Toilet Of The Week (5)


Our latest featured carsey is not one I am ever likely to visit – it is in Tasmania for a start and, secondly, it is the women’s block at Mersey Vale Lawn Cemetery in Devonport.

The reason it came to my attention this week is that prospective users of the convenience were inconvenienced by the discovery of an Australian Fur seal taking a nap on the throne. The seal had to be sedated before it could be removed to a nearby beach some 500 metres away – if only it had found the men’s block, there would have been no need.

Describing the discovery as “unusual” Council officials believe the seal reached the toilet by swimming up a creek – that would be up shit creek without a paddle, I guess.

Egg Of The Week


One of the joys of the English language is its easy assimilation of words and phrases from other languages and cultures. But apparently this magpie-like acquisitive streak, taking a bit here, a bit there, makes the language a bit complicated for some, which will never do. As the vogue seems to be to head towards the lowest common denominator at the fastest possible speed,, the Government’s website, has announced this week that it is dropping the use of handy abbreviations like eg, ie and etc.

Without any sense of irony and betraying an absence of recognition that the abbreviations are Latin in origin – the lingua franca which allowed nations to communicate with each other for centuries –  Persis Howe – an American it appears – explained the move, “Anyone who didn’t grow up speaking English may not be familiar with them. Even those with high literacy levels can be thrown if they are reading under stress or are in a hurry – like a lot of people are on the web”. Persuaded?  The wonderful homophones are surely next on the list.

It gets worse. Apparently eg can be read aloud as egg by screen reading software and ie isn’t always well understood. Another discernible trend these days is to make a stupid decision and then row back as you ponder the implications. The changes are going to be introduced gradually. Apparently there are over 4,000 uses of eg on government websites and we don’t want the poor darlings at the Government Digital Service to have to do too much work. Haven’t they heard of the useful global find and replace feature in Word?

These abbreviations have stood the test of time and the reason that they are so popular is that they eliminate the need to pad out the text with unnecessary phrases such as such as for example.

Enough of this nonsense – the campaign to restore the usage of eg and ie etc starts here.

What Is The Origin Of (93)?…


Shanks’ pony

This phrase is used to indicate that you are going to make the journey on foot. When I was a child, the shank of a lamb was a second-rate cut of meat, one for the poor or the last knockings from the carcass of a sheep. The wonders of modern gastronomic marketing have transformed it into a desirable and, needless to say, expensive treat.

Shank comes from the Old English word sceanca which referred to that part of the leg from the knee to the ankle. There was a verb  shank or to shank it, which meant to go on foot, using your legs to get you to your destination, according to An Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, compiled by John Jamieson in 1808. The first association with a horse in printed form appeared in Allan Ramsay’s The Tea-Table Miscellany of 1724 in which the song, Scornfu’ Nansy, contains the couplet, “and ay until the Day he died/ He rade on good shanks Nagy”. As Ramsay stated that he was quoting an old song, clearly it dates well before his compilation and probably confirms its Scottish origin.

The phrase’s association with Scotland is reinforced by its appearance in Robert Fergusson’s  poem  of 1774, The Election, “he took to shanks-naig, but fient may care”. Even then it was a bit of a joke – I would like to travel by horse but the only mode of transportation I’ve got is my two legs. Variants appeared in Scotland, replacing nag with Galloway, a small, strong breed of horse associated with the region of Galloway, and noddy, a light, two-wheeled buggy used in Scotland and Ireland in the 18th century.

Like many things, some good, some bad, the phrase migrated to England. In William Carr’s The Dialect of Craven, published in 1828, he defines shanks-galloway as “to go on foot, on the shanks, or ten taas”.  Anne Elizabeth Baker’s Glossary of Northamptonshire of 1854 defines Shanks’ poney as “a low phrase, signifying travelling on foot, or, as it is sometimes said, on ten toes”. And the ever comprehensive Edward Peacock in his Glossary of words used in the wapenakes (an administrative division) of Manley and Cottingham , Lincolnshire of 1877 defines shanks-galloway, shanks-mare, shanks-pony and shanks-nag as, “a man is said to go on one of these animals who goes on foot”.

In America the variant most popularly in use there is Shanks’ mare and in France their equivalent phrase is aller sur la haquenee des cordeliers or, alternatively, sur la mule de cordeliers. The Cordeliers were Franciscan monks who were seen wandering around the countryside with their large walking sticks (la haquenee).

One potential explanation for the origin of our phrase can be easily put to rest. Shanks & Company, now part of Armitage Shanks, developed a horse-drawn lawn mower which had no seat and so the operative had to follow behind. Unfortunately the machine was not developed until the mid 19th century and the phrase can be established as having currency at least a century or so earlier.

Not content with shanks’ pony there are other phrases which mean having to go by foot. In Northamptonshire at the turn of the last century a writer reported the phrase “go in a shoe-cart” and other variants include “to borrow Mr Foot’s horse”, “to go by Walker’s bus” and “to go on or ride Bayard of ten toes”. One interesting variant s “to travel by marrow-bone stage” which is probably a reference to the first omnibus which was run from Marylebone.

Quacks Pretend To Cure Other Men’s Disorders But Rarely Find A Cure For Their Own – Part Forty

L0031710 Ephemera Collection: QV: Advertising: 1850-1 Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Ephemera Collection. QV: Advertising: 1850-1920: 2. 'Tis the genuine. [Leaflet?] St. Louis: Antikamnia Co., Inc. [1890's?] Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Frank A Ruf and the Antikamnia Chemical Company

If nothing else, many of us aspire to a pain-free existence and where there is pain, there is an opportunity for exponents of quackery to exploit. The Antikamnia Chemical Company – the name is a cod Greek word meaning opposed to pain – was founded in the late 1880s and registered in 1890 by a couple of drug store owners in St Louis, Missouri.

