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.

The Classical Bedrock of Fossil

This week's video is about the history of the word "fossil", and the study of fossils from the ancient world to the 19th century:

The basic theme of this one is, of course, the importance of Latin and Greek to scientific terminology, and beyond that the larger debt science owes to the classical world, as for instance with the Latin-derived words fossil and strata themselves, the many scientific names for organisms drawn from Latin and Greek,  and the metaphorical reference to the Roman gods Neptune, Pluto, and Vulcan in the geological terms neptunism, plutonism, and vulcanism. It made a convenient starting point, therefore, to mention the reception of fossils themselves in the ancient world, for which I drew on the research of Adrienne Mayor -- she gives a fuller treatment of this in her book The First Fossil Hunters. On the subject of sources, for the later history of geology and palaeontology, I've drawn on Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, James Burke's The Day the Universe Changed episode 8 “Fit to Rule: Darwin’s Revolution” and the corresponding chapter in his book of the same name, and the excellent website Strange Science: the Rocky Road to Modern Paleontology and Biology. As always, a fuller list of sources can be found on the show notes page. The etymological trigger for this story is the fact that fossil and bed come from the same Proto-Indo-European root word, and this tied in nicely to the additional etymology focussed on in this video "strata", which in addition to its geological sense in English, could in Latin refer to a bed cover, and this further tied into the recent find of the earliest known bed, itself a demonstration of the principles of stratigraphy. I also took the opportunity to tie in another recent development, the recent revival of the name Brontosaurus, and I suppose I could have mentioned recent work on analysis of the mammoth genome.

There are of course many details I had to leave out, especially since my main goal was to tell the story of the linguistic and classical backgrounds to the study of fossils (so do check out main sources I listed above for a fuller story).  For instance, there's the 17th century scientist Nicolas Steno who proposed the Law of Superposition, that each stratum was newer than the one below it. And the Comte de Buffon, only briefly mentioned, was also very significant for being one of the first to really argue for an age of the earth much longer than the Bible accounted for (though he was still orders of magnitude under).  Or the evolutionary debate between Charles Darwin's natural selection and Lamarckism, proposed by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, that suggested new characteristics developed during an organism's lifetime could be passed on to its offspring. Bone Wars enemies Cope and Marsh were on opposite sides of this debate, and though Darwin's model obviously won the day, interestingly Lamarckism presaged resent research into epigenetics. And it was Thomas Henry Huxley, nickname Darwin's Bulldog for his fierce defense of Darwin's theory, who was particularly concerned with bird evolution from dinosaurs, was the conduit between O.C. Marsh and Darwin. But aside from this scattershot list, there are few additional elements I want to mention here in a little more detail.

It's notable how important dining clubs were to the progress of science in the 18th and 19th centuries. I mentioned the Oyster Club in the video, important for transmitting Hutton's work via John Playfair (whose brother William, by the way, invented the line graph, the bar chart, and the pie chart), and in my previous video "Gimlet" I mentioned the Lunar Society, of which Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles) was a founding member. And speaking of Erasmus Darwin, by the way, he wrote a long poetic adaptation of the plant classification system of Carl Linnaeus (which you can read here if you wish). And in the Gimlet blog post I mentioned how Linnaeus mishandled the botanical name of the cinchona tree, the source of quinine, so there's another circular connection for you! Worth adding to the list here then is the Poker Club, also central to the Scottish Enlightenment, and the X Club, whose members were all supporters of Darwin's natural selection and which was founded by Huxley. No doubt the dining club scene will crop up again.

But this also highlights the fact that men of a certain class and standing were at the centre of scientific progress, for the simple reason that they had education and the leisure time to devote to such work, and the efforts of those of lower class or of women were often side-lined. For instance, William "Strata" Smith, due to his lower class background and education, was often dismissed or even screwed over by the geological in-crowd, in particular by one George Bellas Greenborough who plagiarised and then undercut the selling price of his map. Eventually Smith spent time in a debter’s prison, only later in life receiving real recognition for his work. And the work of fossil hunter Mary Anning was often downplayed by the scientific community, though she is particularly important to this story for putting William Buckland onto coprolites (as well as for her role in the discovery of the Ichthyosaur, meaning "fish-lizard", a marine reptile, not to be confused with Marsh's Ichthyornis, the toothed bird).

