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Thursday, February 26, 2009

General Meebo Eggleston

We have been having some great results with Meebo, the newest way that you can ask us questions. You've certainly been keeping us on our toes! The Reference Staff would like to remind you that in order to get your answer to you, you should either wait for an answer to your query or include your email address. Remember: no one but the staff here can see your question/email address. Because a couple of questions were received after hours or by those who disappeared before we answered their questions, we have decided to answer those questions in the blog. Look for the "meebo" label.

A recent inquiry asked how many generals are currently serving in the United States Armed Forces. According the United States Code Title 10 Chapter 526:
The number of general officers on active duty in the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, and the number of flag officers on active duty in the Navy, may not exceed the number specified for the armed force concerned as follows:

(1) for the Army, 302.
(2) for the Navy, 216.
(3) for the Air Force, 279.
(4) for the Marine Corps, 80.

There are a few exclusions where certain people (i.e., the president) in
certain circumstances (i.e., war) can add extra generals, but 877 seems to be
the average at any given point.

We also had a question about how to pronounce artist Will Eggleston's name. According to Cheim and Read Gallery in New York:

These are great questions! They're just the sort of thing that we love to track down. Remember! If you don't stay on Meebo or give us your email address, we'll post the answer to your question here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What I Really Mean Is...

Some of the reference questions we receive here at the Library Commission ask for the definitions of words, the spelling of words, or the origin of words or phrases. Stroll through the shelves of our reference collection and you will find many different dictionaries. We have the typical works, such as the classic Oxford English Dictionary, as well as foreign language dictionaries and medical dictionaries. Look a little further, however, and you will find some really fun and unique titles like these:

· The Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang and Unconventional English
· An Encyclopedia of Swearing: the Social History of Oaths, Profanity, Foul Language, and Ethnic Slurs in the English-Speaking World
· The Endangered English Dictionary: Bodacious Words Your Dictionary Forgot
· When is a Pig a Hog?: a Guide to Confoundingly Related English Words

One of the sources I have recently stumbled upon is How Not to Say What you Mean: a Dictionary of Euphemisms, by R.W. Holder. Euphemisms, of course, are words or phrases that we use to make something that is really bad or taboo seem not so bad. For example, instead of telling your four-year-old niece that her pet goldfish died, you might say that it “went to sleep” or “went to a better place.” Many of the euphemisms in the book have to do with death, but other topics include religion, sex, bodily functions, mental illness, and crime-all topics that we might not be comfortable discussing.

Here are some of the words and phrases from Holder’s book that I thought were unusual (there were others I thought were unusual too, but these are the less vulgar ones!):

· Airport novel: a book written for a person who does not read regularly. For the captive traveler market and considered by the literati to be unworthy of their attention (7).
· The Aztec two-step: An affliction of visitors to Mexico—you have to keep dancing to the lavatory. Also known as Montezuma’s Revenge (16).
· Break your elbow: to give birth to a child outside marriage (42).
· Devoted to the table: gluttonous, not merely fond of a piece of furniture. Heavily overweight (103).
· File thirteen: a wastepaper basket. Where you dispose of unwanted or superfluous correspondence or printed matter (140).
· See a man about a dog: to go to any place that is the subject of taboo or embarrassment. The dog’s location depends on the company you keep—a lavatory, in mixed society; an inn, in the presence of your family at home; home, if you are with friends in an inn; and so on(351).
· Terminological inexactitude: a lie. The term was coined by Winston Churchill (404).
· With respect: you are wrong. Used in polite discussion and jargon of the courts where an advocate wishes to contradict a judge without prejudicing his case. There is high authority for the view that “with respect” means “you are wrong”…“with great respect” means “you are utterly wrong” and”with the utmost respect” equals “send the men in white coats” (442).

What are some of your favorite euphemisms, words, or phrases? Leave us a comment! We’d love to hear from you.

Have a wordy question? Ask us!

Holder, R.W. How Not to Say What You Mean: a Dictionary of Euphemisms. New York: Oxford UP, 2002.

Monday, February 23, 2009

More Fleas Than You Can Shake A Stick At

Almost every weekend I drive to Crystal Springs. On the way down, I pass a sign for a flea market. Being the complete nerd that I am, I decided that I needed to know why these sales are known as flea markets. According to Brewer's Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable, the term is a direct translation from the French marché aux puces, market of fleas. Brewer's says that the term was coined in the 1920's because the piles of used goods available at such sales are evidently a breeding ground for fleas. I was hoping for something a bit more picturesque!

There's a related term that I ran across while investigating flea markets. I bet you haven't heard of a flea pit! It is an idiom used to describe movie theatres. The expression came into use in the 1930's. People started saying it because, you guessed it, cinemas were hotbeds of flea activities. Just think of the carpets, cloth covered seats, etc... I'm so glad I didn't know that before I spent 3 1/2 hours watching the Oscars the other night! The Australians took it a step further and came up with the phrase fleas and itche(r)s during the 1950's. Picture this: boy asks girl, "Want to go see The Seven Year Itch at the fleas and itches?" Would you have agreed?

