Who is this St. Jude dude? Why are people always thanking him in the classified section of the newspaper? –Lisa Keyes, Madison, Wisconsin

I am continually shocked at how little the coming generation knows about the realm of the spirit. Saint Jude is the patron saint of hopeless causes. Also known as Jude Thaddeus, he was one of the 12 apostles, but other than that virtually nothing is known about him. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Saints, his job as lost-cause czar “is said to have originated because nobody invoked him for anything since his name so closely resembled that of Judas, who betrayed the Lord.” In other words, he was so hard up for work he’d jump at the chance to intercede on your pathetic behalf. Devotion to him first began in the late 1700s in France and Germany. Classified-ad managers have begun to appreciate him in more recent times (if he comes through, you’re supposed to manifest your gratitude publicly, one gathers), and I have to tell you, I’m getting to where I ring him up pretty regularly myself.

Hey, you great festering gob of knowledge, why are those bastions of suburban tankdom known as station wagons? Is it because they’re so huge and clumsy they might as well be stationary? –Julie, Washington, D.C.

You’ve got a gift for language, Julie kid. Too bad it’s not English. Actually, automakers borrowed the term “station wagon” from the carriage-making biz, as in horse and carriage. Station wagons, known before 1890 as depot wagons, were four-wheeled covered vehicles that you might take down to the railroad station to pick up passengers and their baggage–a service not unlike that performed by station wagons today. Some had a removable backseat and a tailgate that could be lowered to facilitate loading. Other familiar features include: (1) wood sides (and for that matter, wood everything else) and (2) ungainly designs–the originals looked like orange crates on wheels. Today’s boats, therefore, are the product of nigh on a century of tradition. Show some respect.


Regarding the etymology of “go-go dancer,” “go-go” may derive from the French a gogo, but it is doubtful that the French expression could have derived in recent times from the English “to go.” Robert’s Dictionnaire alphabetique tells us a gogo’s first recorded use was in 1440 by the poet Charles d’Orleans. –Jeanne Hsu, Mill Valley, California

Hmph. I still say the reason the term caught on so quickly here was that it meant something in English. Reader Joe Esselin reminds me of a discussion in John Ciardi’s Good Words to You that may clarify matters. In 1947 Compton MacKenzie published a novel entitled Whiskey Galore, about some islanders who are bummed when WWII cuts off their booze supply. A freighter with 10,000 cases of whiskey is then wrecked nearby, and the usual zany high jinks ensue.

The book was made into a movie called Tight Little Island. When the flick was dubbed for the French, the pun proved impossible to translate, so it was titled Whiskey a gogo, whiskey galore, in abundance. The movie inspired someone to open a bar in Paris called “Whiskey a gogo,” which became one of the first discotheques. Later the idea and the name were both imported to New York. One day the manager of the New York Whiskey a Go-Go took it upon himself to hire scantily clad girls to demonstrate new dances, and the go-go dancer was born. I trust all is now clear.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.