Just for fun: How life in the 1500′s (sorta) shapes language and culture today

I received an email recently from a friend with some fun “facts” about the how life in the 1500′s still ripples out into some of today’s common language and practices.

So I did a little bit of research on each piece (not too much… it’s just for fun, remember!) summarised and inserted a few links for “credibility”…  Even if some of what follows is historically dubious and tongue in cheek it’s interesting to be reminded how our past has the potential to shape today’s words and habits… Enjoy…


Life in the 1500's:

Most people got married in June, because the practice was to take a bath annually in May and so folks still smelled pretty good by June. However, since they were starting to honk a touch, brides carried a bouquet of flowers and spices to hide the body odour as well as ward off evil spirits. Hence the custom today, of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

As is the case today baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water.

However, unlike today 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 - particularly a small someone! Hence the saying, "Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water!"

Houses had thatched roofs, thick straw piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats, dogs and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof, with the end result of a continual stream of these little mites and their various "droppings" falling onto your (relatively) clean bed. Richer folk addressed this problem by building a bed with posts and a sheet hung over the top, affording some (limited) protection. That's how canopy/four-poster beds came into existence.

The floor in the bedroom however was most likely dirt. Only the VERY wealthy had something other than dirt and invested in slate and straw. Hence the saying, "Dirt Poor."

Sometimes people were given pork at times of celebration. When visitors came over they would hang up the ham to show off, hence the phrase. "Bring home the Bacon." The family and their guests would then gather round, cut off a little of the meat, talk and ''Chew the fat''.

Bread was divided, according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests / wealthy folk got the top, or ''The Upper Crust''.

(And my favourite... based in a tiny bit of truth but blatantly exaggerated so included for sheer funny points!)

England is 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, a practice began of looping a string around the wrist of corpses, threading that string through a tiny hole drilled in the top of the coffin, up through the ground with a bell attached to the other end.

Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night, (the graveyard shift) to listen for the bell; and therefore any poor soul found waking up under six feet of dirt could tug away and be ''Saved by the Bell''

Any more to share?? Let me know in the comments box... 


Bride image courtesy of missturner : Creative Commons

About Sean
Writer, Reader, Leader, Trainer, Coach, Thinker, Hiker, Musician, Uncle, Writer, List-maker, Blogger

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