Here's one last flea-y tidbit for your entomological edification.
Aristophanes, in the Clouds (423 BC), says that Socrates and Chaerephon tried to measure how many times its own length a flea jumped. They took the size of a flea's foot in wax, then calculated the length of its body. They then measured the distance of a flea's jump from the hand of Socrates to Chaerephon and the problem was resolved by simple multiplication (Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 404.)
I have so many new questions after reading that blurb! According to Britannica Concise Encyclopedia online, the "adult flea is .04-.4 inches long." How in the world did they take a wax imprint of a miniscule little flea foot? They can also jump up to 200 times their own body lengths. That means that a flea could jump 80 feet. Eighty feet! I wonder how long Socrates and Chaerephon spent doing this.

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 15th edition. Harper Collins Publishers, 1995.
Brewer's Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable. London: Cassell. Retrieved February 24, 2009, from

Brewer's Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Phrase and Fable. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1991.
Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. Chicago, IL: Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved February 24, 2009, from

Friday, February 20, 2009

More About Gestures...WAY More. (Maybe Too Much More?)

We’re still pretty enamored with the information on gestures that Elisabeth told you about yesterday--which, by the way, was inspired by an actual reference request about a gesture--and as such, I’ve just got to mention one more.

To pull down your pants and expose your buttocks is an insult, naturally. No real confusion there. However, in Desmond Morris’s explanation in Bodytalk, many questions emerge:

“The...message is an ancient one...The human species is the only primate to possess a pair of rounded buttocks. In earlier centuries it was believed that this made the Devil intensely envious. [!] Lacking buttocks himself [!!], Satan was outraged by any reminder of this fact. ...And since the Devil, in place of buttocks, carried on his rump a second face [!!!], it became a familiar taunt to shout out ‘Kiss my arse’ when the display was aimed at human companions” (15).

Okay, so, to recap: the Devil is envious of humans for having buttocks and he has a SECOND FACE ON HIS RUMP. Let us not overlook the fact that Morris states that it was super fun to show your behind and yell “kiss my arse” at human opposed to when you want to tell your pet hyena or that gaggle of geese what’s what.

On days like today, when I’m given the opportunity to share these pieces of fascinating information with you, I feel so lucky to be a librarian. In what other profession would this be considered work?

In unrelated news, we're so excited that so many of you are using our new chat reference service! Keep your questions coming!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Just A Little Flick Of The Wrist

Last week I was working on a question about gestures. I'll wait while you drag your mind out of the gutter... Desmond Morris's book Bodytalk proved to be an invaluable resource.

There are some gestures that are universal, such as nodding your head to indicate a "Yes" or pointing your finger to show someone in which direction to go. Many gestures that you might think are universal aren't. A thumb stuck up in the air is generally good, but in some countries it can be seen as a sexual insult. In the United States it is widely acknowledged that when someone grabs at their throat, that person is choking. (This meaning is even supported by the American Red Cross.) In some Arab cultures, however, the gesture can mean "I will strangle you" (208.) New Guineans will construe the action as meaning the gesturer or someone else is suicidal. Italians use it as a take-off on the "I'm fed up to here" gesture and South Americans may think that you are talking about prison! Here are some of my favorite of the more off-beat gestures:
  • To signal that you don't believe what someone is saying when you're visiting South America, simply draw your pointer finger up and down your throat a few times (211.)

  • To indicate urgency in Saudi Arabia, touch the tip of your tongue with your forefinger. Then touch the tip of your nose (224.)

  • When in The Netherlands, shape your hand into a fist and extend your thumb. Then put the tip of your thumb between your lips and blow out your cheeks. Congratulations! You have just indicated that you "Don't give a damn" (212.)
  • In North Africa, a great insult can be made by rubbing your outstretched palm down someone's face. This means "A curse on you!" (58.)

  • To insult someone in Japan, show them your hand with your fingers up and the thumb folded in, as if you were indicating the number four (64.)

  • In East Africa, make a fist and wrap your forefinger and thumb around your nose. Make a wringing gesture and exhale deeply to say "Never mind" (177.)

I must admit that we have been infected with a certain amount of glee while trying out some of these gestures. It's a valuable thing that can reduce you to giggles and teach you about another culture. Forewarned is forearmed: be careful what you gesture!

Morris, Desmond. Bodytalk. Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1994.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Libraries and the Legislature

Today in downtown Jackson, the Mississippi Legislature is in full swing. At the Mississippi Library Commission, one of our tasks is to monitor the legislative session for bills that could affect the Library Commission or other public libraries in the state. It is important that we remind those in political offices how important libraries are to the people of Mississippi. When I first started working here, I was amazed at how much the lawmakers of our state can influence what happens to our libraries.

