Friday, May 29, 2020

Geo Brick

Spring of 2020.  No digging trip.  But decent weather and a chance to pursue other hobbies.  Some of which also have a "discovery" aspect to them.  I've been doing a bit of fishing....mostly without success.

Also geocaching.  For those not familiar with it this is a GPS based treasure hunt where you have hidden caches, clues leading to same, and an assortment of motivators.  The thrill of discovery.  Exchanging little bits of swag found in the caches.  Or just signing your name to the log. It is fun to find them.  It is also fun to hide a "cache".  They are supposed to be just a little tricky....

One day when the fish were really not cooperating I decided it was time to switch gears.  And I picked up a brick.

The indented panel is delightfully referred to as a "frog". It is mostly to hold extra mortar.   With some of the local bricks I've written about that is also where an identifying name or mark would be found but for this project a generic brick is best.

I have a drill press with a vice that can be cranked back and forth.  Use a masonry bit, they are designed to go through this sort of substance.

A nice pattern of holes.  The depth is preset.  Then a combination of drilling more holes, a grinder wheel or a carefully used chisel can finish the excavation off.  In the background is an earlier prototype.

The engineering challenge of making a suitable container is interesting.  A person who wanted to go the easy route would use a plastic bottle of some sort.  Pill containers are fairly popular.  But to make it fun and go custom you need durability, waterproof/resistant status, and the ability to tolerate a year's worth of heat and cold extremes.  This can be a problem.  Here I've raided the robotics stores for a bit of one inch aluminum tube, and for a section of dense foam of the sort we often use for wheels in the middle school program.  The foam is shaped to tightly fit in the tube, then secured there with hot glue.

On the other end a rubber stopper.  Notice the duct tape in use here.  I never trust duct tape alone, it is just not designed to last and after a while it wicks up moisture.  So under it I always place a multi layer wrap of double sided rubber tape.

I think it turned out rather well.  I'm adding a couple coats of urethane sealant to the hollowed out cavity.  When bricks are fired I think the exterior vitrifies just enough to become more water resistant than the innards.  Notice that the foam block on the bottom neatly holds the container in place.  I'll also add some message on the exterior that says "Geocache, please leave this alone" or some such.

So....which one is GeoBrick?  Don't go by color, the lighting in my basement workshop was harsh flourescents that can try to fool you.  And temporarily fooling you is the goal of this project!

Addendum.  I actually managed to fool myself a bit.  When I went looking for GeoBrick thinking it was time to deploy it.....I couldn't find it!  I have a bunch of bricks in the garage and shed and I had to examine each one!

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Mystery at Devil's Rock

Or is it?

Sometimes when squinting at an old document your eyes decide to take the easy route and see what you expect to see.  So, when I first saw this cryptic entry on a 1874 map of Chippewa County Wisconsin I jumped to the obvious conclusion...

But when you look very closely at it the name actually seems to be Dewels Rock.  Old atlases are a great source of obscure history.  Often they record little bits of pioneer lore that have since been lost.  I've lived in the area most of my life now and had never heard of this place.  So of course I had to have a look.

I think this is the spot.  It's the east bank of the Yellow River at about the right spot.  And perhaps that is an impressive enough rock to have its own name.

Consulting local histories and all available maps I can find absolutely no evidence that anyone named Dewel ever lived in the area.  It's an odd sounding name.  I suspect a typo.

So was it actually Devil's Rock?  Probably not.  But there did seem to be a family named Deuel that lived in the general area in the 19th century.  Perhaps there was a connection going back as far as the 1870s.

I have to report that I did encounter one other small mystery.  While tramping about in the woods I found something odd perched on a little rock all by itself.  A baseball trophy from 1971.  Who carefully set it up in the middle of nowhere, and why?

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Memorial Day 2020

An odd day.  It started with leisurely gardening and a walk.  The latter got to be rather brisk when dark clouds rolled in and sirens started blaring.  We had a torrential downpour that flooded our street (which is I must mention on top of a hill) and blew a number of manhole covers off from backed up water pressure.

