Peter Montgomery wrote, in part:
> A student sent me the piece below. It's not
> documented but it has a ring of truth about it.
> Not so boring history!
> Here are some facts about the 1500s:
> Houses had thatched roofs - thick straw-piled high, with no
> woodunderneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all
> the dogs, cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof.
> When it rained, it became slippery and sometimes the animals would
> slip and fall off the roof - hence the saying: "It's raining cats and
> The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter
> when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on the floor to help keep
> their footing. As the winter wore on, they kept adding more thresh
> until when you opened the door it would all start slipping outside. A
> piece of wood was placed in the entranceway - hence: a "thresh hold."
> Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special.
> When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off.
> It was a sign of wealth that a man "could bring home the bacon".
> Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would
> sometimes knock them out for a couple of days. Someone walking along
> the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They
> were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the
> family would gather around and eat and drink and wait a nd see if they
> would wake up - hence the custom of holding a "wake." England is old
> and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury
> people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a
> bone-house" and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out
> of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they
> realized they had been burying people alive. So they thought they
> would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the
> coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would
> have to sit out in the graveyard all night ("the graveyard shift") to
> listen for the bell; thus, someone could be "saved by the bell" or was
> considered a "dead ringer."
> And that's the truth... (and whoever said that History was
> boring)! ! ?
What ring of truth? It sounds like a hundred other emails that
people forward, favoring simple-minded ease to the boring truth.
Nothing wrong with enjoying jokes, but why not call them that?
While you are loth to do any of the work of verification, others
might be interested. "Raining cats and dogs" derives from myths of the
animals' influence on and symbolism of various weathers. The thresh is
to tread or trample; the OED is unsure of the hold . Brewer's thinks
bringing home the bacon ("to bring back the prize; to succeed") might be
a reference to the Dunmow flitch. I know you'll want to research that
so you can educate your student. A wake uses the sense of watch or
vigil. A bone house is "a charnel-house; a coffin; the human body."
Dead ringer is an American usage, first citation 1891. And it doesn't
have anything to do with death or bells.