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An Earl and a Whirl: How Sandwiches and Jacuzzi Baths Got Their Names

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on WORDMASTER: more from our interview with Philip Dodd, author of the new book "The Reverend Guppy's Aquarium: From Joseph P. Frisbie to Roy Jacuzzi, How Everyday Items Were Named for Extraordinary People."

RS: We left off last week at the story of how the Jacuzzi name became synonymous with whirlpool baths.

PHILIP DODD: "Roy is from a great Italian family who came over from just north of Venice, through Ellis Island, in the nineteen hundreds. And they ended up in the fruit farms of California and got into making pumps to help the farmers. They even developed one of the very first passenger planes, amazingly.

"Roy was a third-generation Jacuzzi and he came out of college in the mid-sixties in California, and his grandfather and great-uncles had developed this machine that really swirled water around your domestic bath to help ease the pains of arthritis or just a sore body. But effectively it was just like putting an outboard motor in a domestic bath.

"Roy, who had done a degree in design and engineering, thinks, 'Hold on, we can do something a lot more fun with this.' And what he particularly came up with was, if you look at the side of Jacuzzis, they have those swivel nozzles. He designed that and he worked out the way to push water through so powerfully that it created this fantastic bubble effect. And he was inspired by his Italian heritage. He had those classic Roman baths in mind."

RS: "You've got fifteen stories here. Is there a favorite among them?"

PHILIP DODD: "I'm very fond of the Earl of Sandwich because when I started writing about the sandwich and knowing that it was named after this Earl of Sandwich, a British aristocrat, I had this idea that I'd be doing a story about foppish English aristocrats.

"What I discovered was, the current earl, the eleventh earl, and his son have set up a business with, very appropriately, Robert Earl, who was one of the brains behind Planet Hollywood and Hard Rock Cafe. And they have a series of fast-food sandwich restaurants. The first one was opened in Walt Disney World in Orlando [Florida] and they're rolling it out through the States."

AA: "And were there any words that you just 'knew' were named after someone but in fact were not?"

PHILIP DODD: "I haven't come across any where I thought it was completely spurious apart from -- and this is one of the dangers of Google and the Internet, there was a Web site I came across which dealt with culinary words. And they had an entry for a country squire from England called Sir Oswald Binge, and it said he was famous for his week-long feasts and the excess, and that's where the word 'binge' came from.

"I went and had a look for that and I just couldn't find any other references. And I went back to the Web site and my suspicions were kind of aroused when I came across an entry for a guy called 'Jorge-Luis Avocado.' And it said Jorge-Luis was an Argentinean explorer and botanist, and it had a quote from his mother saying she'd much preferred him to discover something a little tastier, like baked Alaska."

RS: Philip Dodd is the author of "The Reverend Guppy's Aquarium: From Joseph P. Frisbie to Roy Jacuzzi, How Everyday Items Were Named for Extraordinary People."

AA: We talked last week about Joseph Frisbie and his Frisbie Pie Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut. College students made a game out of sailing the pie tins through the air. In the 1950's, the California toy company Wham-O renamed a plastic flying saucer the Frisbee. Wham-O employee Ed Headrick later improved the design, and the Frisbee became a big hit.

RS: Well, after our segment aired, we learned of the death of Wham-O co-founder Richard Knerr. It seems he gave two conflicting explanations for the name Frisbee. One was the pie tin game, called Frisbie-ing. But more recently he said it was named after a comic strip character named Mr. Frisbie.

AA: We e-mailed Philip Dodd in London for comment, and this was his reply: "I think it was probably a little bit of mischief-making from Rich Knerr ... The Wham-O guys often did like to amuse and bemuse ... Plus I couldn't find any proof of a Mr. Frisbie comic strip, and after visiting Bridgeport Public Library's Frisbie archive, the Wham-O offices and Ed Headrick's widow, the weight of evidence definitely supported - in my view ... the Joseph P. Frisbie version."

RS: Philip Dodd adds that he may mention this issue about the origin of the name in the next edition of his book. And that's WORDMASTER for this week. The first part of our interview is online at With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.