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Monday 29th August 2016
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The Mystery Hour - Words

<a class='autolink' href='/james-obrien-3537'>James O'Brien</a>Thursdays 12-1pm

Every week, James O'Brien enlists the help of LBC listeners to solve the questions you've always wondered the answer to.

It's all about shared human knowledge. Call up with a question and then another listener around the country will know the answer.

But we're strict - no reptition and no dullness (so leave the motoring questions out!). If it's something that most of the audience would say "yes, I've wondered about that", then we want to hear from you.

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knife small

Why do words have silent letters?

Why do words have silent letters in front of them – like knife or gnat? What is the point of them?
bendy bus

Why do we get ON a bus, but IN a car?

Why do we get ON a bus, but IN a car? Why don't we get on a car like everything else?
doctor with clipboard small

Why is "nursing" good, but "doctoring" bad?

Why is "nursing" something good, but "doctoring" something bad? You nurse someone to health, but doctor a document.
Mandelson watch

Why is something 'The Real McCoy'?

When you go and buy your genuine Rolex watch, why is it the Real McCoy?

Why do people "shuffle off this mortal coil"?

I often hear the phrase "before I shuffle off this mortal coil". Where does the word coil come from in this instance?

Why are roads "metalled"?

Why is a newly surfaced road said to be metalled, when it's made of asphalt?

Why are people with no money "borasic"?

I sometimes hear older people from London, when they have no money, they say they are "borasic"?

Why do toiletries contain Aqua instead of Water?

In toiletries, they list the primary ingredient as Aqua. Why don’t they write water?

Why do we call policemen 'coppers'?

Why do we call policemen 'coppers'? I can't think why…
michael Jackson funeral

Why are undertakers so called?

Why are undertakers so called? Where did the name originate?

Why is a Green Room so called?

You see pictures on TV where celebrities are seen drinking in the "green room". But they are never green.

What is a Beadle?

At St Bart's Hospital, there is a man who deals with paperwork called the Beadle. Where does that title come from?
glass tumbler

Why is a glass called a tumbler?

Why is a drinking glass known as a 'tumbler'?

Why are cowards referred to as chickens?

Why do we call people who are being cowardly 'chicken'?




Why did children shout "Charlie's Dead" at a petticoat?

When I was a little boy, when girls were walking around with petticoats showing under their skirts, we would shout "Charlie's dead". Why was that?

Why do we put money in a "kitty"?

We've just been on holiday with another couple and each night, we put money in the kitty. Where does the phrase "kitty" come from?

My five-year-old asked me: "where does zig-zag come from and which is the zig and which one's the zag?"

Why are people in Holland called the Dutch?

Why are people in Holland called the Dutch, not Hollanders, or Netherlanders?

Why do we say "the birds and the bees"?

There does the saying "the birds and the bees" come from?

Why don't we go on charabanc outings nowadays?

Years ago, I used to go on a charabanc outing to the coast. But now, we go on coach outings. Why are they now called different things?

Why do we call post boxes "pillar boxes"?

Why do we call post boxes "pillar boxes"? Is there a difference between them?
Mail strike

Why are strike-breakers called 'scabs'?

When trade unions go on strike, why are strike-breakers known as "scabs"?

What is a baby rabbit called?

Dogs have puppies, cats have kittens, so what’s a baby rabbit called?
prince edward

What's the female equivalent of an Earl?

When there is a Lord, you have a Lady, and a Duke, you have a Duchess. So what is the female equivalent of an Earl?

What's the difference between string and rope?

What's the difference between string and rope? When does string get big enough to be called rope?

Why do we call doctors "quacks"?

Why do we call doctors "quacks" and psychiatrists "shrinks"?
playing cards

Why are the suits in playing cards so called?

In a pack of cards, why are the suits called diamonds, hearts, clubs and spades? Why not something else?
taxi small

Why are people "sent to Coventry"?

When you don't talk to people and you say "You're being sent to Coventry", where does that come from?

When did 1billion become smaller?

A billion used to be one million million. Now it's one thousand million. When and how did it change?
pints of beer small

Why do we call it Dutch courage?

When you're nervous and you have a drink, it's called "Dutch courage". Why is that?
uk map

Where does the word "Blighty" come from?

