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Monday, August 31, 2009

Meebo Update from a Few Minutes Ago.

Dear Meebo Guest Who May or May Not Have Gotten the Last Part of Our Chat:

The name "Ku Klux Klan" comes from the Greek word for circle, kuklos. The change from a "c" to a "k" in klan was just, presumably, to keep the K theme going.

Hope this answers your question!


P.S. I found this in the Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present: From the Age of Segregation to the Twenty-first Century.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

AAARAAAGH!!!! Maybe?

We just received a meebo question asking what the infamous “rebel yell” might sound like. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, the rebel yell was basically a battle cry many confederate infantrymen used before they charged a federal position. Soldiers would yell to intimidate their opponents and relieve their fears. In his book, The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy, Bell Irvin Wiley describes the yell this way: “As it flourished on the field of combat, the Rebel yell was an unpremeditated, unrestrained and utterly informal 'hollering.' It had a mixture of fright, pent-up nervousness, exultation, hatred and a pinch of pure deviltry.” Also, Wiley argues that many confederate brigades had their own unique yells and calls. So don’t assume all rebels yelled the same! Wiley gives an example of one young Federal soldier’s experience during an attack: “One of the soldiers gave a whoop, which was followed by such a succession of whoops from his comrades as made the woods reverberate for miles around.”

Today, you can relive the glories of a confederate charge by enjoying Rebel Yell whiskey and screaming like a banshee at home.

Wiley, Bell Irvin. The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy. New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1943. p. 72-73

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What Do You Mean Pie? I Ordered Cake!

Welcome back to the Mississippi Library Commission's Information Theatre. Today's feature is Part Two of the fascinating Meebo epic, "Tell me all about women who jump out of cakes!"

Following up on the Queen Anne lead, we searched high and low for more details. About the closest that we were able to find were references to soltelties and entremets. These were involved dishes that incorporated mythical creatures, live animals, etc...

Cut forward several centuries in time to the late 1800's to visit our next mention of live things in food. It seems that an architect named Stanford White, along with various friends, held a now-notorious stag party which has since been dubbed the "Pie Girl Dinner." During the festivities, White and Co. arranged that a group of ladies burst from a large pie. (At least one source states that it was only one girl, a model named Susie Johnson, who jumped out of said pie.) In contrast to today's modern woman, Susie Johnson's life was ruined! (Just for jumping out of a pie--can you believe it?!)

(A sidenote: if you're not familiar with the absolutely fascinating life (and death) of Stanford White, check out his Wikipedia page.)

This seems to be the precursor to the now popular woman-in-a-cake routine. Does this completely answer your question, Meebo User?

Adamson, Melitta Weiss. Food in Medieval Times. Greenwood, 2004.

Craven, Wayne. Stanford White: Decorator in opulence and dealer in antiquities. Columbia University Press, 2005.

Gustaitis, Joseph. The Lady of the Tower. American History. June 1999, Vol. 34, Issue 2, p. 44.

Slater, David. The Fount of Inspiration. Winterthur Portfolio. Winter 2004, Vol. 39, Issue 44, p. 229-258.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Can I Get The Recipe For This Cake?

This morning we received one of our toughest meebo questions yet: Where (or how) did the practice of girls jumping out of cakes originate? The Reference Department put on their collective noggin caps and did some serious thinking. We finally remembered the nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence which contains the line "4 and 20 blackbirds baked in a pie." The Mississippi Library Commission actually has a book called Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme, which describes the history of certain childhood rhymes. According to this book, "the notion of people jumping out of food dishes did not come along until the reign of Queen Anne."

How exciting! It seemed that we were definitely on the right track! Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion to the mystery of the miniature cake people.

Roberts, Chris. Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme. Thorndike Press, 2004.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Answering Life's Little Questions

One of my first activities upon my arrival at the Mississippi Library Commission was to complete a scavenger hunt. Tracy explained that the task was a fun way for new staff to become more familiar with the reference resources that reference staff use most often . Now that I’m finished with the task, I thought I would reflect on a few things with a blog posting.

