guard dogs, but there is also the famous story of the geese in the Temple of Juno in Rome who awoke the sleeping Romans, warning them of a nighttime attack by the Gauls, according to the Roman historian Livy.

I mentioned that Edwin Holmes came up with the idea of using existing telegraph lines to connect his burglar alarms to a central monitoring station. In fact the idea of a central monitoring station was probably first developed by Edward A. Calahan, but Calahan's idea was that the houses would have emergency call boxes, rather than window and door sensors, as in Holmes's burglar alarm system. The story goes that Calahan came up with the idea after the president of the company that was formed to implement his previous invention was burgled. And that previous invention was also an adaptation of telegraph technology, the stock ticker, which transmitted stock and gold prices over the telegraph system and printed them out on ticker tape. (Presumably Calahan wasn't given a ticker tape parade for his work.) As it happens, the clockwork powered telegraph printing system necessary for Calahan's stock ticker had been invented by our old friend David Edward Hughes (inventor of the carbon microphone). It looks a bit like some outlandish musical instrument:

And finally a little more on the early history of patents. While authorship was important in the ancient world, control of intellectual property, the example of Sybaris not withstanding, was generally not. Craft secrecy, however, was important in the middle ages, particularly in the context of the craft guilds. Apparently the earliest mention of the windmill in Europe is in a diploma in 1105 CE granting the right to build them in a particular area, but it's unclear if this was as a newly invented technology. Certainly monopolies could be granted in the middle ages, but the earliest monopoly for a newly invented technology seems to be the Brunalleschi patent mentioned in the video. The penalty for violating Brunalleschi's patent, by the way, was burning. Harsh! The systematic patent laws that started in Venice before spreading throughout Europe seem to have been initially particularly associated with glassblowing technology and techniques. The first patents in England came under Queen Elizabeth I, while the idea that a patent needs to have an element of novelty seems to have been introduced by King Henry II of France. Design patents also date back to the early modern period with a patent for italic type granted in 1502 to the Venetian printer Aldus Manutius, who also invented the modern use of the semicolon and the modern appearance of the comma -- not a bad hat trick! The earliest literary reference to a patent seems to be in Ben Jonson's comedic play The Devil is an Ass, which makes fun of "projectors", that is inventors/swindlers. One of the character, Meercraft, is trying to get patents for individually wrapped hygienic toothpicks with instructions for their use, and forks, which were only then being imported from Italy into England. Jonson seems to be poking fun at real-life travel writer Thomas Coryate who did in fact introduce the fork to England, as well as the word "umbrella", both from Italy. For importing the fork, by the way, Coryate was given the highly amusing Latin nickname 'Furcifer'.

A last note, I'm grateful to my friend Madhava for pointing out to me Linus's Law that "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow". However, if there are any bugs in the video or this blog post, the fault is entirely mine.

Greek myth has its fingerprints all over the word "Clue"

This week's video explores the etymology of the word "clue", from Greek myth to detective fiction:

The idea for this one obviously came from the narrative metaphor of the Ariadne story leading to current meaning of the word clue, and the interesting references in Agatha Christie's writings to Greek myth made for a nice closed loop. The story of the development of fingerprinting, with the nice visual analogy between the contours of a fingerprint and the labyrinth of the Minotaur, became the centrepiece, and looking backward from clew "ball of thread" to the Proto-Indo-European root *gel-, leading also to clay and glia, gave some additional connections. I've already touched on the importance of narrative and metaphor, and for that matter on detective fiction, and Sherlock Holmes specifically, in "The Story of Narrative", "Paddle Your Own Canoe", and "A Detective Story" respectively, so in a sense this video is a culmination of that initial series of videos. Oh, and speaking of sailing technology in "Paddle Your Own Canoe", another meaning for the word clew is the bottom corner of a sail. And while I'm on the subject of links to previous videos, Chaucer has come up before, not only in "Paddle Your Own Canoe" but also "Cuckold", and Erasmus Darwin in "Coach" and "Gimlet". The illustrious Darwin-Wedgwood family will no doubt come up again.

And speaking of Geoffrey Chaucer, I should stress his importance along with other medieval and early modern writers for associating the word clew with the Theseus and Ariadne story. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the passage quoted in the video as the earliest with specific reference to the Labyrinth story. The passage is from Chaucer's The Legend of Good Women, which recounts the stories of various virtuous women, several of them drawn from Greek myth. I mentioned some of the most obvious reference to weaving and other textile arts in Greek myth, the Fates, Penelope, & Ariadne, but it should also be noted that Athene herself, who appears in the story of Theseus leading him away from Ariadne, and in The Odyssey helping Odysseus as he arrives home to Penelope, is also particularly associated with weaving. For instance, there is the story of Arachne, a talented weaver who wins a weaving contest against Athene, and as punishment is transformed into a spider (hence "arachnids" as a term for spiders).  Athene is the goddess of wisdom, which for men expresses itself as strategy -- she was thus a goddess of that side of warfare as opposed to Ares who represented the bloodlust of war -- and for women expresses itself as weaving and other domestic arts. A double standard that reflects Greek patriarchy, but it shouldn't be forgotten that wisdom is being anthropomorphised as female, with her mother Metis also being associated with wisdom. There is indeed a thread of clever and cunning women running through Greek myths. Penelope is an ideal match for the cunning Odysseus (who was for instance the one who came up with the Trojan horse idea) because she too is clever, tricking the suitors to keep them at bay until Odysseus returns home.

