19th Century and Onwards, Books

Secret Lives of Great Authors

Note: This post originally appeared on Wordscience, a now defunct writing-focused blog of mine, on March 15, 2009. I was recently flipping through that blog’s archives and came across this post, which I thought would be neat to share here too. I’ve recently shared another post from that blog, “Weather, history, and the origins of words,” which you can read here.

The title of this entry is the name of the book I just finished reading, which my dear friend Carly gave me for Christmas. It was a quick, fun (and funny) read. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Thoreau invented raisin bread.
  • It is thanks to Lewis Carroll that books’ titles are printed down their spines.
  • Walt Whitman donated his brain to science, but a technician dropped that Walt Whitman brain all over the floor.
  • Dickens could only sleep with his head facing the North Pole.
  • Salinger tried to treat his family’s ailments with acupuncture, except he used wooden dowels.

My only complaint with the book was the concentration of authors from mostly the States and the UK. I’m sure the term “great authors” is one that’s never easy to define and one probably can’t fit in all the authors one would like to, but was there really not even one Canadian? Or anyone from any other country?

Either way, it was an interesting book. Thanks Carly!

18th Century and Earlier, 19th Century and Onwards, Books, Places

Weather, history and the origins of words

Note: This post originally appeared on Wordscience, a now defunct writing-focused blog of mine, on September 2, 2009. I was recently flipping through that blog’s archives and came across this post, which I thought would be neat to share here too.

Two things I like (after writing) are history and the weather. So it would come as no surprise that a book called Blame it on the Rain: How the Weather Has Changed History would be a lot of fun for me. Thank you, discount book store in St. Jacobs, Ontario!

Anyway, I’m awful at book reviews, so this isn’t one. Instead, I’m going to talk about some things I learned in this book that happen to not actually be weather-related: the origin of certain words. I didn’t expect to learn about that while reading this, but I did and I thought it was interesting. So, here:

  • Cheap: From the Old English word ceap, which used to mean “market,” hence the name of Cheapside in London.
  • Deadline: A line, painted between two markers, used outside war camps during the American Civil War. If anyone crossed this line, they would be shot dead.
  • Hooker: Named for Joseph Hooker, who was an American general during the same Civil War. Apparently his troops frequented prostitutes enough for his name to become a synonym.
  • Libel: From the French word libelle. Libelles were pamphlets circulated to spread rumours about the French royals before the Revolution.
  • Normandy: From the word “Norsemen.” Vikings conquered the area and the Normans were descended from them.
  • Sideburns: Named after General Ambrose Everett Burnside, who fought in the American Civil War and was apparently was known for his sideburns before they were called that.
  • Welsh: The Angles’ word for “foreigner” was wealas. They didn’t like the Celts much.

There you go. Wasn’t that fun and educational? Okay, well I thought it was!

19th Century and Onwards, Places

Boothbay Railway Village & Pemaquid Point Light, Maine

A few years ago, my husband and I vacationed in Vacationland, also known as Maine, where we visited a couple of great historical sites. One was the Boothbay Railway Village, which featured a working steam locomotive that toured around the site on a narrow-gauge track. The village itself is a recreated one, using buildings and memorabilia from about 1850 to the mid-20th century. The buildings included a general store, a hardware store, and the Town Hall. The Town Hall was built in 1847, and was restored and moved to its current location in 1990, where it’s still used by the town of Boothbay today.


There was even a replica rural Canadian train station, complete with period memorabilia.


We also enjoyed the wonderfully creepy little figurines in their tiny settings. They moved when you pressed a button! How could you not be charmed by that? I regret not taking a photo of the Salt and Pepper House, with its hundreds of salt and pepper shakers on display. I love those unique, often odd details in these local museums.


After the Railway Village, we made our way to the Pemaquid Point Light. Part of the reason we decided to visit this particular lighthouse was because we could go up to the top, and the view was well worth the climb up the winding staircase.


We checked out the Fishermen’s Museum, located in the old lightkeeper’s house, with much of the collection coming from local homes and families. “Whatever was in people’s attics,” the museum guide said.


She wasn’t wrong – the Fishermen’s Museum began as a community project in 1972, when local women decided that people should know about what working fishermen went through. Now, the museum contains detailed logs and articles describing various historical events in the local fishing industry – a lot of interesting information!