The Quick 10: 10 Facts About the American Flag

Sunday commemorates the United States' 93rd Flag Day. Sort of. We'll get to that in a second. It's one of those underrated holidays that doesn't get too much attention, but we're bucking that trend here on the _floss by dedicating 10 facts just to the flag.

flag day1. It was 1916 that Woodrow Wilson set aside June 14 as the the date for honoring the flag. But it wasn't actually declared National Flag Day until 1949, when it was established by an act of Congress. Why June 14? Because that's the day in 1777 that the Second Continental Congress adopted Betty Ross' (according to popular legend, anyway) flag as the official flag of the United States.
2. You know the story "“ George Washington prevailed upon Betsy Ross to create a flag for the country and she sewed it up with her bare hands. It's a nice story and all, but nearly all flag historians believe it probably never really happened. Our only source for this tale is her family "“ no historical records seem to back it up. No records show that the Continental Congress issued a flag to be designed, no invoice or any supporting documents have ever been found amongst Betsy's detailed records, and no mention of a national flag appears in Congress records until the Flag Resolution of 1777.

3. The United States Flag Code specifies that the flag should never be dipped to any person or thing. As far as we can tell, this custom dates back to the 1908 London Olympics. All countries were asked to respectfully dip their flags to the Royal Box when the procession passed by King Edward VII, but Ralph Rose, the American track and field athlete holding the flag, refused to comply. His teammate Martin Sheridan later explained, "This flag dips to no earthly king." The tradition has been upheld ever since and was officially written into the Flag Code in 1911.

4. I see this rule of the Flag Code broken all of the time, and I bet you do too: the flag should not be used for any advertising purpose, including worn on clothes or for decoration in general (it's fine on coffins). I'm picturing myself in the early "˜90s "“ cutoff jean shorts with cuffs and a big, oversized American flag t-shirt "“ and I feel guilty for so many reasons.

washington5. There's a theory that the red and white stripes on the flag were based on George Washington's coat of arms. There's no proof for this; the idea is based purely on the resemblance of colors and shapes. Most historians think the flag was probably based off of the Sons of Liberty flag. If you've ever read Johnny Tremaine you probably remember these guys "“ they were a secret organization that rebelled against British taxes and laws. Their flag was nine vertical stripes, commonly red and white (yellow and green were also sometimes used instead of red). It's thought that the nine stripes represented the number of colonies that would attend the Stamp Act Congress.

6. You no doubt know that "Old Glory" refers to the flag, but there's actually a specific flag that started the trend. It was made for Captain William Driver to fly from the mast of his whaling ship in the early 1800s. Measuring 10 feet by 17 feet, it was pretty large and rather difficult to conceal when the Civil War broke out. Old Glory had become rather famous thanks to Driver and his travels, and he believed that Confederate soldiers wanted to destroy his beloved flag to send a message to the Union. He had it sewn inside a quilt and it remained there until the Union took Nashville back. Then, the story goes, Driver flew Old Glory from the state capitol building in celebration. These days, she resides in the Smithsonian and will probably stay there for the rest of her existence "“ the flag was taken out for an exhibition in 2006 and it was determined afterward that it was too fragile to be moved from the museum ever again.

starspangled7. There is also a specific Star-Spangled Banner. It's the flag Francis Scott Key saw when he was watching Fort McHenry being bombarded during the War of 1812 "“ his tale goes just like the song goes: after gunfire and rain all night, the flag was still standing when the sun rose. Inspired, Key wrote down what he was feeling "“ but when he wrote it, it was simply a poem called "Defense of Fort McHenry." It became a song when Key's brother-in-law discovered that the poem perfectly fit the tune of a popular song called "The Anacreontic Song." Although the song was played at public events and on patriotic occasions from that point on, it wasn't officially named as the national anthem until after Robert Ripley of Ripley's Believe it or Not noted in his cartoon that "Believe It or Not, America has no national anthem." John Philip Sousa rallied for The Star-Spangled Banner to become the new national anthem, and on March 3, 1931, Herbert Hoover signed a law making it so.

8. The designer of our current 50-star flag was a high school student at the time. It was 1958 and there was some chatter that Alaska and Hawaii were going to officially become states 49 and 50. One of his teachers capitalized on the current events of the day and had his students design a new flag incorporating the two new states. Robert G. Heft did just that, arranging the stars so it wasn't very evident that he had added any. His teacher gave him a B-, saying that the design was unoriginal. When Heft balked at the grade, his teacher told him that if he could get the flag adopted by Congress, he would bump the grade up to an A. Heft jumped at the opportunity and sent the flag to his congressman, who ended up getting the flag approved. Heft got the grade increase. Since then, Heft's original homemade flag has flown over every single state capitol building, over 88 U.S. embassies, and over the White House for five administrations. He has a design with 51 stars ready to go if the need arises.