Resuming my walk when it was safe I ran across this vignette.  

A crowd has gathered.

Here's what they are watching.  

This man and his family clearly came prepared to fish, setting up a table and chairs in the spillway below the dam.  The man is of generous proportions.  He has hooked onto a fish of similar dimensions.  An epic battle ensued for about half an hour as he tried manfully to crank that monster in using tackle suitable for pan fish.

In the end the fish, probably a sturgeon, won.   The line broke and the fisherman raised his arms to the heavens in frustration.  We spectators cheered briefly then moved on.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Signs of the (Covid) Times

All sorts of businesses are going with online ordering and curbside pick up.

If you have a theory as to what is going on here please feel free to post it below.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Hudson Road Brewery - The Promised Part Four !

We left the Hudson Road Brewery story a while back*, with me wondering exactly what I'd see walking the site.  With the return of balmy weather and some relaxation of Covid Panic I got the chance.  You'd be amazed how much you can learn by chatting with an 87 year old local farmer.....and from walking the site with the current owner of the brewery land.

Because the maps were rather deceiving I suppose it would be best to start there.  The earliest view is from 1877, but it's blurry and unhelpful.  But an atlas from 1888 shows this alignment.

It looks straightforward.  Main brewery building aligned North-South, road to the North and East of it.  This of course is called  "Brewery Road" on old maps.   But take a look at the Sanborn Fire Insurance map of 1910....

Because this is a bit low res, here's a link where you can zoom in and read the labels on each of the outbuildings and areas of the main brewery.  Pink on these maps indicates brick construction....remember the 300,000 bricks used for that rebuild in 1883?  Of interest is the directional arrow....the brewery is clearly oriented more East-West than North-South, and there is a road that makes a dog leg turn and runs on the South side of the brewery.  Now, correlate this with yet another photo courtesy of the Dunn County Historical society...said to be circa 1902.

This one is helpful because it was taken from a little further back, and it sure does show that road running to the south of the brewery.  Gilbert creek is just off to the left in this picture.  Note that the elevation of land behind the brewery is only 20 feet or so.  Recall that the account of the 1874 fire said that the earlier version of this brewery was at the foot of a bluff.  Creative embellishment?  Or was the 1860s - 1874 version of the Hudson Road Brewery somewhere else?  Now for a bit of fun let's try to overlay what is seen in this image onto the current Google Earth map.  I've put the brewery buildings on in blue and the historic road in red.  The blue star below appears to be the vantage point of the 1902 photo.  The red star, now a horse pasture, is where Old Timers say the picnic grounds was located.  Right next to the brewery, so that makes sense.

The course of Gilbert creek has likely changed a bit over the years.  And there are some newer structures that have been built on or near the site of the main building.  Here's some modern pictures.

The red brick structure seen here is a smokehouse, probably built after the last brewery building was demolished.  A scattering of bricks newer and older.  And there were two water pipes sticking out of the hillside.  This is about where the Wash Room for the brewery was.  Possibly original pipes that nobody ever bothered to remove?

Old bricks everywhere.  And yes, I did take one home as a souvenir. 

And finally, the picnic area.  Once filled with rowdy drinkers, now a pasture for some nice horses.  Of the reported dance hall I can see no current trace.

This would seem to wrap up the story of the Hudson Road Brewery.  At least in the sense that I don't think we'll learn much more about it.  But some parting thoughts.

1. This is hardly an ideal site for a brewery.  It's not that far from the creek and must have flooded periodically.  

2. I still suspect that the earlier versions of the brewery might have been elsewhere.  On higher ground for instance.

3. The locals actually had a recollection - passed down now for over a century - regards the question of a storage cave.  Somebody long departed who was related to the Burkhardt/Niedermeyer clan thought that Hudson Road shared cave space with the other brewery about two miles away.  This seems odd but I have seen precedent once before in Hastings Minnesota.  Perhaps the hauling of kegs back and forth was going on anyway as their main customers were in town.

