Mad Apples

The eggplant is possibly the most obviously poorly named fruit or vegetable, neck-and-neck with the pineapple.  Its name came from the fact that some cultivars used to be white, and better resembled eggs than the purple variety today.  However, before they were called eggplants, they had another name in English: mad apples.  It was believed that eating the eggplant would cause insanity, and so they acquired the names of mad apples and rage apples.

(As for the pineapple, it comes from the fact that pine cones used to be called pine apples.  Pineapples resembled pine cones, and the name was used for them, and persisted long after it stopped being used for the pine cones themselves, hence why pineapples have no connections to pines nor apples.)

Why Chess Pieces Look As They Do

Originally, chess pieces weren’t abstract at all.  They quite distinctly resembled the things for which they were named.  For example, the king was an obvious king, seated on his throne.  Today, however, the standard chess pieces, which are called Staunton chess pieces, are highly abstract, and someone with no knowledge of the game would ever guess what the pieces should actually be called, with the possible exception of the bishop and, if lucky, the knight, although “horse” would be a more likely answer.

The reason for this is as follows.  Chess originated in India as shatranj.  From there, it reached Europe via the Muslim world.  Islam forbade the depiction of human images, however, and so when the game reached the caliphate, the pieces had to be changed from their original form.  They were made abstract, losing much of their immediate recognizability in the process.  It was in this form that Europeans first discovered chess, and whence they got their ideas of how chess pieces should look.

Certain sets still contained pieces that were more distinct and clearly resembled their namesakes, but by and large, the standard has ever since been abstract pieces, and so it is today.

The Imprisoned Necromancer

In 1806, Andrew Oehler put on a ghost show in Mexico City for guests including the governor of Mexico City and senior government leaders.  In a dark room decorated with skulls and skeletons, he asked his audience whether there was anyone in particular whom they wanted him to summon.  One man indicated that he would like to see his departed father, and so Oehler, by means of a “magic lantern,” a type of projection box used to simulate ghosts,  called forth the spirit.

The next morning, Oehler was arrested, charged with raising spirits, and imprisoned for several months until a Spanish marquis, familiar with magic lanterns, heard what had happened and explained the truth to the authorities.  He was freed and the governor profusely apologized for his imprisonment, claiming it had only been done to placate “the clamours of the Spanish monks and friars.”  Oehler moved to New Jersey and vowed to never perform his act again.

Vengeful Ghosts

A common belief about ghosts is that they represent forces of vengeance.  Indeed, at times it was believed that the living could, before their death, plot their ghostly revenge.  In England in the early 1600s, a woman named Frances Barker went before a magistrate and said that she had been abuse by John Banson, the father of her illegitimate child, who had verbally abused her and forced her to change towns often, in order that her pregnancy not be discovered.  One of his threats to her had been that, if she did not listen to him, he could commit suicide, and his ghost would tear her into pieces.