The Bartlett pear, long before its introduction into America, was grown and enjoyed in Europe, where it was called Williams, Bonchretien, after a London farmer. The pear trees were imported to America from England by Captain Thomas Brewer in the 1800s, and were planted on his farm in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The farm was purchased by Enoch Bartlett (1779-1860) of Dorchester, Massachusetts, who, although the fruit deserved the name Brewer pear, distributed and promoted the fruit under the name Bartlett.
These delicious yellow pears have moved west to Oregon and Washington, where they can enjoy a healthier and longer growing season than they might have had in the East. Most Bartletts today come from that area but are a delight all over America. The Seckel pear was grown by a Philadelphia farmer whose name was Seckel. It is a good eating pear from
an Asian variety, but is hard to bite into. It appeared on the American scene shortly after the American Revolution, and so had the jump on the Bartlett, but it couldn’t keep up with Bartlett’s edibility.


Baroque is a style of art and architecture of the early seventeenth to mid-eighteenth century, characterized by elaborate ornamentation, curved lines, and enormous size. The Oxford English Dictionary says the style pays tribute to Francesco Borromini (1599-1667), its chief exponent. But the French word baroque came from the name of the founder of the baroque style, Federigo Barocci (1528-1612), an Italian painter whose flamboyant art was thought to evoke the mood of a movement known as Counter-Reformation, which stirred a sense of religious enthusiasm in Europe and which expressed its drama and emotion. Barocci was regarded a master of tender sentiment with «a nervous, fluttering style and gay colors». Perhaps the most majestic portrayal of baroque is St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
According to Klein’s Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language (and other authorities concur), baroque was not derived from the Portuguese word barroco, «irregularly shaped pearl», as has been generally assumed. The term baroque was used to describe musical compositions that were chromatically elaborate and had distinct ornamentation. The word was also used by Italian Renaissance philosophers to represent far-fetched arguments in Scholastic syllogisms.
By the eighteenth century baroque was considered a pejorative term to indicate an abandonment of the norm of nature and of classical antiquity.


«It’s the greatest show on Earth». Very possibly. But who said it? Barnum himself, the mastermind of the Barnum & Bailey Circus, which later was merged to form part of Ringling Bros, and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Was Barnum being honest? Perhaps. But he is also reputed to have said, «There’s a sucker born every minute». And he never denied getting people moved out of his exhibit to make room for others by shouting, «Here’s the way to the egress». Those who followed his suggestion, expecting to see something, found themselves outside the exhibition hall and unable to return. And is it true that he whitewashed an ordinary elephant and paraded it as a white elephant from Siam? To be barn- umized is to be classed as a sucker.
Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810-1891) was born in Bethel, Connecticut, the son of a farmer. He failed in several undertakings, but in 1835 he took the step that would make him one of the country’s greatest impresarios. He began his career as a showman by successfully, but fraudulently, promoting Aunt Joice Fleth as the nurse to George Washington. This made her at that time 162 years old, and yet thousands paid to see her. Barnum must have been right; a sucker is born every minute.
Barnum was first with many novel and exciting show pieces. He exhibited Tom Thumb, a twenty-five-inch midget. He brought over Jenny Lind, a Swedish soprano, calling her «The Swedish Nightingale». He showcased Jumbo, the biggest elephant on earth, so he said (and gave a
new word, jumbo, to the American language), and his exhibit of the Siamese twins Chang and Eng was a constant source of wonder.
Barnum, America’s most famous showman, relished fleecing the public (barnumism is a synonym for «humbuggery») and didn’t object to his title «The Prince of Humbugs».


