I Can Hear Bonnie Tyler Now…


Today most of North America will be plunged in at least partial darkness during the middle of the day, but thankfully the majority of us will be looking at the eclipse of the sun in awe (and wearing proper safety glasses – protect your eyes people!) rather than panicked frenzy.

Solar eclipses have caused fear, inspired curiosity, and have long been associated with myths, legends and superstitions throughout history. In some cultures, they are still considered bad omens, even today.

Of course today we know that a solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, momentarily blocking out the sun’s light. Ancient civilizations, however, understandably struggled to find an explanation as to why the sun temporarily vanished from the sky, resulting in many myths and legends behind the astronomic phenomena.

Illustration of Ancient Peruvians Worshipping the Eclipse

In many cultures, the legends surrounding solar eclipses involve mythical figures eating or stealing the sun. For example, in Vietnam, it was believed that a giant frog devoured the sun, while the Vikings blamed wolves. The word for eclipse in Chinese, chih or shih, actually means “to eat” and the ancients there believed a celestial dragon was to blame.

dragon eclipse

If you hear pots and pans banging together today, you might be in Korea (or your neighbours could be Korean) because in ancient times there, people believed that mythical dogs were trying to steal the sun so they banged their pots to scare the canines away.

sunandmoonloversSome cultures have a more romantic take on solar eclipses. Both Australian Aboriginals and the Tlingit people of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America, believed that the sun and the moon were a man and a woman who were in love and eclipses darkened the world when they came together in order to give them some privacy. Boom-chicka-wa-wa!

Other crazy myths associated with eclipses have to do with what happens rather than why. In Transylvanian folk tales, the dew formed during an eclipse was thought to be toxic. Even into the 19th century, some people believed that you shouldn’t breathe outdoor air during an eclipse and laundry left out to dry would be contaminated. Today a quick internet search will result in warnings about “eclipse rays” harming unborn children and people in India fasting due to their belief that food cooked during an eclipse is poisonous and unpure.

Eclipses have also played important roles in literature. Shakespeare mentioned them as bad omens in King Lear and Antony and Cleopatra, John Milton compared the fall of Satan to a solar eclipse in Paradise Lost, and Mark Twain used an eclipse as a pivotal plot point in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, when the time-traveling Yankee saves himself from execution by making a medieval court believe that he can darken the sun. Even horror writer Stephen King connected two of his novels, Gerald’s Game and Dolores Claiborne, through the solar eclipse that was visible over Maine on July 20, 1963.

Throughout recorded history, eclipses have been blamed for tragedies, wars, disease outbreaks and the deaths of prominent people. In 2009, a financial behaviourist named Gabriele Lepori even discovered that stock prices tend to fall on eclipse days.

Thankfully we are not the Aztecs, who attempted to stave off the end of the world (which they believed would be caused by an eclipse followed by an earthquake) by performing a human sacrifice once a year on the day they expected the solar eclipse. These days we don’t try and prevent eclipses, nor do we have to make up wild stories about their cause. Instead, some die-hards go to great lengths to experience them. Like Alvin Peterson, a navy photographer who spent two hours on top of a flying dirigible with his movie camera to film the eclipse over New York on Jan. 24, 1925.  The most impressive and literal example of eclipse chasing occurred on June 30, 1973. Scientists who chartered a supersonic Concorde traveling at 1,250 mph over Africa managed to stay in the path of totality for 74 minutes, at least 10 times longer than anyone could ever see a total solar eclipse from the ground.

crazy eclipse

Why do people go to these extremes to see an eclipse? Ask ten people you’ll get ten different answers, but for many it’s for the sensory experience and the rare opportunity to see the solar system in motion. It’s that desire to experience the eclipse that will spur millions of people to flood parks, roads, trails and towns along the path of totality today, many traveling for hours or days and paying jacked-up hotel rates to put cardboard glasses on their faces and spend a couple of minutes staring at the sky. I guess maybe eclipses do still make us crazy.

Now That’s Crazy

batshit crazy

Things that make me go Hmmm

So I saw this the other day and just thought it was funny, but then I started wondering.  Why do we say batshit crazy?  Well, thanks to the Urban Dictionary, here’s your answer:

A person who is batshit crazy is certifiably nuts. The phrase has origins in the old fashioned term “bats in the belfry.” Old churches had a structure at the top called a belfry, which housed the bells. Bats are extremely sensitive to sound and would never inhabit a belfry of an active church where the bell was rung frequently. Occasionally, when a church was abandoned and many years passed without the bell being rung, bats would eventually come and inhabit the belfry. So, when somebody said that an individual had “bats in the belfry” it meant that there was “nothing going on upstairs” (as in that person’s brain). To be BATSHIT CRAZY is to take this even a step further. A person who is batshit crazy is so nuts that not only is their belfry full of bats, but so many bats have been there for so long that the belfry is coated in batshit. Hence, the craziest of crazy people are BATSHIT CRAZY.

