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Why People Vomit

We don’t mean the triggers — though that could be a fun post — but the actual physical process. What is it about our physiology that occasionally makes our tummy say, “Come on up, Chuck”?

Vomiting is an important function. It rids your body of potential toxins or health hazards. In fact, there’s a specific area of your brain that gives your stomach its marching orders.

The urge to purge is a multi-step process: the chemoreceptor trigger center is connected directly to the vomiting center in the brain, and is the first to know when something’s amiss. It could be a touch of motion sickness, a foul odor, or that leftover Pad Thai that smelled sort of iffy but looked OK. We feel the beginnings of nausea, and are given the opportunity make corrections if we can (stop riding the roller coaster, or make our next round a club soda). Depending on what’s causing the unrest, our digestion slows down. If the cause of our distress is something toxic, like potential botulism, the upper portion of the stomach will start convulsing, while its lower exit snaps shut. There’s no way out but up, and it’s time for that mad dash to the bathroom for the inevitable.

If the nausea has a mental origin as opposed to a physical one (such as a bad smell, a bumpy plane ride, or an emotional shock), we’ll feel queasy for a while. Usually, the brain will communicate with the stomach to indicate that there’s no danger involved, and the nauseous feeling will slowly fade away on its own. Everyone has a different tolerance level when it comes to nausea, but one thing experts do agree upon: as unpleasant as throwing up is, you’ll feel much better afterward, thanks to the endorphins that are released in the process.

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How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?
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iStock

Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

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Watch Boris Karloff's 1966 Coffee Commercial
TAKWest, Youtube
TAKWest, Youtube

Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.

But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace

In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly. 

Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff. 

[h/t: Retroist]

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