Question: By mid-summer, vegetables and fruit in our 1-acre garden are ripe and ready to be canned. We can enough to last at least a year. Each year, I need to buy a few more canning jars - also called Mason jars. Why are they called Mason jars? - D.N., Woburn, Massachusetts

Answer: The Mason jar was invented and patented in 1858 by tinsmith John Mason of Vineland, New Jersey. The date of the patent was embossed on the jars: "Mason's Patent Nov 30th 1858." The jars are also commonly known as Ball jars, after the Ball Corp., an early manufacturer of the canning container.

SUPER TRIVIA: Mason was also the inventor of the screw-top saltshaker.

Q: From time to time, I've used the phrase "pray tell." It's generally mildly sarcastic, as in, "So how did that happen, pray tell?" What is pray tell? What does it mean? - L.H., Urbana, Illinois

A: The phrase dates back to Olde English. It means "pray," meaning "ask politely" and "tell," meaning "explain." At one time, the use of "pray" was used to emphasize a request, such as "pray come here," making it an earnest plea. Today it is mostly used to emphasize the unacceptability of something, especially when highlighting a logical fallacy or an irony.

LET'S LEARN ENGLISH: In the U.K., they say "nail varnish"; in America, we say "nail polish." In the U.K., they wear "plimsolls," while in America we wear "sneakers."

Q: During an episode of "Antiques Road Show," they were discussing a unique looking stringed instrument. The instrument appeared to be around two feet long, and the neck appeared to be twice as wide as a guitar and as wide as the sound box; it has multiple strings. Do you have any clue what this is? The sound was turned down on the TV. - F.M.E., Brattleboro, Vermont

A: You saw a "ukelin," which is a cross between a violin and a Hawaiian ukulele. It's played either on one's lap or on a tabletop. The ukelin has 16 melody strings and 16 bass strings. The melody strings are played with a bow in the right hand, and the bass strings are plucked or strummed with the fingernails of the left hand or a pick. Ukelins were introduced in the mid-1920s and were sold door-to-door by a salesman for $35 - in 1930, that was equivalent to more than $350. They were sold for $1 down and $1 a month. The idea is one family member would learn to play the instrument and then entertain the whole family. Mastering the ukelin was not easy, and usually the instrument was put aside long before the final payment was ever made.

There isn't much demand for such instruments because they don't have a quality sound. Their only real value would be in the eyes of collectors searching for bizarre-looking musical instruments.

Q: What is your definition of a "carbarn"? I use it from time to time, but no one knows what I mean. Maybe I'm wrong. - E.N., Summerville, South Carolina

A: I'll give you the definition from my dictionary: It's a large building for the housing and maintenance of the cars of a street railway or the buses of a bus system. It was first used around 1880.

Q: "Bonanza" was the best Western show; I still watch it in reruns. Are any of the main characters still alive? In the opening scene, there is a map of the ranch, is the map accurate? - G.B., Pasadena, Texas

A: The television Western series "Bonanza" aired from September 1959 to February 1973 - that's 14 seasons with 430 episodes. Each of the episodes opened with an inaccurate map of the Ponderosa, a rambling (1,000 square-mile) Nevada ranch that was the setting of the show. Apparently, the artist felt that a fictitious ranch could be based on a fictitious map. The ranch sits atop Lake Tahoe, with Reno, Virginia City and Carson City evenly spaced across the northern boundary of the ranch. In reality, it's not even close.

The show starred Lorne Greene (1915-1987) as widowed father Ben Cartwright; Pernell Roberts (1928-2010) as Adam Cartwright, the oldest son; Dan Blocker (1928-1972) as Eric "Hoss" Cartwright, the middle son; and Michael Landon (1936-1991) as Little Joe Cartwright, the youngest son. Supporting actors David Canary ("Candy" Canaday) and Mitch Vogel (Jamie Hunter-Cartwright) are still alive. 

DID YOU KNOW? Bruce Dern is one of the few actors to have killed John Wayne on screen during "The Cowboys" (1972). He even received death threats over his on-screen actions.

Q: My English-born grandmama used a word from her home county to describe an upset stomach or butterflies in the stomach due anxiety. Would you happen to know a word to describe these conditions? - M.L., Leesburg, Florida

A: I do, and it's being added to my ever-growing list of favorite words - "collywobbles."

Q: I went to see the first two Harry Potter movies with my grandson. I didn't care much for the films, so I stopped watching them. Richard Harris played the part of the schoolmaster with an unusual name. What is it? - J.B.C., San Luis Obispo, California

A: Harris played Hogwarts headmaster Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore in the first two films of the franchise, but after he passed away, Michael Gambon stepped in.

The creator of the series, J.K. Rowling, said she chose the name Dumbledore because of the professor's love for music. In early modern English, "dumbledore" means "bumblebee," and Rowling said she envisioned him walking around humming, like a bumblebee.

Q: Who is the stunning redhead in the Wendy's restaurant commercials? In a recent commercial, she is singing. Is it her own voice? - D.B., Flagstaff, Arizona

A: Her name is Morgan Smith Goodwin, and she was born Aug. 18, 1985, in Cullman, Alabama. In college, she studied musical theater; after graduation, as many actors do, she moved to New York City. She was involved in several Off-Broadway productions as well as in other venues. She became famous when she was selected to be the face of Wendy's in its most recent advertising campaign, "Now That's Better." While in New York City, she met and married Dave Goodwin.

You asked if it was her voice in a Wendy's commercial. I can't find a definitive answer, but considering her background in college, I think it would be safe to assume it is her voice.

By the way, her bright red hair is not hers; she's a natural dark blonde.

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