Occasionally there’s a lull in the chit-chat at the monthly Book Club, and all eyes turn to you to contribute at least something to the gathering. What better way than to furnish them with a flourish of facts that’ll astound and amaze them for ever?

Cinderella
Most of us know the children’s fairy tale about Cindy’s missing glass slipper. Well, in case you feel moved to tell it to your kids, grand-kids or your mom, it’s wise to have a grasp of the background – in case they ask.

Perhaps the first version of the tale was written around the year nought by a Greek bloke called Strabo who called her Rhodopis, a Greek slave who lost a leather slip-slop and ended up marrying the King of Egypt. A Chinese variation popped up in 860 CE and the version we’re familiar with was a French rendition from 1697 which the Grimm Broers re-sculpted in 1812.

Anyway, her Anglicised name is Cinderella because, among other chores as a maid, she was to sweep up the cinders from last night’s fire. Then there’s a theory that the French for ‘fur slipper’ – pantoufle de vair – was mistranslated later into pantoufle de verre, meaning ‘glass slipper’, which we happily accept today for some barmy reason. I certainly wouldn’t consider slipping into a pair of glass Crocs around the home, never mind going clubbing in them.

There’s also disagreement regarding the curfew and exactly when the carriage turned back from mineral to vegetable. Some argue 11pm, others reckon midnight. And what about the claim that she alone could fit into the petite slipper because she was born with only four toes? (But don’t even mention this to the kids, it’s unverified.)

Who said what?
The tic-toc of time has the tendency to twist the truth occasionally. “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well,” is a distortion of Hamlet’s words to Horatio while holding Yorick’s skull. Shakespeare wrote, “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him, Horatio.” Nobody said “well”, although let’s face it, Yorick certainly wasn’t at the time.

Marie Antoinette apparently suggested that if the peasants were hungry and had no bread, “Let them eat cake”. Well, it’s been claimed she said “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” – with brioche being a superior type of bread/cake available only to the upper classes.

It was also the only bread she knew, so in the spirit of sharing, the suggestion was meant magnanimously. There’s no real evidence that she even said it, but they beheaded her anyway – in case.

“Elementary, my dear Watson,” is supposedly attributed to Sherlock Holmes by author Arthur Conan Doyle. Turns out he never said it at all. The line was embellished by subsequent movie scriptwriters for dramatic effect. Originally, when Holmes correctly deduced Watson’s recent travel arrangements, Watson said “Excellent.” Holmes replied with only one word, “Elementary”.

Although this well-known catch-phrase is associated with the tough-guy screen image of Humphrey Bogart, he never said, “Play it again, Sam”. In the movie Casablanca, it was the heroine, Ingrid Bergman, who asked Sam, the nightclub’s pianist, to play As time goes by again – not The Humph.

Words words words
Boycott: Back in the 1880s in Ireland, Captain Charles Boycott was the Crown’s agent for vast areas farmed by Irish peasants. When these agents tried to impose harsh levies on the impoverished tenants, all hell broke loose. Farmers were urged to ignore and isolate the greedy officials – like lepers. Boycott, being the first agent/landlord to be targeted, became the defiled poster-boy and the name stuck.

Clue: In Greek legend, by unravelling a ball of string, Theseus found his way back out of the labyrinth after killing the Minotaur. The medieval English word for a ball of thread was ‘clew’, and it became associated with a clue/guide to solving problems.

Dollar sign: In the 1700s, Phillip V of Spain designed a symbol incorporating a ribbon winding between the two Pillars of Hercules at Gibraltar. It was ‘adopted’ by America in 1792 to signify one $.

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