PICKWICKIAN SENSE

Words or epithets, usually of a derogatory or insulting kind, that in certain circumstances are not to be taken as having the same force or implication they ordinarily would have, are said to be Pickwickian. The allusion is to the phrase from Samuel Pickwick of Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers. Mr. Pickwick accused Mr. Blotton of «acting in a vile and calumnious manner», whereupon Mr. Blotton retorted by calling Mr. Pickwick «a humbug». When Mr. Blotton was asked whether he meant the word in its usual sense, he replied that he meant it only «in the Pickwickian sense». And the same turned out to be true with Mr. Pickwick. The offensive words were not meant to displease, for, in fact, each person had a high regard for the other.
An insulting remark, then, that is not to be taken seriously is a Pickwickian.

PICKLE

The pickle’s provenance can be traced to one William Beukelz or Beukel, a fourteen-century Dutch fisherman who was known as the first to «pickle» food. Though Beukel pickled fish, his name, mispronounced slightly, came to apply to pickled cucumbers.
Although most people enjoy biting into a large dill pickle, they don’t want to be in a pickle, which is an unpleasant situation. And to be pickled is to be steeped in brine, but a person who’s pickled is steeped in something that will not agree with a sobriety test.
The Oxford English Dictionary supports the belief that pickle can be found in the medieval Dutch word pekel. Wordsmiths agree that pekel came from Beukel and that pickle came from pekel.

PHILADELPHIA LAWYER

During the eighteenth century a popular belief held that a Philadelphia lawyer was an awesome legal adversary. The reputation of a Philadelphia lawyer carried with it a picture of great talent and the ability to expose the weaknesses of opposition witnesses under cross-examination.
The first recorded use of the phrase Philadelphia lawyer was in 1788 in the form «it would puzzle a Philadelphia Lawyer», but it was first heard at the trial of John Peter Zenger, the publisher of the New York Weekly Journal (it was what today would be called an «underground» newspaper), who printed a series of articles attacking the provincial government for abuses committed against the people and charging the government with personal corruption. Zenger was arrested in 1734 and indicted for seditious libel. He hired Andrew Hamilton, a distinguished Philadelphia lawyer, to come to his defense. Hamilton traveled to New York by a horse-drawn taxicab and, charging no fee, did come to Zenger’s defense, devastating the prosecution. He brilliantly defended the beleaguered publisher and obtained a «not guilty» verdict. During the trial, the term Philadelphia Lawyer was used both as praise and opprobrium.
The trial, according to one authority, «was instrumental in establishing a precedent for freedom of the press in American law».

PHAETON

A phaeton is an open four-wheeled carriage drawn by a pair of horses and designed to accommodate two persons plus driver. It was a popular means of transportation during the nineteenth century. It is also the name for an early type of open automobile. The name for these means of transportation was taken from the name Phaeton, the son of Helios, god of the sun.
Phaeton as a boy had been taunted by a friend who said that Helios was not his father. To clear up the matter of his paternity, Phaethon journeyed to Helios’s palace in the East. Helios was pleased to see him and, to show his fatherly affection, told his son that any wish he had would be granted.
Phaethon thereupon asked that he be permitted to drive the sun chariot for one day. Helios was horrified by that rash request and tried to dissuade his son from it, for he knew how tremendously difficult it was to control the highly spirited steeds who pulled the chariot. But the boy persisted, and Helios reluctantly yielded.
The four horses were yoked to the gleaming chariot, and Phaeton took the reins. His anxious father offered instructions, but once in the
sky, Phaethon lost his head, and the horses ran away with him. They at first blazed a gash across the heavens that became the Milky Way. Then they plunged downward and scorched the earth, forming the Sahara Desert and turning the skins of the equatorial people black.
To prevent Phaeton from setting the world on fire, Zeus (Jupiter) hurled a lightning bolt against the charioteer and killed him. Phaeton’s blazing corpse fell into the River Eridanus. His sisters, the sea nymphs, who had witnessed his fall, stood on the banks of the river and wept for him. They were turned into weeping poplars, which still line the shores of the river (now the Po).

PETREL, STORMY PETREL

Petrels are small dark white-rumped sea birds that, when flying, appear to be patting the water alternately with each foot, as though they were walking on it. This flying habit is particularly noticeable during a stormy period — the birds fly so close to the water with their feet hanging down that it would take a sharp eye to see they were not walking. To older seamen this appearance was reminiscent of St. Peter, who allegedly walked on the Lake of Gennesareth.
The birds have been named stormy petrels because they are often seen during stormy weather. Captain Marryat writes in Poor Jack that these birds were the souls of drowned and shipwrecked sailors «come to warn us of the approaching storm». The term is used figuratively of any person whose coming portends trouble or who is argumentative.

PETER PRINCIPLE

The Peter principle states: «In every hierarchy, whether it be government or business, each employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence, every post tends to be filled by an employee incompetent enough to execute his duties». This, in the opinion of the authors, is the principle of bureaucratic organization. It was originally enunciated in the satirical best-selling book The Peter Principle — Why Things Always Go Wrong, published in 1969 and written by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull. Their examples were drawn mostly from the operation of the school system, and they cite as an example the outstanding classroom teacher who has been appointed principal and is hopelessly inept. The promotion essentially demoted her; as a principal she was unable to function well. «All useful work is done by those who have not yet reached their level of incompetence», Peter writes. «The cream rises until it sours».
Peter, a Canadian educator and psychologist, was born in 1919, and devoted all his professional life to the British Columbia education system.

