Question: We have all heard the phrase "don't buy a pig in a poke." What is a poke? -- L.H.M., Carol Stream, Ill.

Answer: Going back a few hundred years, a poke was a cloth bag. An unscrupulous person might try to sell a pig tied up in a poke. When the buyer got home, he might find a raccoon or opossum. Pigs aren't bought or sold this way anymore, but the sentiment remains true.

Q: In William Shake speare's play "Romeo and Juliet," Capulet asks if Juliet has gone to Friar Laurence. The nurse an swers, "Ay, forsooth." What is "forsooth"? -- L.K., Clinton, N.J.

A: According to Merriam-Webster, "forsooth" was used before the 12th century, and it means "indeed." It was often used to imply contempt or doubt. The dialogue in the play occurs in Act 4, Scene 2.

Q: Was actress Halle Berry really named after a department store? -- T.L., Alamosa, Colo.

A: Yes, she really was. The actress, born Maria Halle Berry, was named after the Halle building, a landmark in her hometown, Cleveland. The building housed the Halle Brothers Co. department store. It is now an office building. In the 1990s, it was the fictional setting for the Winfred-Louder department store on "The Drew Carey Show."

Q: You're suddenly overcome by an urge to dance. Is there a clinical name for this uncontrol lable urge? -- I.N.L., Bed ford, Ind.

A: It is called "tarantism." The disorder was prevalent in southern Italy from the 15th to the 17th centuries and popularly attributed to the bite of a Mediterranean black widow spider.


Q: What is the Latin word for "kiss"? -- W.K., Manchester, N.H.

A: Ancient Romans had three words for kissing: "basium," "osculum" and "suavium." Each represented a different kind of kiss, though "osculum" is the oldest and most commonly used.

Q: What was Dizzy Gil lespie's real name? -- H.B.V., Warren, Pa.

A: John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie was born Oct. 21, 1917, in Cheraw, S.C. His innovative trumpet playing made him a founding father of modern jazz and an inventor of bebop. Gillespie died of pancreatic cancer in Englewood, N.J., in 1993.

Q: During the medieval period, many women wore a cloth that covered their heads. The material wrapped around the head and chin. What is this garment called? -- O.D., Ames, Iowa

A: The headpiece is called a "wimple," and it was popular in medieval Europe. At one time, it was believed inappropriate for a married woman to show her hair.

Wimples are still worn today by nuns who wear the traditional habit. Wearing a wimple observes a passage in the Bible, in 1 Corinthians 11:5: "But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven."

Q: Let's say I live in the tropics, and I decide to grow bananas. How many pounds will I get per acre? -- O.N.R., Ocala, Fla.

A: You can expect to grow anywhere from 10,000 to 16,000 pounds per acre.

Send your questions to Mr. Know-It-All at or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.