Q. While watching a news report about the erection of a new TV station transmission tower, they kept talking about installing “guy” wires to stabilize it for protection from high winds. I thought I might be hearing it wrong, but they even spelled it once, g-u-y. Shouldn’t they be called “guide” wires?
— T.L., of Fairview Heights
A. Actually, they really are — but not in a language you’re familiar with.
When you trace the history of this use of the word “guy,” you wind up in France perhaps 800 or 900 years ago. There, people coined the word “guie” to mean “guide” and “guier” as a verb meaning “to guide.”
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From there, the Normans brought it to Great Britain. Sometime between 1300 and 1350, “gye” shows up in Middle English as a word also meaning “guide.”
In the early 1600s, the Dutch cemented this use of “guy” as the term we’re so familiar with today. On their ships, they began using “gei” (“guy”) as the name of the rope or wire that holds the mast or mainsail in place — a “guide” wire, if you will. It also apparently became a popular synonym for “brail,” which is a small rope used to haul in a sail.
Now, 400 years later, we’ve simply retained the use of the word as the name of any tensioned cable that stabilizes ship masts, transmission towers, wind turbines and utility poles.
Before you ask, none of this has the slightest thing to do with the use of “guy” as a slang term for the word “man.” For the origin of this usage, you have to go back to Nov. 4, 1605, when Guy Fawkes was arrested for planting 20 barrels of gunpowder in the cellars of England’s Houses of Parliament. He was hoping that by blowing up the House of Lords, it would spur a popular revolt that would overthrow King James, a Protestant, and replace him with his 9-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, a Catholic.
Fawkes was caught before he could set off the explosives and was executed the following Jan. 31. But the failure of his so-called Gunpowder Plot began to be celebrated every Nov. 5 as revelers lit bonfires to burn effigies of Guy Fawkes made from old clothes stuffed with rags or straw.
As early as 1806, the English began calling these effigies “guys” for short. Now, “guy” in England is often used to describe anyone who looks strange or dresses oddly. But by the 1850s, people in the United States were using it simply as a synonym for “man” or “fellow” much as the British might say “chap” or “bloke.”
Q. Where is Steve Harris on KMOV, Channel 4? He’s been gone for at least three weeks and they haven’t mentioned him. Please don’t tell me that my morning good humor man has left the station.
— Frank Greathouse, of Granite City
A. Looks like I can put a big smile on your face, too: At 6:25 p.m. June 5, Harris jubilantly posted on his Facebook page, “My much-needed month-long vacation starts now!”
The 15-year KMOV veteran apparently is making the most of it, too. On June 14, Harris along with wife Holly and children Tristan and Noelle set sail on a cruise to Honduras, Belize and Cozumel, returning to New Orleans a week later. Now, the man who earned 12 Emmys and five Edward R. Murrow awards as a photojournalist before finding his new talent in front of the camera, apparently will continue to put feet up until July 6.
Q. When I was in the military serving in Vietnam, all packages sent to us from were protected by real, edible popcorn as packing to protect the contents inside. Later, Styrofoam peanuts were used. Did the term “peanuts” come from the era when real popcorn was used?
— Marvin McMichael, of Columbia
A. Yes, the Dow Chemical Co. made foam packing peanuts available commercially for the first time in 1965. People quickly latched onto the name “peanuts” because those bits of non-biodegradable fluff were roughly the size and shape of an unshelled peanut.
Bonus fact: White foam peanuts are made of 70 percent or more of non-recycled polystyrene; green peanuts are 70 percent or more of recycled polystyrene; and pink peanuts mean an anti-static ingredient has been added so they don’t stick to everything. In the 1990s, a starch-based, biodegradable peanut finally was developed.
Q. I’m in search of a cleaning company that used to work in the Knolls subdivision of O’Fallon. Several years ago they sold the best floor mop I have ever used, but I no longer can find them.
— Carol Stone
A. This is one I’m hoping my readers might be able to help me clean up on. From what I found on the Internet, I’m speculating it might be the American Mops Cleaning Service that was listed at 317 Edna Drive, but its phone number no longer seems to be in service and the city’s Chamber of Commerce had no information. Anybody?
If you’re even the least bit interested in science, you’re probably familiar with Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2. But how did “c” come to represent the speed of light?
Answer to Wednesday’s trivia: My questioner on Wednesday wondered why cigarette prices were so high when there “were so many tobacco farmers out there.” He’ll probably be stunned to learn that when production hit its peak in 1954, tobacco was grown on 512,000 farms in the United States. Since then, the number has declined 98 percent to 10,014 farms growing tobacco on 342,932 acres — less than half of 1 percent of all U.S. farm acreage, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture. Yet despite the massive decline in U.S. smoking, many farmers say the overseas market continues to make tobacco-growing as lucrative as ever.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427, firstname.lastname@example.org or call 618-239-2465.