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ASK MR. KNOW IT ALL: No need to whiff on meaning

on September 15, 2013 1:50 AM

Question: Back when I was in school, I came across the word “wiffle,” or a variation, in literature. I’ve looked up the meaning, and none makes sense. If you understand my question, can you attempt an answer? — H.I.B., Miami Beach, Fla.

Answer: I’m thinking the word could be “whiffler,” which appears in William Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” Act 5, Scene 1”

“Athwart the sea. Behold, the English beach

Pales in the flood with men, with wives and boys,

Whose shouts and claps out-voice the deep mouth’d sea,

Which like a mighty whiffler ‘fore the king

Seems to prepare his way: so let him land,

And solemnly see him set on to London.”

In the time of the Bard, a whiffler was one who cleared the way for a procession.

Question: Amy Klobuchar is the senior senator from Minnesota. I emigrated from Yugoslavia to America in 1953; I lived near a family from my home country with the name Klobuchar. By any chance, is the senator from Yugoslavia? — S.H., Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Answer: Amy Jean Klobuchar was born May 25, 1960, in Plymouth, Minn. Her paternal great-grandparents are Slovene immigrants, while her maternal grandparents are from Switzerland.

DID YOU KNOW? Sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer joined an underground military organization in Israel. Because she’s so short — just 4 feet, 7 inches — she was trained as a scout and sniper. She was seriously wounded in action by an exploding shell during the Israeli War of Independence in 1948.

Question: Audie Murphy was the most decorated soldier in World War II; he was also a movie star after the war. How many movies did he appear in? How many times did he marry? How many children did he have? When did he die? — J.G., Aston, Pa.

Answer: Audie Leon Murphy was born in Texas on June 20, 1925. He was famous for becoming one of the most decorated American soldiers of World War II. After the war, he took up acting and appeared in 44 movies. During the 1950s and 1960s, he was cast primarily in Westerns. He married actress Wanda Hendrix on January 8, 1949; the marriage lasted a bit over two years. He married former airline stewardess Pamela Archer on April 23, 1951. He had two sons.

On May 28, 1971, Murphy was killed when the private plane in which he was a passenger crashed into Brush Mountain, Va., during inclement weather. The pilot and four other passengers were also killed. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. It is the second-most visited grave in the cemetery, second only to President John F. Kennedy.

Question: I am 89 years old, and I have long wondered when walking sticks became known as canes. Who was responsible for the change? — M.J.B., White Hall, Ill.

Answer: I asked a small group of rabologists (walking stick collectors) this question. They assured me there is no definitive answer to your question and that no one person is responsible for the name change.

Historically, walking sticks have been used as weapons, to help people keep their balance or as a crutch. Walking sticks are still used by hikers and are often known as trekking poles, pilgrim’s staffs, hiking poles or hiking sticks.

A walking cane is a walking stick with a curved top much like a shepherd’s staff, but shorter. Of course there are fancy canes (without the bend) popularized by Fred Astaire. I never thought something as lowly as a walking stick/cane could be so complicated and fascinating.

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

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