How the word bikini came to apply to the skimpy two-piece swimsuit has been a linguistic mystery since 1947, when bikinis were first seen on the beaches of the French Riviera, a year after the United States began testing atom bombs on the Bikini atoll of the Marshall Islands. Some shocked people said that the impact of the swimsuit on male beach loungers was like the devastating effect of the atomic bomb. Whoosh! And so they were called bikinis.
A simpler and more credible notion is that the daring swimsuits resembled the attire worn by women on the Bikini atoll.


The name of the heaviest siege guns ever built alludes to the Bertha Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach works in Essen. This large howitzer bombarded Liege and Namur in 1914, but the same name was used for the 142-ton cannon that shelled Paris in 1918 from the unbelievable distance of 76 miles, safely within the German lines. Soldiers noted the resemblance between the gun and the rotund owner of the great Krupp armament empire. The designation Big Bertha was not flattering, nor was it meant to be. It is a translation of die dicke Bertha, «the fat Bertha», the name given by the Germans to their large howitzer.
Bertha Krupp (1886-1957) took over as head of the Krupp works upon the suicide of her father, Friedrich Alfred Krupp (1854-1902). She was the sole heir to his immense fortune. In 1906 she married Gustav Bohlen und Llalbach (1870-1950), whose petition for a change of name to Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach was granted.
In reality, the belief that the cannon was a product of the famous German armament firm was mistaken. «Big Bertha» was made at the Skoda Works in Austria-Hungary.


Big Ben, the famous bell in the Clock Tower that strikes the hour over the British Houses of Parliament and is sounded by the British Broadcasting Company throughout the world, was originally cast in 1856. But the fifteen-ton bell showed a serious crack, justifying a recasting. The new bell was completed in 1858, and it weighed some thirteen tons. The first stroke of the bell marked the hour; four smaller bells the quarter hour, and these were first broadcast in 1923.
The bell was to be named «St. Stephen», but a whimsical use in the press of «Big Ben» caught the public’s fancy, and that name persisted, honoring Sir Benjamin Hall (1802-1869), the chief commissioner of works at that time. Hall had nothing to do with the construction of the bell; it was just that the bell was cast during his term in office.
A strange incident occurred on the morning of March 14, 1861. As related, «the inhabitants of Westminster were roused by repeated strokes
of the new great bell, and most persons supposed it was for the death of a member of the royal family. It proved, however, to be due to some derangement of the clock, for at four and five o’clock ten and twelve strokes were struck instead of the proper number». Within the next twenty-four hours, word came that the Duchess of Kent (Queen Victoria’s mother) was dying. She died early March 16. Did the clock toll for her?


The Bessemer process, which de-carbonizes melted pig iron into steel by means of a blast of air, was named after its inventor, Englishman Sir Henry Bessemer (1813-1898). The process was a boon to manufacturing, for it greatly reduced costs of production. Bessemer described the process in his paper «The Manufacture of malleable and steel Iron Without Fuel». In the Bessemer converter, the melted pig iron surrenders its carbon and other impurities through the action of air forced on the molten metal. Bessemer patented his discovery in the United States in 1857.
Meanwhile a certain William Kelly (1811-1888) discovered the same process accidentally at about the same time while working as a master of an iron furnace at Eddyville, Kentucky. He observed that a blast of air on molten metal raised its temperature greatly by oxidation. Kelly must have had great powers of persuasion, because he convinced the patent officials of the priority of his claim. He thereupon organized an ironworks near Detroit, Michigan, in 1864. Another American began operating with Bessemer’s patents the following year at Troy, New York. This latter company and Kelly’s became engaged in a prolonged lawsuit that finally was settled by consolidating the litigating companies. Kelly retired, and the Bessemer converter continued to convert and since then has remained unchallenged.


Alphonse Bertillon (1853-1914) was born in Paris. Although he had no scientific training, he became the chief of the Department of Identification in the prefecture of police of the Seine, at Paris. In that capacity he designed an identification method known as anthropometry (but better known as Bertillonage) that was used with extraordinary results throughout France. His system, which he described in his book Anthropologie metrique et photographique, incorporated the classification of skeletal and other measurements and a complete physical description — color
of hair, of eyes, and so on — and photographs. As a system of description, it was not infallible, and so with time it came to be superseded by fingerprints. Nevertheless, it is still useful to furnish descriptive portraits.
The first in anything marks a beginning and acts as a foundation of things to follow. Bertillon introduced to the world the value and plausibility of criminal identification. He may be considered the founder of forensic science.


From Norse mythology has come the word berserk, meaning «deranged» or «raging» or «crazed». Berserk, a legendary Norse hero of the eighth century, always went into battle without armor and was famed for the savagery and reckless fury with which he fought. In old Scandinavian, berserk probably meant «bear-shirt», that is, one clothed only in his shirt and not protected by armor or heavy clothing. Berserk’s twelve sons, who like their father fought ferociously and recklessly, were called Berserkers. Later berserker was applied to a class of heathen warriors who were supposed to be able to assume the form of bears and wolves. Dressed in furs, these lycanthropic creatures were believed to fall into a frenzied rage, foam at the mouth, bite their shields, and growl like wild beasts. They were dreaded for their prodigious strength and apparent invulnerability to fire and iron. To go berserk is to go into a frenzy of rage or to be frenetically violent.


