Saturday, January 16, 1999
WHEN politicians promise to leave no stone unturned while appointing inquiry commissions, they need to be told the origin of the expression. When the Persian Mardonius had been defeated at Platea, it was reported to his victor, Polycrates, that he had left great treasures in his tent. After having failed to find the treasures after a long search, Polycrates consulted the Oracle of Delphi. The Oracle told him, "Leave no stone unturned". Polycrates returned, turned every stone from its floor space, and the treasure was found.
The word sabotage also has a similar literal background. Sabot was the French name for a wooden shoe, made of a single piece of wood, shaped and hollowed out to fit the foot. The shoes fixing the French railway lines to the sleepers were also made of wood. They were called sabots, as well. During the great railway strike of 1910, French railway workers cut these sabots, holding the lines and thus preventing them from being used. It is from this that the word sabotage comes, meaning wilful damage.
To burn ones boats, is another such expression. When the Romans invaded a foreign country, they set fire to their boats, thus forcing their soldiers either to conquer or die.The phrase has thus come to mean to cut off all chance of retreat from any project embarked upon.
Often, we say that some task cannot be completed without lining some persons pocket. Of course, we mean the act of bribing. Without realising that not long ago, a pocket was actually lined with currency notes. When Beau Brummel was the ideal fashionable gentleman of England, tailors sought his approval. One ambitious tailor, wishing to obtain his patronage, sent the Beau a fashionable coat. The pockets of this coat were lined with currency notes. Beau Brummel acknowledged receipt in a letter to the tailor stating that he approved the coat, and especially admired the lining. This is how the expression took birth.
The Hindi dukan or shop can be traced to two roots. As per one version, it comes from an Arabian word, meaning one on top of the other. The Persian version holds that earlier shopkeepers did business sitting on a raised platform called dukkan. Both versions hold true, literally. In a dukan, things do lie on top of each other and the shopkeeper does have an area, marked out.
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