1. WHY . . . do men’s clothes have buttons on the right side while women’s clothes have buttons on the left?
BECAUSE . . . when buttons were invented they were very expensive and worn primarily by the rich. Since most people are right-handed, it is easier to push buttons on the right side through holes on the left. Because wealthy women were dressed by maids, dressmakers put the buttons on the maid’s right! And that’s where women’s buttons have remained since.
2. WHY . . . do ships and aircraft use ‘mayday’ as their call for help?
BECAUSE . . . this comes from the French word m’aidez – meaning ‘help me’ – and is pronounced, approximately, ‘mayday’.
3. WHY . . . are zero scores in tennis called ‘love’?
BECAUSE . . .in France, where tennis became popular, the round zero on the scoreboard looked like an egg and was called ‘l’oeuf’, which is French for ‘the egg’. When tennis was introduced in the US, Americans (naturally) mispronounced it ‘love’.
4. WHY . . . do X’s at the end of a letter signify kisses?
BECAUSE . . . in the Middle Ages, when many people were unable to read or write, documents were often signed using an X. Kissing the X represented an oath to fulfill oblications specified in the document. The X and the kiss eventually became synonymous.
5. WHY . . . do people clink their glasses before drinking a toast?
BECAUSE . . . in earlier times it used to be common for someone to try to kill an enemy by offering him a poisoned drink. To prove to a guest that a drink was safe, it became customary for a guest to pour a small amount of his drink into the glass of the host. Both men would drink it simultaneously. When a guest trusted his host, he would only touch or clink the host’s glass with his own.
6. WHY . . . is shifting responsibility to someone else called passing the buck?
ANSWER . . . in card games it was once customary to pass an item, called a buck, from player to player to indicate whose turn it was to deal. If a player did not wish to assume the responsibility of dealing, he would ‘pass the buck’ to the next player.
7. WHY . . . are people in the public eye said to be “in the limelight’.
BECAUSE . . . someone who’s in the limelight is constantly being talked about, interviewed or being photographed. In the early 1800’s, theatre stages were lit by heating a cylinder of the mineral called lime – the result was an intesely bright white light. The word limelight came to have its figurative meaning of “at the centre of attention”” in 1877.
8. WHY . . . is someone who is feeling great ‘on cloud nine’?
BECAUSE . . . long before the current classification of clouds was made, there existed a very simple classification. These were of 10 different types (i.e. cloud zero to cloud 9). Cloud nine happened to be the present day ‘cumulus’ cloud which, to the naked eye, looks like a soft ball of cotton and cushiony – typically a place not unlike a paradise. And being on cloud nine literally means you are very, very, very happy.
9. WHY . . . in golf, where did the term “Caddie” come from?
BECAUSE . . . when Mary Queen of Scots went to France as a young girl, Louis, King of France, learned that she loved the Scots’ game ‘golf’. He had the first course outside of Scotland built for her enjoyment. To make sure she was properly chaperoned (and guarded) while she played, Louis hired cadets from a military school to accompany her. Mary liked this a lot and when she returned to Scotland (not a very good idea in the long run), she took the practice with her. In French, the word cadet is pronounced “ca-day” and the Scots changed it into caddie.
10. WHY . . . are many coin collection jar banks shaped like pigs?
BECAUSE . . . over time, money jars became known as “pygg pots”. Then the English language evolved such that “pygg” got pronounced as “pig”, creating a fun play on words. In the 19th century people began requesting that English potters maker their money jars into pig shapes – and thus, the modern piggy bank was born.