Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Bishops, Apes and Booze


A few weeks ago, I explained how monkeys were really monks. Primates are not primates, although they do have a common ancestor. Bishops are primates because they are of the first rank. Linnaeus decided to call primates primates because they were the highest and first rank of all the species.

Anyway, bishops get tired and want to sit down. The Greek for a seat was kathedra and so bishops' chairs are called cathedrals. Notable primates include Saint Hilarius and Santa Claus.

A bishop is defined in Grose's Dictionary as:

A mixture of wine and water, into which is put a roasted orange.

The lexicographic significance of this drink is recounted by Boswell in his life of Dr Johnson:

One night, when Beauclerk and Langton had supped at a tavern in London, and sat till about three in the morning, it came into their heads to go and knock up Johnson, and see if they could prevail on him to join them in a ramble. They rapped violently at the door of his chambers in the Temple ,till at last be appeared in his shirt, with his little black wig on the top of his head instead of a nightcap, and a poker in his hand, imagining, probably, that some ruffians were coming to attack him. When he discovered who they were, and was told their errand, he smiled, and with great good humour agreed to their proposal : "What, is it you, you dogs! I'll have a frisk with you." He was soon dressed, and they sallied forth together into Covent Garden, where the green-grocers and fruiterers were beginning lo arrange their hampers, just come in from the country. Johnson made some attempts to help them ; but the honest gardeners stared so at his figure and manner, and odd interference, that he soon saw his services were not relished. They then repaired to one of the neighbouring taverns, and made a bowl of that liquor called Bishop, which Johnson had always liked : while in joyous contempt of sleep, from which he had been roused, he repeated the festive lines,


Short, O short then be thy reign,
And give us to the world again.


They did not stay long, but walked down to the Thames, took a boat, and rowed to Billingsgate. Beauclerk and Johnson were so well pleased with their amusement that they resolved to persevere in dissipation for the rest of the day.

And that, dear reader, is how you go about writing the first English dictionary.

What mitre been

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