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01:00 Wed 17th Apr 2002 |

Q. Lant

A. Wee.

Q. Wee

A. More specifically, stale wee.

Q. There is actually a specific word for stale wee

A. Evidently. From the Anglo-Saxon hland, meaning, as the dictionary puts it: 'Urine, esp. stale urine used for various industrial purposes'. The OED also notes that its use is now rare.

Q. What purposes

A. Traditionally it was used in cleaning products, skin and hair preparations (barbers used a rinse called lotium, which contained it) as well as drops to soften wax in the ears. More amusing was its application as an ingredient of 'witch cake', a kind of biscuit used to 'bring in the witch', that is break her spell. One source gives a recipe for this: 'To house the hag, you must do this: Commix with meals a little pisse of him bewicht; then forthwith make a little wafer or cake and this rawly bak't will bring the old hag in. No surer thing.' A handy tip if you're ever spellbound.

What the dictionary doesn't mention, however, is that lant also had applications in - wait for it - food and drink.

Q. Surely not

A. Surely so. It was used as an additive to pastry which not only moistened the dough but helped the glaze to stick. And - and this may seem more appropriate - some brewers also added it to beer.

Q. So, 'A pint of your finest double-lanted, please, landlord'

A. Indeed. You could have single- or double-lanted, the definition depending on the concentration of lant. Apparently it improved the flavour. Can you imagine taking a dodgy pint back and saying, 'This doesn't taste of pee' Think how bad the lant-free brew must have been - or maybe our palates have just changed substantially.

Q. Sarah Miles and her ilk may have a point, then

A. The actress who famously drinks her own urine every morning She doesn't look bad on it, so maybe there is something in it. The shamans of some Siberian and Amerindian tribes also drink theirs after having consumed whichever powerful hallucinogen they favour. Psilocybin, peyote, mescaline and the rest are expelled from the system pretty quickly and come out in the urine. So, in order to get the full effect, the shamans recycle the chemicals.

Q. This is all very alarming. What are the modern applications for it

A. Various shampoos and skin-care products still use lant - now rather prosaically called urea - in their recipes. Apparently, at least one fertility enhancer, Pergonal, contains human urine as do some heart medicines.

See also the answerbank article on excrement

For more on Phrases & Sayings click here

By Simon Smith

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