Pass It On

Tidbits and treats from the Sunnyvale Public Library Reference Division

The Language of Food December 21, 2009

Filed under: cooking,History,Holidays,research,Uncategorized — svref @ 4:53 pm

Holiday eating season is upon us, and with it, the strange language of food. Many people were “talking turkey” on Thanksgiving. Perhaps someone is threatening to “cook your  goose” for another holiday meal.  Whatever is on your menu, here’s a quick primer on some of the  food-related phrases that flavor our conversations  at the dinner table and beyond.

Let’s talk turkey.” Some sources attribute this expression, meaning “let’s get down to business,” to a story about a Pilgrim and a Native American  dividing up the spoils from a hunt. But according to Common Phrases and Where They Come From, by Myron Korach, the phrase more likely originated with modern day turkey hunters. Those who most successfully imitated turkey calls,  attracting the birds to shooting distance, were getting down to business by “talking turkey.”

Gravy train.” The term was born in the 1920s, when railroad workers dubbed easy runs that paid well “gravy trains.”  As an expression, gravy refers to an extra benefit that comes without much extra work. (Why You Say It, by Webb Garrison.).

To cook [someone’s] goose” means to ruin someone’s plans. Sources do not agree on the origin of this phrase.  Here are some theories:

  • A goose that is being fattened for a special occasion is killed and eaten early — leaving no goose for the feast. (Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable)
  • Eating the goose that lays the golden eggs — meaning no more gold eggs! Not a very good trade off. (Why You Say It)
  • Sixteenth century villagers, under siege, “hung out a goose to show their attackers they were not starving.”  But when their attackers set fire to the village, the goose got cooked. (Facts on File Dictionary of Cliches)
  • A Swedish king sent his army to subdue an unruly province. Knowing the king loved roast goose, fighters hung up a large goose to taunt the royal fighters.  When the King’s army won, the monarch asked for the goose as a condition of surrender. He then cooked it and “ate it with a victor’s relish.” (Common Phrases and Where They Come From)

To drink a toast.” Toasting, or raising your glasses in honor of a person or idea, is a common part of holidays and celebrations.  The phrase originates from a piece of toasted bread that used to be put into the cup, according to Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Celebrants would dip the toasted bread into their wine at a call for a toast, and then eat it, according to Common Phrases and Where They Come From.

Pie in the sky.”  This expression is used to describe a promise or wish that likely won’t be fulfilled. It was coined by labor activist Joe Hill in 1911, as part of his parody song “Preacher and the Slave.” (From Loose Cannons, Red Herrings, and Other Lost Metaphors, by Robert Claiborne.) Hill was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, known as the “Wobblies.” Angry at religious organizations  that  encouraged workers to accept unfair circumstances, Hill wrote a set of parody lyrics to the tune of the Salvation Army’s “In the Sweet By and By.” In the chorus of his version, “The Preacher and the Slave,”  preachers promise to hungry men that they will one day have “pie in the sky.”

Joe Hill

You will eat, bye and bye
In that glorious land above the sky
Work and Pray, live on hay
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die

Hungry for more? Click on the book titles to see where you can find them in the library, and learn more about oddball idioms and expressions.


Christmas Tree Trivia December 15, 2009

Filed under: Books,Holidays — svref @ 5:42 pm
Tags: , , ,

Did you know that the commercial market for Christmas trees began over 150 years ago? In 1851, a farmer named Mark Carr cut down trees in New York’s Catskill Mountains, hauled them in sleds to New York City, and sold all of the trees. A small tree cost five or ten cents and a large tree cost a quarter!

During the Depression, nurseries were having a difficult time selling their evergreen trees to people for landscaping, so they sold them as Christmas trees. Customers liked the more evenly shaped nursery trees better than the wild forest trees, so Christmas tree farms started springing up around the country.

Now, the majority of real Christmas trees come from Christmas tree farms.  The industry has come a long way from Mark Carr cutting down a load of trees in the Catskill Mountains!

You can find this information and many more factoids on a wide variety of topics in the book Do Fish Drink Water? by Bill McLain

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading!


Library Closed for Thanksgiving November 25, 2009

Filed under: Holidays — svref @ 10:00 am

The Sunnyvale Public Library will be closed on Thursday, November 26, and Friday, November 27, 2009.  We will reopen at 10 a.m. on Saturday, November 28, with regular hours.

We wish all our Library patrons a Happy Thanksgiving and remind you to please buckle up and drive safely this holiday season!


Library Closed for Labor Day September 4, 2009

Filed under: Holidays — svref @ 9:46 am

The Sunnyvale Public Library will be closed on Monday, September 7, in observance of Labor Day. The Library will be open during normal hours on Saturday and Sunday and will reopen on Tuesday.

Did you know that the first Labor Day parade was held in New York City on September 5, 1882? Read more about the origins of Labor Day from the Library of Congress or the U.S. Department of Labor.


Library Closed for Memorial Day May 20, 2009

Filed under: Holidays — svref @ 10:00 am

bivouacofthedeadThe Sunnyvale Public Library will be closed on Monday, May 25, 2009, in observance of Memorial Day. The Library will be open for regular hours over the Memorial Day weekend and will reopen on Tuesday at 10 a.m.

If you are interested in learning more about Memorial Day and its history, please visit the Memorial Day website from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.


Library Closed Sunday, April 12 April 9, 2009

Filed under: Holidays — svref @ 3:57 pm
Flickr photo by barron

Flickr photo by barron

The Sunnyvale Library will be closed on Sunday, April 12, for the Easter holiday.  The Library will re-open on Monday, April 13, at 10 a.m. with normal hours.


Library Closed for Presidents’ Day February 12, 2009

Filed under: Holidays — svref @ 2:23 pm

The Sunnyvale Library will be closed on Monday, February 16, 2009, for the Presidents’ Day Holiday.  We will reopen with regular hours on Tuesday the 17th.

LincolnSplitter42-single-BGv1This year’s holiday is particularly special as the nation celebrates the bicentennial of the birthday of President Abraham Lincoln, born on this day in 1809 near Hodgenville in Hardin County, Kentucky.  Lincoln would become the 16th President of the United States in 1861 and is particularly remembered for his leadership through the years of the Civil War and his untimely assassination at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865, barely a month into his second term in office.

This year, President Lincoln will be honored in two extremely visible ways, as the United States Mint will be releasing a commemorative series of four pennies with scenes depicting Lincoln’s life on the reverse (tails) sides, and the United States Postal Service will release a series of four postage stamps also featuring scenes from his life.

LincolnPresident42-single-BGv1Lincoln has long been a popular subject on postage stamps and any history buff or philatelist will be fascinated by a new exhibition from the National Postal Museum available online entitled From Postmaster to President: Celebrating Lincoln’s 200th Birthday Through Stamps and Postal History.