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`STICKY WICKET’ CAME FROM BRITISH CRICKET

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Question: Do you know the origin of the phrase "sticky wicket"?

Answer: The source of the phrase "sticky wicket," which we define as "a difficult or awkward situation," is the popular British game of cricket. The main action of this game, which is played with a bat and a ball by two teams of 11 players, is centered on a "bowler" (more or less equivalent to a pitcher in baseball) who throws the ball and two batsmen who each defend one of two "wickets." These wickets, which each consist of three upright stumps and two cross pieces known as "bails," are placed 66 feet apart in the center of the field. The 10-foot-wide area between the two wickets is also known as the wicket, and it is from this sense that we get the term "sticky wicket."

When the game is played, the bowler gets a running start from behind one of the wickets and throws the ball, usually causing it to bounce once in front of the batsman, or "striker," situated in front of the other wicket. The bowler attempts to put the batsman out by knocking a bail off the wicket (the batsman is also out if the ball hits him when he is in front of the wicket). A run is scored if the striker hits the ball and is able to change places with the other batsman without being put out.

A "sticky wicket" is a soft, tacky playing surface, usually the result of recent rain. Such a surface affects the way the ball bounces and can make play more difficult, especially for the batsman. From the difficult situation of playing on a sticky wicket evolved the more general extended use with which you are familiar, which was first recorded in 1926.

Question: I'm inquiring into the phrase "slip him a Mickey Finn," meaning a doped drink. Who was Mickey Finn, anyway?

Answer: The namesake of the Mickey Finn cannot be nailed down with any certainty, but there are plenty of traditional explanations to go around. Our earliest evidence of the term (dating from 1928) recalls the legend that the doctored drink is named for the first man to fall victim to it. According to the legend, Finn was a "newspaper man, a brilliant humorist, and writer of Celtic folklore" who found it difficult to stop drinking once his nose caught the scent of liquor. His thirst was quenched, however, when during a drinking binge his glass was laced with a powdered mixture concocted to make him sick.

Another theory holds that the name "Mickey Finn" belonged to the bartender who first administered a drugged drink to an unwanted customer, though it's worth noting that this explanation is as unfounded in fact as the preceding one. We do, however, have considerable evidence in our files that Mickey Finns were once used by bartenders and nightclub owners to help rid their establishments of particularly unruly patrons. There are accounts of Mickey Finns being used to sedate customers so that they might quietly be dragged or carried from the premises. They were also mixed to induce unpleasant digestive symptoms, forcing the one affected to leave his place at the bar. The last type of Mickey Finn was especially effective, one source says, when served after the bathroom door was locked.

These explanations of the identity of Mickey Finn are most likely nothing more than colorful conjecture. The plain reality is that we will, in fact, probably never know who Mickey Finn was. And it is quite possible that the name of the drink has its origins not in the name of an actual person but in the imagination of one.

Question: Which is the proper plural for the word "appendix" - "appendixes" or "appendices"?

Answer: A generous number of usage commentators, buttressed by the evidence in various dictionaries, assure us that both "appendixes" and "appendices" are standard and acceptable plurals for "appendix." A couple of British books find "appendices" more common in the United Kingdom, and a few American ones find "appendixes" more common the United States. Our files do not lack evidence in this matter, and we believe that both plurals may be found with almost equal frequency on both sides of the Atlantic. Feel free to take your pick.