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The Straight Dope


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Perhaps you can help. Being someone born with very different hair, I am often perplexed at why things are the way they are. That's why I read your column--to find out things that no one else could answer. For example: (1) Why is it that two wrongs don't make a right, but three rights make a left? (2) If it's a penny for your thoughts, why does everyone put their two cents in? (3) How come there's an expiration date on sour cream? (4) How come it's a pair of pants, but only one bra? (5) When the guy invented cottage cheese, how did he know it was done? (6) Why do we play at a recital and recite at a play? (7) If olive oil comes from olives, where does baby oil come from? (8) Why do you drive on a parkway and park on a driveway? (9) If vegetarians eat vegetables, what do humanitarians eat? (10) Why are there locks on the doors of 24-hour convenience stores? (11) Why are boxing rings square? (12) If pro and con are opposites, is Congress the opposite of progress?

If you could help out this straight dope, I would be in debt. If you can't, I'll still be in debt and frustrated besides. --Inquisitively yours, Vince Vance, Dallas

You must be a riot at family reunions, Vince. In the fullness of time I will deal with your . . . well, let's call them metaquestions. But first I want to get to the bottom of this stumper: if you call up a bike company to ask if their business goes in cycles, do they refer you to a spokesman?

For years I have wondered why electricians call scrap copper, usually in the form of old or unused cable, "rabbit." Everyone seems to have a theory, but even the old-timers can't really say why or how the term came to be used. --Jerry Butler, Chicago

It's oil field slang. Roughnecks used to drop or shove a piece of steel through racked pipe to clean out obstructions. The piece of steel was called a rabbit, presumably because it bore some resemblance to a rabbit chasing down a hole. The name was also sometimes applied to the crud the rabbit shoved out of the pipe, and electricians, evidently not being as creative linguistically as oil workers, adapted it to describe copper scrap.


Regarding the question about how Peggy derived from Margaret [January 8], you showed some astonishment that Daisy derived from Margaret. It is, in fact, the origin of the name. La marguerite is French for daisy. Daisy historically (until this century) has been a common diminutive of Margaret, and in the 15th century Marguerite d'Anjou, wife of England's Henry VI, used the daisy as her personal symbol. An anonymous poem:

In search from A to Z they passed,

And "Marguerita" chose at last;

But thought it sounded far more sweet

To call the baby "Marguerite."

When Grandma saw the little pet,

She called her "darling Margaret."

Next Uncle Jack and Cousin Aggie

Sent cup and spoon to "little Maggie."

And Grandpapa the right must beg

To call the lassie "bonnie Meg."

From "Margarita" down to "Meg,"

And now she's simply "little Peg."

--Eirene Varley, Austin, Texas

Poetry always chokes me up. Just so we understand each other, I wasn't personally astonished by the Margaret/Daisy connection. When you've been on this job as long as I have, you're not astonished by anything. But I'd venture to say the average citizen would never suspect a link, hence the exclamation points in my list of names. Contrary to what is apparently wide belief, judging from the mail, Margaret doesn't derive from the French/Spanish/Yiddish word for daisy, but rather from the Latin margarita, pearl.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

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