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Chocolate is one of those clichés we often see in movies as the go-to food for heartbroken women, but how much truth is behind this response? A lot more than one might think.

Chocolate is a psychoactive/psychotropic food containing more than 500 natural chemical compounds, many of which are categorised as mood and pleasure increasing. A psychoactive compound is one that crosses the blood-brain barrier and acts on the central nervous system where it affects brain function. There are a variety of chemical substances in chocolate. Essentially, the ingestion of chocolate replicates good feelings that can imitate those of happiness and even falling in love. Interestingly, over 52% of women in the UK stated that they preferred chocolate over sex.

Phenylethylamine:

This chemical is released by the brain when falling in love, and is probably the biggest contributor to chocolate making us feel good. It releases dopamine (the happy chemical) and endorphins into our pleasure centres and peaks during orgasm. It helps mediate feelings of attraction, excitement and euphoria.

Tryptophan:

This is an essential amino acid that enhances serotonin function which helps diminish anxiety.

Endorphin:

A lot of people should be familiar with this chemical – it makes you feel good and warm. Endorphins reduce sensitivity to pain and are the body’s endogenous opiates.

Anandamide:

This chemical is an endogenous cannabinoid found in the brain. This can have a small effect of promoting a feeling of well-being. The presence of N-oleolethanolamine and N-linoleoylethanolamine also inhibit the metabolism of anandamide, prolonging the feeling.

Theobromine and caffeine:

We all know the effects of caffeine – it stimulates the central nervous system, increases blood flow to the brain, and increases serotonin production. All that basically amounts to increased alertness. It’s worth noting that there is only a very small amount of caffeine in chocolate though – much less than what you’d get from other sources (coffee, etc.).

Theobromine is a chemical cousin to caffeine and is found in greater concentrations in darker chocolate. Theobromine has similar effects to caffeine, to a much smaller degree, but is also a cardiac stimulant. It has been shown to reduce coughing and is also thought to pay a role in regulating moods.

Aggregate effect:

Binge eating chocolate can be explained by the above effects. Psychologically, people attribute a cause and effect relationship between chocolate and feelings of anguish, in which chocolate appears to make the consumer feel better. This is not a placebo effect (as demonstrated by the chemicals above), and thus makes the subconscious association stronger – resulting in cravings when things are going bad. However, it’s common knowledge that binge eating chocolate will lead to obesity, causing self-esteem and image problems, as well as inhibited production of certain chemicals such as dopamine, and basically ending up in feeling worse for a lot longer, so let’s take a look at the health issues of chocolate.

Health:

Surprisingly, chocolate is good for your health. The distinction we have to make here is the type of chocolate you’re eating. Dark chocolate is good for you. It can lower blood pressure and improve blood circulation, preventing the formation of blood clots and arteriosclerosis. We also know from above that chocolate contains phenylethylamine, releasing endorphins and dopamine. It also helps control blood sugar by reducing insulin resistance and is full of antioxidants, as well as vitamins and minerals (potassium, copper, magnesium and iron).

Modern day chocolate dates back to the addition of triglyceride cocoa butter by Swiss confectioner Rodolphe Lindt in 1879. Since then, chocolate has been made sweeter and sweeter so that the concentration of cocoa is more and more diluted. It’s this chocolate that’s bad for you – the one that’s basically just sugar and cream. White chocolate, specifically, has no cocoa solids in it at all. Milk chocolate (obviously) has milk (or condensed milk) in it and a lower cocoa percentage.

Given the health benefits, I would advise adding darker chocolates to your diet in moderate amounts. Personally, around 60% cocoa and I can still enjoy the sweetness of chocolate. Any higher and it’s too bitter for me. I’ve stayed away from white chocolate for a long time now but I eat a lot of dark and milk chocolate, even during cutting when I’m trying to lose weight. I haven’t personally found any fat gain problems with eating a whole block after training, but obviously, chocolate is a calorie rich food so if you’re not active, you should eat less but not avoid it completely.

Etymology of cocoa:

While I’m on the topic, I’d like to point out that although I’ve used the word “cocoa”, it’s believed that this English word was a result of English traders misspelling the original word “cacao”, taken from the Olmec civilisation.