PEEPING TOM, LADY GODIVA

There are many versions of the famous ride of Lady Godiva. But the one that is most often repeated portrays her as being exceedingly vexed by her husband, Lord Leofric, Lord of Coventry, for imposing exorbitant taxes on his subjects. Although she made persistent pleas to him to reduce the people’s burden, he was obdurate and paid no attention to her. But one day, in a sporting mood, he told his wife that he would make a bargain with her: If she would ride through the streets of Coventry without a stitch of clothing, he would concede to her wishes and lower taxes.
To Leofric’s astonishment, she accepted the challenge. After asking all the townspeople to stay indoors and close their shutters, Lady Godiva, completely unclad, did indeed mount a white horse and, riding sidesaddle, made the celebrated ride through the town. The townspeople honored her request that they stay indoors with blinds closed — everyone except the town tailor, Tom. While Lady Godiva rode by, he peeped through the shutters and, as legend has it, was struck blind. According to the story, Leofric, after lowering his wife from the horse, then lowered the taxes.
A Peeping Tom is a voyeur, a man who sneakily looks at what he has 110 license to see, peeping at night through other people’s windows.

PAVLOV, PAVLOVIAN

Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1849-1936) was a Russian physiologist who is eponymously remembered because of his attempts to prove that an automatic conditioned reflex can be artificially induced.
Pavlov was born the son of a priest in Ryazan, near Moscow. Although he had planned to follow in his father’s footsteps and enter the priesthood, he enrolled instead at St. Petersburg University to study science and physiology, his courses consisting chiefly of chemistry and animal psychology. He also received an M.D. degree from the Medico-
Chirurgical Academy, where he continued to work for virtually the rest of his life.
From 1902 until his death, Pavlov devoted much of his time to research on conditioned reflex. His work had a great impact on behavioural theory. His experiments, which became internationally famous, endeavored to show that the secretion of gastric juices can be stimulated in dogs without food reaching their stomachs. If every time a dog is given food, Pavlov postulated, a bell is rung, eventually the dog’s digestive enzymes, controlled by the vagus nerve, will be produced at the sound of the bell. For this work on the physiology of digestion, Pavlov was named a Nobel Prize winner in 1904.
A predictable, conditioned reaction like the reaction of the dog to the sound of the bell is known as a Pavlovian reaction. Scientists have come to disagree with Pavlov’s basic theory, saying it is an oversimplification of how the brain functions.

PASTEURIZE

Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), French chemist and microbiologist, decided at an early age to become a painter, but this interest was superseded by a fascination with science. He became a professor of physics at Dijon in 1848, and then a professor of chemistry at Strasbourg, where he met and
married the rector’s daughter, Mile. Laurent, who became a devoted fellow worker. At age twenty-two, he accepted the position of dean at Lille.
Pasteur’s chief interest during the early stages was in lactic and alcoholic fermentation, that is, discovering a method for checking excessive fermentation and reducing disease in wine, beer, and milk. After much experimentation, he recommended that those liquids be heated to high temperatures and then rapidly cooled, a treatment that frees them from disease-causing bacteria without seriously changing the food value or taste. That formula not only revolutionized the wine and beer industries but also saved the lives of untold numbers of milk drinkers.
Pasteur saved France’s silk industry by isolating the bacilli of a disease destroying the silkworm. He then turned his attention to anthrax and chicken cholera with remarkable success, developing the anthrax vaccine. The story behind his study involving hydrophobia is worthy of a four- star movie. He developed a vaccine to immunize dogs against this fatal disease. The vaccine proved itself, but he could not be sure that the same treatment would work for human beings.
The test for its effectiveness came unexpectedly one day when a nine- year-old, Joseph Meister, walked into his laboratory to say he had been bitten by a wild dog. Pasteur realized that without treatment the boy would die. Although he had never experimented with the vaccine on a human being, he decided to inoculate the boy. His colleagues held their breath. Young Meister was given a series of injections — and the vaccine worked.
Pasteur became a sick man as a result of a stroke in 1868. The illness remained with him for the rest of his life, but despite his infirmities, he kept working, serving the Institut Pasteur in Paris in various capacities.
Most people remember Pasteur as the man who developed the process for destroying harmful bacteria in milk, a process called pasteurization through which milk is pasteurized.
Pasteur saved more lives than can be known. His guiding light was his aphorism, «I would feel that I was stealing if I were to spend a single day without working».

PASQUINADE

A pasquinade is a witty lampoon or squib, having ridicule for its object, written anonymously, and posted,for all to see, or a satire mocking someone that is published in a vehicle of general circulation. Anyone who pins up an unsigned note on the bulletin board, hoping the boss will see it, has posted a pasquinade. In 1501 in Rome a mutilated ancient statue was unearthed, restored, and placed near the Piazza Navona. Some say it was a statue of a Roman gladiator named Pasquino. Others contend that the statue was named after Pasquin, a barber noted for his caustic wit, whose shop was near the field where the statue was found. Whether the statue represented the ancient gladiator or the witty barber, it was called Pasquino. It became customary on St. Mark’s Day for people to hang on the statue verses of their political, religious, and personal satires. These satires were barbed and often critical of the pope.
From Pasquino came the Italian word pasquinata and the French pasquinade, which entered the English language with no change in spelling.
Unearthed at the opposite end of Rome was another statue, a figure of a recumbent god believed to be Mars. A custom then developed to answer the pasquinades by affixing replies to this statue, which was called Marforio.

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