Etiquette & superstition: corn

There are a few theories about the origin of the word “corny.” One story goes that mail-order seed catalogs in the early 20th century included dumb jokes and hokey stories amongst the listings for corn prices. Another opinion is that it was a pejorative for unsophisticated country folk, a la “cornfed hayseeds”; this one continues that the country bumpkin would get especially mawkish after a bit of corn liquor. The most illogical postulation I found tried to pin it on the people of Cornwall, who seem to have a reputation for being different. I’d never heard of this anti-Cornish sentiment before, so it was rather alarming to come across it. However, since “corny” doesn’t mean strange or different, this theory is busted. Nice try, Cornwall haters.

ETIQUETTE: The proper eating of corn on the cob seems to have been an obsession with etiquette experts once upon a time. Flip through any chapter on table manners in an etiquette book written before 1970, and you’ll find corn on the cob. I imagine that the readers of these books during this period were delicate city gentlewomen who needed to be talked through a procedure that involved eating with one’s fingers. Fried chicken is another favorite topic of this time.

Anyway, the basic idea for corn consumption is to go forth bravely without being a complete savage. Do not butter and season the entire cob at one time so that butter and mayonnaise and your little cheesy bits are dripping all over the place; just butter a few rows at a time. Take hold firmly by both ends of the cob if no corncob holders have been provided, and eat away (in her etiquette book from the ’60s, Eleanor Roosevelt actually directs the eater to “gnaw it,” and as soon as I read that I couldn’t get the picture of old Eleanor Roosevelt gnawing away at a corncob out of my head for some time). Don’t get all fussy with cutting the kernels off the cob unless your dental situation merits it.

SUPERSTITION: When you harvest corn, the spirit that lives within the crop loses its house. If you’re nice and make a temporary home for it, you’ll have a good harvest next year. Make a corn dolly out of the last few stalks of corn and hang it up in the kitchen. The “dolly” is often not actually a doll figure, but a bell, spiral, horseshoe or lantern shape (and it’s not always made of corn; sometimes rye, wheat, or oats are used). In parts of Germany, the dolly actually is formed as a doll, dressed in women’s clothing and called the Corn Mother. The Corn Mother is thrown into the barn for the mice to eat so they’ll leave the rest of the harvest alone. Gnaw the Corn Mother, mice. Go ahead.

Photo by _cheryl on Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: roses

Roses are red, violets are blue. Or wait… aren’t violets violet?

ETIQUETTE: A gift of red roses for Valentine’s Day. I don’t know; it’s traditional, but so unimaginative. If I got red roses for Valentine’s Day, I’d be a little suspicious. Try some orange roses if you want to convey passion and desire, lavender roses to mean love at first sight, or blue roses if you want the recipient to understand you find them to be an unattainable mystery… or a University of Michigan fan or something if you get the roses at FTD. FTD, why are you doing that to your roses? That’s terrible. Please stop doing that.

SUPERSTITION: So many rose superstitions. Let’s just grab a few.

  • Scattered red rose petals are not a sexy, romantic gesture; they are an omen of evil to come. Also cheesy.
  • If you’re going to give primroses to a farmer, make sure you give him a big bunch. If you don’t, his ducks and chickens are all going to die.
  • Are you a widow being haunted by the ghost of her husband, and you just want him to go away already? Walk through a path of rose bushes four times; he will get stuck on a thorn and won’t be able to follow you any more.
Photo by fabiux via Flickr

A knight and a temple

Two people responsible for bringing a lot of light into the world died yesterday – Shirley Temple Black and Leonard Knight. Shirley Temple holds a place of high esteem here at Fancy Notions not only for her singing and dancing talents, but also for her stint in the ’70s as the US Chief of Protocol (a/k/a The Big Boss of Etiquette). Leonard Knight holds a place of high esteem here for his love of the world and his beautiful and strange creation that sprang from that love, Salvation Mountain. Nice work, you two.

You might be sick of hearing “Animal Crackers” or “Good Ship Lollipop” right about now, so why don’t you take a listen to the arguably superior “At the Codfish Ball”? If you want, you can take a virtual tour of Salvation Mountain while you do so.

Curb that impulse

I like this cartoon, even though I don’t like the message. Boys should not hoot at girls. It doesn’t even work. To wit:

(From Hapa Girl: A Memoir) “Some of the boys hoot, cupping their hands around their mouths. They hoot to see how the girls will react: will they like it? This sound like a monkey’s mating call? A few girls giggle. A few more boys hoot. The girls decide, no, they don’t like it, and turn away. The boys stop hooting.”