So now you know.  You’re welcome 🙂

Have a great weekend!

Happy Lupercalia!*

*Yes, I know it’s Valentine’s Day.  But bear with me and the title will make sense in a minute.

Valentine Header 2

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Ahh, Valentine’s Day the bane of both single and coupled people the world over. If you’re single, Valentine’s Day is just a less than subtle reminder that you are a cat or two short of spinsterhood. If you’re in a relationship, then there is the societal pressure to be romantic, to make the grand gesture to prove your devotion – no one wins but the greeting card companies, florists and chocolate makers.

It would be easy to say that Valentine’s Day was created as a marketing ploy (like Mother’s and Father’s day were), but in fact, Valentine’s day has been around a lot longer than ad agencies and marketing firms. In fact, it dates back as far as the Middle Ages. The oldest known valentine still in existence today is a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt.  In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century. By the middle of the 18th, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes, and by 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology.

But why exactly do we celebrate Valentine’s day?

Most of us have heard of the legend of Valentine, a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Other stories suggest that Valentine was himself imprisoned and actually sent the first “valentine” greeting after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today.


While it may be that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death, others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.


Those ancient Romans sure knew how to party.

Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity and but was outlawed—as it was deemed “un-Christian”–at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day. It was not until much later, however, that the day became definitively associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance.

Whatever the case, whether you are single or not so single, pro-Valentine’s or ready to stage your own anti-Valentine protest, grab a box of chocolates and enjoy the day.

Hmmmm…Do they still call it French kissing in France?

The short answer is ‘No’.

Believe it or not (and you should believe it because it’s true – I read it on the internet and blatantly ripped off for this post) for centuries, there was no official French word for the sloppy Gallic export we know as the ‘French kiss’.  Of course that certainly never stopped them from doing it.  But in May 2013, this huge omission was rectified when the one-word verb ‘galocher‘ – to kiss with tongues – was added to the ‘Petit Robert’ 2014 French dictionary.

une-parisienne-movie-poster-1957-1020417569It may surprise you that France – a country famed for its amorous exploits and which gave the world sex-symbol Brigitte Bardot and romantic photographer Robert Doiseau – is only just linguistically embracing the popular pastime, but Laurence Laporte of the Robert publishing house says that it’s just the way language evolves.

We always had many expressions to describe “French-kissing,” like “kissing at length in the mouth,” but it’s true, we’ve never had one single word.”

The term ‘French kiss’ – once also called a ‘Florentine kiss’ – is popularly considered to have been brought back to the English-speaking world by soldiers returning from Europe after World War I. At the time, the French had a reputation for more adventurous sexual practices.

‘Galocher’ is a slang term that’s been around for a while but only now is it being officially recognized in the French dictionary.  Derived from ‘la galoche’, the word for an ice-skate, the new term riffs evocatively on the idea of sliding around the ice.

Think about that, next time you’re wrapped around your sweetie, tangling tongues.

So next time you’re sweet talking your amour try Voulez-vous galocher avec moi?

Things That Make Me Go Hmmmm


I’ve just come off a week’s vacation. The first weekend was almost unbearably hot and humid, and not once but twice, I overheard someone mention the ‘dog days of summer’.

Hmmmm….So why do we call the hot, sometimes dry-sometimes sticky July/August weather ‘dog days’?

The expression dog days of summer refers to the sultry days of the northern hemisphere summer that coincide with heliacal rising of the constellation Sirius. This constellation, also known as Orion’s Dog or the Dog Star, is the brightest star in the night sky. It can be seen almost everywhere on the Earth’s horizon and at this time of year, in the Northern Hemisphere, it rises in conjunction with the sun.

 sirius constellation

The ancient Greeks observed that the appearance of Sirius heralded the hot and dry summer, and feared that it caused plants to wilt, men to weaken, and women to become aroused (woo hoo!). The Romans knew these days as dies caniculares, and the star Sirius was called Canicula, “little dog.” Homer even referenced Sirius in the Iliad when describing the approach of Achilles toward Troy, associating it with oncoming heat, fevers and evil:

Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion’s Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity.

Because Sirius is so bright and rises and sets with the sun at this time of year, the Ancient Greeks and Romans believed that its heat added to the heat of the sun, creating a stretch of hot and sultry weather. They named this period of time, from 20 days before the conjunction to 20 days after, “dog days” after the dog star.

Today, the dog days of summer occur during the period between July 3 and August 11. Although it is certainly the warmest period of the summer, the heat is not due to the added radiation from a far-away star, regardless of its brightness. The heat of summer is a direct result of the earth’s tilt.