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Hey, Matt: A ship was christened the other day. I believe it was named after the soldier that jumped onto a grenade during combat, saving his troops. The soldier’s mother was breaking the bottle of champagne. It looked to be a silver bottle. Champagne flew everywhere but the bottle didn’t. She later spoke and seemed to be holding this “champagne bottle” in her hand. Did someone wise up and decide that breaking glass all around where people would be boarding wasn’t a good idea? What’s the deal on the bottle? — Michael C., Harbor Island

If breaking glass seems like a major danger, consider the Vikings, who christened their boats with the blood of human sacrifices. But that was maybe 2000 years ago, before the age of flying glass and litigation.

Hard to find a group of people more superstitious than sailors, so it’s no surprise that ship christening — the blessing of a boat and its crew for safe voyages — has been around that long. Romans used water. Medieval England switched to a goblet of wine. When women were allowed to christen a ship, in the early 1800s, they switched to wine in a bottle. The christener was to pitch the bottle at the ship’s bow hard enough for it to break. If it didn’t break, well, bad luck would follow in the vessel’s wake forever.

The biggest christening change came when one christener, who apparently threw like a girl (um, because she was one), missed the ship and beaned a spectator. Thereafter, the bottle was attached to the ship by a rope and to the christener by a ribbon. The christener cut the ribbon, which released the bottle to swing toward the ship and, with luck, smash.

Today we use two different methods to propel bottle toward ship. A sort of catwalk is built so that the christener can get close enough to the ship’s bow to smash the champagne by hand. Or the rope-bottle-ribbon method is used when the ship’s bow is too far away from the christener.

The christening you saw was probably the launch of the Jason Dunham at Bath, Maine, named for Marine corporal Dunham, who sacrificed himself for his men. Mom Dunham stood close enough to the bow to smash the bottle herself, and the glass was held in place either by a mesh net around the bottle (a very common device) or by tape applied so the bottle would break but pieces would be held in place. The silver color would suggest it was the latter. The bottle she held later was probably a replica for her to take home and display.

Grandma Alice is lucky enough to know some high-placed mariners at the Holland America Line, so she checked in about their christening methods. They launch their behemoths with the rope-on-bottle method, so the bottle breaks on the ship’s name on the bow. He also noted that before the big day, they go through many, many rehearsals, testing the breakability of the bottle, the explodability of the champagne, and the containability of the glass inside the mesh sleeve. This is done not only to make sure the spectators are reasonably awed but because, as in days of very, very old, it’s still considered bad luck for the bottle to remain unbroken. Ship lines make sure the champagne is warm so it will explode spectacularly. And christeners are called sponsors or, in more traditional terms, the godmothers of the ships. Christening has morphed from a religious ceremony to a big publicity opportunity. Recent cruise-line godmothers have been Whoopi Goldberg, the Olsen twins, Katie Couric, and Tinker Bell.

Hey, Matt: The other day at work we had a welcoming party for a new employee, and a ton of snacks were available. Amongst the snickerdoodles and the bonbons were some “chocolate Susan cookies.” They featured a small glop of chocolate on a seemingly normal butter cookie. What makes these ho-hum cookies worthy of a people name? Who is this Susan? Is she related to the lazy Susan who is also circularly based? — Non-Susan, via email

Consider the chocolate Susan. Round butter cookie, round glob of chocolate in the center. Now consider the old-timey flower, the black-eyed Susan. A yellow daisy with a big brown center. The flower inspired the cookie name. First print reference to a lazy Susan, the circular turntable for dispensing food at a table, was in a 1917 ad for the device in Vanity Fair. No word nerds know the source for sure. Could it be Susan B. Anthony? In the late 1860s, while she was denouncing the idea of wifely “duties” around the house, her opponents claimed she was just covering for her own laziness and dubbed her lazy Susan in their writings. A possible source, but don’t quote me.

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Comments

Josh Board Aug. 20, 2009 @ 10:56 a.m.

Now, if we can just get to the bottom of how Hostess named their Suzy Q's.

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Matthew_Alice Aug. 20, 2009 @ 4:23 p.m.

Named in 1961 after the daughter of a vice president of Continental Baking, Hostess's parent company.

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Josh Board Aug. 21, 2009 @ 10:11 a.m.

Interesting.

I just hate when people say the Baby Ruth was named after the Presidents daughter, when that was just a convenient thing to say by the company, so you aren't sued by the Babe Ruth estate.

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SurfPuppy619 Aug. 21, 2009 @ 11:49 a.m.

Named in 1961 after the daughter of a vice president of Continental Baking, Hostess's parent company.

By Matthew_Alice

How did you know that?

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Matthew_Alice Aug. 21, 2009 @ 12:34 p.m.

That's how I know that. The hostess told me herself.

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Duhbya Aug. 21, 2009 @ 1:44 p.m.

You're my new hero, then, M_A. Creme porn? "How do you eat a Suzy Q? Do you lick the crème filling around the edges or just bite into it? For more than 40 years, sophisticated snack cake connoisseurs have been licking their fingers while mouths full of crème filled Suzy Qs delight their taste buds."

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SurfPuppy619 Aug. 21, 2009 @ 2:26 p.m.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^Dubya brings the funny!^^^^^^^^^^^^

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Joe Poutous Aug. 21, 2009 @ 2:40 p.m.

Bless this ship, and all who sail on her. I christen thee The Flying WASP.

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Josh Board Aug. 21, 2009 @ 2:58 p.m.

Jay Leno once talked about how much he loves Twinkies, and how he'd eat them by sticking a whipped cream canister in one of the three holes underneath. He'd fill them with extra whipped cream, to the point where you could see the Twinkie almost double in size without breaking. Kinda like the snack cake was on steroids or something.

Since I'm not a fan of the whipped cream (yet I love all that hostess filling), I thought it sounded gross.

Of course, there's the popular prank you could play, where you suck the filling out with a straw, and stick a mustard bottle in the Twinkie and fill it up. You then give someone a Twinkie, and watch the fun!

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Duhbya Aug. 23, 2009 @ 7:54 a.m.

"^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^Dubya brings the funny!^^^^^^^^^^^^"

Well....not quite. That was actually the first paragraph at the Hostess site I linked!

http://hostesscakes.com/suzyqs.asp

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