Question: My dad once told me that when he was a kid, maybe around my age at the time, his father would send him to the saloon to get a pail of draft beer. The pail was called a "growler." He said he would stop and sample the contents once or twice on the way home to make sure it was not spoiled for his dad. If he sampled too much, his father would comment on the loss, but he never got into trouble.
I was in a pub the other day with my girlfriend, and she commented on the brown jugs on a shelf and called them growlers. They are different from what I knew about. Can you tell me about them? - F.B., Ithaca, New York
Answer: A growler is usually a glass or ceramic jug used to transport draft beer. Though you rarely find them at retail stores, they are commonly sold in breweries and brewpubs.
Q: Many times during my life - which has been long - I have heard the position of a horse's legs in an equestrian statue of a fallen solder tells how he died. Is there any truth to this? - C.G., Bethesda, Maryland
A: The quick answer is no. According to the urban legend, if the horse is rearing, the rider died in battle; one leg up means the rider was wounded in battle or died of battle wounds; and if all four hooves are on the ground, the rider died outside battle. I'm told this was created to be the guide for monuments at Gettysburg National Military Park, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, but there are several exceptions to the rule.
LET'S LEARN ENGLISH: In the U.K., they say "plonk," while in America, it's "poor-quality wine." Kids in the U.K. are in "Girl Guides," while in America, they're in "Girl Scouts."
Q: I'm watching reruns of "Emergency!" When the station is called, particulars of the emergency are given and the radio caller says "KMG-365" when he is finished. It's never been explained as far as I know. What is KMG-365? - J.N.L., Saratoga, Florida
A: KMG-365 is the Federal Communications Commission station license number for the base radio. It is similar to call letters used by radio and TV stations, as well as HAM operators, which must be announced as per FCC regulations. The call sign is real, and it is used by the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
DID YOU KNOW? Before Danny DeVito became an actor, he was a qualified hairdresser.
Q: Whatever happened to Ronnie Burns, the son of George Burns and Gracie Allen? Didn't they have a daughter, too? - B.N.L., Palmdale, California
A: Ronald "Ronnie" Jon Burns (1935-2007) was born in Evanston, Illinois, and adopted by George and Gracie when he was 2 months old. When he was 17, he joined his parents on the "The Burns & Allen Show" from 1950 to 1958. After Gracie Allen retired, Ronnie appeared on "The George Burns Show" with his father. He dabbled in a few projects before retiring from the industry. He got into real estate, and in later years, he raised horses.
Sandra Jean Burns (1934-2010) worked briefly with her adoptive parents before deciding to leave acting and raise a family. She was twice married and had four children.
Q: In a fashion magazine, there was an individual wearing thick-soled shoes; the caption called them "brothel creepers." Why that name? - S.G., Beaverton, Oregon
A: The shoes were inspired by the crepe rubber-soled desert boots worn by North African soldiers in World War II. Because of the intense heat of the sand, thicker soles helped protect their feet. The name "brothel creepers" does not make sense to me. Sources say they were so named because of the soldiers who found themselves in unsavory parts of a city. If that's the case, I'm sure glad they were not wearing Oxfords. Creepers were popular in the 1950s and are now making a comeback with various subcultures.
Q: My grandmother used to call a ball of yarn a "clue." I tried to look it up several times with no luck. Did she just make it up for some reason? - H.M.K., Bay City, Michigan
A: No, she did not make it up -- you just misspelled "clew." According to the dictionary, a clew is "a ball of yarn, thread or cord." The word comes to us from Middle English. Clew can also be used as a nautical term applied to the lower corner of a square sail.
Q: I don't think there was ever a time when I was not familiar with the opening line, "It was a dark and stormy night..." What book is it from? Who wrote it? What is the rest of the sentence? - G.B.N., Kannapolis, North Carolina
A: The novel is "Paul Clifford," written in 1830 by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton. The book tells of a man, Paul Clifford, who led a dual life, one as a criminal and the other as an upscale gentleman. The book was a success when it was released. Here are the opening lines:
"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents - except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."
Q: I was reading a Western novel in which the main character got caught in a wash during a torrential rainfall. He was unable to get to safety; a log came along, which he climbed on and rode to safety as if riding a bucking horse. The author used a word to describe the way he was sitting, but I can't remember it. Do you know? - J.S.J., Panama City, Florida
A: Look up the word "bestride." The dictionary gives this definition: "to sit or stand on with the legs astride."
Q: I was reading about gondolas. It said a gondola is propelled by an oar rather than punting. What is "punting"? - L.L., Pottsville, Pennsylvania
A: A punt is a flat-bottomed boat with a square bow and stern; they are used in shallow waters. To propel a punt, a pole is used to push against the riverbed. Now, who is doing this work? The punter, of course. Gondoliers use oars instead of poles.
DID YOU KNOW? Shirley Booth made her Broadway debut in the play "Hell's Bells" opposite Humphrey Bogart on Jan. 26, 1925.
Q: What does "blimey" mean, and what is its origin? - P.H., Midland, Texas
A: "Blimey" is a British cry of surprise, alarm or annoyance. It's shortened from "gorblimey," which is the Cockney form of "God blind me." In medieval times, people would use contractions rather than break the third commandment of using the Lord's name in vain.
Q: Why are the nautical mile and land mile different? Which is longer? - T.L., Lawrence, Kansas
A: The nautical mile is a unit of distance that is approximately one minute of arc measured along any meridian (a line of longitude, stretching from pole to pole). By international agreement, it has been set at exactly 1,852 meters (about 6,076 feet).
The familiar land mile, also known as a statue mile, is 5,280 feet, and is based on paces. In 1593, an English Act of Parliament defined a mile as eight furlongs, which after lots of measuring, comes out to 5,280 feet, or about 1,609 meters.
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