4. The "dog leg" road was still in use in fairly recent times.  You can actually see a line of bricks that marks its course going down the hill.  

5. In the pasture, former picnic grounds, there are a couple of probable building "shadows".  Of course these could be of any era but one is in about the correct place for the curious L-shaped building on the 1910 view.  Here, have a little fun playing with the image zooming in and out.  Look for rectangle shapes in the grass, they pretty much always man made.,-91.9730708,50m/data=!3m1!1e3

Don't be distracted by the circular pen, that's new.  But on the edge of the tree line there are the ruins of what the owner calls a "silo" that is about the correct location for the 1910 water reservoir.  Note the vague circle to the left (west) of the modern horse pen.

Final thought.  Is there a chance that the complex building shadows in the pasture actually are the earlier (1860's to 1874) brewery?  A tempting theory, but there is the pesky matter of the report mentioning the "foot of the bluff".  Newspapers of any era are fallible and as unlikely as it seems for a 19th century journalist to not to know where to get a drink it is possible that this was just an inaccurate report.
If you are coming in late, the earlier installments of the Hudson Road Brewery story:

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Oh and if you are a real glutton for puzzlement here's something on the enigma of that "other" brewery and its cave in Menomonie.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020


Writing several weeks ahead I sometimes have to predict the future. Is our society at last emerging from the nightmare of Social Distancing, reversion to natural hair colors and....Tiger King?*  Let's hope so.  And if that is happily the case we should be well into the process of looking back and figuring out who actually knew what they were talking about in real time.

In the current parlance, if someone you generally disagree with says something wrong it is a lie, or at least an error.  If someone you generally agree with says something way off target it is referred to as "a gaffe".

But why?  Gaffe is an odd looking word and its use in this context is most peculiar.

Strictly speaking either gaff or gaffe refers to a large hook you use to help land fish.  Oh, not delicate little trout and such, great big whoppin' fish that would probably break and or bite off your arm if you just reached down and nabbed 'em.  Up in Alaska we used a gaffe to haul in halibut.
I know, this is not a halibut.  Halibut are gross looking.
With that terminal e you'd figure Gaffe to be of French origins and you'd be correct.  It is a middle French word (circa 1300) meaning boat hook, possibly from an earlier Germanic root word meaning "to seize".  If you have a boat hook sitting right there and you are lucky enough to have a gigantic fish on the line, well, it makes sense to use it.

But the sense of gaffe as a "blunder" or "clumsy remark" is much newer and the connection to maritime hardware is said to be "obscure".  

The true origin, or perhaps just a sound alike word that tilted the meaning, could be elsewhere.  

Gaff as a word meaning "talk" is recorded as early as 1812 and according to the Oxford English Dictionary might derive from an Old English word "gafspraech" meaning "blasphemous or ribald speech".  Which might have wandered north into Scotland and become gaff meaning "loud rude talk".  Many of the Scots I have encountered in pubs are probably engaging in this.  Loud for sure.  Rudeness is harder to judge and would require my understanding more than 50% of what they say.
* If rumors are true that Nicolas Cage is going to play the Tiger King in an upcoming film adaptation......the Bad Times may not be over yet.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Farewell to the Digging Season that Wasn't

Those of us who had our excavating season done in by Corona virus have at least been issued the same time slots in 2021.  So I won't mourn the lack of Finding.  All the artifacts grand and small, all the features humble, spectacular or robbed out by later peasants....we'll see them next May.

No, its the people and the landscape I miss.  Here's a bit of a wander down nostalgia lane, with much of it drawing upon our weekend Excursions....

Drinks on the patio.

Sue about to meet "My Little Pony"  Possibly Big McIntosh?

Wandering the hills.  8 years later I still use that shapeless green bag to haul groceries home from far less scenic walks.

