March 22, 2013

The distinctive X-shape of a sawbuck

An early-twentieth century term for a ten dollar bill.  It comes up in noir novels as I found it in both David Fears’s Dark Blonde and Megan Abbott’s Queenpin.  The name comes from the X-shape formed by the crossed wood on a sawhorse, X being the roman numeral for ten.


Queen City

March 2, 2013

The Queen City at night

Came across a passage referring to Cincinnati as the Queen City and wondered the origins of it.  After a little bit of research, I discovered there are hundreds of queen cities throughout the world.  The title seems to be given to any city which is second best at something.  Buffalo, for example, is the Queen City of the Great Lakes for being the second largest city on the lakes, next to Chicago.  The town is also the Queen City of New York, as the second largest city, next to New York.

Cincinnati’s use of the title is less clear, but it is clear that it is not because it was second fiddle.  The name goes back at least until 1819, well before the founding of Chicago – the city that will eclipse it in the midwest.  In Cincinnati’s case, queen must be a reference to its beauty, not any status as a runner-up.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow immortalized the name in his poem “Catawba Wine” which reads:

“And this Song of the Vine,
This greeting of mine,
The winds and the birds shall deliver,
To the Queen of the West,
In her garlands dressed,
On the banks of the Beautiful River.”