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Teacher Appreciation Week: John Scopes

Our first honoree for mental_floss Teacher Appreciation Week -- don't forget to submit your own stories and win a fabulous prize! -- is John Scopes, the Dayton, Tennessee football coach and sometime science teacher who was famously fined $100 for including evolution in his curriculum. I'm a huge fan (heck, I own Inherit the Wind on DVD) but any tribute to Scopes has to discuss the fact that he probably didn't teach evolution at all. PBS says he "couldn't remember actually teaching Darwin's theory," even though he certainly did believe it. The juicier, albeit slightly less trustworthy, Wikipedia says Scopes, who was approached by interested parties from Dayton to serve as bait the defendant, flat-out omitted it:

After the trial Scopes admitted to reporter William Kinsey Hutchinson "I didn't violate the law," explaining he had skipped the evolution lesson and his lawyers had coached his students to go on the stand; the Dayton businessmen had assumed he had violated the law. Hutchinson did not file his story until after the Scopes appeal was decided in 1927. Scopes also admitted the truth to the wife of the Modernist minister Charles Francis Potter. Scopes was not allowed to take the stand at his trial for fear he would reveal his ignorance and turned down a $50,000 offer to lecture on evolution on the vaudeville stage because he did not know enough about the subject.

Does it matter if Scopes actually taught evolution or not? Sayeth PBS, probably not:

Nobody paid much attention to the defendant. Attorneys for both sides hogged the spotlight in the overheated courtroom. In the words of historian Kevin Tierney, "Scopes was being used. He was completely willing to be used. But essentially the case had been taken over by the big names."

On the most sensational day of the trial, when Clarence Darrow interrogated William Jennings Bryan as an expert on the Bible, Scopes actually became a reporter for his own trial -- filling in for a journalist who had left town!

After the trial, Scopes went off to become a petroleum engineer in Venezuela, where no one knew who he was. He later wrote a memoir, part of which you can check out here.

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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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