Hear this here:
I-95 in North Carolina.
“Ok, Roadtrippers, now it is time for a RoadTest so here now are the Fast Facts.
This roadspoke was sent in to our offices by a certain Brenda B from Manhattan New York. She provided it during the depths of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in November 2020. There are some macabre aspects to this so be prepared.
All along the Interstate you will now and then see old shacks and homes. Some have been abandoned and given their small and impoverished state, no doubt they were once homes to folks not high on the economic ladder. In other words, the folks there could well have been happy but they were no doubt poor. This of course prompts the question of what is the etymology of certain phrases like “piss poor”. No giggling. This is serious.
"Etymology" is defined as “the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history”. Most interesting it tells us a lot about how we once lived and how these phrases began.
Where did the term "piss poor" come from? A lot of our popular phrases derived from middle ages England.
Back in the day, they used urine to tan animal skins. So to earn extra income poor families used to all pee in a pot or barrel. Once it was full it was taken and sold to the tannery.
If you had to do this to survive you were "Piss Poor”. Fast Fact: babies were often left not in cribs but in tubs or pots so that when they went number one the family could add that urine to the tannery savings bank. But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn't even afford to buy a pot… They "didn't have a pot to piss in" and were the poorest of the poor.
Here are some facts about the 1500’s:
Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May so they still smelled pretty good by June. However, since they were starting to smell, 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!"
Many English Houses had thatched roofs which consisted of thick straw piled high, with no wood underneath. That’s because in England they had cut down most forests many centuries ago. Plus most property with wilderness were owned by nobility and the poor could not use its resources.
A thatched roof was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals including mice and bugs lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof.
Hence the saying, "It's raining cats and dogs."
There was nothing to stop things from falling from the thatch 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 some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.
The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, "Dirt poor.” The wealthy had stone floors that would get slippery In the winter when wet, so they spread thresh or straw on the 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 entrance-way. Hence: a thresh hold.
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."
Sometimes the poor folk could obtain pork — the cheapest meat available — 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. And talk so that is where the phrase for “chewing the fat” came from.
Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and honored guests got the top, or the “upper crust”.
Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers 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, “holding a wake."
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. In fact patents were filed for coffins with bells attached.
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."
And that's the truth. So , who said etymology was boring?
Now for the Road Test. When was this roadspoke submitted? You have three seconds. Three… and two… and one.
If you said during the second wave of the pandemic, you would be correct! "