First, not all information needed is available online. One of the biggest misconceptions about reference librarians is that we spend all day searching through Google. This is simply not true. Our collection at the Mississippi Library Commission has tons of information that is not readily available on the web. This is especially true with regards to information about Mississippi. Our collection has county cemetery records, tax revenue information, literacy ratings, and countless other bits of information about our great state. Here’s a couple of examples:

Question: How many deaths were investigated by the Mississippi State Crime Lab in 1991? How many autopsies were performed?

Answer: The state crime lab tested 12,400 cases in 1991 and 1,093 autopsies performed in the state.
Some good news did appear in this report: only 81 heads of cattle were reported stolen for the whole year in 1991. Not too shabby, Mississippi![1]

The next important lesson that I learned is that I can trust my supervisor. The questions were allegedly based on real questions received in the reference department, but when I began looking for the answers, I thought, no one will ever ask for this kind of information. Well, during my short stay here I have located information on municipal tax revenues, given advice on how to wear tie clips, given contact information for our state Tax Commissioners, and checked up on Patrick Swayze’s health status (repeatedly). The point is: a reference librarian has to be ready for any and all questions…just like Tracy said! Here is an example of a question we often get at the reference desk:

Question: Who is the owner/manager of Pee Wee’s Muffler and Brakes in Meridian?
Answer: Dewayne Massey is the owner of Pee Wee’s Muffler and Brakes in Meridian![2] By the way, I read a review of Pee Wee’s Muffler on Yahoo and the reviewer gave Pee Wee five stars for his excellent muffler work. Keep up the good work, Dewayne!

Lastly, I learned that Tracy’s idea of “fun” is pretty twisted. I mean, whoever thinks that looking through dusty copies of Mississippi phone directories is fun has some serious issues. Here’s an example of one cruel question she composed:

Question: My grandmother, Stella Smith, was born somewhere in Mississippi around 1890. Where was she during the 1920s and 30s?
Answer: Who knows? There has to be at least four thousand Stella Smiths born “around 1890”!

I think this last question shows Tracy’s true diabolical nature. But, in all seriousness, I did learn a great deal about our resources and that experience should make me a better reference librarian.

[1] Annual Report. Jackson, MS: The Department of Public Safety, 1991.
[2] Mississippi Business Directory. American Directory Publishing Co., 2009

Friday, August 14, 2009

57 Varieties, And One Of Them Is... Kumquat?

I am a ketchup fiend. When I was a kid, I wanted to put it on everything: french fries, beans, cornbread, you name it. I'll even admit to sneaking a little onto my macaroni and cheese as an adult. Yesterday, I started flipping through one of our new non-fiction books, 1,000 Common Delusions and the Real Facts Behind Them and ran across an interesting nugget about my favorite condiment. It seems that good ol' Mom-and-apple pie ketchup didn't start life in the United States. What's that you say?! Treason!

Apparently there are several theories floating around as to where ketchup got its start. According to Delusions, "the word ketchup was introduced to the United States in the 19th century by Chinese immigrants, who referred to a particular condiment as ke-tsiap, which means 'sauce,' although it was made from eggplants, not tomatoes" (209). Hmm... Eggplants you say? I had always thought that they were pretty tasteless. (That's what chefs say about me when they see me applying ketchup to their steaks.) Even though some citations are missing, you can read about the other ketchup theories over at wikipedia.

Need a few more facts to feed your need for ketchup kitsch? How about this one that I gleaned from the Heinz website: Ketchup at Heinz is tested to make sure that it comes out of the bottle at .028 miles per hour. That's about the same speed as the common garden snail! If it comes out any faster, which you know we all try to make it do, it doesn't make the grade.

