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Origins of the Specious Contest Winners

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Last May, we welcomed grammar legend Patricia T. O'Conner as a guest blogger. Last Friday, we offered you a chance to win a copy of her new book by inventing a fake backstory for a word or phrase origin.

After consulting our in-house experts, we've selected two winners. The envelope please...

From Vincent:

Why do we say that we "coin" new words?

Many credit Samuel Johnson with the creation of the first English dictionary, but there were in fact numerous previous efforts to catalog the language prior to his seminal accomplishment. The earliest attempts were notably inadequate, much to the dismay of writers and publishers at the time.

Charles Bradbury was a businessman and entrepreneur in the late 17th century. Seeing the need for an exhaustive record of English words, he sought to compile the definitive collection. However, he did not have a literary background so he was ill-equipped to personally author such a book. Instead, he offered payment of one pence to anyone that could provide him with a word that wasn't already on his list. News spread that someone was offering "a coin a word" and soon his door was flooded with paupers looking to make some easy money.

Bradbury was unprepared for the inundation of people, and even more unprepared for their creativity. His list was quickly filled with the most common words, so naturally he began to deny payment for repeated items. Instead of simply leaving, the people started offering profanity, slang, and straight-up fabrications in an attempt to receive their coins.

The event was a disaster and Bradbury was forced to retract his offer. His lexicon never saw the light of day, and he retired in shame. However, while Charles Bradbury may have faded from memory, the "coin a word" promotion was not as easily forgotten. The phrase gradually shifted in usage, and "coin" is now a verb used primarily in reference to neologisms.

From Myleti:

The word "book" originated many, many years ago, but nobody knows why. Long ago in old England, there was a smart chap, both intelligent and smartly dressed who was awfully tired of carting around masses of loose papers and pamphlets. He had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and always took notes and asked for information anywhere he went. This left him with huge amounts of notes and loose papers. One day, whilst touring a trunk and case factory, he came across boxes and boxes full of extraordinarily thin pieces of wood, covered in leather that were cast-offs of the trunk makers. He decided to surreptitiously steal a few pieces to take home with him. He took his stolen goods home and borrowed his wife's needle and some thick twine and sewed a few of his pages and pamphlets together, then glued the front and back to the wood. He called his wife into the room and proclaimed loudly, "Look! Now we can bring our own knowledge everywhere without worrying about losing pages!"

He decided to call his invention a B.O.O.K.E, or "Bring our own knowledge everywhere", which was later shortened to "book" by people who were too lazy to use the final E.

Recaptcha-Thomas Fischer [I think that makes a wonderful name for my character!]

Congrats, Vincent & Myleti! I'll be in touch about your prizes. Thanks to everyone who entertained us with their entries. For more info on Patricia O'Conner's new book, head over to her blog.

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25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]


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