From Chaucer to British pubs, why we say what we do even if we are the fool

CHARLOTTE, N.C., April 1, 2015 – What better day to delve into the realm of nonsensical nostalgia than April 1? Here is this week’s collection of trivial goodies.

Read More Myth Trivia from Bob Taylor

1 – The History of April Fool’s Day: Remember studying Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in high school and thinking they were boring? In truth, the earliest recorded link between April 1 and playing pranks goes all the way back to 1392, when Chaucer himself mentioned the idea.

Not that the explanation is much clearer than it was during those high school days — the reference occurs in the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” which is set Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two.

According to modern academia, it is believed there was an error in copying the manuscripts which was laboriously done by hand at the time. Many scholars believe Chaucer’s passage was actually Syn March was gon or, in contemporary English, 32 days after March. Supposedly this represented the second of March, which was the anniversary of King Richard II of England’s engagement to Anne of Bohemia. Most readers misinterpreted the line in Chaucer’s tale to mean March 32, which would actually be April 1 when Chanticleer, the vain rooster, was tricked by a fox.

Another possibility also goes back to the Middle Ages, when New Year’s Day was celebrated on the March 25. In most villages in Europe the festival lasted a week and end on April 1. Some observers believe that April Fool’s came about when people who celebrated New Year’s on Jan. 1 were mocked by their fellow citizens.

2 – A Couple of Familiar Idioms from English Pubs: We have all heard the expressions “Mind your p’s and q’s” and “Wet your whistle,” but chances are you do not know the origin of those two idioms.

One thing everyone knows is that Brits love to enjoy time in their local public houses, or pubs, as they have come to be known. Pubs are ideal places for mingling with locals when you are traveling because almost everyone in Great Britain who frequents one of these drinking establishments has a favorite.

Don’t be surprised to see curious eyes watch any stranger who “invades” the territory of the local saloon. It is not malicious, mind you, just a natural inquisitiveness about any newcomer.

Since most libations in the U.K. are served in either pints or quarts, an expression about drinking to excess evolved in the 17th century that bartenders would pay special attention that customers should “mind their p’s and q’s.” The term has since come to mean that people should be on their best behavior.

There are other interpretations of the saying, but this one appears to be the most likely.

As for the term “wet your whistle,” the most common belief is that a whistle was attached to a patron’s drinking mug either on the handle or the rim. When the glass was empty, the customer would simply blow the whistle for a refill.

Another version claims that the whistle on the handle would get wet when the drink was being poured.

Either way, the best guess is that the idiom originated in a British pub.

3 – Lincoln Logs Were Created by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Second Son: It seems only logical that the son of one of the world’s greatest architects would design something called “Lincoln Logs.” In fact, the toys have become so well known throughout the world they were inducted into the U.S. National Toy Hall of Fame in 1999.

John Lloyd Wright invented the toys while working on a project with his father in Japan in 1916. The concept was inspired by the architecture of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, which was designed by his famous father, Frank Lloyd Wright.

The idea of interlocking beams was intended to make the structure safe from potential earthquakes.

Upon returning to the United States, John organized a company to market the toys, which became an immediate hit shortly after the introduction of Tinker Toys and Erector Sets. The original interlocking log pieces were 3/4 inch in diameter and made of redwood. By the 1970s the wood was replaced with plastic but later reverted to wood.

The first Lincoln Log sets came with detailed instructions about how to create Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Several theories exist about the name of the logs, which many believe is a reference to the log cabin home of Abraham Lincoln.

While that may be true, the one that is the most fun is that the toys were called “linkin’ logs” and later evolved into being named for the 16th president of the United States.

And there you have this week’s version of our “missing links.”

Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (

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