Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Patriotic carrots

Most people know that carrots have not always been orange. The original cultivars were purple, with some white and yellow mutations. So why is the modern carrot ubiquitously orange?

The orange strain was finally developed and stabilised by Dutch growers in the 16 - 17th centuries. A nice story has it that they were bred in the appropriately patriotic hue to honour William of Orange, the stadtholder of the United Provinces of the Netherlands.

Like many historical anecdotes, there is no documentary evidence to back this story. But it is a nice idea!

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Fight them on the beaches

One of the best known speeches given in the English language is Churchill's "We Shall Fight on the Beaches", the common title given to a speech delivered to  the House of Commonson June 4, 1940.

The most quoted section is "we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender." It consists of words entirely derived from Anglo-Saxon roots except for one; surrender (which comes, somewhat unsurprisingly given the context, from old French).

What is less well known is that on sitting back down he whispered to a fellow MP  “I don’t know what we’ll fight them with – we shall have to slosh them on the head with bottles – empty ones, of course.”

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Back to square one

 There are two main theories explaining the origin of the phrase 'back to square one':

1. Returning back to the beginning in children's games such as hopscotch and snakes and ladders; or 

2. The first live radio commentary featured a Division One match between Arsenal and Sheffield United, broadcast on January 22, 1927. A grid of a football pitch divided into eight numbered squares had been printed in the previous week's Radio Times so the commentator could describe the ball's location. Square one meant the rear left quadrant of the defender's side of the field.