Another interesting instance of weaving in Greek myth is the story of Procne and Philomela. As the story goes, when Philomela was visiting her sister Procne, her brother-in-law Tereus raped her, and in order to conceal the attack he cut out her tongue. Philomela, however, was able to communicate the crime by weaving it into a tapestry, and the two sisters are able to exact their revenge. Chaucer also includes this story in The Legend of Good Women. An interesting modern parallel to the idea of communication through textiles is the idea of knitting in code. During the Second World War, the British government banned the sending of knitting patterns out of the country for fear that they might contain coded messages, and in Belgium the resistance recorded the movement of trains in their knitting. And in a more literary example, Charles Dickens wrote of the macabre Madame Defarge in A Tale of Two Cities, who sat by the guillotine recording the beheadings in her knitting.  (See here and here for this and these and other knitting trivia from QI). An often repeated though unfortunately apocryphal story is that Irish knitters used the intricate patterns of Aran sweaters to identify the bodies of men drowned at sea. The story seems to have grown out of a passage in the play Riders to the Sea by the Irish playwright J.M. Synge, where a drowned man is identified not by a knitted sweater but by his knitted stocking: "It's the second one of the third pair I knitted, and I put up three-score stitches, and I dropped four of them." (See here and here for more details.) Too bad too, because that story would make a nice parallel to the use of fingerprints for identification, tying clew and clue together again.

So back to fingerprints; the original motivation for the fingerprinting system in the 19th century was not so much detection but for identification of repeat offenders, who were supposed to receive harsher penalties. As a result of increased population and greater mobility throughout the country due to the industrial revolution, while it used to be the case that local repeat offenders would be quickly recognized, repeat offenders who moved around a lot were much harder to track. Before fingerprinting was settled on, a number of other systems of identification were mooted, most significantly anthropometry, a the detailed measurement of a person's physical characteristics similar to what we now call biometrics. A system for this was worked out by the French policeman Alphonse Bertillon, unsurprisingly attracting the attention of Francis Galton, who was interested in quantifying human heredity through both physical and mental characteristics. Edward Henry had also been using Bertillon's system in India, until Galton's book was forwarded to him. And speaking of Bertillon, he and his system are referenced twice in the Sherlock Holmes canon, in "The Naval Treaty" and The Hound of the Baskervilles, as being admired by Holmes, who is himself referred to as the "second highest expert in Europe" behind only Bertillon. And in a fictional crossover going the other way, Edmond Locard of Locard's Exchange Principle fame was known as the Sherlock Holmes of France. And of course, as is well known, the character of Sherlock Holmes is based on the real-life Dr Joseph Bell, a former medical school teacher of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was himself a pioneer of forensic science.

As for Francis Galton, the archetypal 19th century gentleman-scientist, though it should be noted that Galton himself was not directly related to Josiah Wedgwood (Wedgwood was Charles Darwin's grandfather on the other side of the family -- Erasmus Darwin was their common grandfather), the whole Darwin-Wedgwood clan was full of illustrious go-getters. Galton's other grandfather, Samuel Galton, was a founding member of the Lunar Society (previously mentioned here), along with Erasmus Darwin, as well as Joseph Priestly (previously mentioned here), in whose former house Galton was born. The Darwin-Wedgwood family also later includes the likes of composer Ralph Vaughn Williams and Anglo-Saxonist Simon Keynes (a connection of particular interest to me as an Anglo-Saxonist myself).  In addition to his important work on fingerprints and statistics, and his rather more questionable work on the pseudoscience of eugenics and that crazy beauty map of Britain, he is also significant for his pioneering of the science of meteorology. You can read more about him and his contributions to science in this article. One last bit of trivia about him: he worked out through careful study the ideal procedure for brewing tea, which you can read below, take from the excellent website, which has collected works available online:

Edward Morse is another fascinating Victorian polymath. In addition to his important work as a naturalist studying shells, as noted in the video he made pioneering contributions to the study of Japanese pottery, particularly the cord-marked pottery of the Jomon period (pictured in the video) which dates as far back as 16,000 years ago. He also wrote the book Japanese Homes and their Surroundings, which described the construction and furnishings of Japanese houses, including sections on bonsai and flower arrangement, and as a result of his friendship with astronomer Percival Lowell he wrote Mars and Its Mystery about the possibility of life on Mars.

I'll leave you with one last bit of trivia, concerning Agatha Christie. Reasonably well known is Christie's disappearance for a little over a week during the break-up of her marriage (the subject of a Doctor Who episode no less). Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, surprisingly a proponent of the occult, even enlisted the help of a spiritualist to assist in locating her. But perhaps less well known is that she was one of the first Brits to surf standing up, a pastime she took up while on holiday with said former husband. Here she is with her surf board, apparently named Fred: