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Why Do I Shiver When I Pee?

Regular Floss readers know that scientists around the world study some pretty silly things. A few weeks ago, I wanted to know why spaghetti doesn't break in half. A simple Google search gave me an in-depth study of the phenomena by two physicists and plenty of charts, equations and even videos of their experiments. In our annual 10 Issue, Chris Weber wrote about the most recent batch of Ig Nobel Prize winners, who have put plenty of time and effort into things like extracting vanilla flavoring from cow dung.

Surely, on the next line, I'll present you with the results of a much-lauded study that conquered the mystery of the post-micturition convulsion syndrome (or, the "pee shivers"). But guess what?

No one has ever studied it.

Science has given us vanilla made from feces. It's discovered that Viagra aids jetlag recovery in hamsters. It's detailed the injuries that a falling coconut can cause. But for some reason, no one wants to touch the pee shivers. And so, we're left with...

THE THEORIES

The most plausible one, espoused by a number of scientists who aren't this guy, is that the shiver is a result of two parts of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) getting their streams crossed. The ANS is a control system for involuntary muscles affects things like heart and respiration rates, digestion, body temperature control and urination.

The ANS has two divisions. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) controls bladder function, among other things. It keeps the bladder relaxed and the urethral sphincter contracted so you don't have to concentrate on not peeing your pants all day. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) relaxes the urethral sphincter and contracts the bladder when you decide to answer nature's call.

Part of the SNS response to a full bladder is the release of chemicals like catecholamines (which include epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine). When you finally grab a minute to urinate, the PNS takes over, and catecholamine production changes. Some sources point at the change in chemical production as the cause of the shiver, and others say it's the SNS to PNS switch itself that does it.

As I said, this is just a theory (and there a plenty more out there, too, like the shiver being caused by exposing your naughty bits to the colder temperature outside your pants), and no one has conducted any laboratory research to confirm it. If you've got some time on your hands this summer, maybe we can hook you up with a mental_floss grant to study this more thoroughly.

If you've got a burning question that you'd like to see answered here, shoot me an email at flossymatt (at) gmail.com. Twitter users can also make nice with me and ask me questions there. Be sure to give me your name and location (and a link) so I can give you a little shout out.

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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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