After talking with neshura
, she didn't know the answer
to the question about why white shoes were banned after
Labour day, and why the rule disappeared. She just wanted
people to think about rules that continue existing long
after the reason had been lost.
Well I don't definitively know the answer, but I have a
After wandering around for a while (hitting some
I found enough mentions that the original rule was not just
white shoes, but white (or light colored) clothing in
summer to keep the heat off. Therefore your shoes were
white to match your summer clothes. And the reason for
saying that you only wore them from Victoria Day to
Labour Day was that that was a traditional definition of
So wearing white shoes outside of that period was admitting
that you either couldn't recognize summer clothes, or you
didn't know what time of year it was!
Well then why was the rule lost? I don't think that there
was any particular reason. Rather, over the last century,
the rules on garb have been relaxing. All sorts of little
rules have been lost, and this is but one of the
casualities. I believe that the first was the spread of
women wearing male pants from riding to general wear. This
was a sight that originally was regarded much as we might
regard men today wearing dresses.
But it isn't just women's clothing that has changed. For
instance shirts used to be underwear. Then it became
acceptable to take your jacket off. Then the undershirt
evolved into today's t-shirt. Anyone who wants some
interesting tidbits and quotes about fashion should take
a peek here.
But enough about shoes. Here are some more rules to show
how things survive long after everyone has forgotten the
- Men's shirt buttons are on the left. Women's on the
right. The reason is that most people are right-handed,
and noble men dressed themselves while women were dressed
by maids. Even then most women dressed themselves, but
everyone likes to think of themselves as being privileged
so today women's clothes are still more convenient for
someone else to put on.
- As children we hear that, London bridge is falling
down, falling down, falling down... Well that is kind
of old news now. It happened in 1666, during the Great
Fire of London. And yes, they built it up with bricks
and stones afterwards so it wouldn't fall down again.
- You think that is a long time? Well there is some
evidence that saying, eenie, meeny, miny, moe..
comes originally from the Picts a couple of thousand
years ago! It meant one, two, three, four.
- To this day there is an association between Jews and
banking. That actually dates back to the Middle Ages.
There is a prohibition in the Old Testament about usery, which meant
lending money for interest. Jews interpreted the
commandment to say that they could not lend money to other
Jews. Christians didn't split such hairs. Therefore the
moneylenders were all Jews until the Italians figured out
the trick of lending money in one currency and arranging
a payment at a later date in another. (The interest being
hidden in the exchange rate - which might shift.) BTW the
curious might want to know what happened to this rule.
The answer is that Martin Luther believed that this
commandment was, like the rules on eating pork, one that
did not apply to Christians. The Catholics agreed as
part of the Counter-Reformation. However the rule still
shows up from time to time in the oddest of places. For
instance it makes doing some kinds of business with Iran
more complicated. (Islam grew out of Christianity.)
- Most people have no idea why we have an electoral
college. Well it is a remnant of the intent of the
Founding Fathers that the US should not be a democracy.
Here is a truly
history for people who may have heard phrases like
"Jacksonian democracy" but don't know what it refers to.
- In a similar vein, trial by jury was never intended to
be fair. Rather it was intended, like a good chunk of the
rest of the Constitution, to be another protection against
the government since jurors can rule someone innocent
regardless of the law and cannot be overruled when they
do that. This is called
- The pagan celebration of Samhain has evolved to
today's Halloween. But virtually nobody could tell you
why it is called that. Well in their attempt to put a
Christian veneer over existing celebrations the Church
made November 1 into All Saints Day, making Halloween
literally All Hallow's Eve. And they tried to explain
away the traditional ceremonies in terms of Satan's
hosts trying to spoil the party for the saints.
EDIT Meant to mention around here something about
Christmas, and how Santa was originally St Nicholas, whose
birthday is December 6 for anyone who is curious...
- Ever wondered why legal systems descended from the
English have a form that looks like two adversaries in
a form of ritual combat? (Trust me, compared to many
other legal systems it really does.) Well that is what
it evolved out of! The legal system grew out of trial
by combat, and if need be lawyers would fight to the
death! (This last happened in England in the 1800's, a
lawyer in a prominent case knew it was lost but invoked
the old law for a fight to the death. He showed up the
next morning at dawn, the opposing lawyer did not and a
bill was passed shortly thereafter revoking the old law.)
And where does trial by combat come from? Why from the
old Germanic religion, Tiwaz (Tyr to the Norse) was the
god of both war and justice, and trial by combat comes
out of his cult. (This is parallel to Mars in Roman
times, which is why a day named for Mars in all Romance
languages is named after Tyr in English. Yes, believe it
or not, Odin developed out of a deity much like Mercury.)
I could go on, but I think that the point is clear. There
is a lot that we take for granted without having any clue
where it comes from. And often the rules do not, upon
examination, make much sense any more. (Witness the
electoral combat and a legal system based on trial by
The same is true in any human endeavour. Not just in the
social rules, but in various other good rules we learn.
For instance in programming you will find many rules
about things like eliminating needless redundancy,
modularity, avoiding goto, so on and so forth. These are
generally good rules. But each one is a good rule for a
reason, and there are limitations to the rule. For instance
if you can find it, Structured Programming with goto
Statements by Donald Knuth (Computing Surveys, December
1974) may cause you to question the received wisdom that
goto is always harmful.
Likewise reduced typing is good
because maintaining multiple documents is a good way to
cause bugs. However Exporter recommends putting things
that you want to export into @EXPORT_OK rather than
@EXPORT. This is true even though it forces you to type
more! Why would they force this? Well because the rule
about typing is far less important than the observation
that you should strive to put things that logically belong
together, together. Most modules should not be by default
setting policy for packages that use them, and if in a
file you see a function, you shouldn't have to go looking
all over to figure out where that function was defined!
And this is what had been the main thing that I disliked
about princepawn's posts. He would consistently take a
good rule - such as eliminating redundant typing - and
apply it to places where it clearly didn't really fit.
Just because a rule is claimed to be good, and good
programmers agree that it is, doesn't mean that it is
always applicable. But to get a sense for when it is and
is not, you need to understand why the rule exists. Else
you may find yourself doing something that really makes
no sense. (Like trying to volunteer information to a
police officer who will then turn the transcript over to a
lawyer who in a literal sense will attempt to destroy you
in ritual verbal combat. Oops.)
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