Mr. Know-It-All: Growling for answers about jugs


Q: My dad once told me that when he was a kid, maybe around my age at the time, his father would send him to the saloon to get a pail of draft beer. The pail was called a "growler." He said he would stop and sample the contents once or twice on the way home to make sure it was not spoiled for his dad. If he sampled too much, his father would comment on the loss, but he never got into trouble.

I was in a pub the other day with my girlfriend, and she commented on the brown jugs on a shelf and called them growlers. They are different from what I knew about. Can you tell me about them? -- F.B., Ithaca, N.Y.

A:A growler is usually a glass or ceramic jug used to transport draft beer. Though you rarely find them at retail stores, they are commonly sold in breweries and brewpubs.

Q: I don’t think there was ever a time when I was not familiar with the opening line, "It was a dark and stormy night ..." What book is it from? Who wrote it? What is the rest of the sentence? -- G.B.N., Kannapolis, N.C.

A:The novel is "Paul Clifford," written in 1830 by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton. The book tells of a man, Paul Clifford, who led a dual life, one as a criminal and the other as an upscale gentleman. The book was a success when it was released. Here are the opening lines:

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents -- except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind, which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

Q: I was reading a Western novel in which the main character got caught in a wash during a torrential rainfall. He was unable to get to safety; a log came along, which he climbed on and rode to safety as if riding a bucking horse. The author used a word to describe the way he was sitting, but I can’t remember it. Do you know? -- J.S.J., Panama City, Fla.

A: Look up the word "bestride." The dictionary gives this definition: "to sit or stand on with the legs astride."

Q: I was reading about gondolas. It said a gondola is propelled by an oar rather than punting. What is "punting"? -- L.L., Pottsville, Penn.

A: A punt is a flat-bottomed boat with a square bow and stern; they are used in shallow waters. To propel a punt, a pole is used to push against the riverbed. Now, who is doing this work? The punter, of course. Gondoliers use oars instead of poles.

Q: What does "blimey" mean, and what is its origin? -- P.H., Midland, Texas

A:"Blimey" is a British cry of surprise, alarm or annoyance. It’s shortened from "gorblimey," which is the Cockney form of "God blind me." In medieval times, people would use contractions rather than break the third commandment of using the Lord’s name in vain.

Q: Why are the nautical mile and land mile different? Which is longer? -- T.L., Lawrence, Kan.

A: The nautical mile is a unit of distance that is approximately one minute of arc measured along any meridian (a line of longitude, stretching from pole to pole). By international agreement, it has been set at exactly 1,852 meters (about 6,076 feet).

The familiar land mile, also known as a statue mile, is 5,280 feet, and is based on paces. In 1593, an English Act of Parliament defined a mile as eight furlongs, which after lots of measuring, comes out to 5,280 feet, or about 1,609 meters.

Send your questions to Mr. Know-It-All at or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.


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