The musical instrument that goes oom-pah-pah is generally known as a tuba, but it is really a helicon and is found in marching bands. In fact, it was built for use in just such a band and has been named the sousa- phone after the great march king John Philip Sousa. This instrument is a bass tuba with a large bell, made in circular form to be worn over the player’s shoulder. It has virtually replaced the tuba in military and school bands. But the name tuba is still common.
John Philip Sousa (1854-1932), the son of Portuguese refugees, began his career when he joined the U.S. Marine Band at age thirteen as a trombonist. At nineteen, he began conducting theater orchestras. He went all the way up to bccome bandmaster of the U.S. Marine Corps (1880), a band in which his father had played before him. After twelve years with the Marine Band, Sousa formed his own band in 1892 and became the brassy toast of two continents.
In addition to being a superb band leader, Sousa became the country’s most renowned and prolific composer of marching songs. He composed some 140 military marches, including such classics and perennial favorites as «The Stars and Stripes Forever», «Semper Hdelis», «The Washington Post», «Hands across the Sea», «Liberty Bell», and «The High School Cadets». In addition he wrote eleven operettas, three novels, and an autobiography, Marching Along.


Solon (640-560 B.C.), known as «one of the wise men of Greece», was one of the most famous lawgivers of all times. A well-educated Athenian who supported himself by foreign trade, he was elected archon of Athens and was given authority to change the laws. He thereupon initiated many social and legal reforms, including a reformed constitution for Athens. Most of the money was in the hands of a few powerful citizens, placing the ordinary citizen in financial straits. The small farmers had to mortgage their lands, giving themselves and their family as security; many of them became slaves. Solon passed a law that canceled these debts and mortgages, and freed those who had become slaves.
His constitutional reforms divided the citizens into four classes, but any citizen could become a member of the assembly and the public law courts. He established a council of four hundred to which citizens could appeal the decisions of the officials. Although he maintained an oligarchy, he had made definite steps toward democracy.
Solon made the Athenians promise to keep the laws for ten years, during which period he left the state. Where and how he wandered for that period has never been documented. Some say that he returned to Athens and found a civil war in progress and that the tyrant Pisistratus was in control. Others say that Solon died while wandering in the East.
Solon was known for his love poems and political verse. Some word sleuths, but not all, credit him with the proverbial «Call no man happy till he is dead». In any event, everyone agrees that Solon was a great statesman and lawgiver and that his motto, «Know thyself», deserves as much consideration today as it did then.
The word solon today is used ironically to mean «representative», «legislator», «congressman», and «lawmaker», because solon is a short word that fits neatly into many headlines. And yet none may be solons in the true sense of the word.


King Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba, ruled Israel from about 973 to 933, before the Common Era. He was an able administrator, and his political acuity enabled him to form alliances, primarily by marrying women from surrounding regions. His country prospered so well that he was able to construct a massive temple in Jerusalem.
Solomon may have been the most renowned lover of all times, and perhaps the greatest. In addition to his publicized affair with the Queen of Sheba, he is credited, by the Bible, with having married seven hundred women. Quite clearly, in addition to his wisdom, Solomon must have had enduring strength. The erotic Song of Songs is thought to have been composed by him. He is also credited with having written certain psalms and the entire Book of Ecclesiastes.
Solomon’s most famous mediation concerned a dispute by two women who claimed to be the mother of a certain child. The Bible passage reads: «And the king said, Bring me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king. And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give one half to the one, and half to the other» (I Kings 3:24-25). The woman who immediately withdrew her claim was in Solomon’s judgment the real mother. This example of astuteness is known as the judgment of Solomon.
The Queen of Sheba visited Solomon to «prove him with hard questions». He answered so well that she gave him, for starters, «a hundred and twenty talents of gold, and of spices a great store, and precious stones». In return she received from him «all her desire, whatsoever she asked, besides that which Solomon gave her of his real bounty».


A grammatical mistake, a blunder, or any deviation from correct idiom is, in English, termed a solecism. The word’s history can be traced to the Greek city of Soloi in ancient Cilicia, which was in what is today southern Turkey.
Soloi was far removed from the Greek homeland. Because of the distance, the colonists developed a dialect of their own. When the snooty sophisticates back home paid a visit to Soloi, they were shocked to hear their mother tongue «debased» by corrupt dialect of Greek. The Greeks termed what they heard soloikos, meaning speaking incorrectly. The noun that evolved was soloikismos. Latin borrowed it as soloecismus, from
which came the English word used today — solecism. That English word has immortalized the substandard form of Attic dialect.


Socrates (c. 469-399 B.C.) was born in Athens, the son of a sculptor. The educational facilities of that day were meager, and so Socrates walked the streets to talk with people and to learn their philosophies, especially their thoughts about morals. Later he served as a soldier. To the chagrin of the government, he kept defending people he thought unjustly accused. He spent some years as a teacher, employing a method that taught, by questions and answers, a form of cross-examination which tangled his students in a network of errors. When asking questions, Socrates feigned ignorance (which is known as Socratic irony), luring the students to feel free to speak their minds. Through a series of questions, the students were led to the conclusion that Socrates had reached long before the class convened (which is known as the Socratic method).
Socrates was sentenced to death after being convicted of impiety and the corruption of youths through his teachings. The form of execution at that time was the drinking of hemlock. Socrates had acted as his own lawyer, and in his defense offered the famous «Apology of Socrates», which explained his thinking and the motivations of his life.
Socrates spent his last day speaking with friends. At nighttime he bade them farewell by saying, according to Plato's account, "The hour of departure has arrived; and we go our separate ways — I to die, and you to live. Which is the better, God only knows». With that he lay down on his couch, drank the hemlock, and died.
Although Socrates left behind no philosophic writings, we know about him and his thought primarily through the Dialogues of Plato, Socrates’s most distinguished student.