9. There are a handful of flags that are displayed continuously despite weather conditions. A few of the places you can find these flags include the Iwo Jima Memorial in Washington, D.C.; the Washington Monument; Gettysburg College at a spot that served as a lookout and hospital during the Civil War (fittingly, this one is a Civil War flag); at the Maryland birthplace and grace of Francis Scott Key; on the surface of the moon; at Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood, S.D.,; and in Nashville City Cemetery over the grave site of William Driver.

10. There's a proper way to fly a flag at half staff, and it's not just hoisting it halfway and stopping "“ it has to go to the top of the pole first before it is slowly lowered to the appropriate height. Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first President to officially issue the half-staff proclamation.

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Afternoon Map
From Snoopy to Shark Bait: The Top Slang Word in Each State
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There’s a minute, and then there’s a hot minute. Defined as “a longish amount of time,” this unit of time is familiar to Alabamians but may stir up confusion beyond the state’s borders.

It’s Louisianans, though, who feel the “most misunderstood,” according to the results of a survey regarding regional slang by PlayNJ. Of the Louisiana residents surveyed, 72 percent said their fellow Americans from other states—even neighboring ones—have a hard time grasping their lingo. Some learned the hard way that ordering a burger “dressed” (with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo) isn’t universally understood, nor is the phrase “to pass a good time” (instead of “to have” a good time).

After surveying 2000 people (with proportional numbers from each state), PlayNJ created a map showing the top slang word in each state. Many are words that are unlikely to be understood beyond state lines, but others—like California’s bomb (something you really like) and New York’s deadass (to be completely serious)—have spread well beyond their respective borders thanks to memes and internet culture.

Hawaiians are also known for their distinctive slang words, with 71 percent reporting that words like shaka (hello) and poho (waste of time) are frequently misunderstood. Shark bait, one of the state’s more colorful terms, refers to tourists who are so pale that they attract sharks.

Check out the full list below and test your knowledge of regional slang words with PlayNJ’s online quiz.

A chart showing the top slang words in each state
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The Body
10 Facts About the Appendix
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Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock

Despite some 500 years of study, the appendix might be one of the least understood structures in the human body. Here's what we know about this mysterious organ.

1. THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS CALLED IT THE "WORM" OF THE BOWEL.

The human appendix is small, tube-shaped, and squishy, giving ancient Egyptians, who encountered it when preparing bodies for funerary rites, the impression of a worm. Even today, some medical texts refer to the organ as vermiform—Latin for "worm-like."

2. THE APPENDIX SHOWS UP IN LEONARDO DA VINCI’S DRAWINGS.

The earliest description of a human appendix was written by the Renaissance physician-anatomist Jacopo Berengario da Carpi in 1521. But before that, Leonardo da Vinci is believed to drawn the first depiction of the organ in his anatomical drawings in 1492. Leonardo claimed to have dissected 30 human corpses in his effort to understand the way the body worked from mechanical and physiological perspectives.

3. IT'S ABOUT THE SIZE OF A PINKY FINGER.

The appendix is a small pouch connected to the cecum—the beginning of the large intestine in the lower right-hand corner of your abdomen. The cecum’s job is to receive undigested food from the small intestine, absorb fluids and salts that remain after food is digested, and mix them with mucus for easier elimination; according to Mohamad Abouzeid, M.D., assistant professor and attending surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center, the cecum and appendix have similar tissue structures.

4. CHARLES DARWIN THOUGHT IT WAS A VESTIGIAL ORGAN …

The appendix has an ill-deserved reputation as a vestigial organ—meaning that it allegedly evolved without a detectable function—and we can blame Charles Darwin for that. In the mid-19th century, the appendix had been identified only in humans and great apes. Darwin thought that our earlier ancestors ate mostly plants, and thus needed a large cecum in which to break down the tough fibers. He hypothesized that over time, apes and humans evolved to eat a more varied and easier-to-digest diet, and the cecum shrank accordingly. The appendix itself, Darwin believed, emerged from the folds of the wizened cecum without its own special purpose.

5. … BUT THE APPENDIX PROBABLY EVOLVED TO HELP IMMUNE FUNCTION.

The proximity and tissue similarities between the cecum and appendix suggest that the latter plays a part in the digestive process. But there’s one noticeable difference in the appendix that you can see only under a microscope. “[The appendix] has a high concentration of the immune cells within its walls,” Abouzeid tells Mental Floss.

Recent research into the appendix's connection to the immune system has suggested a few theories. In a 2015 study in Nature Immunology, Australian researchers discovered that a type of immune cells called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) proliferate in the appendix and seem to encourage the repopulation of symbiotic bacteria in the gut. This action may help the gut recover from infections, which tend to wipe out fluids, nutrients, and good bacteria.