Pete making something rude out of clay.  He seems to be giving Pierre a bit of advice from the perspective of an Old Married Guy to someone in a new relationship...

For some reason there are many photos of Pierre consuming large quantities of food...but he remains lean and fit.

Pete showing off on a tumbled down roman column.  What was he trying to demonstrate?

I vaguely recall that he was re-enacting the famous Slim Pickens scene from Dr. Strangelove, but it could just as easily been more advice for Pierre.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Spolia from The Great Depression

It has been a very good spring for extended walks, in part because we are not allowed to do much else.  On one such I visited a spot that featured in a very early entry for Detritus of Empire.   It was looking at reuse of older stones in a newer wall, a practice that in archaeology is called "spolia".  Spolia means spoils.  In excavations the big pile of debris that has been dug up is called the spoil heap and has all manner of random - if hopefully carefully screened - stuff on it.  Even before archaeologists came along inhabitants of ancient sites found nice convenient building stones just sitting around they naturally grabbed them and incorporated them into newer structures.  

In any case the original post dealt with use of older tombstones in a more modern flood control wall alongside Duncan creek in downtown Chippewa Falls Wisconsin.  On my revisit I found some new clues.

I've speculated that the stones came from a company that went out of business, and they were just handy when this project was undertaken.  I had read that it was a monument company, and indeed some of these are partially finished tombstones.  But I think there are enough plain blocks there that they might have been doing other work as well.  In a small town you only have so many "customers" for tombstones in any given year and being able to help trim assorted stores and homes around town would be a sensible business solution.

As to the date of the wall I was fortunate enough to spot this:

Absent a bit of most inappropriate stone robbing I am left to speculate.  It looks like a tombstone but other interpretations are possible.  If it is a memorial the individual would seem to have a name ending in R (although what's that little _ doing there after it?), and to have died in 1934.  The E. is enigmatic.  Many local worthies were members of a fraternal lodge called the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks, and their notation B.P.O.E. is sometimes seen on tombstones.  But shouldn't that be centered rather than off to the right side?  Unfortunately the local historical society is not open for in person visits just now and the online archives of the local paper do not cover this year.  I expect to have more substantial theories down the road a bit.

And of course there is always this one:

August 16, 1895.  Nothing more.  So many questions.  Did the carver make a mistake? I'd expect you would carve the name first.  Did somebody not pay their bill?  And if so what was the procedure for this?  A finished tombstone would be of no value to the carver nor would its absence be much noted by the deceased!  You can lean on the family of course but maybe this was a mean old cuss that nobody liked in real life.

Questions, questions.  At least I can more accurately date the age of the wall, which I'm sure was one of many successive efforts to control floods along this unruly creek.  It can't be before 1934.  Probably it was a Depression era project, possibly a W.P.A. effort?  And a business failure in a company that likely needed both funeral and commercial customers to make ends meet would make sense.  Time to clean out the warehouse.  Hey, you can even toss in that old stone we were using as a doorstop....

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Parking Lot Hoard

Withdrawal symptoms are not pretty.

Today I am supposed to be in sunny England, happily troweling away at a Britano-Roman site.  I should be intently watching each careful scrape looking for both the spectacular and the mundane, as each can contribute to our understanding of the past.

But no, for the first time in 13 years there is no spring archaeology trip.

I never entirely turn off the "radar" that makes me a good excavator.  I'm always scanning my surroundings, looking for things that don't quite fit and might be hints of something atypical.  It's probably why I was a better than average diagnostician back in my medical career.  Maybe I even stayed a step or two ahead of my teen aged kids and whatever they were up to.  At least for a while.

I try to walk every day.  It's harder during the winter, but as soon as I can delude myself that spring is coming I am tromping about town.  And of course, scanning my surroundings.

