Ask Mr. Know It All

Q. My girlfriend enjoys drinking white wine; I prefer beer. I don’t really know the name of the wine she likes — it’s peno something. I think maybe I should learn a bit about her favorite things.

O.L., Torrington, Conn.

A. Pinot gris (also known as pinot grigio) comes from the grape of the same name. It is the most popular white wine in Italy. It’s understandable: It’s a light, crisp wine. Pinot gris pairs nicely with seafood, light pastas and cheese-and-cracker combinations. Avoid pairing it with highly acidic food such as citrus or tomato-based dishes.

Q. In Irish jokes, there is often the word “be-gore-a.” (I don’t know how to spell the word.) It’s always part of an exclamation. What does it mean?

R.B., Belen, N.M.

A. Begorra (or begorrah) is a mild oath; it’s a euphemism for “by God!”

Q. Many years ago, I saw a movie about an American agent who underwent plastic surgery so he would be able to infiltrate a Japanese POW camp and help a prisoner, who was an atomic scientist, escape. Do you know the name of this film?

L.H.M., Hurstville, Iowa

A. I think you are referring to “First Yank Into Tokyo” (1945), starring Tom Neal. The movie is available on VHS.


The “Q” in Q-tips stands for quality. The cotton swabs were originally called Q-tips Baby Gays.

Q. What is a “foo fighter”?

P.L.W., Clarksburg, W.Va.

A. The term “foo fighter” was used by World War II pilots to describe the UFOs that followed Allied planes during the latter phases of the war. Pilots described the foo fighters as balls of fire, but they had no idea what they were or what they were supposed to accomplish. Many people assumed that the UFOs were psychological weaponry from the enemy. In addition to the name foo fighter, this device was sometimes called “feuerball,” a German word meaning “fireball” in English.

Foo Fighters is a band headed by Warren, Ohio, native Dave Grohl. The band gets its name from the aerial phenomena.


Julia Roberts turned down the lead in “Shakespeare in Love” (1998). The role of Viola went to Gwyneth Paltrow.

Q. Why is Roosevelt on the dime? I have forgotten the story.

I.J.T., Zanesville, Ohio

A. Franklin D. Roosevelt contracted polio in 1921, which partially paralyzed him. Roosevelt could afford the best treatments for himself, but he realized that many thousands were not so fortunate. With no organization to provide assistance, he helped establish the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis in 1938. The name of the organization was later changed to the March of Dimes, and funding helped Jonas Salk discover a vaccine for polio.

In 1945, FDR passed away; shortly after his death, the public started writing to the United States Treasury Department asking that his likeness be placed on a coin. Because of his involvement with the March of Dimes, the dime was the most likely choice. The new dime was released to the public on Roosevelt’s birthday, Jan. 30, 1946.

Q. Brandy is distilled wine or fruit juice. Why did someone take a good product and alter it?

R.M.W., Hollins, Va.

A. The word brandy comes from brandywine, derived from Dutch brandewijn, which means “burnt wine.” While distilling had been around for several centuries, brandy first appeared in Europe in the 12th century and became popular in the 14th century. The idea was to make it easier to transport wine by removing the water and later adding it back. Distilled wine lessened the tax that was assessed by volume. People quickly learned that brandy shipped and stored in oak barrels became an excellent drink of its own.

2012 Gary Clothier

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.