Ever wonder

Q: Why is money that is extorted from someone called “blackmail?”

A: When the English owned much of the farmland in Scotland, they charged the Scottish farmers rent called “mail,” which comes from a Scottish word meaning rent or taxes.

Payments were normally made in silver, and this was called “white mail.” When a farmer couldn’t raise the silver, the payment had to be made in produce, and this was called “black mail.”

Sometimes, landlords would threaten tenants with eviction unless the tenants paid much more produce than was actually needed to cover the rent. This practice gave the term “blackmail” its present negative connotation.

Q: Why are playing cards made up of hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds?

A: Playing cards originated in China many centuries ago, but the decks that we use today date back to 14th-century France.

One belief is that the four standard suits represent the four major classes of society at that time.

Hearts, which were shaped like a shield, represent the nobility and the church; spades, which were shaped like the tip of a spear, represent the military; clubs, shaped like a clover, represent the rural peasant; and diamonds, shaped like the tiles associated with merchants’ shops, represent the middle class.

– Douglas B. Smith,

“Ever Wonder Why?”

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