Murderous Phrases

Sometimes writing can be the ‘bane of my life’ as I struggle with motivation, procrastination and any other barriers that life throws at me. Recently, whilst procrastinating, er I mean, ‘researching,’ I came across the origins of a well know phrase which shocked me so much that I felt the need to write something about it.

DC Comic’s supervillain ‘Bane’ – was the character’s name chosen because it means murderer?
Source: http://movieweb.com/tom-hardy-bane-fight-batman-superman/

We all probably use a turn of phrase, colloquial saying or some other weird idiomatic expression at least once per day but where do such expressions originate and what do they actually mean? Has the original meaning of these sayings changed over time? If we look at the example in my opening line we often think of ‘bane’ as being some kind of trouble, affliction or ruin but the saying isn’t used as frequently as it used to be. The first recorded use of the word goes back to the Old English Chronicles (circa 1000) in which bane actually meant ‘murderer’ and literally means ‘that which causes death’, such as with a deadly poison. It is commonly used in combination, as in the names of poisonous plants such as Ratsbane (rat poison/arsenic), Henbane and Wolfsbane.

Even simple well-known phrases such as ‘OK’ (Okay) may have a distant relationship with murder. This phrase has evolved from many (often disputed) suggested derivations and one of those originates from the First World War, whereby nightly reports from the frontline filed on a good day would report that there were no fatalities or ‘0 Killed’ or simply abbreviated to zero K and written as ‘0K.’ Although this proposed etymology is disputed.

For those of you who like the occasional flutter, gamble or bet you have probably heard of the phrase ‘third time lucky,’ which seems to suggest that you should not quit after two failed attempts at something. It is quite often spoken aloud as a verbal good luck charm just before trying that fateful third attempt, but where did this phrase originate and how could it relate to death? Well there is a belief, in English Law, that a judicial court would set any person who managed to survive three failed attempts at being hung free.

John Henry George Lee (b.1864)

This belief could well relate to John Henry George Lee (born 1864) who later became known notoriously as John ‘Babbacombe’ Lee. Lee, who was born in Devon, England and served in the Royal Navy, was a thief who was convicted of the brutal murder of his employer Emma Keyse at Babbacombe Bay near Torquay in 1885.

Emma was killed with a knife on 15th November 1884. Lee was the only male at the house at the time of the murder and had a previous criminal record and, not to mention, an unexplained cut on his arm, so Lee was arrested. Despite the weak circumstantial evidence against him and his desperate pleas of not guilty Lee was sentenced to death by hanging. Continue reading

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Sweet Memories

Sweet Shop

The recent ‘shocking’ Toblerone re-sizing scandal (See the NY Times article here) has sparked outrage amongst chocolate fans and has undoubtedly encouraged those people whom constantly whinge at the shrinking size of Christmas chocolate tins to be outraged. When we were kids everything seemed massive and it is natural for things to look much smaller when you’re now at least four foot taller (and wider if you’ve been constantly bingeing on those chocolates) but you cannot ignore the evidence provided. Whether it’s the uncertainty that Brexit or a new US President brings to financial markets and businesses they cannot hide the fact that chocolate and sweets aren’t what they used to be “in the good old days.”qualitystreet_size_change

Trebor Sweets
Trebor Sweets

Incidents such as the Toblerone scandal make me look back at what kids from my era (70s to 80s) loved to eat and drink. Personally I was never a lover of sweets as I think my low-level OCD didn’t like the mess and stickiness, which resulted from stuffing your face with a ‘10p mix’ of sweets in a scrunched-up, grubby paper bag. rowntrees_jelly_totsThere were never any napkins handed out or pocket-hankies in those days so sticky mouths and fingers were wiped on sleeves or cuffs already soiled with dirt and snots (often with that unmistakeable snail trail cascading upwards from your wrist gaining you a clip around the ear when your Dad saw it.) Sweets that weren’t too messy, such as Barratt’s Sherbet Fountain, were the ones that I tended to go for but even then I was still weird with them. img_3928I never liked the Liquorice stick so I’d dip it into the sherbet to help loosen it up and pour the sherbet into my gob until the sherbet was all gone. The Liquorice stick would either be offered to my brother or a friend (un-licked of course, I wasn’t that mean) or simply binned – something I hated doing as I was, and still am, against wasting food. Continue reading