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As I didn’t get to include as many idioms as I would have liked in the last post, this is a continuation on the last one.

In other news, getting Freshly Pressed in under 4 weeks of starting this blog was pretty exciting, so I did a bit of re-organising. As you can see on the left, it’s now easier to navigate to the category you’re interested in reading. I’ve made etymology its own category as I plan to go into not just expressions, but weird words and names in the future.

Without further ado, here are a few more idioms (some of these were mentioned in the comments of the previous post, to which I give my thanks and recognition; I have added a bit of research to flesh these out):

Cold Shoulder: To distance oneself from by displaying coldness or indifference.

There is some dispute over the etymology of this expression, with a commonly held belief being that visitors who overstayed their welcome at one’s house were served only a “cold shoulder of mutton”. Whilst appearing in many etymology texts, there is a noticeable lack of supporting evidence for this theory and it is thus considered “folk etymology”. The first example of this term can be found in The Antiquary (Sir Walter Scott, 1816):

The Countess’s dislike didna gang farther at first than just showing o’ the cauld shouther.

In his text, Scott uses the term “shouther” (Scottish dialect for shoulder if you were wondering) to refer to exactly that – the shoulder. There is no reference to food anywhere, though plenty of references to shoulders:

… they stood shouther to shouther.

A more compelling evidence for the common day usage of this term can be found in his later work St. Ronan’s Well (1824):

I must tip him the cold shoulder, or he will be pestering me eternally.

It is assumed that he coined this term himself and the phrase began appearing frequently after the 1820s.

Raining Cats and Dogs: Raining very heavily.

This one has no definitive origin, though a lot of folk etymology surrounds the phrase. Since I can’t really tell you where this expression came from, I can only speculate based on evidence.

One claim is that in the 16th century, the family pet would crawl into the thatched roof of a house to hide from the rain and would fall through the roof when the rain was heavy enough.

Another claim is that, due to the primitive drainage systems of the 17th century, sewers would spew out their contents during heavy rain, including the corpses of animals that had accumulated in them. Whilst it is unsure that the phrase came from this origin, the phenomenon itself is documented and appears in the poem Description of a City Shower (Jonathan Swift, 1710):

Drowned puppies, stinking sprats, all drenched in mud,/Dead cats and turnip-tops come tumbling down the flood

Another possibility is the corruption of the Greek word Katadoupoi, referring to waterfalls of the Nile and reflected through the old French word catadoupe, meaning waterfall. It is suggested that there is no logical explanation, and the term simply became popular due to humour, such as other similar phrases like “raining pitchforks”.

As for me, I go by the earliest evidence we can find, found in the comedy The City Wit or the Woman Wears the Breeches (Richard Brome, 1653) where it is said:

It shall raine … Dogs and Polecats

While a polecat is not biologically a cat (feline species), it’s not hard to imagine this fact being overlooked over time. The term itself first appeared word for word in A Complete Collection of Polite and Ingenious Conversation (Jonathan Swift, 1738):

I know Sir John will go, though he was sure it would rain cats and dogs.

Based on the fact that Swift mentioned dead animals during heavy rain in his earlier poem, I’m inclined to believe that the phrase originated from this phenomena.

Sleep tight; don’t let the bed bugs bite: Sleep well

Many of you may recognise this from the old nursery rhyme (you can Google this rhyme yourself if you want it), but the meaning of the term is twofold.

First, sleep tight referred to the old beds before mattresses existed. Beds were elevated rectangular frames with ropes tied across in a weave for the sleeper to lie on. Obviously, knowing this, sleep tight refers to not having these ropes sag and drop the occupant to the floor (tight meaning the ropes were tight, in case you missed the nuance). According to historian Dr. Jerry Lee Cross, the “sleep tight” is common knowledge amongst historians as the modern bed is little over a hundred years old.

As for the bed bugs; well they exist. The scientific name for the blood sucking insect is Cimex lectularius. There were some folk practices for sleeping in a way that avoided these bed bugs from feasting on you. As the bugs are wingless, it was common practice to put cans on the bedposts with kerosene (like a moat) so that the bugs wouldn’t climb across. They also had to avoid letting their sheets touch the floor, lest the bugs climb up that way. Curiously enough, this may have programmed the sheet-floor response into us. I’m not sure how many others experience this but as soon as my blankets touch the floor I yank them back up. It’s not that I think my floor is dirty, I just don’t like my blankets on them.