I also ran across the biggest and best-kept ketchup secret ever. Ever shake and shake and shake and shake, trying to get your ketchup fix? Here's the skinny from the big cheese themselves: "To release ketchup faster from the glass bottle, apply a firm tap to the sweet spot on the neck of the bottle— the '57.' Only 11% of people know this secret. Now you're 'in-the-know.' "

They seem kind of smug about keeping us in the dark about that. Ketchup lovers of the world, revolt! Go home tonight and tap the neck of the bottle, not the bottom, and report back to me! Go, I tell you, go!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Few Things, Quickly.

Here’s a quick post to tell you that today, in the span of a few hours, I learned the following:

That in 1864, Nathan Bedford Forrest captured some Union troops in Tennessee. He sent the enlisted men to Selma to the Cahaba prison camp and the officers to Enterprise, Mississippi. Why is this interesting? One of the officers was Eli Lilly, future pharmaceutical giant.

That the Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition, published in 1934, contained an error: the word dord, which was defined as density. The chemistry editor at Webster’s sent in a slip that said, “D or d” – meaning the letter d in both capital and lowercase form – with the intention that the definition “density” would be added to the list of things the letter d can abbreviate.

That last fiscal year (July 2008-June 2009), MLC’s reference department answered 5693 questions! (Can you tell I’m working on my annual report?)

Back to it!

Word Up!

We just received three new books about language and thought it would be fun (ok, what we mean is that it would be fun for us) if we each chose one and shared our favorite words. I chose I Love it When You Talk Retro: Hoochie Coochie, Double Whammy, Drop a Dime, and the Forgotten Origins of American Speech. Tracy was lucky enough to read through Foyle’s Philavery: A Treasury of Unusual Words. That left Jesse with Weasel Words: The Dictionary of American Doublespeak. It was a coincidence, Jesse, promise!

Overall, Weasel Words has a strong right-leaning agenda with a healthy disdain for the dreaded “academic and governmental bureaucracies” whom, I suppose, these folks spend their time raging against. Maybe not for everyone, but either way, Weasel Words does contain some interesting phrases. Jesse’s favorite is “pulse,” which the authors define as “an inside the beltway term for pestering, as in ‘why don’t you pulse the Department of Justice about that?’” I think I’ll “pulse” Tracy to fix my grammar.

I was especially tickled by the entry on mattresses in the furniture section of I Love it When You Talk Retro. It seems that before the insides of mattresses were monitored by any sort of law, many new owners would wake up itching. I suppose that this is why the phrase “Don’t let the bedbug bite” first appeared. States started to require that a list of mattress contents be attached to new mattresses. This solved the original problem and opened a whole new can of bedbugs. It seems that the warnings against removing the content labels were so dire that the mattress-buying public was afraid to do so. A whole generation of mattress label hilarity was born.

Now, not to steal Tracy’s thunder, but I did find two words that I couldn’t resist in her book, Foyle’s Philavery. Bedizen means “to ornament or dress up in a gaudy and tasteless manner,” as in, Jethro has bedizened his lawn with one too many pink flamingos. Blennophobia also caught my eye. It refers to “an abnormal fear of slime or mucous,”as in, Sally’s blennophobia took hold when she was confronted with the ten-foot tall giant slug.

Tracy, who unfortunately had to go to the dentist, chose an especially apt word: haptodysphoria. This quirky word describes “an unpleasant sensation felt by some people in response to certain tactile sensations." Tracy said that she has a friend that experiences this around cotton balls, but I think she was foreshadowing something that happens at the dentist! Her other word of choice? Dringle. Dringle “means to linger, to trickle, or to expend time lazily or slowly.” I must say that this one might be my new favorite word. In fact, I think it might be my own personal mantra: dringle, dringle, dringle, dringle…

Foyle, Christopher. Foyle’s Philavery: A Treasury of Unusual Words. Edinburgh: Chambers, 2007.
Keyes, Ralph. I Love It When You Talk Retro: Hoochie Coochie, Double Whammy, Drop a Dime, and the Forgotten Origins of American Speech. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2009.
Wasserman, Paul and Don Hausrath. Weasel Words: The Dictionary of American Doublespeak. Sterling, VA: Capital Books, Inc. 2006.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Earlier this afternoon, a Meebo patron asked Tracy for help finding the identity of the last queen of Mesopotamia. Unfortunately, the great and mighty internet powers that be were rendered temporarily frozen, making it impossible for her to retrieve this knowledge seeker's email address. The answer will, hopefully, be found (at least in some part) below.

