Ask Mr. Know-It-All Blarney stone
Thousands of visitors travel to Blarney Castle in Blarney, Ireland, each year to hang backwards over the side of the castle tower and kiss the Blarney Stone. (Brian Rosner - Creative Commons)

Question: I was of the impression that the Blarney Stone had an inscription on it. When I finally got to see the stone, it was blank. What happened? - J.A.Z., Leesport, Pa.

Answer: The stone, atop Blarney Castle in Blarney, Ireland, had a Latin inscription, but that was a long time ago. Legend has it than anyone who kisses the stone gets the "gift of gab."

Thousands of visitors have gone through the ordeal of bending backward while hanging over the side of the castle tower. The caretakers regularly wipe the stone clean. In time, they wiped away the inscription.

Q: A line in a book I just read goes, "Charles, being late as usual, folded his gibus as he explained to his wife why he missed part of the opera." What is a "gibus"? - K.J., Roseburg, Ore.

A: A gibus is a folding top hat invented by, made by and named after French hatmaker Antoine Gibus in the early 1800s. The hat could easily collapse so that it would not be in the way, especially at the opera, symphony or theater. Gibus added a spring-loader to the hat in the 1840s.

DID YOU KNOW? Mel Gibson was offered the role of Eliot Ness in "The Untouchables" (1987), but he was working on one of the "Lethal Weapon" films and had to decline. The role went to Kevin Costner. Don Johnson and Michael Douglas were also considered for the role.

Q: I saw the term "Revolutionary Tea" several times in reference to the Colonies. What is it? - L.C., Adamstown, Pa.

A: It's an herbal tea. After the Boston Tea Party, patriots refused to buy tea from England in protest of a tax. Not wanting to give up their beverage of choice, colonists took to brewing herbs as a supplement, which they called Revolutionary Tea.

Q: Did a Murphy really invent the Murphy bed? - R.L., Rockland, Maine

A: William L. Murphy (1876-1959) devised the space-saving bed that was popular in small apartments around 1900. The hideaway bed either swings or folds into a closet.

The Murphy Bed Co. Inc.'s headquarters, manufacturing and warehouse facilities are located in Farmingdale, N.Y.

Q: What does C-SPAN stand for? - C.B., Lynn, Mass.

A: Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network.

Q: I came across the word "claptrap" and went to the dictionary for the meaning: "Pretentious, insincere or empty language." It went on to give its origin: clap + trap, "a trick to win applause." I now know what the word means, but the origin is still confusing. Can you help? - P.W., Muskegon, Mich.

A: Theater owners in the 19th century hired people to sit in the audience to applaud or laugh in an effort to get the entire audience involved in the action on stage. These hired individuals were called "claqueurs."

The word originates from the French word for clapping. In time, the French word made way for "claptrap."

DID YOU KNOW? Before becoming internationally famous, Kevin Costner worked as the ship's captain on the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. His first wife, Cindy, played Snow White.

Q: What is the name of the science or art of dining? - K.J., Delaware, Ohio

A: Aristology. Bon appetit!

Q: How many pyramids are there in Egypt? I understand there were a lot more, but they disappeared. How can something so large vanish? - H.H., Klamath Falls, Ore.

A: According to the British Museum, there are about 80 full-sized pyramids left in Egypt, though there are a total of 138 structures, including ones that are just piles of rubble. Egyptologists say there were as many as 90 more that no longer exist.

What happened to the missing pyramids? As builders needed materials for a new project, it was easier to go to a pyramid and chisel away what was needed. This practice went on for many centuries before the remains of the great buildings were preserved.

Q: Members of the Continental Congress were meeting in Nassau Hall when they learned that Great Britain signed a peace treaty formally ending the Revolutionary War. Where is Nassau Hall? - J.K., Woburn, Mass.

A: The Treaty of Paris was signed Sept. 3, 1783, which, as you mentioned, ended the American Revolutionary War. Nassau Hall is on the campus of Princeton University, then known as the College of New Jersey. Nassau Hall is the oldest building on Princeton's campus.

Q: What kind of animal is pulling Thor's chariot? I recently saw a painting of the Norse god, but I can't figure it out. - F.J., Charleston, W.Va.

A: According to Norse legend, goats pull the god of thunder's chariot. The names of the goats can be translated to "tooth grinder" and "tooth gnasher."

Q: Jules Leotard introduced the tights that were named after him. What was his profession? He seemed to have a lot of influence on the fashion industry. - I.J., Sullivan, Mo.

A: Jules Leotard had no involvement with the fashion industry, but the Frenchman did have influence with the circus. Born around 1840, he introduced the flying trapeze in 1859.

Along with a new act, Leotard created a new costume, including skintight leg coverings. The trapeze act caught on with circusgoers, and the tights caught on with the fashion world. Leotard died around 1870 of an infectious disease, possibly smallpox.

Q: Who coined the phrase "lunatic fringe" when referring to overzealous reformers? - A.D., Cherry Hill, N.J.

A: Though many people think Teddy Roosevelt coined the phrase "lunatic fringe" in 1913, it actually came to us from the world of hairstyling. Lunatic fringe was used to describe bangs in the late 1800s.

Q: Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote a letter to his friend Henry Wadsworth Longfellow saying that he locked himself in a dungeon and lost the key. Can you tell me the circumstances for this letter? I only paraphrased this quote; can you tell me exactly what he wrote? - G.B.L., Sarasota, Fla.

A: Hawthorne, finding himself with a growing family and mounting debts, moved to Salem, Mass. Unable to make a living at writing, he took a job as a surveyor with the Port of Salem.

In a letter to his dear friend Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Hawthorne wrote: "I have locked myself in a dungeon and I can't find the key to get out." He worked there for three years until he was fired. "I detest this town so much," Hawthorne said, "that I hate to go out into the streets, or to have people see me."

Q: For the first time in many years, I watched a Laurel and Hardy film. As a kid I loved the routines, but unfortunately, tastes change. When were they popular, and what was the name of their signature song? - H.T., Roanoke, Va.

A: Stan Laurel (1890-1965) and Oliver Hardy (1892-1957) became well known during the late 1920s through the mid-1940s for their slapstick comedy. Their signature tune is known variously as "The Cuckoo Song," "Ku-Ku" or "The Dance of the Cuckoos."

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