Mayday, May Day, May Day

Mayday’s roots are in French, while May Day’s roots go back to pagan spring celebrations.

The distress call “mayday” was invented in 1921 at the Croydon airport in London. Much of the traffic to Croydon airport at the time was from France and so “mayday” was chosen because it sounded like the French “m’aider” (“help me”).

Mayday the distress call has nothing to do with May Day, the May 1st pagan spring holiday celebrated in various fashions since the Ancient Romans. Eventually, in an attempt to stop paganism, May 1st was appropriated by the Catholic Church and dedicated to Mary.

In the early 20th century May Day also became the International Workers’ Day, celebrating labor & workers around the world (except in the United States, where it’s called Labor Day and celebrated the first Monday in September).

Elvis’s Fool’s Gold

One of Elvis’s favorite sandwiches was the 8,000 calorie Fool’s Gold Loaf.

On the evening of February 1st, 1976 Elvis and his buddies were in Memphis talking about this sandwich they loved from a restaurant called the Colorado Mine Company in Denver. Right there and then Elvis decided “we’re going”, had his jet readied, and the group flew from Memphis to Denver on a midnight run for sandwiches.

The sandwich is called the Fool’s Gold Loaf, it’s 8,000 calories, and if you would like to make your own you will need:

  • 1 hollowed-out loaf of French bread
  • 1 entire jar of smooth peanut butter
  • 1 entire jar of grape jelly
  • 1 pound of bacon

Elvis purchased 22 Fool’s Gold sandwiches for himself and his buddies, and the husband & wife owners of the Colorado Mine Company met them at the airport hanger with the sandwiches as well as Perrier and champagne.

Colonel Sanders … Not A Military Colonel

Colonel Sanders was a Kentucky Colonel, not a military one.

Colonel Harland Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, was not actually a military colonel (he never served in the military). Rather, he was given the honorary title of Colonel as part of the Kentucky Colonel program.

The governor of Kentucky bestows the title on individuals “… with strength of character, leadership and dedication to the welfare of others.”

Moses’s Horns

Moses spent a period of time in art with horns because of a mistranslation.

During the Middle Ages, and into the Renaissance, Moses was frequently depicted in art as having horns on his head, including in a statue by Michelangelo. This was all because of a mistranslation from the Hebrew text.

The mistranslation of Exodus 34:29 said that Moses came down from Mount Sinai and his face was “horned from the conversation of the Lord” but it should have been translated as his face was “shining/radiant from conversation of the Lord”.

So the paintings & sculptures of Moses with mutant horns should have just been Moses with a rosy glow.

A collection of Moses depicted with horns from over the centuries.

Syrah or Shiraz?

Starting in France and making its way to Australia, Syrah and Shiraz are the same thing.

When the French dark grape varietal Syrah arrived in Australia from France, the local Australians began to change its name through their accent calling it “Shi – RAZ” and eventually through actually spelling it Shiraz. Syrah and Shiraz are the same grape. Today which name a winemaker uses is based on where in the world they are making their wine.

As for the legendary Persian wine producing region of Shiraz, the Syrah/Shiraz grape seems to have no relation and the name similarities seem to be a coincidence.

More on “Less is more”

The idiom “Less is more” is by German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. “Less is more” is about simplicity, that keeping things to the absolute essentials is more effective than including extraneous additional elements.

Mies

Ludiwg Mies van der Rohe was born in Germany in 1886. His architectural career started by apprenticing at various design firms but it was in Berlin in the early 20th century that he gained greater exposure to the new progressive ideas of the age. After World War I people in the Weimar Republic were living in a world of increasing industrialization with fast-paced metropolises. The old traditional social constructs were from a bygone era and weren’t compatible with the new modern industrialized world. It was in this environment that Modernism was born.

Modernism embraced new ways of thinking. As people struggled to find their place in a world broken by the old regime, modernism explored new ways forward. It found its way into design, art, literature, philosophy, music, and other fields as experimental new ways that were alternatives/rejections to the rules of the past.

Modernism was at the center of Mies’ architectural thinking and he quickly became a leader in this new school of thought. While serving as the third and final head of the famed Bauhaus design school, he realized the political climate in Germany was becoming increasingly hostile and emigrated to the USA in 1937, eventually settling in Chicago. It was in Chicago that he worked the rest of his life creating some of his masterpieces in modernist thought such as the Farnsworth House.

The Farnsworth House is a perfect demonstration of Mies’s modernist design philosophy that “less is more”.

Less is more

His entire approach to architecture stripped designs down to the absolute essentials; removing classical architectural decorative ornamentation entirely. It was from this design philosophy that “Less is more” was born. It was a utilitarian approach where a design is more powerful the less you add. Basically a design is better the less stuff you add to it. Keep it simple.

Ornamentation served no functional purpose so it was omitted. It took Louis Sullivan’s idea that “form follows function” to the extreme. A building’s visual style should take a backseat to its purpose.

While celebrated as a design visionary and as a father of modernism, Mies’ aphorism of “Less is more”  has taken on a life of its own where it is arguably more famous than he is.

A : turning the Ox upside down

The letter we know today as “A” has its roots in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics where it was originally the pictogram of an ox head.

From Oxen to Alpha

The letter “A” we use today is descendant from the Greek letter Alpha. The first letter of the Greek alphabet, Alpha is actually the evolutionary result of other letter forms from other alphabets most notably the Phoenician letter / word Aleph meaning “ox.” Aleph looks like a sideways “A” pointing to the left which not-so-accidentally resembles a sideways ox head. But the history of the letter A goes back even further. The Phoenicians created Aleph as a simpler form of the even older Egyptian letter / sign of an ox head. The Egyptian pictogram for an ox is essentially an upside down “A”.

Egyptian roots

History of the Alphabet by Art of the Problem is a great video that explores the history and changes of language & writing from the more conceptual pictograms to the sound signs we use today. The invention of papyrus as a writing material gave the Egyptians a quicker way to record information than carving into stone. As papyrus became increasingly popular the Egyptians created what was essentially a hieroglyphics shorthand … hieroglyphics-lite if you will. This system eventually became the hieratic system of writing. It was a faster writing system designed to take advantage of this new writing technology they had created.

Hieratic became easier to remember than hieroglyphics because it started to use less pictograms / word signs and instead used more sound signs, like our letters do today. With word signs you had to remember thousands of symbols to communicate. With sound signs you could combine symbols to create words. Hieratics eventually gave way to demotic, an even faster way for Egyptians to write. Over time the demotic sign for an ox became the basis for the Phoenecian aleph sign, which became alpha, which became our letter A.

So the letter A started as the image of an ox head in Egypt and as time passed it worked its way around the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean up into Greece where it got turned upside-down into the letter Alpha and eventually our letter A.