Everybody knows that JM Barrie created the name Wendy specifically for Peter Pan, because it sounded “windy.” Well, I had always been told that L Frank Baum came up with the name Dorothy specifically for The Wizard of Oz, that Dorothy was Theodore pronounced backwards (a tribute to then-president Theodore Roosevelt)
Dor-a-thy. The-a-dore. Get it?
And because there are no biblical Dorothys or Shakesperean Dorothys. I figured it had to be a pretty modern name. So all my life I have trotted this story out whenever there was a lull in the coke-chatter.
Unfortunately we have a lot of persnickety types in this office who take great pleasure in pissing on my cornflakes. One of these found an entymological site that claimed that the first time the name Dorothy appears is, in fact, in Edna Lyell’s 1894 book Doreen: The Story of a Singer – a full six years before The Wiz. Then, together, we realized that even that couldn’t be the first Dorothy because Dorothy Parker was born in 1893, a year before Doreen. And what about Dorothea Brooks, the sensitive young heroine of Middlemarch, who toiled in provincial England circa 1830? Or hell, what about Theodora, She-bitch of Byzantium?
Clearly, I’ll have to re-think my Dorothy story before my next coke binge.
The other thing I thought I knew, that I would have bet my life on, was that pumpernickel bread was the superior grade of bread that Napolean fed to his beloved horse Nichol, and that his soldiers so resented the horse and the bread, they derogatorily referred to the bread as pain pour Nichol – or “bread for Nichol” – which led to the bumbling Americanization, pumpernickel.
Apparently, that too is wrong. It’s German, from pumpern meaning to break wind + Nickel meaning goblin. Put it together and you get “goblin fart.” According to the Straight Dope, “Pumpern” was a New High German word similar in meaning to the English “fart” (so chosen because, like the word “achoo,” it imitated the sound it described), and “Nickel” was a form of the name Nicholas, an appellation commonly associated with a goblin or devil (e.g., “Old Nick” is a familiar name for Satan). Hence, pumpernickel is the “devil’s fart,” allegedly a reference to the bread’s indigestible qualities, and hence the effect it produced on those who consumed it.
Which is probably more interesting than the Napolean story, but I don’t like being wrong.
These are some other things I think I know:
– The onion is a lilly, botanically speaking
– The yo-yo originated as a weapon in 16th-century Philippines
– Snakes hear with their tongues
– Butterflies taste with their hind legs
– Minnows have teeth in their throats
– An ostrich egg can make 11 omelets
– A cockroach can live several weeks with its head cut off
– Crushed cockroaches can be applied to stinging wounds to relieve the pain
– Spiders never spin webs on chestnut wood, hence all the chestnut beams in European manors.
Now go ahead, tell me I’m wrong about all of these things. I already hear rumblings in the office here, about my cockroach and spider theories.
– James St. James