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What do a tapir and Mel Gibson have in common?

Oh, so many jokes we could make -- but there's a serious answer. As our regular readers know, my favorite animal is the tapir, so I was delighted to read that a Baird's tapir named Scooter has a starring role in Apocalypto, the upcoming Gibson movie about ancient South American odd-toed ungulates tribes fighting a gruesome war. I was less delighted to learn that the tapir (well, actually, an animatronic doppelganger) will be chopped apart and eaten:

Apparently the tribe needs to hunt and kill a tapir and eat its testicles for fertility purposes. (No real animals were harmed during the filming--an animatronic tapir was built with help from staff at the Los Angeles Zoo who measured their Baird's tapir for the production company.) ...

The funniest thing that happened was on the occasion that Scooter had to run up a small hill escaping from the hunters. [Veterinarian Jesus] Barroso was in the lead running outside of camera's sight. When he got to the top of the hill, he had to quickly move to one side of Scooter's trajectory in order not to be filmed. The idea was that Scooter was supposed to continue in a straight path, but Scooter had his own ideas. When Barroso jumped to one side and hid in the bushes, Scooter stopped dead in his tracks and went after Barroso, sniffing and nudging him with his nose to get him back on his feet and go where Scooter thought he was supposed to go. That got a big laugh from all the crew.

Mel Gibson's involvement aside, the movie looks pretty freakin' awesome.

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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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