For a 2013 study examining the evolutionary rationale for the appendix in mammal species, researchers at Midwestern University and Duke University Medical Center concluded that the organ evolved at least 32 times among different lineages, but not in response to dietary or environmental factors.

The same researchers analyzed 533 mammal species for a 2017 study and found that those with appendices had more lymphatic (immune) tissue in the cecum. That suggests that the nearby appendix could serve as "a secondary immune organ," the researchers said in a statement. "Lymphatic tissue can also stimulate growth of some types of beneficial gut bacteria, providing further evidence that the appendix may serve as a 'safe house' for helpful gut bacteria." This good bacteria may help to replenish healthy flora in the gut after infection or illness.

6. ABOUT 7 PERCENT OF AMERICANS WILL GET APPENDICITIS DURING THEIR LIFETIMES.

For such a tiny organ, the appendix gets infected easily. According to Abouzeid, appendicitis occurs when the appendix gets plugged by hardened feces (called a fecalith or appendicolith), too much mucus, or the buildup of immune cells after a viral or bacterial infection. In the United States, the lifetime risk of getting appendicitis is one in 15, and incidence in newly developed countries is rising. It's most common in young adults, and most dangerous in the elderly.

When infected, the appendix swells up as pus fills its interior cavity. It can grow several times larger than its average 3-inch size: One inflamed appendix removed from a British man in 2004 measured just over 8 inches, while another specimen, reported in 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, measured 8.6 inches. People with appendicitis might feel generalized pain around the bellybutton that localizes on the right side of the abdomen, and experience nausea or vomiting, fever, or body aches. Some people also get diarrhea.

7. APPENDECTOMIES ARE ALMOST 100 PERCENT EFFECTIVE FOR TREATING APPENDICITIS.

Treatment for appendicitis can go two ways: appendectomy, a.k.a. surgical removal of the appendix, or a first line of antibiotics to treat the underlying infection. Appendectomies are more than 99 percent effective against recurring infection, since the organ itself is removed. (There have been cases of "stump appendicitis," where an incompletely removed appendix becomes infected, which often require further surgery.)

Studies show that antibiotics produce about a 72 percent initial success rate. “However, if you follow these patients out for about a year, they often get recurrent appendicitis,” Abouzeid says. One 2017 study in the World Journal of Surgery followed 710 appendicitis patients for a year after antibiotic treatment and found a 26.5 percent recurrence rate for subsequent infections.

8. AN INFECTED APPENDIX DOESN’T ACTUALLY BURST.

You might imagine a ruptured appendix, known formally as a perforation, being akin to the "chestbuster" scene in Alien. Abouzeid says it's not quite that dramatic, though it can be dangerous. When the appendix gets clogged, pressure builds inside the cavity of the appendix, called the lumen. That chokes off blood supply to certain tissues. “The tissue dies off and falls apart, and you get perforation,” Abouzeid says. But rather than exploding, the organ leaks fluids that can infect other tissues.

A burst appendix is a medical emergency. Sometimes the body can contain the infection in an abscess, Abouzeid says, which may be identified through CT scans or X-rays and treated with IV antibiotics. But if the infection is left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the abdomen, a serious condition called peritonitis. At that point, the infection can become life-threatening.

9. SURGEONS CAN REMOVE AN APPENDIX THROUGH A TINY INCISION.

In 1894, Charles McBurney, a surgeon at New York's Roosevelt Hospital, popularized an open-cavity, muscle-splitting technique [PDF] to remove an infected appendix, which is now called an open appendectomy. Surgeons continued to use McBurney's method until the advent of laparoscopic surgery, a less invasive method in which the doctor makes small cuts in the patient's abdomen and threads a thin tube with a camera and surgical tools into the incisions. The appendix is removed through one of those incisions, which are usually less than an inch in length.

The first laparoscopic appendectomies were performed by German physician Kurt Semm in the early 1980s. Since then, laparoscopic appendectomies have become the standard treatment for uncomplicated appendicitis. For more serious infections, open appendectomies are still performed.

10. AN APPENDIX ONCE POSTPONED A ROYAL CORONATION.

When the future King Edward VII of Great Britain came down with appendicitis (or "perityphlitis," as it was called back then) in June 1902, mortality rates for the disease were as high as 26 percent. It was about two weeks before his scheduled coronation on June 26, 1902, and Edward resisted having an appendectomy, which was then a relatively new procedure. But surgeon and appendicitis expert Frederick Treves made clear that Edward would probably die without it. Treves drained Edward's infected abscess, without removing the organ, at Buckingham Palace; Edward recovered and was crowned on August 9, 1902.

11. THE WORLD'S LONGEST APPENDIX MEASURED MORE THAN 10 INCHES.

On August 26, 2006, during an autopsy at a Zagreb, Croatia hospital, surgeons obtained a 10.24-inch appendix from 72-year-old Safranco August. The deceased currently holds the Guinness World Record for "largest appendix removed."

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