According to the «The Barber’s Story of his Sixth Brother» in the Tales from the Arabian Nights, Barmecide is an illusion, particularly one containing a great disappointment. The story begins in Baghdad, where a member of the Barmecide family decides to amuse himself. He invites Schacabac, a poor, starving wretch, to dinner. Having set before him a series of empty plates, the Barmecide asks, «How do you like your soup?» «Excellently well», replies Schacabac. «Did you ever see whiter bread?» «Never, honorable sir». When illusory wine is offered, Schacabac pretends to be drunk and knocks his host down. Barmecide sees the humor in the situation, forgives him, and provides him with a sumptuous meal.
A Barmecide feast is an empty pretense of hospitality or generosity. One who offers false and disappointing benefits is a Barmecide. The adjective Barmecidal means unreal, illusory.


Bakelite is the trade name of one of the first plastics to come into wide use. It is a phenolic invented in 1907, and it came to be employed for all kinds of household items and ornaments, but its main use today is in electrical installations because it is a good insulator against heat and electric current. Bakelite can be molded into many shapes and is relatively inexpensive. Its use for handles and enclosure elements on kitchen wares, irons, and similar products has been widespread.
Chemist Leo Hendrick Bakeland (1863-1944), born in Ghent, Belgium, came to the United States in 1889 and founded a company to manufacture paper called Velox. In 1909 he publicized the invention of Bakelite, a synthetic resin (a plastic used to harden rubber and celluloid)
which he then manufactured for twenty years. Afterwards the name became generic for any phenolic plastic, regardless of the manufacturer.
This Flemish chemist is often spoken of as the father of the modern plastics industry because of the practical application of his discoveries.


Baedeker, a travel guidebook, is an authoritative work first published in Germany by Karl Baedeker (1801-1859), born in Essen, Germany, the son of a printer and bookseller. He followed his father’s footsteps and became a printer with a shop in Coblenz, publishing the first of his famous series of guidebooks, modeled on John Murray’s Handbook, in 1839. The book, titled A Rhineland Journey from Basle to Dusseldorf, was immediately successful and was known for its reliability and thoroughness. Baedeker then prepared guidebooks covering other areas, which equally described in detail what a tourist might want to know about the important cities and places of historic interest or questions of cuisine. And so tourists throughout the world felt safer, were more knowledgeable, and were able to enjoy their vacations better with a Baedeker in hand.
Baedeker inaugurated the practice of marking with one or more stars the objects and places of interest according to their historic or aesthetic importance, which gave rise to the expression starred in Baedeker.
That Baedeker became an international generic term was exemplified by Chekhov when he said, in a letter, «Here I am alone with my thoughts and my Baedeker». Although with the proliferation of travel books over the last century Baedeker is not a word so often heard anymore, it still is an apt (albeit loose) replacement for «guidebook».


In Roman mythology, Bacchus, the equivalent of the Greek Dionysus, was the respected god of wine and vineyards. It was he who planted the vine. The triennial festivals paying homage to the harvest were originally characterized by propriety and sobriety and were followed by dignified rituals. But with time the nature of the celebration changed. Bacchus’s worshipers succumbed to the delights and effects of the wine, and the revelers became known for their drunkenness and licentiousness.
If it were not for Zeus, there might have been no Bacchus and no
wine. According to legend, Bacchus was the son of Zeus and Semele. Foolishly, Semele asked Zeus to appear before her in all his glory, as he was wont to do before his wife Hera. Zeus complied and appeared in thunder and lightning. As Semele was being devoured by the flames, she gave birth prematurely. Zeus took the child (Bacchus) and sewed him into his thigh, where he remained until reaching maturity. Bacchus was one son who was truly raised at his father’s knee.
A bacchant is a worshiper of Bacchus and a bacchante is a priestess or female admirer of Bacchus.