Buckland's coprolite table

Buckland's coprolite table

And it's with Buckland that I most want to add some details, but not William Buckland, but his wife Mary Buckland née Morland. Mary and William shared an interest in palaeontology and geology. The story goes that they met in a coach in Dorset while both were reading the same book by Georges Cuvier. They struck up a conversation and one thing led to another. As Mary and William's daughter Elizabeth Oke Buckland Gordon records in her biography of her father:

Dr. Buckland was once travelling somewhere in Dorsetshire, and reading a new and weighty book of Cuvier's which he had just received from the publisher ; a lady was also in the coach, and amongst her books was this identical one, which Cuvier had sent her. They got into conversation, the drift of which was so peculiar that Dr. Buckland at last exclaimed, "You must be Miss Morland, to whom I am about to deliver a letter of introduction." He was right, and she soon became Mrs. Buckland. She is an admirable fossil geologist, and makes models in leather of some of the rare discoveries.

Mary was herself an avid fossil hunter and a notable scientific illustrator in her own right, producing drawings for Georges Cuvier, William Conybeare, as well as her husband, and was as keenly interested in the sciences of geology and palaeontology as William:

Mary Morland, whose mother died when she was only an infant, was the eldest of a large family of half-brothers and sisters. The greater part of her childhood was spent at Oxford, where she resided with the famous  physician Sir Christopher Pegge, whose childless wife took great delight in the lovable and intelligent child. In the University City, and, perhaps, through her acquaintance  with the learned Professor of Mineralogy, she acquired that love of natural science which was such a joy to her through all her life. Within a few hours of her death she was working at the microscope, ever looking expectantly for a clearer light in the next world to be shed on the wonders learnt here. Sir R. Murchison, writing of the happy union between Buckland and his wife, calls Mrs. Buckland " a truly excellent and intellectual woman, who, aiding her husband in several of his most difficult researches, has laboured well in her vocation to render her children worthy of their father's name.
Megalosaurus fossil drawn by Mary Buckland

Megalosaurus fossil drawn by Mary Buckland

Indeed their honeymoon was a year-long geological tour, and Mary often helped William with his research and writings, which he dictated to her and she edited, and famously assisted with an experiment involving a flour paste and the family's pet tortoise to identify fossilized footprints. She was also William's curator, mending fossils and making models. So her own contributions to this story should not be underestimated (you can read her Wikipedia entry here or her biography in the ODNB here). One of their children, Frank Buckland, became a celebrated naturalist in his own right, purportedly able to identify fossils as a child, and also inherited his father's habit of zoophagy, eating his way through the animal kingdom. So a notable and interesting family all around. Here's Frank's account of his mother (quoted from here) and a family silhouette:

Not only was she a pious, amiable, and excellent helpmate to my father; but being naturally endowed with great mental powers, habits of perseverance and order, tempered by excellent judgement, she materially assisted her husband in his literary labours, and often gave to them a polish which added not a little to their merit … Not only with her pen did she render material assistance, but her natural talent in the use of her pencil enabled her to give accurate illustrations and finished drawings … She was also particularly clever and neat in mending broken fossils … It was her occupation also to label the specimens.

But getting back to the word "fossil", there was in fact an earlier 16th c. use of the word in English to refer to fish, not as the petrified remains of fish, but living fish that were thought to live in underground water. Here's the first citation of this sense, and later one that clarifies what's being described: "The auncient Philosophers affirme, that there haue bene founde fishes vnder the earth, who (for that cause) they called Focilles"; "Where these Fossil fishes are found, there are subterraneall waters not farre off, by which they are conveyed thither." A curious belief that there were underground bodies of water populated by fish. And of course there's the figurative use of the word to refer to a person or thing that is out of date, first used by Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Government has been a fossil; it should be a plant." And here are a couple of other literary uses of this metaphor too interesting to leave out: "When a man endures patiently what ought to be unendurable, he is a fossil" (C. Brontë, The Professor); "The working or serving man, shall be a buried by-gone, a superseded fossil" (H. Melville, The Confidence-Man). So I suppose older scientists with outmoded ideas become fossils themselves!

