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LIFE IN THE 1500'S

This article has been floating around the Internet for awhile. The Internet today is a great portrayer of false facts, as well as a great resource for truth. My intention here is not to discredit this article, as much as it is to encourage exploration. Much of the information here was found at About.com, as well as other sources, some of which are listed at the bottom of this page.
This is what I have found.

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and still smelled pretty good by June. However, they were starting to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married. Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water."

First of all, the wedding bouquet dates way prior to the 16th, or even the 1st century. It was used ceremonially in days of the Roman Empire, where they had running water and public bath houses were plentiful.

In the 16th Century, people often used public bathhouses, although they were just coming back into being after centuries of suspicions and religious beliefs of the dark ages, where for various reasons, including the plagues of that time, some considered baths to be sinful, dangerous, or at least, indulgent. In the 16th century, these suspicions had largely disintegrated, but bathing, although certainly done more than once a year, was far from a daily chore.

There was no set tradition of a hierarchy of bath order. Often, however, bath water was shared, as it was a substantial chore to haul, and then heat water for a bath. Thus, public bath houses were much more popular with the common folk.

Children of the 16th Century were bathed far more often than adults. The reasons, especially to anyone who has ever cared for an infant, are obvious.

From Wolfgang Mieder - Department of German and Russian -University of Vermont:
"When the proverb "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water" or its parallel proverbial expression "To throw the baby out with the bath water" appear today in Anglo-American oral communication or in books, magazines, newspapers, advertisements or cartoons, hardly anybody would surmise that this common metaphorical phrase is actually of German origin and of relatively recent use in the English language.

"It had its first written occurrence in Thomas Murner's (1475-1537) versified satirical book Narrenbeschw÷rung (1512) which contains as its eighty-first short chapter entitled "Das kindt mit dem bad v▀ schitten" (To throw the baby out with the bath water) a treatise on fools who by trying to rid themselves of a bad thing succeed in destroying whatever good there was as well. In seventy-six rhymed lines the proverbial phrase is repeated three times as a folkloric leitmotif, and there is also the first illustration of the expression as a woodcut depicting quite literally a woman who is pouring her baby out with the bath water. Murner also cites the phrase repeatedly in later works and this rather frequent use might be an indication that the proverbial expression was already in oral currency towards the end of the fifteenth century in Germany."

Read the entire article

Despite its fame in German (used by such notables as Luther, Kepler, Goethe, Bismarck, Mann, and Grass), it doesn't appear in English for several more centuries, until Thomas Carlyle translated it and used it in an 1849 essay on slavery.

Houses had thatched roofs with thick straw piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and off the roof. Hence the saying "It's raining cats and dogs."

This from RandomHouse Publishing "Word of the Day":
To rain cats and dogs has had many variants through the years. People have described it coming down like pitchforks and shovels; darning needles; chicken coops; and hammer handles. The expression means, of course, 'to rain heavily and steadily'. The first printed use of the phrase was slightly different. In his 1652 play, The City Wit, Richard Brome wrote: "It shall rain dogs and polecats." A polecat is closer to a ferret than a cat, but you can see how the word might have lost a syllable. In 1738, Jonathan Swift used the version we're familiar with in his Polite Conversation: "I know Sir John will go, though he was sure it would rain cats and dogs."

The origin of the expression is uncertain, but one of the more literal explanations comes from the Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins. That source says that "during heavy rains in 17th century England, some city streets became raging rivers of filth carrying many cats and dogs."

Meanwhile, Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable says the expression comes from northern Europe: "In Norse mythology, the cat is supposed to have great influence on the weather. Witches that rode on storms were said to assume the form of cats." Dogs and wolves were attendants to Odin, the god of storms, and the dog "is a signal of wind." This goes along with the leading theory that animals have been associated with weather for centuries. Cats stand for rain, and dogs for wind.

Another possibility for the derivation is the archaic French word catdoupe, meaning 'waterfall or cataract'. Supposedly, the word sounds a bit like cats and dogs.

Another theory is that in the 1700's when towns and cities had narrow streets, and drainage was poor. Heavy storms resulted in flooding which drowned the weaker cats and dogs. After the storm was over, people would find the corpses littering the streets - as if it had literally been raining cats and dogs.