James Smithson (1765-1829), an English chemist and mineralogist, was born in France, the illegitimate son of Sir Hugh Smithson (Percy) and Elizabeth Keate Macie. He made many important analyses of minerals and discovered an important zinc ore (calamine) which he gave his name to — smithsonite.
This British chemist, who had no connection with the United States, left his entire estate of some $508,000 «to the United States of America to found at Washington under the name of The Smithsonian Institution an establishment for increase and diffusion of knowledge among men». There was only one catch. Smithson actually left the estate to his nephew, with the stipulation that should he die leaving no children, the estate would go to the Smithsonian Institution as just described.
The nephew died in 1835 — childless. One would imagine that a half- million-dollar bequest would have been received with open arms. Not so. At the time there was much opposition to accepting this bonanza. John Forsyth, Secretary of State, told President Andrew Jackson that anyone offering such a large amount of money as a benefactor must be a lunatic. Vice President John C. Calhoun said it was beneath the dignity of the United States to receive presents of this kind from anyone. Some congressmen said the gift was an attempt by a foreigner to acquire immortality.
Smithson died in Genoa, Italy, on June 26, 1829. In 1904, the Institution had his remains removed to Washington, D.C., under the escort of Alexander Graham Bell. Smithson is buried in a chapel in the main entrance of the Smithsonian building.
An international conference at the Smithsonian Institution was responsible for the parity of major currencies, which came to be known as the Smithsonian parity.


No viable theories have come forth on why smart aleck developed at the beginning of the last century. But it did, and the expression is still very much with us today. By smart aleck we mean a bumptious, conceited know-it-all. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable says it is an American term that goes back to the 1860s and that it can be found in the literature of this country. The expression first appeared in print in 1862 in a Carson City, Nevada, newspaper. But no record remains of Aleck’s identity. Some sources say that the term was first used in the sixteenth century to designate a questionable scholar named Alexander Ross, who possesed various tiresome qualities. (Ross was referred to by Samuel Butler in Hudibras [1663-1678]: «There was a very learn’d philosopher / Who had read Alexander Ross over». But this belief has not been attested. Whoever the original Aleck, once a common nickname for Alexander, he was smart enough to cover up all leads to his identity.


The sound-producing device called a siren was invented by the French physicist Charles Cagniard de la Tour (1777-1859) in 1819. His invention determined the frequency, or number of vibrations per second, corresponding to a sound of any pitch. Sirens are now used only as signals.
In Greek mythology, Sirens (from sirenes, meaning «entanglers») lived on an island off southern Italy. They were mythical monsters, half woman and half bird, who, by their sweet singing, lured mariners to destruction on the rocks surrounding their island. And if they were not shipwrecked, the sweetness of the singing was such that the listeners forgot everything and died of hunger.
Two experiences reported by the poets proved the ingenuity of man over the beguiling nymphs. In the first, Odysseus, returning from the Trojan War, skirted the island, stuffed wax into the ears of his sailors, and lashed himself to a mast. With the crew thus secured, the vessel sailed on until Odysseus could no longer hear the singing of the Sirens. In the second tale, the Argonauts, heroic sailors of the Argo (the ship Jason had built to help him fetch the Golden Fleece), sailed the ship dangerously near the beach on which the Sirens were singing. Aboard was the celebrated poet Orpheus, whose golden lyre enchanted everyone who heard his music. He played his lyre, thus preventing the crew from hearing the Sirens’s deadly songs. The Argonauts sailed safely by the Sirens’s habitat. Defeated, the nymphs threw themselves into the sea and became rocks.
A siren suit is a one-piece, lined, warm garment on the lines of a boiler suit, and was sometimes worn in London during the air raids of World War II. It was much favored by Winston Churchill and so named from its being slipped on over night clothes at the first wail of the siren.


Simony is the crime of buying and selling ecclesiastical offices or favors. The word is seldom used today, and then only in a religious context. Simon Magus, a Samaritan sorcerer, is responsible for this eponymous term. Many stories about him have circulated. In Acts, Simon offered money to Peter and John to purchase the power of giving the Holy Ghost. Hence the crime of simony, practiced by simoniacs.
The story of Simon’s conversion to Christianity is told in the Bible (Acts 8:9-24). The passage points out that Simon’s conversion was made only so that he could obtain the new powers of sorcery that he thought the apostles possessed.


Susannah Centlivre, a prominent writer of farcical comedies, wrote a play in 1718 that has provided the English language with a new word meaning «utterly pure or real». This play, titled A Bold Stroke for a Wife, had as its hero a man named Simon Pure. The name of that man has come to mean, in everyday English, the real or genuine article. When the authenticity of a thing is unqualified and beyond dispute, it may be said to be simon-pure.
In the play, Simon Pure, a Quaker from Philadelphia, is a man of impeccable reputation. He has received a letter of introduction to a Miss Anne Lovely, a pretty young woman and heiress to a handsome fortune. Meanwhile, a certain Colonel Fainwell steals the letter and gains entrance into Anne Lovely’s home by passing himself off as Simon Pure. Fainwell obtains the guardian’s written consent to marry Anne. Simon
Pure has a difficult time proving that Fainwell is an impostor, but in the end the hero gets the girl.
The only thing about all this that is not a farce is the genuineness of the hero — he was simon-pure.