Sometimes you use the word Blighty to mean Britain, usually when people are coming "back to Blighty". Where does the word come from?

What do AM and PM mean?

What do AM and PM mean in the time? I've always wondered the answer.

Why are awards referred to as "gongs"?

After reading about the Oscars, I wondered why awards were referred to as "gongs"? Why is that?

Why do we say the phrase "fit as a fiddle"?

Where does the phrase "fit as a fiddle" come from? How fit is a fiddle?

Why are fire engines so called?

Why are fire engines so called? Why not a firetruck or a fire lorry?

What does F.A.B. stand for?

In Thunderbirds, what does F.A.B stand for?

Why are dead bodies called John Doe?

John Doe is the name of an unidentified corpse. Where does it come from?

Why does "straight-laced" come from?

One my girlfriend has been asking me: Why does the phrase "straight-laced" come from?

Why do people have 'a face like thunder'?

I asked my daughter: "Why have you got a face like thunder?" She asked what that meant and I had no idea.

Why is a codpiece so called?

Why is a codpiece called a codpiece?

Why is three goals called a hat-trick?

What is a hat-trick and why is it three things - three goals, three wins etc?

Where does the "bee's knees" come from?

"You're the bee's knees." What is the link between that and excellence?

Why are Mexican Waves so called?

Why are Mexican Waves so called? When were they first done?

Why do Americans write the date differently?

When we write our date, we write 28/01/10, but the Americans write 01/28/10 with the date first. Why do we do it differently?

Why are funerals called wakes?

Why do you call a funeral a wake when the person isn’t awake?

In Army terminology, how far is a click?

When you hear the army describe distances, they measure it in clicks. How far is a click?

Why do alarms go off, not on?

I told my son a fire alarm had gone off, but he said: "No, it's gone on, not off." Why do we say it's gone off?

What does the word 'mojo' mean?

Mojo – what is it? Where does the word "mojo" come from and what does it mean?

Why is 26th December called Boxing Day?

Why is 26th December called Boxing Day? Is there a good historical reason?


Why is Hampshire called Hants?

Writing out the Christmas cards, I've got family in Wiltshire (Wilts), Berkshire (Berks), Hampshire, which I put Hants. Why is it called Hants, not Hamps?


Why is something "brand spanking new"?

In the expression, brand spanking new, why is spanking associated with something brand new?

What is the secret language girls use?

When I was growing up, my sister used to speak this strange language called Ubugug with all her friends. What was it?

Why do we call a pound 'a quid'?

Where does the word "quid" come from, meaning pound?

What does WD40 mean?

I had problems with the lock on my front door and someone told me to go and buy some WD40. So what does WD40 mean?

Why is something blown 'to smithereens'?

When something is "blown to smithereens", where does that come from?
boy with knife small

Why is being robbed in the street called "mugging"?

When someone is robbed in the street, why is it known as a mugging? Is it anything to do with "being taken for a mug"?

Why do words start with silent Ws?

There are lots of words in the English language which start with an R sound, but have a silent W at the beginning? Why?

Why is Corrie called a soap opera?

Coronation Street, Brookside etc are called soap operas. Why is that?

Why is a child's playhouse called a Wendy House?

Why is a shed at the end of a garden known as a Wendy house? Where does that come from?

Where does 'Hair of the dog' come from?

Where does the phrase 'Hair of the dog' come from, meaning having a drink when you have a hangover?
new york

Why is New York called The Big Apple?

Why is New York called The Big Apple? Where did the phrase come from?

Where does the term 'honeymoon' come from?

Where does the term 'honeymoon' come from? It's not to do with honey or moons!

Why is the abbreviation of number 'no'?

Why is the abbreviation of number 'no'? Why isn't it 'nu'?

Why are posh people called 'toffs'?

Why are members of the upper class called Toffs. And why are posh people known as "Toffee-nosed"?

Why do golfers should fore?

On a golf course, why do you shout 'Fore' when the ball is about to hit someone?

What is 'Mufti' in a Mufti Day?

When kids have home clothes day at school, it's a Mufti Day. Why? What does it mean?

Where does 'On The House' come from?

