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ASK MR. KNOW IT ALL: What, pray tell does 'pray tell' mean?

on August 10, 2014 1:49 AM

Question: 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, Ill.

Answer: The phrase dates 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.”

Question: 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, Vt.

Answer: 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.

Question: “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

Answer: 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.

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