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What's With All the Mustaches? The Origins of Movember

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Movember, like many other brilliant ideas, was born of a drunken, meandering conversation in a bar. It was 2003, in a pub in Adelaide, Australia. A couple of friends were talking about the cyclical nature of style and wondered why the mustache hadn't made its glorious return, Quetzalcoatl-like, to the mainstream.

They decided that the 'stache, or Mo, as the Aussies call it, deserved revival. They talked to a few more friends and made a plan. Thirty guys would leave their upper lip untamed for one month. They didn't raise money or have a cause—they just wanted to get a few more Mos out into the wild and see who could grow the nicest one. They started growing November 1st, so a name change for the month seemed obvious and appropriate.

The next year, they wanted to do it again. Prompted by all the attention their lips had gotten the first time around, they wondered if they could use their Mo growth as a force of good. They knew that men, particularly old-school macho types, did not get regular health checkups and sometimes even ignored signs of a medical problem. So they decided to use Movember to raise awareness, and maybe some cash, for men's health issues.

They discovered Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (PCFA) and learned that one in every six men would get prostate cancer during his lifetime. One in 36 would die from the disease. Behind lung cancer, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men, but, at the time, it didn't make headlines as much as other cancers. It was a very male-centric, relatively unknown problem that could use some good, manly Mos behind it.

That November, 450 guys, called the Mo Bros, grew 'staches and asked their friends and families to sponsor their growth. By the end of the month, they'd raised $55,000 and gave it to the PCFA. It was the largest single donation the foundation had received at the time.

By now, Movember is a global phenomenon, with guys from six continents participating. We imagine there's at least a few flossers or friends of flossers who took part this year, and we'd love to see your Mos. If you or someone you know is a Mo Bro, leave us a link to a photo in the comments (and the amount of dough you raised, if you like to brag).

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Words
Why Is 'Colonel' Spelled That Way?
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English spelling is bizarre. We know that. From the moment we learn about silent “e” in school, our innocent expectations that sound and spelling should neatly match up begin to fade away, and soon we accept that “eight” rhymes with “ate,” “of” rhymes with “love,” and “to” sounds like “too” sounds like “two.” If we do sometimes briefly pause to wonder at these eccentricities, we quickly resign ourselves to the fact that there must be reasons—stuff about history and etymology and sound changing over time. Whatever. English. LOL. Right? It is what it is.

But sometimes English takes it a step too far, does something so brazen and shameless we can’t just let it slide. That’s when we have to throw our shoulders back, put our hands on our hips and ask, point blank, what is the deal with the word “colonel”?

“Colonel” is pronounced just like “kernel.” How did this happen? From borrowing the same word from two different places. In the 1500s, English borrowed a bunch of military vocabulary from French, words like cavalerie, infanterie, citadelle, canon, and also, coronel. The French had borrowed them from the Italians, then the reigning experts in the art of war, but in doing so, had changed colonello to coronel.

Why did they do that? A common process called dissimilation—when two instances of the same sound occur close to each other in a word, people tend to change one of the instances to something else. Here, the first “l” was changed to “r.” The opposite process happened with the Latin word peregrinus (pilgrim), when the first “r” was changed to an “l” (now it’s peregrino in Spanish and Pellegrino in Italian. English inherited the “l” version in pilgrim.)

After the dissimilated French coronel made its way into English, late 16th century scholars started producing English translations of Italian military treatises. Under the influence of the originals, people started spelling it “colonel.” By the middle of the 17th century, the spelling had standardized to the “l” version, but the “r” pronunciation was still popular (it later lost a syllable, turning kor-o-nel to ker-nel). Both pronunciations were in play for a while, and adding to the confusion was the mistaken idea that “coronel” was etymologically related to “crown”—a colonel was sometimes translated as “crowner” in English. In fact, the root is colonna, Italian for column.

Meanwhile, French switched back to “colonel,” in both spelling and pronunciation. English throws its shoulders back, puts its hands on its hips and asks, how boring is that?

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Love Scratching Furniture?
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Allergy suffering aside, cat ownership has proven health benefits. A feline friend can aid in the grieving process, reduce anxiety, and offer companionship.

The con in the cat column? They have no reservations about turning your furniture into shredded pleather. No matter how expensive your living room set, these furry troublemakers will treat it with the respect accorded to a college futon. Do cats do this out of some kind of spite? Are they conspiring with Raymour & Flanigan to get you to keep updating home decor?

Neither. According to cat behaviorists, cats gravitate toward scratching furniture mostly because that love seat is in a really conspicuous area [PDF]. As a result, cats want to send a message to any other animal that may happen by: namely, that this plush seating belongs to the cat who marked it. Scratching provides both visual evidence (claw marks) as well as a scent marker. Cat paws have scent glands that can leave smells that are detectable to other cats and animals.

But it’s not just territorial: Cats also scratch to remove sloughed-off nail tips, allowing fresh nail growth to occur. And they can work out their knotted back muscles—cramped from sleeping 16 hours a day, no doubt—by kneading the soft foam of a sectional.

If you want to dissuade your cat from such behavior, purchasing a scratching post is a good start. Make sure it’s non-carpeted—their nails can get caught on the fibers—and tall enough to allow for a good stretch. Most importantly, put it near furniture so cats can mark their hangout in high-traffic areas. A good post might be a little more expensive, but will likely result in fewer trips to Ethan Allen.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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