I run across a lot of lost coins, and into my pocket they go.  At home they go into a jar.  When our bank stopped happily accepting batches of coins they started accumulating, so the sizable hoard I set out to clean recently was at least two years worth.

So what can be learned from a frankly random collection that comes from so many sources?  Do the presumably rowdy patrons of the Sunbeam Tavern and those of the now quarantined Burger King and the hormonally  distracted denizens of the High School parking lot have enough points in common to describe our community?

Lets find out.  Here's a small view of the batch before cleaning.

I'll try to do a semi-professional job of analyzing these finds, with notes for future scholars....

Here's the hoard after several days of lackadaisical cleaning efforts.  Not bad actually.

It adds up to 34 quarters, 54 dimes, 26 nickles and 198 pennies.  Oh, plus the following foreign issues, which likely ended up coming home from overseas travels. Sometimes they were coins I found on walks over there:

- an old UK 20 pence, a 10 pence "New Pence" from 1992 and a 2008 UK penny.
- a 2002 10 euro cent piece
- 6 Canadian pennies and one quarter.

If dates interest you the oldest coins were a pair of 1964 pennies.  The newest finds were from 2019.

About half the quarters were commemoratives.  None were from Wisconsin or adjacent states.

The biggest batch of course were the pennies.  You drop one and you can hardly be bothered to look for it.  Note the huge difference in quality between old and new.

Newer US coins, other than the nickles, all have base metal cores and a thin wash of something that at least tries to look like the copper and silver of bygone times.  This makes them easily damaged especially in places where a snow plow goes back and forth repeatedly.

Coin hoards are used to gain insight into times past.  Was there inflation?  Were times rich or poor?  Even modern coin accumulations have been studied.  There are all sorts of factors that go into what is found.  How many of each type were made?  What was saved by collectors?  What denominations stayed in use for things like vending machines and bus fares?

With the insidious growth of electronic transactions I am pretty sure that coinage as we've known it for several millenia will vanish in the next generation.  And far future archaeologists will likely have a hard time figuring out this now unfamiliar technology.

So here, Far Future Archaeologists, let me make your job easier.

Little known fact.  Abraham Lincoln slowly turned into a zombie.  

It started in 1997.....

And the horrifying process was complete by 2008.

Abe Lincoln. Zombie.  Start writing your  Doctoral theses Future Peeps....

Monday, May 11, 2020

The Covid Economy - Micro and Macro Views

Out and about on May 8th I noticed this:

I don't think yard sales are legal under any reasonable interpretation of current emergency regulations.  And while I am generally loathe to report upon law breaking - lest I aid and abet same - I'm making an exception today.

Now it must be said that there could be a loophole here somewhere.  There was no overt sales activity going on at the house I think this was pointing towards....although there was an array of stuff lined up in the garage and yard.  Maybe it is like a Speakeasy where you have to approach to within six feet and say "Big Tony sent me*".  Or, maybe the potential proprietors put this sign up and are waiting a while to officially open the sale.  You know, to see if the SWAT team starts cruising the neighborhood or anything.

In that sense you could regard this as something akin to a movie trailer.  Or tossing a bucket of chum in the water before you start fishing.  Just something to get a little interest going you know.  Nothing illegal about just putting up a sign, is there?  I mean in the immortal words of archie the cockroach (when discussing Prohibition with a parched, beer craving mummy on display in a museum)

 divine drouth
says i
imperial fritter
continue to think
there is no law against
that in this country
old salt codfish
if you keep quiet about it
not yet

We shall see.  Thrift sales in small town America are a fundamental institution, and if this bit of bargain basement civil disobedience goes unchecked I suspect we will see a bunch of signs pop up in the week ahead.  People in a community with very low covid rates are going to evaluate their risks and make decisions.

Of course there are harder questions on the macro scale, and with far greater consequences.

Disney is a gigantic corporation with many "product lines".  Some of them are very susceptible to problems in the Current Unpleasantness.  Theme parks, movie theaters, cruise ships.....these legitimately should be closed, at least for a while.  Much of their rather profitable licensed merch is made in China, that too could be a problem.  But I guess they also make money off things like streaming services which should be doing well.  