Since this seems to be an open question, I will add my own theory to the mix. It is a known fact that small amphibians (often frogs) are often swept up from ponds in strong storms and deposited some distance away. Indeed, In 1995, a storm in Iowa swept up and then rained down unopened soda cans. With this thought in mind, the expression "raining cats and dogs" (as opposed to frogs) would mean a pretty big storm.

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.

Canopy beds actually date back to 13th century Europe. In most castles and manor houses and in some town dwellings, materials such as wood, clay tiles and stone were used for roofing. All served even better than thatch to "stop things from falling into the house." Poor peasant folk, who were the most likely to suffer the annoyances brought about by an ill-kept thatch roof, commonly slept on straw pallets on the floor or in a loft. They did not have canopy beds to keep out falling dead wasps and rat droppings.

Wealthier people didn't need canopies to keep out things that dropped from the roof; yet wealthy people such as noble lords and ladies or prosperous burghers did have beds with canopies and curtains. Why? Because the canopy beds used in medieval England and Europe have their origins in an entirely different domestic situation.

In the earliest days of the European castle, the lord and his family slept in the great hall, along with all their servants. The noble family's sleeping area was usually at one end of the hall and was separated from the rest by simple curtains. In time, castle builders constructed separate chambers for the nobility, but though lords and ladies had their bed(s) to themselves, attendants might share the room for convenience and security. For the sake of warmth as well as privacy, the lord's bed was curtained, and his attendants slept on simple pallets on the floor, on trundle beds, or on benches.

A knight or lady's bed was large and wood-framed, and its "springs" were interlaced ropes or leather strips upon which a feather mattress would rest. It had sheets, fur coverlets, quilts and pillows, and it could be fairly easily dismantled and transported to other castles when the lord made a tour of his holdings. Originally, curtains were hung from the ceiling, but as the bed evolved, a frame was added to support a canopy, or "tester," from which the curtains hung.

Similar beds were welcome additions to town homes, which weren't necessarily warmer than castles. And, as in matters of manners and dress, prosperous town-folk emulated the nobility in the style of furnishings used in their homes.

References:
1. Gies, Frances & Gies, Joseph, Life in a Medieval Village (HarperPerennial, 1991), p. 93.
2. Gies, Frances & Gies, Joseph, Life in a Medieval Castle (HarperPerennial, 1974), p. 67.
3. Ibid, p. 68.
4. "bed" Encyclopedia Britannica http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?eu=14241

Only the wealthy had a floor made of something other than dirt. Hence the saying "dirt poor." The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until when you opened the door it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entranceway. Hence the saying a "thresh hold."

The term "dirt poor" is US in origin and dates to 1937. The exact reference is uncertain, but it is most likely to be evocative of the dust bowl and the extreme poverty and unclean conditions in which many had to live during the Depression.

Threshold is a very old word, dating to c.1000 and probably earlier. The word thresh originally meant to stamp on or trample and survives today in the verb to thresh (wheat) and in thrash. The hold portion is of unknown origin. The threshold is literally the first place in a building you step and has evolved to mean any gateway.

There is no such thing as thresh. Thresh is not and never has been a noun. It is a verb meaning to beat, stamp, trample.

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme, "Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old."

In peasant cottages there was no kitchen in which to cook. The poorest families had only one room where they cooked, ate, worked and slept. It is also possible that most of these extremely poor families owned only one kettle. Poor town-dwellers usually didn't even have that, and obtained most of their meals ready-made from shops and street vendors in the Medieval version of "fast-food."

Those who lived on the edge of starvation had to make use of every edible item they could find, and just about everything could go into the pot (often a footed kettle that rested in the fire rather than over it) for the evening meal. This included beans, grains, vegetables and sometimes meat -- often bacon. Using a little meat in this manner would make it go farther as sustenance.

The resulting stew was called "pottage," and it was the basic element of the peasant diet. And yes, sometimes the remains of one day's cooking would be used in the next day's fare. (This is true in some modern "peasant stew" recipes.) But it was not common for food to remain there for nine days -- or for more than two or three days, for that matter. People living on the edge of starvation were not likely to leave food on their plates or in the pot. Contaminating the carefully-gathered ingredients of a night's supper with rotting nine-day-old remains, thus risking illness, is even more unlikely.

