Question

Is there a chicken called a "French hen," or is this simply a poetic term in the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas"?

We think the song refers to just a regular ol' chicken who maybe says, "Le Cluck." Whatever a French hen is, the price of three of them (which is what the song requires) was about $45 last year, according to PNC Bank, which since 1984 has calculated the annual price of purchasing your true love everything mentioned in the song. Check this year's prediction from the folks at www.pncbank.com/12days/.

Last 7 Days

Where did the saying "Jimmy Christmas" come from?

"Jimmy Christmas" or "Jiminy Christmas" is a direct reference to Jesus Christ and dates back to 1664, when it was first recorded as "Gemini," a twist on the Latin phrase Jesu domini. The name of the Walt Disney character Jiminy Cricket was probably based on this phrase.

How can you forecast the coming winter weather using a persimmon?

Cut open a persimmon seed and look at the shape of the kernel inside. If the kernel is spoon-shaped, lots of heavy, wet snow will fall. If it is fork-shaped, you can expect powdery, light snow and a mild winter. If the kernel is knife-shaped, icy, cutting winds will occur for the next few months.

Where did the phrase "between the devil and the deep blue sea" originate, and what does it mean?

First seen in print in 1621, this phrase has a nautical origin. The "devil" referred to one of two seams that ran the length of a ship's wooden deck. One was on the inside, closest to the ship's railing, and the other was on the outside, near the waterline of the ship's hull. Those seams, like the rest of the ship's planked deck and frame, had to be regularly caulked to prevent leaks. In high seas, this job could be fatal, with sailors in dire peril of being washed overboard. Being "the devil to caulk," the seams thus earned their nickname. The choice "between the devil and the deep blue sea" soon came to mean a choice between two undesirable consequences.

What exactly is the "Icelandic low" that weathercasters talk about?

An Icelandic low is a low-pressure center that originates over Iceland and southern Greenland and dominates the wind circulation over the North Atlantic Ocean. In summer, the low weakens and often divides into two separate cells.

How did the idea of a Christmas tree start?

Its origin is probably within winter celebrations long before the beginning of Christianity. The practice of decorating a tree, or using plants and trees that were green year-round, was important for people in winter climates. Some cultures believed evergreens would keep witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and even illness at bay. During the Middle Ages, December 24 was celebrated as the Feast of Adam and Eve, complete with a Paradise Tree, which was a fir tree hung with red apples. Today, the practice of using decorated evergreen trees as part of the Christian celebration of Christmas is a custom begun in Germany over 400 years ago that spread rapidly throughout northern Europe and, hence, became a tradition transplanted to the New World by European immigrants.

How is sea level determined? Is it the same for every sea?

Sea level is determined halfway between high tide and low tide, as measured by a tide gauge. It is a relative, rather than an absolute, measurement and varies from ocean to ocean. It even varies from coast to coast on the same ocean. Sediment deposits at the mouths of rivers, natural and manmade erosion, and engineering projects can affect relative local sea level. Continental drift and global warming also may be factors. Sea level is the standard used to determine local land elevations and geographic features. Mean sea level is the average height of all the oceans and is used to determine the relative height of geographic features worldwide. According to most estimates, mean sea level has risen about four to eight inches over the past hundred years.

Where did the dollar sign ($) for U.S. currency originate?

The American colonists used both the British pound and the Spanish dollar as monetary units. The Spanish dollar, or piece of eight, predominated, as it was the international standard during the 17th and 18th centuries. It also was the prototype for the 1785 American silver dollar. There are several theories about the origin of the dollar sign, but the Treasury Department believes that the Spanish P (for piastre, or piece of eight) gradually came to be overlaid with an S, resulting in a close equivalent of the dollar sign. The symbol was widely used before the adoption of the U.S. dollar.

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