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The stupid question is the question not asked

About white shoes

by tilly (Archbishop)
on Dec 02, 2000 at 08:09 UTC ( #44552=note: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

in reply to Chapter 714: The Long Chapter

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 theory.

After wandering around for a while (hitting some odd places) 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 summer.

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 point:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.)
  5. 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 excellent history for people who may have heard phrases like "Jacksonian democracy" but don't know what it refers to.
  6. 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 jury nullification
  7. 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...
  8. 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 combat.)

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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