Last week Disney announced a 91% drop in profits for the quarter just ended.

I suppose on some level I could shrug and say "so what?".  I have not been a fan of most of their movies in recent years....a bit too much bludgeoning of plots to follow the latest political correctness and/or to appeal to overseas markets.  But hey, that's just their evaluation of market conditions.  They win or lose by the accuracy of their projections same as any other business.  But I have an ulterior motive in this one.

It's the robots.  Last year Disney - specifically their Star Wars franchise - was the major sponsor for FIRST Robotics.  They kicked in major cash and got their name/themes on some aspects of the competition in return.  With the FIRST season being cut short they might not have gotten their advertising money's worth, perhaps that's why they are again the Big Sponsor for the 2021 FIRST Season....if it happens.

I don't worry much about Disney.  The Mouse has been through economic hard times before and has always pulled through.  But how many quarters like the one just passed before they can't afford to sponsor things like FIRST robotics?  And how many other potential sponsors (at the FIRST organization level and at the local team level) have pockets less deep than Micky?  Uh.....most of them.
oddly no pockets visible.  Big ol' buttons though...
It is hard discussing the pros and cons of opening up America.  You'll be castigated for not caring about old people, even if you are one.  But at some point the current lock down begins to blight the futures of the young.  How many kids will not launch careers in STEM if FIRST goes under?  (Unlikely but not impossible should a second wave hit in the fall).  It's not a traditional engineering problem, but what might the equations look like? If you loosen restrictions you will presumably have more lives lost, primarily elderly folks who might not have had that many years ahead of them.  On the other side of the equation you have the diminishing of futures for much larger groups and with more years ahead than behind.  Students, young families, small business owners.  It has been said that all lives are priceless.  Emotionally that's true for your loved ones**.  But practically, for an entire society..... there has to be a conversion factor.

But I don't see anyone brave enough to step up to the blackboard and start doing the math.
* I doubt that Governor Tony Evers would approve at all, but I think it makes a good Secret Password.

** Emotions don't translate to calculations well, but consider how many grandparents would be willing to accept a degree of personal risk to be with their grand children.  And are in fact doing so right now, guidelines be damned.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Dubious Infection Control

Perhaps one of the less useful public health measures during the Covid Crisis.  And an obstacle on my morning walk.

Nobody on the inside is at risk to either transmit or receive the disease.  And anyway, by definition they are all six feet away even if you are indelicate enough to stand right on them.

I suppose a charitable explanation would be that it would be bad if there was a death in one of the big families that live in our area.  It would not look good to have a hundred people gathered around a gravesite ceremony.  This naturally ignores several key concepts.

- If literally staring death in the face does not persuade you to take precautions, nothing will.

- funeral directors and clergyfolk  do have some discretion, and don't have to schedule such a service.

- those families, and if you are local you know 'em, would probably have a big Wake the night before.  With alcohol.  In an enclosed space.  

The vehicle gate on the other end of the cemetery was naturally open so this the sort of response to the Current Unpleasantness that grates because it is ineffectual as well as petty and lazy.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Cheech and Chong take up Gardening. Or maybe Sailing...

Because I'm just sure this is all about hemp in the sense of using the fiber to make rope.  Yes, that's it....

Another aspect to no overseas archaeology trip this year is that I'll have plenty of time to take out my frustrations on our community garden plot.  In a normal year I turn it over to about a 12 inch depth.  This time I might hit bedrock.

The garden supply catalogs of course arrived a couple of months ago.  And this year I noticed something new.  A nice two page spread that exhorted us to:

"...give HEMP a go!"

Naturally I assumed they meant that the many useful qualities of industrial fiber production could now be furthered by community gardeners.  Oh, and I'm putting this image up front and center not really knowing what Facebook would make of some direct images from the catalog...  

