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Hail to the King: An Elvis FAQ

Elvis Aaron Presley, the King of Rock n' Roll, would have been 74 years old today were it not for a bad night on the toilet in 1977. Even after all these years, there's still a lot of mystery surrounding the King, so for his birthday let's take a look at some of the myths that persist.

Was Elvis a DEA Agent?

Elvis was more straight-laced than the controversy surrounding his gyrating hips would lead you to believe. He hated the hippie drug culture and longed to become a "Federal Agent at Large" for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD), a predecessor to the Drug Enforcement Agency. At a 1970 meeting at the White House with President Richard Nixon, Elvis offered to become an undercover agent and "infiltrate hippie groups" for the government. Nixon was unsure if an arrangement could be worked out, but made Elvis an honorary agent and gave him a badge. While Elvis never conducted any official BNDD business, he was, in some small way, a narc. A drug-addled narc, but a narc nonetheless.

Are Elvis and (insert name here) related?

Southerners like Elvis are often the butt of jokes about family trees that don't fork, but Elvis' family branches out in some surprising directions. Genealogical research has placed Elvis as a descendant of Abraham Lincoln's great-great grandfather, Isaiah Harrison and a sixth cousin once removed from Jimmy Carter (both their family lines go back to Valentine Preslar, a German who came to New York in 1709).

Was Elvis one of a kind?

There can only be one Elvis, but he did have a (Elvis believed identical) twin brother, Jessie Garon Presley, who was stillborn. Jessie, older than Elvis by a few minutes, was buried in a pauper's grave without a headstone in Priceville Cemetery near Tupelo, Mississippi.

Elvis' mother told him when he was young that when one twin died, the one that lived got the strength of both. Elvis got something else from his twin, too. When he was born, his parents chose "Aron" as his middle name, a non-traditional spelling similar to Jessie's middle name (birth records listed it "Aaron," and an older Elvis decided to use the traditional spelling.)

Did Elvis "shoot" Robert Goulet?

elvis-gun.jpgThe story goes that Elvis was watching TV one night when Goulet appeared on the screen. Elvis pulled a .357 out of his boot, shot the TV and supposedly said, "Get that @$*% outta' my house!"

Whether that's just some crazy story depends on who you ask. James Warner, the former Elvis expert at allexperts.com, has said that the incident stemmed from a time when Elvis was dating a woman who worked with Goulet. When Elvis was stationed in Germany while serving in the military, Goulet supposedly sent him a letter saying he'd "take good care of Anita" while Elvis was gone and the King held a grudge.

Goulet himself said that Elvis' associates told him that TV shooting was a common occurrence and Elvis didn't mean anything by it. In fact, he said in an interview that he and Elvis got along well (Goulet called him "charming and delightful") and described an encounter the two once had backstage. The singers were talking and at one point, Goulet commented on one of Elvis' rings. Elvis took it off his finger and put it on Goulet's, who kept it until it was stolen (he suspected his housekeeper).

Is Elvis still alive?

I haven't seen him, but if you have, now is the time to share.

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 include your name and location (and a link, if you want) 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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