Thanks for finding this video, Creekbird! You’re good at lots of things.

Etiquette & superstition: teeth

My root canal is finally finished. It only took five visits to the dentist to complete it; six, if we’re being technical. I don’t care if it’s 2:30, I never want to go to the dentist again.

ETIQUETTE: In western cultures, it is considered rude to use a toothpick at the table. Interestingly, Miss Manners, whom I love, thinks this ban on table toothpick use is illogical and overly fussy. However, Peggy Post, your uncle Ned and all the debutantes in Oklahoma think picking one’s teeth at the table is disgusting, so unless you are having a lunch date with Miss Manners, you should excuse yourself to the restroom should you need to pick your teeth.

In many Asian countries, it is acceptable to pick one’s teeth with a toothpick at the table; of course, this does not give one license to start rooting away at one’s incisors like a dentist with a bad assistant and a rageohol problem. Just cover your mouth with one hand and use the toothpick with the other hand. If you are provided with one of those single-tipped toothpicks with a fancy grooved end, snap off the little finial and rest your toothpick on it as you would use a chopsticks holder at the table.

It is not acceptable anywhere to use a knife, matchbook cover, fingernail, sugar packet or chopsticks to pick one’s teeth at the table. Even Miss Manners agrees on this.

SUPERSTITION: Babies born with teeth will grow up to be murderers. They will also be very clever and lucky. Go figure.

Upon losing a tooth, a person should throw the tooth into the fire and burn it up completely. Otherwise, a dog might come along and eat the tooth, and when that happens, the person who lost the tooth is going to get a dog’s tooth growing in its place. If a pig finds the tooth, same thing. Pig tooth. If the tooth is not eaten by a dog or a pig, it’s still bad news for the person who lost the tooth, as he will be condemned to hell to search for the tooth in a bucket of blood.

Some people who don’t believe in the tooth-burning practice say that you should just throw the old tooth up on the roof or into a tree where a rat or squirrel will find it and ask the rodent nicely to supply you with a stronger tooth.

Photo by twowaystairs on Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: ladders

Oh man. For a minute there I thought I lost one of my favorite superstition reference books. That seemed like a really unlucky thing to do – lose a book on superstitions. Luckily it had just fallen behind the bookshelf. Back to work.

ETIQUETTE: When a man and woman are using a ladder together, the man should go up the ladder first and down the ladder first. He should not look up the lady’s skirt when the lady is descending the ladder, but the lady probably shouldn’t be wearing a skirt while climbing a ladder in the first place.

SUPERSTITION: Yeah, yeah. Don’t walk under a ladder. That old chestnut. Almost six years doing Fancy Notions and I’ve avoided it until now. Do you know why you’re not supposed to walk under a ladder? A ladder, when propped against a wall, forms a triangle, and a triangle symbolizes the Holy Trinity, so when you’re crossing through that triangle, you’re defying the Holy Trinity and that’s bad. You’ll have bad luck, you’ll never marry and you might even be hanged.

If you do walk under a ladder and wish to be protected from bad fortune, just spit over your left shoulder, or spit on your shoe and don’t look at your shoe until the spit has dried, or cross your fingers until you see a dog.

If you didn’t walk under the ladder, and you happen to notice that the ladder has an uneven number of rungs, climb up the ladder to ensure your future success.

Photo by sbluerock on Flickr
Published in: on January 10, 2014 at 5:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Etiquette & superstition: baptism/christening

Depending on whom you ask, a christening and an infant baptism are either the same thing or two different things that happen at the same ceremony. Something something naming ceremony vs. pledging allegiance to God something something. It seems there is not a lot of etiquette attached to baptisms, and not a lot of superstition attached to christenings, so I’m combining the two just like they do at the christening ceremony. The baptism ceremony. Whatever.

ETIQUETTE: Do not ask anyone other than an intimate friend or family member to be your child’s godparent, because it is theoretically a big responsibility to be a godparent, and a person is not allowed to decline a request to be a godparent. A female baby gets two godmothers and one godfather, and a male baby gets two godfathers and one godmother. At the christening, when the clergyperson asks the godmother for the name of the baby, the godmother only says the child’s first and middle name, and she had better say it loudly and clearly so the clergyperson pronounces it correctly. If the clergyperson says the name wrong, that mispronunciation is the kid’s name for life. Sorry. Ha ha.

