Monday, January 23, 2006

I just read the origin of the seemingly innocuous phrase 'Saved by the Bell' actually came from the practice of tieing strings from bells to the fingers of corpses, kept in 'waiting mortuaries.' This was done in the early 1800s, prior to the invention of good stethoscopes. The bells were meant to save you from premature burial.

Apparently, however, not a single resident of these waiting mortuaries was ever saved - the last waiting mortuary was closed by 1940. Other methodologies used to guarantee you were really dead included: nipple pincers (a French invention), tongue pullers, a red-hot poker inserted up 'the rear passage' (another French innovation, this one suggested by a clergyman), slicing the soles of feet with razors and jamming needles underneath toenails.

Sounds like the phrase 'better off dead' was applicable as well.

These - and other post-mortem trivia - are found in an odd little book called "Stiff," by Mary Roach. Read in peace.


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