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Wheeling Register, July 3, 1883. The phrase “poisoning the well” still gets bandied about a lot, but only as a metaphor in discussions about rhetorical rules of engagement. But back before the days of socialized tap water, literal well-poisoning was a common crime. But the crime was nowhere near as common as charges of well-poisoning, because everybody who drank from a well was very conscious of its vulnerability to interference. That’s an unbeatable recipe for hysteria and moral panic, and in medieval Europe, Jews, witches, lepers and Muslims were all regarded as incorrigible well-poisoners–which helped keep life interesting for them. Read more.

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