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What I learned in traffic school

OK, I admit it: I was bad. I needed to make a left turn at an upcoming intersection, there was a long line of cars stopped ahead of me, but the left turn lane was empty -- and the left turn arrow was green. I went for it -- crossing the double yellow lines while I was at it -- and was immediately pulled over. (Every once in a while, traffic cops in LA decide to step into the free-for-all and enforce the basic rules of the road. Needless to say, it's like shooting fish in a barrel.) Anyway, the bad news was, I got a ticket. (And not a cheap one, either.) Good news: traffic school is now ridiculously easy to complete online -- it takes about an hour -- and while speeding through my online course at 20mph over the limit, I learned, almost accidentally, one interesting thing:

How to escape from a sinking car, by the California DMV
Sinking cars are an unusual phenomenon, however, being inside when a car sinks must be one of the most frightening experiences imaginable. You may run off the road into a river or, with changing weather patterns, be swept off the road in a flash flood. By following these steps you can get yourself quickly to safety.

1. Don´t Panic
The key to getting out of a submerged car is to stay calm. Panicking will only make it harder to perform these escape techniques. As long as the keys are in the ignition of a car, the electric windows and lights should work. Even when a car sinks to the bottom of a body of water, the electrical system will still work for a while. Switch on all the car´s lights to help rescuers see where you are.

2. Unfasten your Seat Belt
If you are in the car with children, first free yourself from your seat belt, then open a window, then free the kids´ seat belts and push them out the window first.

3. Roll Down Your Window to Escape
Opening windows may make it easier to open a door. Open the window and get out of the car as soon as you can--if possible, before it starts to sink. If for some reason you cannot get the window down, wait till the car fills completely before you can open the door. If you try to open the doors too soon the water rushing in will impede your escape and could trap you. When the car is filled, the water pressure will be equal on both sides. This will allow the door to open. Before exiting, try to find a pocket of air at the top of the car and take a breath. OR use a small hammer, a Philips screwdriver or center punch, available at most hardware stores to shatter the glass. Strike the window at the bottom or a corner edge. Always try to break a side window. The windshield and back window will not break.

4. Get Out and Swim to Safety
Never sit in the car and just wait. It takes a car 2-3 minutes to sink, depending on the car. If you follow these steps, you should be able to escape the car before it starts to sink.

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