The Suitcase Lady


October 17, 2017, 9:55 pm

I recently read an explanation of the term “stinking rich”. The phrase was derived, the travel guide stated, from the fact that nobility and rich people were interred under the floors of medieval churches. Since the Europeans did not posses the embalming skills of the Egyptian mummy makers, the stench from opening a family tomb was gagging, making church attendance a true penance in the Middle Ages.

This explanation sounds plausible, plus it gives ordinary folks license to mock the rich, a favorite pastime down through the ages. Being a born fact-checker, I decided to do some research on the origin of the phrase. I quickly discovered from multiple sources that “stinking rich” is most likely a fabrication, the dead rich didn’t literally clear out the pews thanks to quicklime or other odor reducing measures. However, this is not to say that the medieval world was as odor free as our modern one.

My research on the “stinking rich” serendipitously led to another gross myth being debunked. The popular nursery rhyme “Ring Around the Rosy” was not about dropping dead from the Black Plague, an oft cited explanation of the lyrics. The rhyme did not surface in print until 1881, and probably refers to some Protestant sects ban on dancing. Children’s circle games popped up to substitute for dancing…… need to move!

However, one medieval holdover in our speech appears to be true. “Lousy” does really hark back to being covered with lice. Now that’s lousy.

1 Comment for this entry

  • eve robillard

    but what about “ashes, ashes, we all fall down.”
    sound kind of plague-ish to me. No??? But I was fond of this ditty as a young child. Thanks for the interesting info.