My Mother the Cleaning Brush (a look at inanimate moms)

And you thought your mother was cold.

Mothers really don't get more emotionally remote than inanimate objects. But for some orphaned animals, inanimate objects are better than human interaction alone. In these cases, they help socialize the baby animals so they will grow used to others of their kind.

At the Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield, Illinois, three Humbolt Penguins hatched, but were not receiving proper care from their parents. Keepers decided to hand-rear the babies, and placed two large stuffed penguins in their brooding room to play the role of parents. These plush toys helped reinforce the chicks' identities as birds and not humans, and distracted them from the presence of human hands during feedings. Additionally, the large stuffed toys gave the penguins something warm to snuggle up with. At feeding time, the chicks instinctively learned to solicit food from their stuffed parents, pecking at them as they would in the wild. Eventually the birds were socialized and rejoined the zoo's penguin colony.

The Brookfield Zoo has also rescued baby callimico monkeys. During their first few days of life, malnourished infant callimicos are placed inside incubators with stuffed toys. The toy becomes the baby monkey's surrogate parent. The infant bonds with the toy and later other monkeys—but not the human caretakers.


At the New Forest Otter, Owl and Wildlife Park in Hampshire, England, a flock of orphaned baby tawny owls have also snuggled up with a stuffed owl. According to the Daily Mail, they burrow under the toy's wings to stay warm. These birds probably wandered off from their mothers or were forced out of the nest.


Also at New Forest, four orphaned baby hedgehogs became attached to a bristly cleaning brush because they thought it was their mother. Since the brush was used to sweep a yard, it smelled like their natural habitat, and the texture of its bristles reminded them of a mother hedgehog.

This concludes our three-part series on interspecies mommying. Part I covered interspecies adoptions, and Part II focused on adoption-happy dogs.

How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?

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.

TAKWest, Youtube
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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