Q: Where does graduate garb come from?

A: The academic costume or robes worn at many American colleges and high schools today go back to the Middle Ages. The oldest universities of northern Europe, such as Paris and Oxford, grew out of church schools; and both faculty and students in the Middle Ages were regarded as part of the clergy. As such, the students wore clerical garb that was similar to the monastic dress of their day, both on a daily basis and on special occasions.

The head covering of graduation robes developed out of the skullcap worn by the clergy in cold weather to protect their tonsured (shaved) heads. In the universities, this skullcap acquired a point on top, which gradually evolved into a tassel. Today, the familiar mortarboard has replaced the bonnet, but it still, however, retains the medieval tassel.

In the Middle Ages, undergraduates, bachelors and masters could be distinguished by the simplicity or elaborateness of their gowns and this survives today in the ornamentation found on doctoral gowns.

The wide velvet borders extending down the front of the doctoral gown and the velvet bars on the sleeves are usually black, or may match the border of the hoods, which are colored according to the scholarly field of the wearer (i.e., philosophy, dark blue; law, purple).

Q: Why do bees and wasps sting?

A: Protection is the main reason bees and wasps sting. Mice and other bees often raid beehives and steal honey. The bee uses its stinger to kill these raiders. One bee’s venom can poison a mouse many times its size.

Wasps, too, use their stings to attack enemies, but one kind of wasp actually uses its stinger to provide food for its young. The female wasp will inject her stinging fluid into a caterpillar to paralyze it. She then lays eggs in the helpless creature. The baby wasps will hatch and feed on the caterpillar until they are big enough to go off on their own.

Q: Do you know how or when the game of horseshoes started?

A: For nearly 300 years, horseshoe pitching has been one of our most popular backyard games. Up until the early 1900s, all you ever needed to play were four shoes (which you could buy or borrow from any barn or blacksmith shop), two iron stakes and a willing opponent. Today, you can buy the whole setup from many retail stores.

Daniel Webster was a famous horseshoe pitcher, as was Abraham Lincoln, while George Washington excelled at quoits.

The origin of horseshoe pitching is somewhat obscure, but the game began in Rome as quoits, with flattened iron rings, which were tossed at two stakes projecting 1 inch from the ground and located 18 feet apart. Quoits was very popular in 17th-century England, and in this country during Colonial times. In time, horseshoe pitching became the more popular of the two games.

Write to Farmers’ Almanac, P.O. Box 1609, Lewiston, ME 04241 or e-mail: [email protected]


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