My Dad wants to know where the phrase "On The House" comes from.

Why packed 'lunch' but school 'dinner'?

If you take your own lunch to school, it’s called a packed lunch. If you pay to have it at school, it’s called school dinners. Why is it different?

Why are stairs inside, but steps outside?

Why are stairs called stairs when they’re inside, but steps when they are outside?

Why is pounds shortened to LBs?

In regards to weight, why is the shortening of pounds “LB”? Why no, PN or PD?

Where does "naked as a jaybird" come from?

It’s an expression I’ve heard many time in American novels: naked as a jaybird. Where does this come from?

Why is a butterfly so called?

Why is a butterfly called a butterfly, when it's nothing to do with butter and it's not a fly.

Why is a green room so called?

Why is a green room so called? They're not usually green.

Why do people say "at the drop of a hat"?

When someone doesn't need any encouragement to do something, they say they will do it "at the drop of a hat". Where does that phrase come from?

Why is a watch called a kettle?

I was watching Minder the other day and they repeatedly called a wristwatch a 'kettle'. Why is that?

Why is W in front of some words but not others?

The letter 'W' - why is it in front of some words but not others. For example, it's in writes, but not rites?

Why is a sea-saw so called?

In a traditional playground, everything is called by what they do - roundabout, swing etc. But why is a see-saw so called?

Who was 'Happy as Larry'?

When my kids are playing up, I tell my kids "Let's be happy as Larry". But who is Larry and what's he so happy about?

Why are Newcastle folk called Geordies?

Why are people who come from Newcastle commonly known as Geordies?

How far is "20 clicks away"?

In war movies, you always hear something is "20 clicks away". But how far is a click? Do the military even use these terms?

When is it an assassination, not a killing?

How important do you have to be to be assassinated, rather than just killed?

How did the first translation happen?

How did we get all the different languages and how did people start to translate them at first?

Why are men called 'blokes'?

It's one I've always wondered the answer to. How did men come to be called blokes?

Where does the phrase "piggy-back" come from?

What is the origin of the phrase piggy-back? I've no idea where it comes from.

What does "stan" mean in country names?

What does the suffix "stan" mean in country names like Afghanistan, Pakistan etc.

Where does "red herring" come from?

Where does the phrase "red herring" come from? My whole school wants to know!

Where does fortnight come from?

Where does the word 'fortnight' come from, meaning two weeks?

Did the apostles have surnames?

I've always been curious about the 12 apostles. Did they have surnames and why did they have British names?

At pawn shops, why do we "hock" things?

Why is it when someone takes something to a pawn shop, is it known as "hocking"?

Why is the River Thames so called?

Why is the River Thames called the River Thames? Where does the word Thames come from?

Why is a life sentence not for life?

Why is a life sentence called a life sentence, when it doesn't last for a natural life, but only lasts 20 years instead.

Where does the word SWAG come from?

Why does a burglar have the word SWAG written on his bag? What does it stand for and where does it come from?

What does step mean in step-dad?

I've recently become step-father to two lovely kids and would like to know what the origin of the word "step" is?

Why do ships use port and starboard?

There's a nautical term that's always bothered this caller. Why are the sides called port and starboard?

When did surnames start?

When were surnames first created and why did they stop being created?

Why is it called a sledgehammer?

All the hammers have self-explanatory names - nail hammer, claw hammer, club hammer - but why is a sledgehammer so called?

Where does "feather in my cap" come from?

What is the origin of the saying "feather in my cap", meaning an achievement of some kind?

Where does "having a field day" coming from?

Where does the phrase "having a field day" coming from? I hear use it a lot, but don't know the answer.

What is an oligarch?

On the news, when people are talking about rich Russians, they refer to them as Russian Oligarchs. What actually is an oligarch?

Where does the phrase "parked up" come from?

Why do people say "we parked up" rather than just "we parked"? It's crept into usage a lot in the last 20 years.

Where does the expression 'Shanks's Pony' come from?

Why do some people use it to mean walking?



 Petrol Bomb Thumb

Why is a petrol bomb called a 'Molotov Cocktail'?

What is the origin of the phrase?




Why is it called the 'Watershed'?

Why do we say television programmes shown later on are shown after the 'watershed'?