According to A Dictionary of World History, Mesopotamia "is an ancient region of southwest Asia in present-day Iraq." Great! This brings to mind vague memories of Western Civ classes and talk of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The end is in plain sight, right? Ah, contraire, say you who remember a bit more from those long ago classes. It seems that there were at least four civilizations in ancient Mesopotamia: Akkad, Sumer, Babylonia, and Assyria. Holy sand castles (to borrow a phrase from my neighbor)! Which civilization did this person want to track down?

Luckily, another library assisting our Meebo patron discovered that they only wanted to know about a queen named Semiramis. So, here's the skinny on Ms. Semi. Philip's World Encyclopedia claims she was the "daughter of a fish goddess and the god of wisdom," but Knowles asserts that her father was just an Assyrian. The World Encyclopedia also says that she was "raised by doves." She co-founded Nineveh with her husband Ninus, but according to Hutchins this is just Greek myth. Philip's says that she founded the city of Babylon. My favorite account of her life, though, comes from Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. According to them, Semiramis married a guy named Menones. The Assyrian king came along and wanted to marry her, so Menones conveniently hanged himself. (Very reminiscent of David and Bathsheba, no?) Then Semiramis married the Assyrian king, Ninus, who gave her his crown. Then she had him killed. (Who was this woman, that men would do these incredibly inane things when she was around?) Apparently, she was later killed by her own son, Ninyas. What a great, homey little family tale! There's sort of a happy ending, though. When Ninyas killed Semiramis, she turned into a dove and flew away. Awww! Check out these two sites for more information: and

I hope this completely answers your questions, Meebo patron. By the way, Tracy found one last Semiramis nugget for you. It seems that Ricardo Montalban was in a 1954 called The Queen of Babylon. His love interest's name? Semiramis! She sure seems to enjoy the menfolk.

"Mesopotamia" A Dictionary of World History. Oxford University Press, 2000. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Mississippi Library Commission. 5 August 2009

"Semiramis" A Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Edited by Elizabeth Knowles. Oxford University Press, 2006. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Mississippi Library Commission. 6 August 2009

"Semiramis" World Encyclopedia. Philip's, 2008. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Mississippi Library Commission. 6 August 2009

Semiramis. (2005). In Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (17th ed). London: Chambers Harrap. Retrieved August 06, 2009, from

Semiramis. (2009). In The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather guide. Abington: Helicon. Retrieved August 06, 2009, from

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Ungaudy Gaudi

Last year, I went to see Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona with a friend and became an immediate admirer of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí's work. I was lucky enough to travel to Spain a few weeks ago and see his masterpieces up close. Even though trudging around Barcelona earned me a bum ankle and lost me several gallons of sweat, it was definitely worth seeing this master's works in person. If you're not familiar with his buildings, this website has some excellent information and pictures. After I returned home, I decided to read up a little on the man himself and have been increasingly impressed. Here are two of my favorite facts:

  • For the last twelve years of his life, Gaudí turned down all commissions and lived, at least on occasion, in the basement workshop of the Sagrada Familia. Talk about some serious devotion!

  • Gaudí was hit by a streetcar while walking to church. Apparently he was a bit of a crusty looking character and was taken to a charity hospital ward. His friends found him there the next day, where he uttered these stirring words marking his intention to stay there: I belong here amongst the poor. He died due to his injuries.

I'll leave you with a view of my favorite Gaudí building, Casa Mila. What do you think?

"Antoni Gaudí i Cornet." Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. 17 Vols. Gale Research, 1998. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009.

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