The little white tablets they produced were described in their adverts as “little short of an inspiration”. Their five grain Antikamnia and Codeine tablets contained “4.5 grams of Antikamnia and 0.5 of a gram of Sulphate Codeine” and “one or two tablets [should be taken] every two or three hours or as indications may require”. Users were given helpful instructions, “also advisable to administer with a little water, diluted whisky, wine or hot toddy”. And what was it supposed to cure? The advert, naturally, gave the answer, “this combination is particularly useful in La Grippe, Influenza and all Grippal Conditions, Pneumonia, Bronchitis, Deep Seated Coughs, Neuroses of the Larynx etc, etc”. It was also handy to be taken as a preventative before participating in sports or even going out shopping.

Although the medicine was never patented and wasn’t a prescription drug, the Company marketed it aggressively through direct mailing and promotional products to doctors in the hope that they would be persuaded to recommend it to their patients. In many ways they were the forerunners of junk mail marketeers. Their objective was to get their name known to as wide an audience as possible and it worked. When Ruf died in 1923, his estate was worth more than $2 million.

One of the most bizarre promotional products that went out in Antikamnia’s name was a series of limited edition calendars for the years 1897 through to 1901 produced by a St Louis chemist and part-time artist, Louis Crusius. They feature skeletons in a wide range of fantastic and comical poses and dressed, apart from a usually grinning skull, in everyday clothing. To pick just three at random, one featured a newsboy dressed in rags hawking newspapers, another a skeleton wearing a top hat with a clover leaf, green sash and smoking a pipe and a third with a beer stein and pipe. On the reverse of the calendar page was a description of the products available and the conditions which they were effective against. These calendars routinely fetch a good price on e-bay and in antique shops.

Unfortunately, though, the tablets which were based on a coal-tar derivative, Acetanilide, had a potentially lethal side-effect. They could cause cyanosis which because of a lack of oxygen could turn the taker’s extremities blue. There were reports of deaths as a result of taking Antikamnia as early as 1891 and the California State Journal of Medicine in 1907 described a woman who had taken the pills as “practically without pulse, cyanosed, with shallow breathing and a leaky skin”.

The passing of the Pure Food and Drug Act soon put an end to Ruf’s business. In 1910 US officials seized a container of Antikamnia and prosecuted its manufacturers for not stating that the drug was an acetanilid derivative, a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. Shortly afterwards, the Company collapsed.

Leaving aside the dangerous and potentially lethal side-effects, Ruf may have been on to something. Half a century later Julius Axelrod discovered that what acetanilide produces when metabolised is paracetamol, something we pop with gay abandon today. So, Antikamnia may just have been effective as a pain-killer.

Books Do Furnish A Room


One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was a love of books, reading and language. I remember being read to as a small child and then when I had mastered the art of reading, my nose was forever in a book. One of my all-time favourites was Kenneth Grahame’s wonderful Wind in the Willows which I still dip into from time to time and whose qualities I am forever ready to proclaim.

Some of my juvenile reading material was questionable in these so-called more enlightened days. The exploits of Captain W E John’s creation James Bigglesworth aka Biggles were a particular favourite as he and his small band of heroes took on the might of the Bosch battling against formidable odds to secure liberty and maintain the Empire. Politically incorrect as they were, they were rattling good stories.

My bibliophilia continued throughout my student days and into my working life and as a result I have amassed quite a collection of books which sprawl across book cases in two of our rooms as well as many more boxed up in the attic. I haven’t the heart to throw away a book, perhaps because as a classicist I appreciate how thin the thread of fate was that preserved some works of literature and despatched to oblivion many others when times and tastes changed. My adoption of the e-book has relieved me from having to thin my shelves to make way for the new acquisitions.

As Anthony Powell so rightly observed, there is nothing like a room with well stocked shelves. I find I cannot resist walking into a room and surveying the contents of a bookshelf, picking up the odd volume and skimming the pages as if being reacquainted with an old friend. A bookshelf shines a light into the person themselves.

So it was with some interest that I read the result of some research published in the ever popular Economic Journal and conducted by three economists, Giorgio Brunello, Guglielmo Weber and Christoph Weiss, from the University of Padua. They studied 6,000 men born in nine European countries during the period between 1920 and 1956 when school-leaving ages were raised. They found that a man’s lifetime earnings increased by 9% if they had an extra year’s education.

What was more interesting, to me at least, was when they subdivided the group between those who at the age of 10 lived in households with fewer than 10 books, with a shelf of books, a book-case load of around 100 books, two book cases or more than two book cases. The economists found that those who grew up in households with less than half a shelf of books, even with an extra year’s education, earned just 5% more compared with the 21% increase earned by those with access to a lot of books. They also discovered that those with access to more books not only were likely to have a white-collar job as their first source of employment but also were more likely to move to better paid jobs in the cities.

Why is an interesting question. The researchers posit the theories that access to books prompts children to read and that an abundance of books may point to advantageous socio-economic conditions. A home with books may encourage the development of the sort of cognitive and socio-economic skills necessary for economic success later in life.

It worked for me and for that, heartfelt thanks.