Michel Begon (1638-1710) was appointed commissioner for Santo Domingo by Louis XIV after Begon married Jeanne-Elisabeth de Beauhar- nais, sister of Marquis de Beauharnais, governor-general of New France. Although there is some dispute as to the nature of Begon’s duties, some historians believe that he served for a while as governor of Santo Domingo.
Begon was an enthusiastic amateur botanist. He organized a detailed study of the plant life on the island and collected many specimens. One tropical plant that he collected was a genus of a flowering succulent herb with ornamental leaves and clusters of showy flowers of various colors. Begon took the plant back with him to France and introduced it to botanists and horticulturists. Ever since, the begonia has been widely planted in gardens because it prefers shade. It is also a popular house plant, cultivated for its variety of blooms or for its foliage.
The plant was named for Michel Begon by a French botanist, Charles Plumier, when it was first brought to England, sixty-seven years after Begon’s death. The name given the plant, appropriately, was begonia.


Beef has been a standard food for many, many centuries. The eating of beef was mentioned in the Greek epics the Iliad and the Odyssey. King James II reportedly was so delighted by a roast from the loin end of beef that he dubbed it «Sir Loin», and from that moment the heavy ends of the beef loin came to be known as sirloin cuts. This, of course, may be apocryphal.
From the cuts of beef have come many interesting and delectable dishes. One of the most famous comes from the eponym of a man not quite so famous — Count Paul Stroganoff, a nineteenth-century Russian diplomat. He favored thinly, sliced beef fillets sauteed and served with mushrooms and sour cream. Another recipe calls for the beef to be cooked with onions and in a sauce of consomme. Tuleja reports, «As far as Mother Russia is concerned, it is his only memorial: the Great Soviet Encyclopedia gives the czarist functionary not a nod». But the dish Beef Stroganoff continues on the menus of some of America’s finest restaurants.
Beef Wellington is a particularly favorite preparation. It not only honors the «Iron Duke», Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, but also is a gustatory delight of beef eaters. Added to a choice cut of beef are liver pate, bacon, brandy, and condiments, all baked in a golden crust of puffed pastry.
Those beef eaters who prefer a double-thick tender cut of beef tenderloin might choose chateaubriand, generally served with mushrooms and bearnaise sauce. This mouth-watering dish has been attributed to the chef in the household of Vicomte Francois Rene de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), a writer of romantic novels and travel narratives.


George Bryan Brummel, born in England in 1778, believed in living the high style. As a student at Eton and later at Oxford, he began dressing the part of a fashion plate in high society. He gave up his study of medicine and resigned from the military. The only thing he really enjoyed was dressing elegantly and it is reputed that he spent an entire day dressing for a royal ball. He did not tip his hat at ladies lest he ruffle his coiffure, and he was conveyed from his quarters in a sedan chair to avoid stepping onto the dirty street.
Brummel’s sartorial splendor enabled him to mingle with and be accepted by the aristocracy. After inheriting a sizable fortune, he lived in a luxurious bachelor apartment in exclusive Mayfair and became the undisputed arbiter of fashion. It has been reported that he invented the starched neckcloth and introduced long pants. The Prince of Wales, later George IV, sought his advice on matters of dress. Unfortunately, Brummel later fell out of favor with the king, when he reportedly met George and Lord Westmoreland as they were strolling at Bath. «Good morning, Westmoreland», said Brummel. «Who’s your fat friend?»
With his good primary standing in society undercut, Brummel, in debt from gambling and extravagant living, left for France in 1816 seeking a haven from his problems. France did not turn out to be the green pastures that he expected. Instead he feuded constantly with creditors, suffered several paralytic attacks, and died alone at the age of sixty-two. Adversity had changed Brummel into a man unrecognizable from the person he had been. His confidence and lordly pretensions, along with his refined manners, had gone. Slovenly and unkempt, he spent his final days in a mental institution. When he died, he, once the most elegantly attired Englishman, was carted away in a beggar’s shroud.
Although the man known as Beau Brummel has been long gone, his name is still an epithet for a fashionable dresser, a dandy, a fop. The title Beau, from the French for beauty, was an honorific bestowed on him by an adoring public.


American bookstores are blessed with many excellent quotation books, but one has been outstanding since its publication in 1855. This book, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, has been a bedrock source of information for writers, speakers, and anyone else wanting a quotation to back up a point.
John Bartlett (1820-1905) was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and became the owner of the University Book Store in Cambridge. Students and Harvard professors gravitated to his store and were particularly grateful for his help in reference matters. Bartlett’s memory was encyclopedic, and he answered many questions concerning the source of a quotation without having to check the source. Hence «Ask John Bartlett» became proverbial. His opus Familiar Quotations has been kept current over the years through several editions. Bartlett joined the Boston publishing firm of Little, Brown in 1863 and became a senior partner in 1878.
John Bartlett’s Complete Concordance to Shakespeare’s Dramatic Works and Poems is also a standard reference guide.
John Bartlett should not be confused with John Russell Bartlett (1805-1886), who made a great contribution to linguistics with his Dictionary of Americanisms. He assisted John Carter Brown in acquiring and cataloging his noted book collection, now in the John Carter Brown Library of Brown University, founded by his grandfather Nicholas.