Student or Learner
I read this from The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody by Will Cuppy:
"Charlemagne was born about A.D. 742, the sone of Pippin the Short and Bertha of the Big Foot. We have no records dealing with his infancy and boyhood, but it is likely that he ate off the mantel from time to time while he was learning more about Bertha."
I'm confused about the last part of the sentence. Eating off the mantel is just odd. Besides, does "learning more about" means "getting to know"? Why would the writer say Charlemagne ate off the mantel while he was getting to know his mother?
The common use is "to be punished so hard [for poor learning, perhaps?] that afterwards you have to eat off the mantel", i.e. you can't even sit at the table OR you have to eat dirt.
His education was probably very harsh. Charlemagne was often punished hard.
There's also a play on "eat dirt" off the mantel: look up dirt, meanings 6 and 7. He must have learned a lot of lurid details about his mother,