There's another nice set of connections I didn't mention in the video, and it starts with the etymology for the word volcano. Volcano comes into English in the early 17th century from Italian. The word, as I said, comes from the name of the Roman god Vulcan, as it was believed that this god of fire and metalworking resided in Mount Etna, and as chance would have it, it was the study of Etna that afforded Charles Lyell the evidence of fossil shells in strata that ran under the mountain, which allowed him to estimate the great age and slow process of both geology and the fossilized remains. Fitting then that it was Vulcan's abode! Interesting, too, that the name Vulcan is itself not Latin in origin, but possibly borrowed from Etruscan, or connected to the Minoan Welkhanoc, ultimately from Hittite Valhannasses. But back to Lyell; though friends with Charles Darwin, he didn't immediately fully accept his friend's theory, and also proposed the idea that geological and biological history might be cyclical, and earlier forms of life might return, a notion ridiculed by fellow scientist Henry De la Beche in a cartoon called "Awful Changes", in which Lyell is depicted as a lecturing Ichthyosaur:

It's significant that he's an Ichthyosaur, as De la Beche was a close friend of Mary Anning (remember her role in the discovery of the Ichthyosaur), and De la Beche also produced a picture titled "Duria Antiquior" of Anning's various discoveries -- the proceeds from the prints to benefit Anning who was having financial difficulties --  which came to be one of the first popular artistic depictions of ancient life:

And as a final amusing sidenote for De la Beche, he once took the role of test-vomiter in the investigation of overflowing privies conducted by Lyon Playfair, whom I've previously mentioned as the being the first to propose the use of chemical warfare.

There's one last footnote to this story, in relation to the story of Thomas Jefferson's mammoth cheese. Jefferson was another of these 19th century polymaths, and in addition to his interests in natural science and palaeontology, he was also linguistically talented -- in addition to Latin and Greek, as well as several modern European languages, he studied Anglo-Saxon and even wrote an essay on the teaching of the Anglo-Saxon language -- so he would probably have been quite interested in both the linguistic and scientific elements of this video. The mammoth cheese in question was made in Cheshire, Massachusetts and presented to Jefferson in recognition of his stance on religious tolerance.

Cheshire Mammoth Cheese Press Monument

Cheshire Mammoth Cheese Press Monument

The mammoth cheese was kept in the White House for a couple of years until a mammoth loaf, this time made by the US Navy to rally support for the war against the Barbary States, was similarly presented to Jefferson to accompany it (and you can watch my earlier video on the word 'loaf' and the metaphorical implications of bread here). Apparently this kicked off something of a tradition of mammoth cheeses, with later president Andrew Jackson also receiving a giant cheese:

And so the making of mammoth cheeses became something of a tradition, even here in my home country Canada (see here for a brief write up), and one such giant cheese even inspired James McIntyre to write "Ode on the Mammoth Cheese", regarded as the worst ever poem in Canadian literary history; this distinction notwithstanding, the poem is celebrated by an annual cheese poetry competition in his hometown of Ingersoll, Ontario.

Ode on the Mammoth Cheese
We have seen the Queen of cheese, 
Laying quietly at your ease, 
Gently fanned by evening breeze -- 
Thy fair form no flies dare seize. 
All gaily dressed soon you'll go 
To the great Provincial Show, 
To be admired by many a beau 
In the city of Toronto. 
Cows numerous as a swarm of bees -- 
Or as the leaves upon the trees -- 
It did require to make thee please, 
And stand unrivalled Queen of Cheese. 
May you not receive a scar as 
We have heard that Mr. Harris 
Intends to send you off as far as 
The great World's show at Paris. 
Of the youth -- beware of these -- 
For some of them might rudely squeeze 
And bite your cheek; then songs or glees 
We could not sing o' Queen of Cheese. 
We'rt thou suspended from baloon, 
You'd cast a shade, even at noon; 
Folks would think it was the moon 
About to fall and crush them soon. 

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 galton.org, 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:

Gimlet: A boring tool but not a boring Story

This week we re-open the Endless Knot cocktail bar with the origin of the cocktail Gimlet:

If you haven't seem my previous cocktail videos, by the way, have a look at the cocktail playlist which starts off with the etymology of the word "cocktail" itself. Actually, as far as cocktails go, this one's a twofer, with the classic Gin & Tonic thrown in as well, and even a threefer if you include the Grog. If you want to hear a fuller account of the etymology of the word Grog, have a listen to this episode of the podcast Lexicon Valley, in which the excellent Ben Zimmer explains.

I should also point out, by the way, that though the word gimlet, referring to the small drill, comes into English at least as far back as the 15th century, and the figurative gimlet-eyed goes back to 18th century, the OED doesn't have a citation for the gimlet as a drink any earlier than 1928, though perhaps some clever person will manage to backdate that at some point. References to mixtures of gin, lime, and sugar do seem to date back to the 19th century, so even without the name the drink seems to be at least that old. In any case, the most likely etymology of the drink name, I suspect, is the figurative sense of a penetrating drink. Sorry, Dr. Gimlette.

