The Last Word, By Ben Macintyre

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The Independent Culture

Everyone will learn something from this haul of literary musings. Did you know that "doolally" derives from Deolali, India, where there was a sanatorium for soldiers affected by heat? Or that J.M.Barrie wrote My Lady Nicotine, a tract in praise of smoking?

Musing on why absinthe is "the most notorious literary tipple", Ben Macintyre mentions thujone (a psychoactive ingredient in wormwood) but concludes with the most likely reason - "it was three times the strength of brandy".

Macintyre notes that "to spend a penny" originated with the 1851 Great Exhibition, but was this really "the first permanent public toilet in London"? Where did people go before? The Last Word is not quite the last word.