June 26, 2014 by libroshombre
Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, that thick collection of concise explanations and curiosities is perfect for lazy, rainy June afternoons. The wanderings of Turkey’s fabled Meander River don’t compare to those in Brewer’s. For example, it’s difficult to look up “groat,” “the name given to all thick silver coins, from Middle Dutch ‘groot,’” which meant “thick,” without seeing “grog, “ the name given to the British seaman’s twice-daily drink composed of a half-pint of neat spirits mixed with a pint of water. No one called it grog early on, but in 1740 Admiral Edward Vernon cut the liquor in half.
A Member of Parliament when Captain Robert Jenkin’s ear was cut off by the Spanish Coast Guard in 1731, Vernon quickly became Jenkin’s most vocal advocate. The situation with Spain festered until 1739, when Britain declared war and Admiral Vernon was named commander of the West Indies fleet. According to MilitaryHistory.About.Com, “the following year saw Vernon order that the daily rum ration provided to the sailors be watered down to three parts water and one part rum in an effort to reduce drunkenness. To offset the often brackish taste of the water, lemon or lime juice was added to the mixture. As Vernon was known as ‘Old Grog’ for his habit of wearing grogham coats, the new drink became known as grog.”
“Grogham,” Brewer’s tells us , is “a coarse fabric made from silk and mohair or silk and wool, stiffened with gum.” The phrase “old fashioned” is what I originally looked for in Brewer’s, and Old Grog was an old-fashioned guy, at least sartorially. Yet he was quite innovative, for even if it was an accidental side-benefit that including lime juice prevented scurvy, the decreased general inebriation caused a marked decline in other work-related injuries.
The World Cup is underway, and that’s a big deal to those who understand the sport and appreciate its demanding nature. Gizmodo.com ran a “How Far Do You Run” article stating that basketball players top out at 2.72 miles per game, baseball outfielders hitting four home runs in a game will run less than a half-mile, and football receivers and defensive backs hit a maximum of 1.25 miles per game. In fact, the Wall Street Journal found that football players move only eleven of the sixty-minute game.
In soccer “it’s not uncommon for a player to average seven miles a game … SportVU has tracked players running as much as 9.5 miles in a game.” I played men’s soccer year-round for sixteen years and, after a few kicked legs and run-ins with water-logged balls, I learned to appreciate innovations like shin-guards and synthetic balls. But I get quite curmudgeonly when it comes to sportsmanship and fair play. A recent New York Times article focused on how the US team is known for not faking injuries or other shenanigans like most other soccer players. Sadly it was described as a fault.
I read that Zsa Zsa Gabor claimed to be “very old-fashioned,” Barbara Bush said she’s “a little old-fashioned,” and Cher states, “I’m not old-fashioned.” On that continuum, the Admiral and I land close to Barbara. On one hand, over three decades of running public libraries, I’ve witnessed a lot of changes, but I still find the traditional ideals represented by our libraries to be deeply moving and also relevant in today’s world.
The value of old-fashioned things lies in their track record. Most American cities have had public libraries for more than a century, yet they still enjoy enormous popular support. Here in our borough, for instance, nearly six out of every ten men, women, and children possess library cards they’ve used within the last two years, and hundreds more without cards use the library weekly. For five thousand years people have expected their libraries to gather information, organize and protect it, and disseminate it to the intended audience. Libraries may utilize computers and digital information to accomplish these missions, but the underlying, old-fashioned purposes are unchanged.
How entrenched are libraries in the American way of life? Imagine life without it. “Eden is that old-fashioned house we dwell in every day,” as Emily Dickinson put it, “Without suspecting our abode, until we drive away.”