Well this post got longer than I expected and it’s only three idioms but I’ll cut it short here. Tune in later for another instalment!

The English language is full of strange idioms, many of them that we use without understanding how that phrase came to being. I only have time for a few but I might add more later. Let’s take a look at them shall we?

Train of thought: The process and direction of one’s thoughts

From the early 14th century, the word “train” meant a “drawing out or delay” of something. In the mid-15th century, the word evolved to include a “retinue or procession”. The first example of the term “train of thought” was attested in the 1650s whereas the first use of the word “train” in the sense of a locomotive. As a result, the idiom “train of thought” has nothing to do with trains (the transport) and is more likely to derive from a “delay” of a “procession” of “thought” (hence losing your train of thought).

Cup of Joe: Coffee

There are a few theories on this one. I’ll talk about the two most popular ones here.

The first is attributed to Secretary of the US Navy, Josephus Daniels (1862-1948), for banning all US Navy ships from serving alcoholic beverages. As a result, sailors resorted to the next strongest drink: coffee.

The second is a reference to a “cup of jamoke” as coffee is a compound of Java and Mocha. The term jamoke has been used in popular culture before, hence a “cup of joe” being derived from a “cup of jamoke”.

Beat About/Around the Bush: To avoid getting to the point

The earliest example of this term was recorded around 1440 in the poem Generydes – A Romance in Seven-line Stanzas. 

Butt as it hath be sayde full long agoo,
Some bete the bussh and some the byrdes take.

This anonymous poem exists only as a single handwritten manuscript in the library of the Trinity College and Cambridge. The implication of this was that it was worse to “bete the bussh” than to “take the byrdes”. The next earliest example of the modern day phrasing of the term can be found in George Gascoigne’s Works, 1572.

He bet about the bush, whyles other caught the birds.

Technically, the correct phrase, if you stick to the origins of the word, would be “beat about the bush” but the incorrect US version took over in around 1980 so now most people say “beat around the bush”.

Gung Ho: Over-enthusiastic attitude towards doing something

This word was adapted from the Chinese military motto meaning “work together” (the word being kung ho). Lt. Col. Evans Carlson used this term frequently during World War II, where he would hold gung-ho meetings for his troops. They would discuss their problems and orders at these meetings. The expression became even more popular after the movie Gung Ho! in 1943 depicting a marine who did everything it took to get the job done.

Take the cake: Taking a prize symbolising victory or success

While it is widely believed that the phrase originated from the strutting competition known as the “cake-walk” in which the winner would have been said to have “taken the cake”, where cake was often the prize. This was popular within the black community of Southern USA in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

However, this expression has existed since the early 5th century BC where the Greeks used “take the cake” as a symbol for taking the prize. In 420 BC Aristophanes wrote “The Knights” (a criticism of the powerful Athenian politician Cleon).

If you surpass him in impudence the cake is ours.

The term “take the biscuit” is used the same way.

Early bird (takes the worm): Opportunity goes to those that are prepared

This is a tough one; the first recorded example can be found in John Ray’s A collection of English proverbs 1670, 1678.

The early bird catcheth the worm.

However, this suggests that the word was already in popular usage.

EDIT: I’ve added a part 2 with another three idioms.

Recently, any 9gag post featuring the usage of the word “America” to represent the United States of America and “American” to refer to a person from aforementioned States has been met with a lot of tears, frustration and broken hearts in the comment sections. This could very likely be an internet-wide phenomenon, but 9gag is the only place where I really read comments (because there are so many idiots there it’s amusing).

Well, I’m here to end this crap.

These arguments usually revolve around something along the lines of “America is not a country, [insert profanity and remove appropriate punctuation], it’s a continent”. Wow that’s dumb. America is less a continent than it is a country. In short, using the word “America/American” to describe the US and its inhabitants is perfectly correct – and I’ll proceed to prove it to you.

Ok, so here’s some history. The term “America” was first featured on one of four five (as of July 4, the fifth was found in a German university library) maps of German cartographer Martin Waldseemueller, who died in 1522. At the time, it was used to mark a boomerang shaped strip of land that is now modern-day Brazil. Here’s a picture for reference.

