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The Origin of the Species

Last week while sitting in a restaurant wondering about the rainstorm we experienced in the middle of winter, a friend walked by smiled and told me it was raining cats and dogs. I paused at the comment and wondered where such a silly phrase could possibly have originated. Well after a little digging, I discovered the expression, like so many others had its roots in merry olde England.

It seems, during the cold winter nights (and if you've ever been to England you'll know the summers are not that warm either) the family pets would crawl into the rafters and snuggle up to keep warm under the thatched roofs. Should it start to rain in the middle of the night, the water would saturate the thatch and begin to trickle through causing the rafters to become wet and slippery. If it rained hard enough the family pets would slip and fall to the floor, hence we have the origin of that famous old saying ``It's raining cats and dogs``.

I continued to enjoy my meal when I glanced up and saw the waitress walking by with a large tub of water, no doubt left over from the dishes. She was about to throw it out and someone next to me said ``I hope she doesn't throw the baby out with the bathwater``. Another strange phrase that made me ponder its origin.

Again, in days of old when knights were bold and phrases weren`t invented, it seems the ritual of taking a bath was not a regular habit. They took valuable time, wasted precious resources (water and heat) and were just plain uncomfortable (not to mention the lack of privacy in those one-roomed crofters houses). When the day for a bath finally did arrive it was the women who boiled the water and filled the family tub. Once full, the man of the house would disrobe and jump into the scalding water.

When he finished, his sons would line up and take their turns, using of course, the same water. Once the sons were clean, or at least as uncontaminated as possible bathing in recycled water, the wife stepped in and did her best to scrub the grime from her bones. When she was finished it was the daughters turn. By now the water was pretty filthy and the only person left in need of a bath was the baby. When mother finished bathing the infant she would toss the water out the back. The larger the family the dirtier the water and quite often the baby would be hidden in the murky water and was inadvertently tossed out.

I glanced around the restaurant and saw an extremely well-to-do couple at a nearby table. The waitress walked by, saw me staring and commented on how posh they appeared. I smiled and wondered at the origin of the word POSH. Again I dug deep into my files and my investigation took me back to the early 1900`s.

A lengthy boat trip between England and India could become excruciatingly hot during the days on the Indian Ocean. Consequently the favoured side of the ship when leaving was the port side, because that side of the ship was the shadier side. When returning, the opposite held true and people preferred the starboard side for the same reason. Of course only the wealthier passengers could afford these accommodations and when they booked, their ticket would be stamped P.O.S.H. (Port Out, Starboard Home). I assume they have dropped the term as any tickets I have ever purchased have only been stamped `steerage`.

I finished my meal and was about to leave a gratuity when I began to wonder where the custom of leaving a tip came from. It is becoming an expected ritual, which gets frowned upon and even mocked when not done properly. In fact, I'm beginning to notice more and more restaurants are adopting the policy of offering a choice of leaving a dollar amount or percentage on the electronic gizmos used for paying by credit card. Many are even incorporating the option of 15, 20, or 25% of the bill. Personally I feel this ceremony is getting out of hand, in fact there are several restaurants in Toronto where the gratuity is so large that wait staff have to pay to work there.

So where did the concept of tipping originate? Again, we turn to the olden days of England – land of quaint phrases – for this one. When weary travellers were trekking around the countryside and came upon an inn they would be grateful for the opportunity of a warm meal and a comfortable bed. When seated the serving wench would approach and ask what they wanted to eat. After placing the order patrons would dig deep into their pockets and place a few coins on the table. The server would take these as a form of gratuity. The reason for the offering was ``To Insure Prompt Service``, or TIPS as the custom became known.

I paid my bill and left the restaurant, quite pleased with my learned discoveries, only to have the cashier wish me a pleasant day and tell me `not to take any wooden nickels`. I pondered the statement but decided to leave it for another day.

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