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History Teaches Us That Our Generation Has Never Been Luckier

Walker Evans, Getty Images

I came across some interesting facts about how things used to be before things were all made easy by simple tools and machinery.  Many of the sayings we still hear today were derived from real life scenarios.

  • Urine was once used to tan animal skins so families used to all pee in a pot and then it was taken and sold to the tannery. If you did this you were “piss poor.”  If you were so poor you couldn’t even afford a bucket then you “didn’t have a pot to piss in.”
  • Most people in the Renaissance time period (1500′s) married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and they still smelled pretty good by June. Brides carried a ‘bouquet of flowers‘ to hide the stench. (There’s a tradition we should drop.)
  • Baths consisted of one big tub. 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 the joke of “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” came to be.
  • Ever wonder where “it’s raining cats and dogs” came from? Houses had thatched roofs (thick straw) piled high. It was the only place for animals to get warm so cats and other small animals lived in the roof. When it rained sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof.
  • Thatched roofs/ceilings posed a real problem in a bedroom where bugs and other droppings hung in limbo above you. So the protected themselves with a bed that had 4 big posts and a sheet hung over the top. We know this today as a “canopy bed.”
  • Floors were dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt which is where we got “dirt poor.” The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter so they spread thresh (straw) on their floors to help with traction. As the winter wore on, all the thresh would compile and eventually spill out the door when it was opened. So a piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Today we call it a “threshhold.”
  • On occasion folks would obtain pork which gave them some status. When visitors would come over they would hang the bacon on display conveying the message that the man could, “bring home the bacon.” Small bits would be cut and shared with guests as they sat around and “chewed the fat.”
  • Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would on occasion knock the drunks out for a couple of days. Many times they were prepared for burial. They were laid out for a couple of days while the family would gather around, eating and drinking to see if they would wake up. Today we call this a “wake.”
  • When reopening some coffins in England, (they had run out of burial space and were going to resuse the space) they saw that 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside.  There is only one way that can happen. 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 up all night to listen for the bell during the “graveyard shift.”  Those who WERE buried alive could then be “saved by the bell” or they were a “dead ringer.”
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