Thursday, April 24, 2008

Henry Suso

Henry Suso (1300-1366). Sublime mystic. Craved for hallowing every action of daily life and verged on the ridiculous. Following usages of profane love, he celebrates New Year’s Day and May Day by offering a wreath and a song to his betrothed, Eternal Wisdom (Divine Essence), or when, out of reverence for the Holy Virgin, he renders homage to all womankind and walks in the mud to let a beggar woman pass. At table Suso eats three-quarters of an apple in the name of the Trinity and the remaining quarter in commemoration of “the love with which the heavenly Mother gave her tender child Jesus an apple to eat”; and for this reason he eats the last quarter with the paring, as little boys do not peel their apples. After Christmas he does not eat it, for then the infant Jesus was too young to eat apples. He drinks in five draughts because of the five wounds of the Lord, but as blood and water flowed from the side of Christ, he takes his last draught twice. Over a period of 25 years he never bathed.

Monday, April 14, 2008

American and Irish

From the British Library:

Linguists can use comparative information between accents to help us understand how and when language change occurs. It should, for instance, come as no surprise to discover that some aspects of pronunciation in the USA resemble speech patterns in Northern Ireland, as the English Language arrived in both places at a similar point in time. The varieties spoken in Ireland and the USA clearly retain some of the features of seventeenth-century English that have subsequently disappeared from many accents in England. Yet if we consider Australian, New Zealand or South African English, they are all noticeably non-rhotic — that is 'R' is not pronounced after a vowel in words like farm, corn and better.

Large numbers of English-speaking colonists arrived in the southern hemisphere around the beginning of the nineteenth century — some two hundred years after English was transported across the Atlantic. We can probably assume, therefore, that the vast majority of the emigrants to those countries at that time were speakers from parts of England that were already non-rhotic. In other words, we can infer that speakers in South East England, the East Midlands and East Anglia began to omit the sound after a vowel some time in the eighteenth century. The fact that even in England there remain ‘relic’ areas, such as Bristol, where 'R' is still pronounced shows just how long it takes for a sound change to work its way through a language as a whole.

To hear all the different English accents, click here.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Banana. A history.

On this day, in 1633, a London shop window displayed the first ever banana to be seen in the UK.

Until the advent of refrigerated ships bananas were not widely sold in northern Europe. But in 1633 an enterprising herbalist and merchant by the name of Thomas Johnson managed to bring the first bananas to London where he displayed them in his Snow Hill shop window. It is believed he brought them from Bermuda, though we do not know how he managed to get them to destination in a fit state for display.

Bananas are the fruit of Musa Acuminata: musa being the genus, and acuminata meaning a long-pointed or tapering, not referring to the fruit, but to the related flowers. The original banana - of the raw cooking variety rather than the yellow sweet on - has been cultivated and used since ancient times, pre-dating the cultivation of rice.
As far as we know bananas originated in Malaysia around 4000 years ago, and they are mentioned for the first time in Buddhist texts, around 600 B.C. In the following centuries various examples of bananas were brought to southern Europe from the far East, and in 1502, the Portuguese brought the first banana root stocks to the Western Hemisphere, where Thomas Johnson found his examples to bring back to the UK.

However: an archaeological dig along the river Thames recently unearthed a banana skin dating to about 1500, found in what seems to have been a fish pond. This seems to prove stories that around this time a Chinese variety if the fruit was sent to England, where it was named "Cavendish" after the Duke of Devonshire's family.

Whatever the true journey of the banana, it is today a very loved fruit in the UK, with an annual per capita consumption of 12kg. And, we are glad to see, the sweet yellow fruit continues to make headlines.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Coatlicue was impregnated by a ball of feathers that fell on her while she was sleeping. Her daughter, outraged that she was pregnant without a known father, rallied 400 of her brothers to slay her. Coatlicue, however, gave birth to a fully grown warrior, whose name was Huitzilopochtli. Huitzilopochtli then slew the daughter, dismembered her, and sent her body rolling down the hill, which in turn sent the 400 brothers into a panicked retreat.