Have you ever wondered how many of the familiar things around us first came into being at all, and then got the names we are so familiar with today? For instance, what about the first person who thought of picking some young acacia leaves, chopping them up very small, putting them out in the sun to ferment, and drying them when they turned black. Then they (whoever they were), thought it would be a good idea to put a handful of these dried, chopped leaves in a pot of boiling water and leaving it until a lot of brown stuff came out, in the water. Having done that, they then poured this fluid into a cup, added some milk (why, for God’s sake?), and sugar, giving it a stir and drinking it? I just don’t see where an idea like that would come from.
Oh, and then they decided to call it ‘tea’ — why didn’t they call it ‘en’ or ‘ess’, or ‘bee’ — what was so special about the word ‘tea’?
Then there’s the familiar pencil that we use for writing or drawing. Who worked out how to take a long, thin stick of wood, bore a hole right down the centre and fill it with graphite, or other solid material, to be applied to paper — or anything, as an image? I do know the word itself originates way back in the days of Rome, where it was derived from the word ‘penis’ (a word we still use today), though it worries me that such a thin object as a pencil would be named after that organ — it doesn’t say much for the ‘manliness’ of Roman men, does it!
Another familiar item we always have around us is the loaf of bread! Somebody, in the early days of the human race, must have picked his usual handful of grass seeds, to keep him going until he found some more, a very labor-intensive effort, not giving great results, with more grass seed being needed every few hours. Then, for some mysterious reason, this bloke dreamed up the notion of picking a large amount of grass seed, putting his ‘catch’ on a large, flat rock and proceeding to hammer them with another piece of rock, until the seeds became a rough sort of powder. I can just see him now, licking one finger, sticking it into this pile and then to his mouth, where he found it to be rather dry. What did he do next? He added water of course, and this was much better, but not very tempting to eat still. His next idea was the really brilliant one, though he may not have realised it at first — he threw the paste he’d made away, but he threw in onto the fire he kept his cave warm with, rather than make a doughy mess around the place. Now what happened then must have really startled him; instead of burning, as he thought it would, the ball of dough grew in size and turned brown on the outside, at the same time giving off a delicious aroma. We’ve been eating bread ever since, though again, why we called it bread I have no idea!
One more to think about… What about butter? Find a wild cow prepared to allow a human to squeeze her boobs, stand the resulting ‘milk’ in a bucket for a day or two and then skim off the thicker creamy bit you can see at the top, which you put into another bucket. You then spend a few hours stirring this cream with a wooden stick or something and it suddenly turns yellow and goes solid! Add a little salt for taste and it goes very nicely with the bread you’ve just discovered.
Neat isn’t it — but why did they do all these, and many other, weird things with what they had around them? Did they have scientists in those days, to work out the chemistry of it all? Did someone else give them a recipe? Were they simply lucky? I guess we shall never know, but I think it’s certainly interesting to think about — try working out where the idea for knitting came from!