One interesting side detail is the pronunciation of the word quinine. My first instinct was to pronounce it as if to rhyme with "tin" and "mine" (in IPA /ˈkwɪn aɪn/), but I talked myself out of that pronunciation as just mixing up the British and American pronunciations and settled on the British. But after watching a video of quinine fluorescing under UV light that contained a similar uncertainty about the pronunciation, I started to think that my first instinct might represent a particularly Canadian pronunciation. So I polled people I knew on Twitter and Facebook, and here's the result:

Admittedly I don't have a lot of data to go on here, so I'd love to hear from anyone else as to how they pronounce the word, but it does seem clear that the British and American pronunciations are quite consistent (and different from each other), but the Canadian pronunciation is evenly distributed. The American outliers, by the way, are ex-pats living in Europe and Australia, so there may be some influence there. So what do you think?

The botanical name cinchona, by the way, though superficially sounding a bit similar, is not related to quinine and its Quechua root kina, but was instead assigned to the species by Carl Linnaeus, who kind of got the form of the word wrong, in honour of the Spanish Countess of Chinchon who was cured by the bark in 1638 while in Peru in the role of vice-queen, and later brought it back to Spain, after which it became known throughout Europe. This slightly garbled form of the name has nevertheless stuck.

Of course one of the main themes I was trying to draw out here was imperialism and capitalism, with the rise and influence of the East India Companies, in particular with the ongoing rivalry between the British (EIC) and the Dutch (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC). I cheated slightly, in that the word gimlet comes into English from Dutch through Anglo-Normal French, but the number of English borrowings from Dutch later on is significant and historically interesting. The -et on the end of the word is a diminutive suffix in French, so the diminutive form of the word in Dutch would be wimmelkijn. That Dutch suffix comes into English as -kin, as in the word napkin. The point of all this is that though these early commercial efforts led to important innovations like cures for scurvy and malaria (as well as less important innovations like cocktails), they also had the potential for great harm due to European attitudes to colonialism, and at their worst led to devastating atrocities. Our modern world might not be what it is today without this history, but it came with quite a price. For more background on the East India Companies and the rise of the corporation, have a look at this recent article on the British EIC or this Crash Course video on the VOC:

For those tracking previously mentioned links, this time we have the British East India Company, William of Orange, and the Gin Craze, previously mentioned in my first cocktail video. And polymath Erasmus Darwin got a look in in my Coach video. One additional set of links I didn't use in the video has to do with an early advertisement for Rose's Lime Cordial drawn by illustrator Edward Linley Sambourne -- I was unfortunately not able to find an image of this ad online but if you know of one please point it out to me. Sambourne was most famous for being one of the main illustrators for Punch magazine (previously mentioned in "A Detective Story" here) in which he drew a caricature of the first war correspondent William Howard Russell (also previously mentioned in "A Detective Story" here). Sambourne also drew a very famous caricature of Cecil Rhodes, after whom is named Rhodesia and the Rhodes Scholarship which he founded. The deeply racist Rhodes was big into colonialism and was a founder of the massively monopolistic and exploitative De Beers diamond mining company, another fine example of the combination of capitalism and colonialism gone horribly wrong. Sambourne's illustration of him has become iconic of 19th century colonialism.

In the final part of the video, I bring the story of European imperialism around to American imperialism with the story of Smedley Darlington Butler (whom I first heard of, I think, in the excellent Hardcore History podcast). Of course Butler's nickname of Old Gimlet Eye is useful in demonstrating the figurative use of the word gimlet which may also lie behind the name of the cocktail, and makes a nice coincidental parallel with the British naval admiral Old Grogram who invented grog. By the way grog is an example of an eponym, a word which is derived from the name of a person, in this case Old Grogram, and if you believe the Dr. Thomas D. Gimlette etymology for the drink name, that would make it also an eponym. (I discussed the similar concept of the toponym, a word that comes from a place name, in a previous blog post on for the video "Coach".) But Butler's story is also useful in demonstrating the dangers of corporate interests driving colonialist policies in ways not that far removed from the excesses of the British and Dutch East India companies of earlier times. So I'll leave you with Butler's own words, first in an excerpt from an article he wrote in the magazine Common Sense, and then in a video clip of his Business Plot accusation:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.