A tin-based alloy, called babbitt metal, was invented by Isaac Babbitt in 1839. The metal, composed of a soft, silver-white alloy of copper, tin, and antimony, is widely used for bearings to reduce friction. For this invention, the United States Congress voted to grant Babbitt $20,000, a sum that enabled him to manufacture this alloy.
Isaac Babbitt (1799-1862) was born in Taunton, Massachusetts. Trained as a goldsmith, he made the first Britannia ware in America in 1824. He then took employment as a superintendent at the South Boston Iron Works and is credited with having helped make the first brass cannon in the United States.
The leading character in Sinclair Lewis’s novel Babbitt, published in 1922, was George F. Babbitt, a prosperous real estate agent in Zenith, a Western city. He was «nimble in the calling of selling houses for more than people could afford to pay» and was the prototype of the narrowminded, self-satisfied, materialistic, middle-class American. He represented the orthodox businessman with drives that laud his own middle-class existence and with no interest in cultural values. He placed great store on local esteem and outward prosperity. Babbitt was everything that the author hated about America. The word Babbitt now appears in American dictionaries to represent a person who unthinkingly conforms to group standards or a smug, schooled but uneducated businessman. Babbittry is middle-class conformity.
As the book closes, Babbitt’s son tells Babbitt of his intention to «get into mechanics» rather than go to the university. He also tells him that he has been secretly married. Babbitt, who with age has come to understand his parochial outlook and virtues, felt that the time had come to give his son advice based upon his own flawed experiences. Babbitt «crossed the floor, slowly, ponderously, seeming a little old. ‘I’ve always wanted you to have a college degree’. He meditatively stamped across the floor again. But I’ve never... I’ve never done a single thing I’ve wanted to do in my whole life! Well, maybe you’ll carry things further. I don’t know ... Don’t be scared of the family. No, not of Zenith. Not of yourself, the way I’ve been. Go ahead, old man! The world is yours!’»


Latin Augustus means venerable, a title conferred by the Senate in 27 B.C. on Gaius Octavianus, who thus became the first Roman emperor. He then changed his name to Augustus Caesar and was the founder of the Imperial Roman government. Augustus was the adopted son of Julius Caesar, for whom the month of July, consisting of thirty-one days, had been named. The month named for Octavianus was August, originally Sextilis, the sixth month in the old Roman calendar, which started in March. As Augustus Caesar, he resented the fact that July was longer
than his month. He therefore stole a day from February so that August would also have thirty-one days.
The Augustan Age, which began approximately in 43 B.C. and continued to about A.D. 18, was marked by peace, the historic «Pax Romana», and was indeed the most illustrious period in Roman history. Its writers were brilliant, polished, and sophisticated. Vergil published his Georgies and completed the Aeneid; Horace, his Odes, Books I-III, and Epistels, Book I. Livy began his monumental history of Rome; Ovid, the author of Metamorphoses, a mythological history of the world from the creation to the Augustan Age.
«Augustan Age» came to be applied to the apogee of any nation’s cultural achievements, primarily to its «classical» period in literature.


The term Atlas is used chiefly for a book of maps, a size of paper, and the first vertebra of the neck. The name Atlas is attributed to a mythological character, one of the Titans who tried to overthrow Zeus but failed. The punishment meted out to him for his part in the conspiracy was to hold up the pillars of heaven for the rest of his days. Because he was an immortal god, his days went on forever.
Hercules graciously offered to support the heavens for a while if Atlas would obtain for him the golden apples guarded by the Hesperides. Atlas agreed and felt renewed without the heavens on his shoulders. He then stole the apples from the garden where they grew, returned to Hercules, and offered to take them back home for him. Hercules thought he detected a trick, and so he told Atlas to hold up the heavens while he found a pad for his shoulders. When Atlas took over, Hercules departed with the apples, never to return, leaving a raging Titan with his burden.
The story of Atlas and his mythic burden has many versions. One is that Atlas, after holding up the world for centuries, became faint from weakness. One day Perseus, carrying the head of Medusa, flew by. Atlas, knowing that anyone who looked at Medusa would be turned to stone, begged Perseus to let him look at her. Perseus agreed, Atlas looked, was petrified, and became the Atlas Mountains, which extend for 1,500 miles along the coast of North Africa.
In the sixteenth century, the Flemish cartographer Gerhardus Mercator put a figure of Atlas supporting the world on his shoulders on the title page of his first collection of maps. The idea appealed to other publishers of geography books, who then adopted a similar picture for the title page of their books.