“Two Young Women Want Washing”

Unfortunately worded advertisements of the 19th century, collected in English as She Is Wrote (1884):

  • “Teeth extracted with great pains.”
  • “Babies taken and finished in ten minutes by a country photographer.”
  • “For sale, a handsome piano, the property of a young lady who is leaving Scotland in a walnut case with turned legs.”
  • “Wanted, a young man to take charge of horses of a religious turn of mind.”
  • “Wanted, a young man to look after a horse of the Methodist persuasion.”
  • “A steamboat-captain, in advertising for an excursion, closes thus: ‘Tickets, 25 cents; children half price, to be had at the captain’s office.'”
  • “Among carriages to be disposed of, mention is made of ‘a mail phaeton, the property of a gentleman with a moveable head as good as new.'”
  • “A landlady, innocent of grammatical knowledge, advertises that she has ‘a fine, airy, well-furnished bedroom for a gentleman twelve feet square’; another has ‘a cheap and desirable suit of rooms for a respectable family in good repair’; still another has ‘a hall bedroom for a single woman 8 x 12.'”

Insult to Injury

Being a slave was hard enough in the American South — but wanting to escape was once classified as a psychiatric disorder. In 1851, physician Samuel A. Cartwright of the Louisiania Medical Association decided that runaway slaves suffered from “drapetomania”:

If the white man attempts to oppose the Deity’s will, by trying to make the negro anything else than ‘the submissive knee-bender’ (which the Almighty declared he should be) by trying to raise him to a level with himself, or by putting himself on an equality with the negro; or if he abuses the power which God has given him over his fellow-man, by being cruel to him, or punishing him in anger, or by neglecting to protect him from the wanton abuses of his fellow-servants and all others, or by denying him the usual comforts and necessaries of life, the negro will run away; but if he keeps him in the position that we learn from the Scriptures he was intended to occupy, that is, the position of submission; and if his master or overseer be kind and gracious in his hearing towards him, without condescension, and at the same time ministers to his physical wants, and protects him from abuses, the negro is spell-bound, and cannot run away.

Cartwright wrote that with “proper medical advice, strictly followed, this troublesome practice that many Negroes have of running away can be almost entirely prevented.” But for slaves who were “sulky and dissatisfied without cause,” he recommended “whipping the devil out of them” as a “preventative measure.”

The Loneliest Number


When Washington’s power elite convene for the president’s annual State of the Union address, there’s always a cabinet member missing:

  • 2007: Alberto Gonzales, attorney general
  • 2006: Jim Nicholson, secretary of veterans affairs
  • 2005: Donald Evans, secretary of commerce
  • 2004: Donald Evans, secretary of commerce
  • 2003: John Ashcroft, attorney general
  • 2002: Gale Norton, secretary of the interior
  • 2001: Anthony Principi, secretary of veterans affairs
  • 2000: Bill Richardson, secretary of energy

That member stays at a remote location in case some catastrophe strikes the Capitol.

He’s called the designated survivor.

Frost Fairs

1683 Frost Fair

If you’re looking for proof of climate change, consider that Londoners used to hold festivals on the frozen Thames that could go on for weeks. Of the 1683-84 “frost fair,” pictured above, diarist John Evelyn wrote:

Coaches plied from Westminster to the Temple, and from several other stairs too and fro, as in the streets, sleds, sliding with skates, bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes, cooks, tippling and other lewd places, so that it seemed to be a bacchanalian triumph, or carnival on the water.

Between 1400 and 1814 there are 23 documented cases of the Thames freezing over. The last fair lasted only four days, though; the climate was changing, and the river ran more swiftly as it was embanked during the 19th century.

Skill Sets

Discontinued merit badges:

  • Clerk (1911)
  • Horseman (1911)
  • Seaman (1911)
  • Mining (1937)
  • Airplane Design (1952)
  • Blacksmithing (1952)
  • Cement Work (1952)
  • Foundry Practice (1952)
  • Soil Management (1952)
  • Stalking (!) (1952)
  • Wood Turning (1952)
  • Farm Home and Its Planning (1959)
  • Dairying (1975)
  • Pigeon Raising (1980)
  • Rabbit Raising (1993)
  • Agribusiness (1995)
  • Beekeeping (1995)

What did the Boy Scout say when he’d fixed the pager? “Beep repaired.”

Inferno Etiquette


Mark Twain’s list of 27 items to be rescued from a boardinghouse fire:

  1. Fiancees
  2. Persons toward whom the operator feels a tender sentiment, but has not yet declared himself
  3. Sisters
  4. Stepsisters
  5. Nieces
  6. First cousins
  7. Cripples
  8. Second cousins
  9. Invalids
  10. Young lady relations by marriage
  11. Third cousins, and young lady friends of the family
  12. The unclassified
  13. Babies
  14. Children under 10 years of age
  15. Young widows
  16. Young married females
  17. Elderly married ditto
  18. Elderly widows
  19. Clergymen
  20. Boarders in general
  21. Female domestics
  22. Male ditto
  23. Landlady
  24. Landlord
  25. Firemen
  26. Furniture
  27. Mothers-in-law

“In either ascending or descending the stairs,” Twain wrote, “the young gentleman shall walk beside the young lady, if the stairs are wide enough to allow it; otherwise he must precede her. In no case must he follow her. This is de rigueur.”


How to address your betters:

  • Kings: “Your Majesty”
  • Popes: “Your Holiness”
  • Emperors: “Your Imperial Majesty”
  • Presidents: “Your Excellency” (“Mr. President” in the United States)
  • Dukes: “Your Grace”
  • Magistrates: “Your Worship”
  • Judges: “Your Honor”

In 1732, Alexander Pope gave a greyhound to George II. He engraved a couplet on its collar: “I am his Highness’ dog at Kew; Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?”

So There


“The greatest smoker in Europe died at Rotterdam, and left behind him the most curious of wills. He expresses the wish in his last testament that all the smokers of the country be invited to attend his obsequies, and that they smoke while following in the funeral cortege. He directs that his body be placed in a coffin, which shall be lined with wood taken from old Havana cigar boxes. At the foot of his bier, tobacco, cigars, and matches are to be placed. And the epitaph which he requests shall be placed upon his tombstone is as follows:

Here Lies
The Greatest Smoker in Europe.
He Broke His Pipe
July 4, 1872.
Mourned by his family and
all tobacco merchants.

— Charles Bombaugh, Facts and Fancies for the Curious From the Harvest-Fields of Literature, 1905