I also wondered about the history of the legislature. I’ve never been a history buff, but after spending so much time studying the actions of our lawmakers, I wanted to know more.

Turns out, the history of the Mississippi Legislature is full of twists and turns. According to Mississippi’s Old Capitol: a Biography of a Building by John Ray Skates, the legislature has been convening for over 200 years. In the early 1800’s the session met in Natchez. After much political debate, the legislature moved to Washington. A yellow fever outbreak caused the members to move again, and from 1817-1820, they returned to Natchez.

As the state grew, new settlers wanted the seat of government moved from Natchez to a place that was closer to the new frontiers. Skates writes that in 1822, legislators met in Columbia to discuss the city of Jackson for the new seat of government. Lawmakers met in an “old and dilapidated” building in Jackson from 1822-1839 (49). In January of 1839, the legislature held its first session in the Old Capitol building.

That same year, lawmakers became the first in the country to grant property rights to married women (Skates, 52). Unfortunately, that “property” was a slave.

The motives behind the passage of this act are varied. Skates writes that one member of the legislature voted for the act because he wanted to marry a wealthy widow. He was in large amounts of debt, and wanted to protect her property from his debt. Another legislator was supposedly in financial difficulty, and wanted to keep his wife’s property from being turned over to debt collectors. Senator Hadley introduced this bill, and Skates mentions that his wife operated a boarding house in Jackson. Skates writes that many legislators “…took their meals with Mrs. Hadley, and, the story goes, she put any lawmakers who opposed the bill on short rations” (53).

During the Civil War, legislators no longer met in Jackson. They moved meetings to Columbus until 1865 when they returned to the Old Capitol in Jackson. The Old Capitol was in poor condition after the War, and in 1904 the members met at the newly built Capitol, where they still meet today.

For information on the Mississippi State Legislature, go to Here, you can read about the members of the House and Senate, learn how a bill becomes law, read introduced bills, and find out the status of bills.

For information about Mississippi’s laws relating to libraries, check out this link: .

Have a question about the Mississippi Legislature (or anything else!)? Just ask! We would be happy to help you!

Skates, John R. Mississippi's Old Capitol: Biography of a Building. Jackson: Mississippi Department of Archives and History, 1990.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Who, Me?

Meebo, that is. We in the Mississippi Library Commission's Reference Department have wanted our patrons to have the ability to contact us immediately via the Internet for a while now. Drum roll please! We are quite excited to announce our use of a remarkably handy little chat interface called Meebo. Meebo's catchphrase is "Instant Messaging Everywhere," and that really does seem to be true. In addition to the standard IM sites that we have all been using for years (AIM, MSN, Yahoo, etc...), Meebo is also used on social networking sites like Facebook and entertainment sites like Flixster. Meebo allows friends using different instant messaging providers to chat together.

Meebome (think meebo-me) is the nifty gadget that you should now be seeing at the top of this blog. This allows you, our fabulous patrons, to have instant access to us, your humble librarians. Ask us questions! Ask! Ask! Ask! We'll be online 8:00-11:00 and 12:30-5 Monday-Friday. Here are some pointers:
  • We don't have to be online for you to ask us a question. When we log back on Meebo, your question will appear.
  • No one else will see your question. This is not a chat room. It's just another way for you to access us for one-on-one service.
  • You can choose to create a Meebo nickname or just remain anonymous. It's up to you!
  • We will answer your question as quickly as possible. Don't forget: you can still contact us by any of the methods you have used in the past. Call us at 1-877-KWIK-REF (1-877-594-5733), send us an email at, or drop us a comment after a post. We would also love to see you in person! Come by our beautiful library at 3881 Eastwood Drive in Jackson.
To paraphrase the immortal Alfred P. Doolittle from My Fair Lady, we're willing to tell you, we're wanting to tell you, and we're waiting to tell you. All you have to do is ask!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Peanut Butter Jelly Time!

As you probably know, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently recalled many products made with peanut butter or peanut paste. I love peanut butter, so this has been quite upsetting to me. Which foods filled with delicious peanut butter goodness can I eat? Which ones to avoid? Check out the FDA’s website to find out more information about the recall, including items that are safe to eat and those that are not.

The invention of peanut butter is a little bit of a mystery. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, George Washington Carver is often credited with the invention of peanut butter. In fact, he developed over 300 uses for peanuts. However, Carver did not patent his recipe for peanut butter, and it is thought that peanut butter has been invented and reinvented many times throughout history. One source, the Encyclopedia of North American Eating & Drinking, states that peanut butter was invented in 1890 by an unnamed physician in St. Louis who “…wanted to provide his elderly toothless patients with an easily digestible protein food as a substitute for meat” (189).

