TMI: Too much information can be a bad thing

It told of a priest, 700 years ago making his way to a distant and lonely parish in England. After a few pages, he arrived at his destination, packed his pipe with tobacco and lit it.

Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten on their wedding day, 20 November 1947 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten on their wedding day, 20 November 1947
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Once again, we Israelis are sick of politics, politicians and the situation. Once again, to preserve sanity and have some fun, we turn to a different subject: TMI. TMI stands for “too much information.” I always thought that much so-called useless information one day becomes useful. For example, when you travel, doesn’t knowing some French from high school come in handy?
Now I have discovered that this is not always true. Sometimes, TMI can be a real spoiler. For example, I began reading a book that pulled me in from its very beginning. It was an historic mystery story, with the auspicious (to me) beginning, “In the Year of our Lord 1400 and something.”
It told of a priest, 700 years ago making his way to a distant and lonely parish in England. After a few pages, he arrived at his destination, packed his pipe with tobacco and lit it.
TMI: tobacco was introduced into England about 150 years later. That was enough to spoil the book for me. I stopped reading it. Historical fiction must be historically correct.
A fellow journalist wrote an article in the English edition of a Hebrew daily. The article kindled the imagination of a convinced Italophile (me), who had just returned from Sicily. The title was something like “Medieval Sicilian Jewish recipes.”
Immediately, my mouth watered and my hands itched to begin the preparations. One of the recipes called for using tomatoes to make pasta sauce. The recipe claimed to be from the 1300s. The tomato, like the potato and like tobacco, hailed from the New World and certainly was not available in Europe until well into the 1500s.
TMI: How could I possibly trust the other recipes. In this case, I wrote to the journalist pointed out the error in the most polite fashion. There was no response, which I thought was rather cavalier.
TMI but fascinating: The Columbian exchange. This is the exchange of foods and culture, diseases and populations between Europe, the Americas and West Africa and is named after the man responsible, Christopher Columbus.
TMI: We grow up thinking that national boundaries and borders are fixed. The truth is that all of these borders are quite recent. Those in Africa, parts of Asia and Europe itself are less than a century old and some much less than that. Probably we’re taught history the wrong way. How about the following definition.
History is in the attempt to record movements of and transfers of populations across time.
TMI can be matched with WI (a term I just created) standing for Wrong Information. That is not Fake News, which is just a way of saying false or lying news. I am speaking of incorrect information. The one which exasperated, angered and ultimately became dinner table material was occasioned by a food article. Yes, I confess I read food articles sometimes and wine articles often.
Reading a Hebrew daily, whose late food editor was opinionated. but generally on target with wine, wrote an article even non-gourmets would read: “The Ten Best Pizzas in Europe.” Even though we do not eat non-kosher foods we allow vegetarian pizza on the theory that fire cleanses. (Please note: this is not to be interpreted as permissible by the Rabbinate. But, to tell the truth, much of what the Rabbinate does is not permissible to me. So it’s a stand-off.)
After driving a few hours out of our way in the bauxite-laden mountains near Arles, where Vincent van Gogh lived and painted for a while, we arrived at a village. Along the length of the highway, now also the Main Street of the village, we drove back and forth the short distance from one end to the other. No such number. No such pizzeria. No pizzeria at all. We even searched out the mayor, astride his tractor, who told us in plain French, “N’éxiste pas!”
Again, on our return, I duly called the writer, now smoking his cigars and quaffing his wine in the great diner in the sky. Not even an apology, not even a “thanks for telling me.” Gornisht. Well, at least his newspaper was not part of The Jerusalem Report family.
Lest, dear reader, you are concerned that my Canadian background has made me a royalist, be reassured. I think hereditary monarchy in this day and age is a historic anomaly. However who can discount the wonderful pageantry that seems to glue together the not-so-great Britain of today. And The Crown is an excellent Netflix series, though it treats the pro-Nazi Edward VIII too kindly for my taste.
But TMI. Early in the series, the then-Princess Elizabeth, now the nonagenarian Queen, toasts her beloved young suitor (or were they already married) for his promotion in the Royal Navy. She said, “He is no longer Lieutenant Mountbatten, but Lieutenant-Commander Mountbatten.” Her Royal Highness, as she was then, pronounced the ranks incorrectly. She said, “Leftenant,” and “Leftenat-Commander.”
At which point, I shattered my dear wife’s concentration by snorting, “Leftant is the army pronunciation. In the navy its pronounced “Lyutenant” and Lyutenant Comahndeh.”
Now unlike newspapers, which often publish corrections, television never does. But, indeed, some old fuddy-duddy possessor of TMI, or perhaps a ruddy-faced former Chief Petty Officer or Rear Admiral called the producer and expressed his absolute horror. A few episodes later, Mountbatten became a “Lyu” and not a “Left.”
While we are on the subject, the word lieutenant is pure French, comprised of the word lieu – meaning in the place of – and tenant holding. A lieutenant is holding the place of his superior, the captain. In English, the term “in lieu of” is a perfect use of the word. Now from that to “loo.”
Our British and often South African and Australian friends excuse themselves, and go to the “loo,” meaning the facilities, the bathroom, the cloakroom or any of the euphemisms we are are taught to use. As far as I could find out, in my search for TMI, the word loo is a bastardization (okay, look that up too) of the French (again!) l’eau, which means “the water.” In merry old England, as in much of Europe, which discovered hygiene a couple of thousand years after the Romans, the human waste was thrown out into the street. The term “Gardez l’eau” – mind the water – became gardyloo in medieval Scotland. And loo, the word, was born!
Hence, the gallant gentleman would let his lady walk next to the houses, while he would be further out, to watch out for the waste water, while the lady would escape unscathed.
It was Sir John Harrington who invented the flushing toilet, using water stored in the “water closet.” This was over four centuries ago during the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth. (TMI: she was called the Virgin Queen which is really funny; More TMI: Virginia, the state, is named in her honor.)
Sir John really reintroduced what the ancient Romans were using then). Hence, many people honor him by going to the “john.”
Harrington stole the conclusion of this column from me. He was banished from the court because in a book about his invention, he made a political illusion about the waste product which was poisoning the state.
Thus, often TMI is a spoiler. What I thought was original is probably as old as the ancient Greek source of the word politics.
Keep smiling, dear reader. What else can we do?
The writer has survived almost seven decades of Israeli politics. The present crisis, he says, “is what happens when chutzpah becomes hubris.” Having become a great-grandfather again the day of this writing, he expects that Israel will not have elections every few months until the newborn can vote.