Now You Know

Why do we say that someone caught in a dishonest or criminal act “got nailed?”

In the early days of criminal justice, punishment was often barbaric.
Public hangings and floggings were commonplace, and for lesser
crimes, the infliction of public humiliation and pain on the criminal
was considered necessary to deter others from committing similar
crimes. One such deterrent was to nail the convicted person’s ears to
the hangman’s scaffold, where he or she would spend the day as a public
spectacle. They had been “nailed.”

Why were executions held at sunrise?

In prehistoric times, executions of condemned prisoners were carried
out as sacrificial ceremonies to the rising sun. In the Middle Ages,
because the executions were public, they continued to be held early in
the day so as not to attract huge crowds. It wasn’t until well into the
twentieth century that more enlightened societies brought capital punishment
indoors, not because executions were shocking, but because
they were too popular.

What is the origin of the phrase, “I’ll be hanged if I do and hanged if I don’t”?

When America was fighting for its independence, the British poet
Thelwall was arrested after enraging King George with his liberal,
seditious support for the colonies. In prison he wrote to his lawyer, “I
shall be hanged of I don’t plead my own case,” to which his lawyer
replied, “You’ll be hanged if you do!” His lawyer got him off, and the
phrase became a slogan that contributed to the demise of the royal
cause in America.

Why do we refer to an important issue as “the burning question” of the day?

During a time when the church and the state were equal in government,
anyone failing to follow the state religion was burned at the
stake. Those who demanded the separation of church and state were
considered heretics, and thousands who were caught discussing the
issue were burned at the stake. Because of this, whenever there was a
secret debate on religious freedom, the subject was referred to as “the
burning question.”

Why when someone is betrayed do we say he was “sold down the river”?

After 1808 it was illegal for deep southerners to import slaves, and so
they were brought down the Mississippi River from the North to the
slave markets of Natchez and New Orleans. This gave the northerners
a way of selling off their difficult or troublesome slaves to the harsher
plantation owners on the southern Mississippi, and it meant that those
selected or betrayed would be torn from their homes and families to be
“sold down the river.”

From The Book Titled "Now You Know" by Doug Lennox