The Encyclopedia of Food and Culture gives the credit for popularizing peanut butter in the United States around 1894 to John Harvey Kellogg (also the inventor of Corn Flakes). Katz writes that Kellogg was a vegetarian and a physician, and used it as a substitute for cow’s butter and cream. Peanut butter quickly became popular with vegetarians, who started using it as a meat substitute.

Other peanut butter facts from the Encyclopedia of Food and Culture:

  • During the early 1900’s, peanut butter was considered a delicacy for the wealthy, and was served at New York’s finest tearooms.
  • Peanut butter was served with mayonnaise, cayenne, paprika, cheese, watercress, meat, Worcestershire sauce, cream cheese.
  • In 1896, commercial peanut butter became available.
  • The first time peanut butter was combined with jelly (that we know of) was in 1901.
  • As technology improved and it became easier to make, more people had access to it. In 1920 with the invention of sliced bread, peanut butter became available to those of lower socioeconomic status.
  • Today, peanut butter can be found in 83% of U.S. households.

We Americans­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ love our peanut butter. We eat it the usual way with jelly on bread; we eat it on crackers, in ice cream (my fave!), in candy, with chicken and other meats, and right out of the jar. There is even a song about it. Who could forget this?
If you’d like to try your hand at making your own peanut butter, take a look at this recipe.
And finally, with Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, I will leave you with this classic comic strip from Dec. 15, 1964.

Gay, Kathlyn. "Peanut Butter." Encyclopedia of North American Eating and Drinking. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1996. 189.
Katz, Soloman, ed. "Peanut Butter." Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. New York: Thomson Gale, 2003. 56-57.
Schulz, Charles. "Peanuts." Comic strip. 11 Feb. 2009
“Who Invented Peanut Butter?" 11 Feb. 2009

Monday, February 9, 2009


One of the resources we use all the time here at the Library Commission is MAGNOLIA, an awesome (and free!) resource available to publically funded schools, libraries, and universities in Mississippi and provided to those institutions by the Mississippi Legislature.

MAGNOLIA stands for Mississippi Alliance for Gaining New Opportunities through Library Information Access (aren't you glad they shortened it to MAGNOLIA?). It contains full-text articles in databases on virtually every topic: the arts, business, biographies, health, law, computer science...and the list goes on.

Periodically we'll take a minute here to tell you about an interesting feature we've discovered, or something fun we found on MAGNOLIA. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Penny for Your Thoughts?

One of the books on the shelf in MLC’s reference department is The Value of a Dollar. I love thumbing through this volume, especially now that our country is facing uncertain economic times. It contains a ton of information about different time periods in America, from 1860-1999. Each time period has a historical snapshot and a list of the salaries for specified occupations. For example, in 1933, school teachers made $1300 annually. In 1984, the average was $20,031, and in 1996 it was $27,875. The U.S. President’s salary during Hoover’s time in office (1930) was $75,000, while Bill Clinton earned $200,000 in 1996.

In addition, the book lists prices for everyday items. For instance, you can use this book to find the price of bread, milk or butter during any given year. But, the genius of the book is that it also has the prices of other not so ordinary items. In 1933, you could go down to the corner store and get a Baby Ruth candy bar for one nickel and a bottle of Coca-Cola for another. A toaster was advertised for just a dollar. But this was not just any toaster! The ad noted that “it automatically turns the toast when doors are lowered.” Our toasters today don’t do that! (Do they?)

Here are some other interesting facts:
In 1933:
· Cigarettes were 15 cents per pack.
· A typewriter from Sears cost $45.00.
· A woman’s wool sweater was only $2.25.
· A full course meal at “Southern Hotel and Dining Room” in South Carolina was advertised as “the best meal 35 cents can buy!”

In 1940, movie lovers could see Gone with the Wind at Little Carnegie Theater (with air conditioning!) for $1.10.

In 1955, acne cream was advertised for .59 cents. The ad actually stated, “When acne strikes, heartache and loneliness often follow.”

In 1984:
· Microwave ovens were a hefty $539.99.
· A custom built home for sale in New York with 4 bedrooms & 3 baths was $156,000.
· Planning a vacation? A round trip flight to Alaska was only $135.
· Or, try Arizona. A night at the Ramada Inn at Lake Havasu City cost $27 per night.
· Maybe just stay home and read a good book. The average hardback fiction book was $14.74.

In 1997:
· You could fly one way from L.A. to Chicago for $198
· Or, buy the Lion King, new on VHS- just $29.97
· You could upgrade your PC with Microsoft Office 4.2. The price? $248.99
· Why not try another great book? The average price of a hardback fiction book rose to $21.40.
And finally,

In 2009:
· All this wonderful, entertaining information from your friendly librarian for FREE? Priceless.

Derks, Scott, ed. The Value of a Dollar. Lakeville, CT: Grey House Publishing , 1999.
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