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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The (St.) Ides of March

Everyone knows that The Ides of March refers to the 15th of March. On this day, people often say: Beware the Ides of March. Yet, few know the origins of the phrase. Often it is said to come from Shakespeare, but like much of what is attributed to the Bard, the phrase appears nowhere in any of his plays or his poetry.

One hundred years ago, a shipment of tainted malt liquor, originating in Chicago, started appearing in stores nationwide. Hundreds died and thousands more experienced symptoms of diarrhea, lethargy, vomiting and general confusion from drinking the bad malt liquor. At first, no one noticed because well, if someone said to you, "I just drank some Old English and now I got the shits," would you be overly concerned?

Whether it was a batch of St. Ides that sickened the public or another brand is unclear. But it almost certainly was not. The brand was invented in the early 1900s to push the Catholic Church into bestowing sainthood upon the little known 16th century bishop, Ides of Cicero, the first brewer of malt liquor. After the Ides of March, the call amongst Catholic malt liquor drinkers intensified. The Church hastily announced that Ides of Cicero would now be known as St. Ides, the patron saint of malt liquor.

Next time someone warns you to Beware the Ides of March, share with them this little known history. Next week we will discuss the origins of the phrase: Fear the Four-Loko of February.

Rapper and actor Ice Cube (among others) often commemorated The Ides of March tragedy in songs and commercials.

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