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The Earliest LOLCats and Other 19th-Century Animal Photography

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LOLcats and other funny animal pics weren't born with the Internet; they've been around since the end of the 19th century. Here are some of the early photographs that inspired them.

Harry Whittier Frees is one of the best-known novelty photographers of the 1900s. He dressed animals in clothing and then posed them in humorous scenes.

While other animals were sometimes funnier and rabbits posed more easily, Frees preferred working with cats because he felt they captured human emotions the best.

Often the images spoke for themselves, but sometimes Frees liked to add captions. A few years ago, this image taken in 1906 circulated around the web dubbed “the first LOLCat.” A year later, one of his older images was rediscovered and took its tour of the net with the same title.

Animals are difficult subjects. Over two-thirds of Frees’ negatives had to be discarded, and the work was so stressful that he only actually photographed animals three months out of the year. The rest of the time he worked to create props and costumes for his little models.

Original postcards and books featuring Frees' photographs are incredibly valuable, but if you want to own a collection of his works while also having money for food, check out one of the reprints of The Little Folks of Animal Land.

While Harry Whittier Frees had all the components of an LOLcat over a century before they swept the internet, he wasn’t the first to come up with this formula. As it turns out, he was inspired by a lesser-known animal photographer named Harry Pointer.

While Frees’ critters tended to wear clothes, Pointer's were generally nude. (Or as nude as a creature covered in fur can get.) But being as how the photos had captions and were created a good quarter-century before those of Frees, they are almost certainly the first true LOLcat photos.

Pointer’s images are particularly impressive when you consider the limits of the photography equipment available in the 1870s. Despite the challenges though, the photographer was dedicated to his cat images and by 1884, he had published over 200 postcards in what he referred to as his “Brighton Cats” Series.

Of course, one of the greatest aspects of both Frees’ and Pointer’s work is that both photographers had impressive of patience with their cuddly little subjects. The same could not be said for Walter Potter, an artist who made fun and fanciful scenes featuring taxidermied creatures. Unfortunately, the museum that housed most of Poterr's work has been shut down and his art auctioned off to private collectors.

Of course, the trend didn’t die after Pointer, Potter and Frees passed on. Even the famous “Hang In There, Baby” motivational poster is considered to be another early version of an LOLcat. But what about other creatures? Cats don't have the market cornered on cute animal pics. Sugar Bush Squirrel isn’t an original concept. Back in the 1940s, the world’s most famous squirrel was named Tommy Tucker, and he was a star.

Tommy, owned by the Bullis family of Washington D.C., was so famous that he even was featured in LIFE Magazine.

“Tommy never seems to complain,” LIFE wrote, “although sometimes he bites Mrs. Bullis. Mrs. Bullis never complains about being bitten.” To be fair, Tommy might not have bitten Mrs. Bullis so often had she dressed him in boy-squirrel clothes once in a while.

Little information exists on the photo above, but this lady and her pet lobster prove that furry and cute creatures weren't the only early animal models.

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Greg Anderson Photography
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A Hairy Situation: Meet the Winners of the 2017 World Beard and Moustache Championships
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Greg Anderson Photography

From long and thick to coiled or curly, every type of mustache, beard, and goatee under the Sun (and barber's pole) seemed to be present at the 2017 World Beard and Moustache Championships. The biannual competition—held in Austin, Texas in early September, according to Laughing Squid—brings together hairy rivals from around the globe, who come before a panel of judges to see whose facial hair is the most coiffed and creative.

Participants compete across 17 traditional categories in three main groups: mustaches, partial beards, and full beards. Awards are granted to individuals with the best Salvador Dalí–inspired mustache; the best "goatee freestyle," or short beards styled into elaborate arrangements; and the best natural full beard, among other looks.

Held in Leogang, Austria, the 2015 World Beard and Moustache Championships had just 317 competitors, Bryan Nelson—who helped organize this year's event along with the Austin Facial Hair Clubtells Mental Floss. But the 2017 Championships attracted a staggering 738 participants from 33 countries.

Nelson believes that the Austin Facial Hair Club pulled off history's largest facial hair competition (the group is awaiting validation from Guinness World Records), and also says that the tournament was the first of its kind to include craft-based categories for women.

"We had Creative Moustache and Realistic Moustache, Creative Beard and Realistic Beard," Nelson says. For the realistic categories, female participants used either real or fake tresses to create authentic-looking facial hair (which they attached to their faces), and for the creative categories, "they were all over the place and could be made from whatever," Nelson explains. "Seashells, bacon, bones … it's such a creative event."

You can check out a handful of 2017's winners—who were captured in all their hairy glory by Las Vegas-based photographer Greg Anderson—below, or view even more hilarious looks on his Instagram.

[h/t Laughing Squid]

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The Funniest Word in the English Language? 'Booty,' According to New Survey
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iStock

Some words, regardless of their meaning, are simply more chuckle-worthy than others. To determine which expressions in the English language are truly the most comical, Smithsonian reports that psychologists at the University of Warwick in the UK conducted a survey in which they asked people to rate the “humor value” of a sampling of chosen words. They recently published their findings in the journal Behavior Research Methods.

The researchers selected nearly 5000 words, and then used Amazon’s online crowdsourcing tool Mechanical Turk to ask more than 800 individuals to rank the humor value of 211 randomly chosen words from the list, on a scale from 1 (humorless) to 5 (humorous). Likely not surprising to anyone with younger siblings, the funniest word ended up being “booty,” with an average ranking of 4.32. In descending order, the remaining top 12 words—which all received a score of 3.9 or higher—were “tit,” “booby,” “hooter,” “nitwit,” “twit,” “waddle,” “tinkle,” “bebop,” “egghead,” “ass,” and “twerp.”

Why these words are so funny remains fuzzy. But when they analyzed their findings according to age and gender, the researchers did find that sexually suggestive words like “orgy” and “bondage” tended to tickle the funny bones of men, as did the words “birthmark,” “brand,” “chauffeur,” “doze,” “buzzard,” “czar,” “weld,” “prod,” “corn,” and “raccoon.”

Meanwhile, women tended to laugh at the words “giggle,” “beast,” “circus,” “grand,” “juju,” “humbug,” “slicker,” “sweat,” “ennui,” “holder,” “momma,” and “sod.” As for people under the age of 32, they were amused by “goatee,” “joint,” and “gangster,” while older participants liked “squint,” “jingle,” “burlesque,” and “pong.” Across the board, all parties were least amused by words like “rape,” “torture,” and “torment.”

Although humor is complex and dependent on elements like syntax and delivery, the study's researchers say that breaking comedy down to single-word units could demystify its essence.

“The research initially came about as a result of our curiosity,” said Tomas Engelthaler, the study’s lead author, in a press release. “We were wondering if certain words are perceived as funnier, even when read on their own. It turns out that indeed is the case. Humor is an everyday aspects of our lives and we hope this publicly available dataset allows future researchers to better understand its foundations.”

[h/t Smithsonian]

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