What is likely is that leftovers from the evening meal were incorporated into a breakfast that would sustain the hard-working peasant family for much of the day.

The origin of the rhyme is unlikely to spring from 16th-century life since, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word "porridge" did not come into use until the 17th century. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, the rhyme made fun of a hawkers' cry at Bartholomew's Fair in the 18th century, documented in a description written by G.A. Stevens in 1762.

References:
1. Carlin, Martha, "Fast Food and Urban Living Standards in Medieval England," in Carlin, Martha, and Rosenthal, Joel T., eds., Food and Eating in Medieval Europe (The Hambledon Press, 1998), pp. 27-51.
2. Gies, Frances & Gies, Joseph, Life in a Medieval Village (HarperPerennial, 1991), p. 96.
3. The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 406-409.

Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could "bring home the bacon." They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and "chew the fat."

Meat was indeed scarce for the poorest peasants, but the one type of meat they were most likely to have was meat they could preserve for an extended period. This was done by smoking, curing or salting. In medieval Europe, the most popular meat for smoking was pork. Smoked and cured ham or bacon would be edible far longer than any other type of meat, and thus was a thrifty choice for a peasant on the edge of starvation. Bacon was therefore no status symbol. Freshly-slaughtered meat was more of a special treat among peasants.

Bacon (and just about every other foodstuff that was stored indoors) was indeed hung from the rafters, but not for display. It was done simply to keep it off the floor, away from rats and other vermin.

The food situation was much different in the homes of well-to-do townsfolk and castle-dwellers. The amount of food prepared on a daily basis in a castle kitchen was staggering, and included such items as ale, wine, bread, orchard fruits, wild fruits, wild nuts, onions, peas, beans, garden vegetables, fresh fish, dried fish, shellfish, beef, mutton, goose, wild game and -- yes! -- pork. This doesn't include the delicacies served on special occasions or to very great lords, such as lamb, veal, suckling pig, hedgehog or swan, or imported items like almonds, dates, oranges, raisins, figs, and pomegranates.

For these prosperous people and their households, "chewing the fat" was not a common pastime. Nor was it a phrase used in the sixteenth century. Informal sources indicate that both "bringing home the bacon" and "chewing the fat" originated in 19th-century North America.

According to The Tribune of Chandigarh, India, The Inuit Eskimo used to chew pieces of whale blubber almost like chewing gum. The blubber took quite some time to dissolve, so it helped pass the time and also gave the energy required to fight the cold. The idea of passing time pleasantly stuck to the expression even after the nutritionist forbade the whale-fat.

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous. Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or "upper crust."

Pewter was used for plates, drinking vessels and other tableware in the Middle Ages, but not exclusively. Wealthier folk used silver or gold for special occasions, and wooden plates evolved in the later Middle Ages. It was quite true that the lead content (about 30% at most) of pewter plates would leach out upon contact with acidic foods. However, lead poisoning is not a quick process, but is a slow accumulation of toxins over time, and its effects would not have been associated with any one particular food.

Furthermore, the tomato -- which originated in South America and was evidently cultivated in Mexico long before the arrival of Europeans -- did not make an appearance in any European cuisine until it came to Spain in the early 16th century. The Spanish and Italian peoples adopted it wholeheartedly into many recipes, and there are no known instances of any claims in either region that the fruit was poisonous.

However, in northern Europe, tomato plants remained purely decorative, and they were rarely seen in Britain at all in the sixteenth century. There was indeed a belief that the plant was poisonous, due in part to its resemblance to belladonna and deadly nightshade. As a member of the nightshade family, the tomato plant's roots and leaves contain the neurotoxin solanine, and thus are indeed poisonous. This may explain the northern Europeans' reluctance to use its fruit, as well as the lack of enthusiasm on the part of the English to experiment with it.

As far as the term "upper crust", there is a lot of contradiction, no one really seems to know where the term originated. The example given here, however, is ludicrous. In 1848 John Bartlett published the "Dictionary of Americanisms" in which he stated the term simply referred to the "upper layers" of society, and had nothing to do with a loaf of bread. However, the term may have originated as early as the 15th century, and may indeed have something to do with the fact that bread was often cooked at the bottom of the oven causing the bottom of the loaf to be hard. This hard bottom was often cut off, leaving the better "upper crust". There are various other assertions, but the truth seems to be that no one really knows.

