Monday, March 29, 2010


"This is tantamount to treason!" Yes, we all know what it means. But, uh, what does it mean, exactly?

I think most readers will agree that it means something like "this is an equivalent of treason". But does anyone have a clue as to the etymology of this word? I certainly don't.

But as it's my job here to guess, I will put forth a feeble Greek origin to the tanta- prefix. But -mount doesn't sound very Greek to me. This is one of those words where the deeper I get into guessing, the deeper I get in the muck. So let's find out the truth while we still can...

Yeah, it's a hybrid. But no, not Greek. "Tant" means 'so much, so great' and comes from the Latin tantum and "amount" apparently comes from the Old French amunter, a variant of amonter. You say amonter and I say amunter, let's call the whole thing... uh, sorry--I got distracted.

(P.S.--I tried to find a suitable image, but nothing quite worked. However, I'm open to suggestions...)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Egads. The toils of ignorance are never done. Apparently it was not enough to discover that those Tower of London guardians/tour guides were called the Yeoman Warders. It has now been pointed out to me that I failed to sufficiently explain what yeomen are. There's a perfectly good explanation for this, however--I don't know the answer.

Not quite good enough, though, is it? Well, up to the moment that I was actually questioned on this, I thought I did know. They're strong, stalwart types, a little like Robin Hood's Merry Men, salt of the earth, good archers, wearing tunic and tights...Yeah, I'm starting to make less and less sense to me too. Let's cut to the chase.

Well, the chase is not so easily cut to as all that, it seems. Did you want the short answer or the complete one? The fast and serviceable one is that a yeoman is a.) a freeholder who cultivates his own land, b.) an assistant or subordinate to an official, or c.)an attendant or lesser official in a royal or noble household. Oh, and there's d.) a naval petty officer.

But where does the word come from? Well, no one really knows. Some think it's related to Old English iunge man or 'young man', others to Old English geaman or 'villager'.

But this guy has a different theory. Personally, I like it. It seems to account for the unusual prefix in a less "ingenious" way.

What's the headshot about, you ask? Why, that's Owain Yeoman from "The Mentalist", of course. And no, he didn't pay me anything for the publicity.

At least not yet.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Okay, I think we all have a visual, at least from the gin bottle, if nothing else. But who are these guys?

Strictly speaking, this is not an original idea kind of post, as a friend was the one who brought it up because there is a new novel coming out which features these guys somehow. She can remain anonymous or not, as she wishes. I'm still not entirely clear on the function of the Beefeaters, but now I know that they live in the Tower of London. For real! And there's this one guy who's the raven keeper, and they are apparently called something like the Order of Yemen and...

But maybe it's time to do a little fact-checking....

Oh,great. Yeoman warders, not Yemen warders. Please tell me that there is a raven keeper and not just a ravin' keeper.

Just kidding. I already knew there was a raven keeper. And you who didn't know can check it out here. If you get that far, be sure to scroll down a bit because the Ravenmaster, as he's really called, has some nice stories about the individual ravens.

Why ravens? Because legend has it that if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, the White Tower will crumble and a terrible disaster will befall Britain. It doesn't seem quite, well, cricket that the reason the ravens don't leave is that their wings are slightly clipped. But I suppose when the future of a nation is at stake...anyway, they're well cared for.

But I digress. Why are the Yeoman Warders called Beefeaters? Turns out no one really knows. In fact, not even the Yeoman Warders know. There are lots of theories, of course--most having to do with these men and their families being given extra rations of beef in an era when few had much or any of it. According to this very charmingly rendered account ( scroll down to the part about the legend of the ravens towards the end), it may have been a term of derision, which would make sense on several levels.

There is some controversy about whether the fellow on the Beefeater's gin bottle actually is a Beefeater and not a Yeoman of the Guard, one of the monarch's personal bodyguard. The Beefeaters' everyday uniform is,after all, blue and red. But their state uniform is red and gold and similar to the Yeoman of the Guard's uniform. As, for some reason, these haven't been modified since the days of the Tudors, they are rumored to be very uncomfortable.

The toast of the Yeoman Warders is "May You Never Die a Yeoman Warder", which may sound odd, but it began at a time when the vacant post reverted to the Constable of the Tower on your death, leaving your family with nothing. Not too well thought out, I'd say.

Unfortunately, I must finish this post with the news that a couple of Beefeaters were sacked at the end of 2009. The reason? Harassment of the Tower's first female Beefeater, Moira Cameron. Some things never change, I guess.

I'm thinking that getting booted for harassment wasn't exactly the way those two foresaw that toast being fulfilled somehow...