Origin Of A Word!

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Huh, What is that? Well, back in medieval times a family may have had one bath a week. husband first; wife, second; children in descending age and then the baby – last. Same tub, same water, though somewhat putrid and brown.  Mother was always wary that when the water was subsequently thrown out that the baby was not tossed out with the lot. Hence the expression – “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

And what about that old marital tradition of carrying the bride over the threshold? Well, again back in the golden olden days, houses, or cottages, had roofs of thatch. You can imagine the work in cleaning the floors. Just by the main entrance was a hold – for the thatch, or thresh, as it was called, and the hold a thresh-hold. It was customary therefore to carry one’s bride across this threshold so as not to soil the woman’s petticoats.

Many of our words and expressions have had their roots or genesis hundreds of years ago. Over the years these expressions or words have found themselves in our everyday vocabulary – some good, some bad, some laughable, some sad.

Consider this:

In the 16th and 17th centuries, everything had to be transported by ship, wooden ships of sail. Old wooden transports or scows with rotting timbers, creaking, expanding planks stretching with every yaw or pitch of the ship, every motion of the sea such that the caulking opened somewhat with the result that the ship’s bilges, lower deck and the holds were often times awash in seawater.

Now in those days, like today, the rich folk, the aristocracy, loved their gardens. They loved their great expanses of manicured lawns. Lawns without a single weed – uniformed carpets, emerald green and lush to the touch. Flowers of every kind – a horticulturalist’s dream. We have all seen these magnificent Italian, French and English country gardens. Unbelievable! Unbelievable that these gardens could be so spectacular without the benefit of modern day commercial fertilizers. Maybe so, but they did have manure in those days – huge shipments of the stuff. It was shipped in dry form because when dry, manure is very light and somewhat airy. Nevertheless dry manure shipped in these leaking ships posed a unique but significant problem. You see when dry manure gets wet it becomes heavier and the pungent process of fermentation begins of which a by-product is methane gas.
As the stuff was stored below decks in bundles you can see what could and
did happen. Methane began to build up below decks and the first time
someone came below at night with a lantern, BOOOOM!  Several ships were destroyed in this manner before it was determined just what was happening. After that the bundles of manure were always stamped with the letters “S period; H period; I period; T period, such that the sailor always knew what they had on their hands.

This precaution was not always heeded and on one occasion a number of ships in company experienced such a fatal, yet awesome explosion of methane induced fireworks. On historical account there was one convoy of manure laden ships that met a week of extremely rough weather.  As luck would have it, when the weather abated and the ships were back in company, at the most unexpected time “ KABOOM,” one of the ships exploded. It was such an awesome, awful sight to behold. The explosion was so spectacular that one seaman above decks in one of the accompanying ships was heard to exclaim:

“Holy S, period, H, period; I, period; T, period.” as the bales of manure so aptly labelled were flying everywhere. Asked later to explain the scene he so deftly uttered.

“It was like a shower.”

“A shower of what?” he was asked?

“A shower of S, period; H, period; I, period; and T, period.  It was all that he could muster.

Indeed a number of these bales even landed on the fantail of a ship some two miles distant.  So nervous and scared were some of the sailors on that ship that they could barely get the words out to explain the occurrence to their Captain. When asked what happened one of the sailors stammered:

“Sir: there was a huge explosion. There was S, period, H, period; I, period; T, period everywhere. The explosion was so strong that some of the bales marked S, period, H, period; I, period; T, period. hit the fffff fan – tail. It was unbelievable.”

A search for survivors was conducted. As luck would have it, the Captain and twenty of his crew were rescued. They found the Captain himself alone in the water in the midst of about 100 broken and destroyed bales. He was literally and figuratively found to be in the S, period, H, period; I, period; T, period.

Thus over the years, the decades, the centuries the acronym “S, period, H, period; I, period; T, period ” has evolved. You see many of the sailors in those times were illiterate – they couldn’t read or write. That is why the acronym S,period, H period, I period and T period was used. It was easy to pronounce and remember. Indeed over the years the acronym itself entered the English language. It can be found in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (COED, 10th Ed, 2002; page 1324). Many of the expressions found in the dictionary and associated with that acronym today go back to that very fateful and terrible event.

And what is the meaning of the acronym S, period, H period, I period, T period that were marked on those bales? 

Ship High In Transit!

It’s obvious!

Perhaps you were thinking of something else.


Originated by anonymous although embellished slightly by yours truly.