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock a person out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a "wake."

As mentioned previously, lead poisoning was a slow, cumulative process and not a fast-acting toxin. Furthermore, pure lead was not used to make drinking vessels. By the 1500s pewter, which had at most 30% lead in its makeup, horn, ceramic, gold, silver, glass and even wood were all used to make cups, goblets, jugs, flagons, tankards, bowls and other items to hold liquid. In less formal situations, folk would forgo individual cups and drink straight from the jug, which was usually ceramic. People were not commonly knocked out by the combination of whiskey and lead, and those who overindulged in liquor to the point of unconsciousness generally recovered within a day.

The consumption of alcohol was a popular pastime in both the countryside and town, and coroner's records are filled with reports of accidents, both minor and fatal, that occurred to the inebriated. Anyone discovered in an alley or by the side of the road could be quickly determined alive or dead by whether or not he was breathing, and you can be fairly certain that medieval people were bright enough to observe this symptom. It was never necessary to lay out hung-over carousers "on the kitchen table" and wait to see if they woke up -- especially since poorer folk had neither kitchens nor permanent tables.

The custom of holding a "wake" goes back much further than the 1500s. In Britain it appears to have its origins in Celtic custom, and was a watch over the recently-deceased that may have been intended to protect the body from evil spirits. The Anglo-Saxons called it a "lich-wake" from the Old English lic, a corpse. When Christianity came to Britain, prayer was added to the vigil.

Over time the event took on a social character, where family and friends of the deceased would gather to bid him farewell and enjoy some food and drink in the process.The Church tried to discourage this, but the celebration of life in the face of death is not something humans easily relinquish.

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a "bone-house" and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the "graveyard shift") to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be "saved by the bell" or was considered a "dead ringer."

England was not so "old and small" that new cemeteries could not be established, but crowded graveyards did exist, due to the Christian tradition of burying the dead in the consecrated grounds of Church yards. Some towns managed to arrange for cemeteries outside the municipal boundaries, but Church property was not subjected to secular law and the practice continued throughout the Middle Ages.

It wasn't until the 18th century that the nefarious practice of removing the bones from a grave to make room for new coffins took place. Church sextons would quietly dispose of the bones in nearby pits. There were no "bone-houses" and the coffins were usually so decayed that if scratch-marks had ever been made inside them they would not be distinguishable in the rotted wood. The gravediggers would often appropriate the hardware (handles, plates, and nails) of decayed coffins to sell for waste metal. The matter was resolved in the mid-nineteenth century when London succeeded in passing a law that closed the churchyards and put heavy restrictions on burial within the city limits, and most cities and towns across Great Britain soon followed its lead.

At no time during the Middle Ages was there a prevalent fear that people were getting buried alive, and in no known instance did anyone rig up a bell-pull to notify the living. Most medieval people were smart enough to distinguish a living person from a dead one. Throughout history there has been the occasional case of someone getting buried alive, but by no means was this as frequent as the hoax would have you believe.

In New Orleans they actually did have a bell that could be rung in the case of a premature burial. However, this tradition would probably have dated from the late 1800s or the early 1900s.

The common phrases used in the last portion of the hoax have absolutely nothing to do with premature burial, and each has its origin in a different source.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the phrase "graveyard shift" dates to the early 20th century. It may have its source in the night shift on nautical vessels, which was called "graveyard watch" for its quiet loneliness.

"Saved by the bell" originates from the sport of boxing, in which a fighter is "saved" from further punishment or from a ten-count when the bell signifies that the round is over. (But the next round is another story.)

A "ringer" is slang for an imposter. It was used in cheating at horse races, when an unscrupulous trainer would substitute a fast horse, or ringer, for a nag with a bad racing record. This sporting association continues in the modern use of the term "ringer" for a professional athlete playing in an amateur game. But a human can also be a ringer in the sense of a person who closely resembles someone else, like the professional entertainers who impersonate celebrities such as Dolly Parton and Cher.

A "dead ringer" is simply someone who is extremely close in appearance to another, in the same way as someone who is "dead wrong" is as wrong as he possibly can be.



For word References, see:
World Wide Words | Take Our Word for It | Idiom Site
Go English | Maven's Word of the Day | WordOrigins.org

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