SUPERSTITION: A baby should be baptized as soon as possible to protect it from evil fairies, who want nothing more than to steal the baby and replace it with a changeling. Before the child is baptized, the only way to protect it from fairies is to make it wear its father’s clothes, or to put a lot of stuff in its crib, particularly garlic, bread, salt and a piece of steel if it is a Danish baby, and horehound, black cumin, marjoram, a right shirtsleeve and a black stocking (left foot) if it is a German baby. A baby who dies before being baptized is doomed to become a yeth-hound, which is a hound without a head that roams the woods at night wailing loudly. How a yeth-hound is able to wail loudly without a head is not explained.

Photo by rhondda.p on Flickr

Word of the day for Monday, December 2nd

Hey, lift me up. Do I feel heavy to you? Yeah, I probably feel heavy to you. Can you even lift me up? Geez, this is bad. Not bad because I’m a big fatty. It’s bad because me feeling heavy to you is a bad omen. Well, not actually. If I were a corpse or a heavy stone, and I felt heavy to you, it would be a bad omen according to

zygomancy. Zygomancy is the art of divination by the use of weights or scales. If you could have lifted me up and I felt light, that would have been a really good omen… probably an omen that I would be able to fit into some of my old clothes again.

Etiquette & superstition: onions

Benny and I have a funny story about the time I made potato and leek soup out of some things I found in the garden that I was sure were leeks. They turned out to be ornamental onions, not leeks, and the story is really much better the way Benny tells it, but suffice it to say you should not make soup out of ornamental onions.

ETIQUETTE: Onions are not mentioned in a lot of early 20th century etiquette books. Vogue’s Book of Etiquette does broach the subject, but only to note that “A rule of formal dinners is that onions cannot be served, even in a garniture. There are some elaborately concealed exceptions to this, but it is a rule.”

As for non-formal dining of onions, I was able to find one source online regarding the placement of onions on a burger served in a “sit-down” (not fast food, not formal) restaurant, but the recommendation seemed incongruous to the eating of a burger – lots of business about not picking up the bun with one’s hands, eating the burger with knife and fork, and so on. I can’t endorse this course of action, however; it seems to break an important rule of etiquette, that of being overly precious and unnatural.

I’m going to go out on a limb and provide my own advice here: a burger is by nature a casual food. If you wish to garnish it with the lettuce and onion provided, add those items to the burger with your fork, but don’t worry about removing the bun with some complicated fork-and-knife action, and feel free to eat the burger with your hands if it is not unreasonably messy to do so. A burger served open-face or with no bun at all should, of course, be eaten with a knife and fork.

SUPERSTITION: A girl who wishes to know the identity of her true love should take a bunch of onions and name each one after a young man she knows. Gary Onion, Billy Onion, Emmett Onion, etc. She should then put the onions in a safe, dark place. The onion named after her future suitor will be the one that sprouts first. If she only has one onion, she should put it under her pillow and pray to St. Thomas, and in the night she will dream of her true love.

Onions are not only good for love predictions, but they cure dog bite, headache, toothache and fever. If you are going to be beaten with a cane, try to rub an onion over the cane first (or if you can’t do this, rub the part of your body that is to be beaten with the onion). You will not feel any pain, and the cane will break.

Etiquette & superstition: marigolds

It’s interesting to me that only some flower names are popular as girls’ names. Poppy, Rose, Lily, Daisy, Violet – yes. Marigold, Snapdragon, Black-Eyed Susan – no.

ETIQUETTE: Suitors should probably stay away from ladies wearing marigolds upon their person, as a marigold worn on a lady’s bosom signifies indifference and one worn in the hair indicates mental anguish. Marigolds are appropriate flowers to place at a gravesite, which I find strange because many in the gardening field consider marigolds to be somewhat tacky and cheap.

SUPERSTITION: If you take a marigold and mix it in some water, rubbing the water over your eyelids will give you the ability to see fairies, but perhaps this is because picking marigolds will turn  you into a drunkard. Marigolds may get you all messed up, but they can fix you right up too – they cure headache, toothaches, depression, smallpox and snakebites.

Photo by THE Holy Hand Grenade! on Flickr

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