With that out of the way...

Boy, there's a lot going on with this page.  Let's take a closer look.

Do growing plants really need a total blackout cover?  Or is this to keep your neighbors from seeing the eerie blue light coming out of your basement and calling "The Man"?

Yes.  Because it's really all about that industrial fiber, isn't it.

Absent from this order form and from the company's actual website is any place to buy, well, seeds.  I half expected there to be an order form that said "You're really from Colorado, right?  wink, wink".

I don't mind having a bit of fun with this but  it does reflect the new reality that in some states Hemp (errr. marijuana) is legal.  For medicinal purposes only.  wink, wink.

It does not interest me particularly but I do feel a bit of vindication.  The local garden club for years had a profitable fund raiser in the form of a big plant sale.  I simply advised them to get out ahead of the curve and be ready - once Wisconsin goes to pot - to sell, errr, "medicinal hemp" plants.  They'd make money there, sure.

But these gals were a bunch of seriously good cooks and bakers.  I'm thinking the Munchies bake sale items that happened to be for sale right next to the "medicinal hemp" plants would be the real gold mine!

Sunday, May 3, 2020

To Absent Friends

I think the tradition goes back about 11 years, to a time when my brother and I both came over to dig at Vindolanda.  I'd gotten to know folks in my prior visits and proposed that the "American" contingent would host drinks at the Twice Brewed Inn.  I said we'd be tired after a long, long day of travel and the name Jet Lag Drinks Hour came to be.

We've had good ones over the years.  Anyone who is digging that session is invited as are locals we've gotten to know.

But if archaeology teaches you anything it is that things change.  Empires rise and fall.  Usurpers become Emperors and then sometimes shuffle off as exiles.  Sheep nibble on grass that covers once important communities.

And this year....Vindolanda had to cancel Spring excavations because of the corona virus epidemic.  It was actually a bit academic by then as travel bans had made it nigh impossible to get to the UK without a paddle.

So I've timed this post to 7pm local time in England.  It's when we should have been congregating.  Tales of past digs would have been repeated, tales of off season doings told for the first time.  For a while we had a peculiar fellow who was very anti-monarchy so we've never done "The Loyal Toast" to the reigning sovereign.  But Royal Navy toasts are always good.

There's actually a traditional one for Thursdays that goes "A Bloody War or a Sickly Season", which seems pretty ruthless until you realize that deaths of the officers above you was the quickest route to promotion.

But no, our little gang has plenty of seniority already, no need to be reminded of hard times or to wish ill for our elders.

But there is the traditional toast for Sundays that is always offered.  As the member with the most (visible) grey hairs I usually offer it up.  And I shall do so now virtually for lack of a better option.

Raising a glass towards the Netherlands for Pierre and Sasha, towards the UK for Anthea, Pete and Sandy, towards the West for Scott from L.A. and in no particular direction towards the realms of whimsy where Sue lives I say warmly if sadly:

"To Absent Friends"


Friday, May 1, 2020

Alas and Alack

It's rare for current events to creep into an etymology posting.  But in a recent email I used the phrase "Alas and alack" and then realized that I did not know where it came from.

Well.  In each case the "a" is the equivalent of a sigh.  So think of it as (sigh)las and (sigh)lack.

Las comes from the Latin lassus meaning weary or tired. The underused word "lassitude" for laziness, comes directly from the Latin source. Lack is fairly self explanatory, it is a Middle English word meaning "loss, failure, fault, reproach, shame".   

So Alas and Alack means you are tired, weary and feeling a bit short changed.

Related words are surprisingly few.  You'd think there would be other expressions that would be amplified by a preceding (sigh).  There is a rare word "alackaday" that means regret of a day.   And of course from it, "lackadaisical" which is a satiric derivation of same.  Evidently at some point in the 1600's the use of the phrase alackaday became associated with over emoting on a Shatnerian scale.