That’s America there on the right. If you don’t believe me, Google it yourself. Anyway, it should be pretty obvious that there’s more to South America (and indeed North America) than what is shown there. Over time, the term “America” became used to describe the “New World”, which pretty much just included the Americas (gasp, there’s a hint!) and sometimes Australasia. This was mainly due to the expanding of the geographical horizon that existed in the European Middle Ages, in which they believed that the whole world consisted only of Africa, Asia and Europe. Eventually, after all was discovered, and scientists did their thing with tectonic plates, they divided North and South America into two different continents – and rightly so. Why? Because the two landmasses are on separate tectonic plates. Again, a picture for you as reference.

In case you can’t see, the brown plate is North America and the purple is South America. Well, now that we’ve established a well-documented, existing definition (that North and South America are two different continents) we can continue with our proof. And yes, I am aware that people around the world are actually taught different things. There’s a five continent model (old mode from the 60’s in Europe – hence the five Olympic rings), a six continent model where North and South America are combined into one (mainly taught in Europe and Latin American countries), and finally the seven continent model where North and South America are separate. However, most geographers and scientists now agree on a six continent model – but North and South America are still separate continents (refer to tectonic plates if you want to know why). The true six continent model (true as in geographically and scientifically endorsed) combines Europe with Asia (Eurasia) as they are technically one single landmass on one single tectonic plate. So either way, if someone tries to say North and South America are just one continent (America), then that’s how they were taught so it’s not their fault that they’re wrong. Yes, they are still wrong.

Let’s go back to our original claim “American is a continent not a country”. Wrong. Here’s where the previous hint comes back; the Americas (notice the plural) are two continents. They can also be collectively known as Pan-America, which consists of North, Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean. America (notice the singular) is not a continent. The continents are North America and South America, remember? Cutting the first half off a word does not make it the same thing, especially when the second half is the same for two different continents. In fact, these stupid claims are defeated by their very own logic. They argue that we cannot call the United States of America by the shortened term “America” but they say America is continent when it is itself shortened by cutting off the preceding word. In both cases, we’re ignoring the first half of the name, so “America is a continent, not a country” is already wrong by its own reasoning. So what makes it more correct to use America/American to refer to the US and its people? I’m glad you asked.

First of all, “American” is a demonym. A demonym is basically a term for the populace of a certain locale, based on the name of that region. Thus, Chinese (from China), Australian (from Australia) and American (from America). Now, here’s the fun bit. Let’s just say for an instance that the word America does not, by itself, have any meaning – thus nullifying the semantics of the word American (ignoring the fact that some people do already say “North American” and “South American”). What then would you call a person from the US? United States of American? United Statesian? Here’s my personal favourite: USAsian. It even sounds like “You is Asian”. If we ever change the word “American” it should be to USAsian. If you want to blame someone, blame the people who decided to name a country “the United States of [landmass]”. They obviously didn’t foresee the difficulty of naming things when they came up with that name. As a result, we just have the word American, which is a nice, simple demonym.

Second, and here we get into a bit of the etymology and semantics of language itself, what is the meaning of a word? If you think about it, a word is really just a wavelength emitted by our vocal chords. That’s the scientific way of saying “words are just sound”. So how does this sound have a meaning attached to it? It’s meaning is given to it by its use. If it’s used to represent something, it will come to mean that thing. The word “American” has already had a few hundreds years of usage to describe people/things from the United States. Not only that, it was popularised and utilised by the media and government (the American Dollar and the American Dream), so really, the word has already established its meaning and the media, people and government were the ones who created the word’s meaning, as well as ensuring that it sticks. So yes, America is the shortened word for the United States of America, and American is the word for a person/thing from the US. Its usage as such is perfectly correct.

Before I forget, I remembered someone saying “stop claiming the entire continent for yourselves”. I’m guessing that the other people belonging to North and South America (the continents) are feeling left out of their own continent. Well, in response, I say: chill out. You should be glad that you’re not lumped in with the US and have a country name and appropriate denonym for yourselves. That means you don’t get dragged into the American image of archaicness, obesity and stupidity (among other things). Now stop trying to argue that America “is a continent not a country” or you mind end up being considered stupid after all.

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