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Is It Really Illegal to Remove Your Mattress Tag?

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Spoiler Alert: It is not. But here's why that warning is on there in the first place.

At some point, most of us have heard that we’re not supposed to remove the tags from our mattresses, under penalty of law. Most of the tags even say something like "It is unlawful to remove this tag!" The tags and the bold act of tearing them off have become a kind of jokey cultural shorthand for oppressive, yet trivial, government regulation and rebellion against it. Jay Leno has joked that his mom is so law-abiding that she checks her tags once a month, and Woody Allen parodied the tags with a story about two drifters who break into a home and slash them off.

You can go ahead and cut the tag off without fear of jackbooted mattress police kicking in your door and hauling you off to the gulag, though. The tag's stern warning is there to protect you, the end user: it's the removal of the tag before the mattress gets to the person that’s going to sleep on it that’s illegal.

Why So Serious?

Take a look at your mattress tag and you’ll see that there’s a lot more on it than just the “don't remove me” warning. The purpose of the tag is to assure consumers that they’re buying a new, never-been-used product and to let them know exactly what’s inside it. The need for this protective label arose in the early 20th century, amid a boom in consumer protection regulations. At the time, mattresses were often constructed with some unsavory stuffing — horse hair, corn husks, food waste, old rags, newspaper, and whatever else a manufacturer could come by were regularly shoved inside. Consumers would never see the stuffing, so no harm, no foul, right? Not really. Some of this stuff harbored bacteria and household pests that gave unwary consumers a not-so-restful slumber.

The government tackled the problem by requiring mattress manufacturers to affix tags to their products that clearly defined their contents. Consumers could then make informed decisions and steer clear of mattresses stuffed with dangerous or gross materials. Listing the “ingredients” right on the mattress put the dirty rag guys at a distinct disadvantage in the marketplace. So to get around the problem, having fulfilled their legal obligation to add the tag, some manufacturers simply tore it off before shipping to retailers. Elsewhere, salesmen ripped them off of slow-moving products to help sales.

The government countered with a new regulation. Tags now had to have the do-not-remove warning, and federal regulations made it unlawful to “remove or mutilate, or cause or participate in the removal or mutilation of, prior to the time any textile fiber product is sold and delivered to the ultimate consumer, any stamp, tag, label, or other identification required” on them. “Any person violating this section,” the regulation continues, “shall be guilty of an unfair method of competition, and an unfair or deceptive act or practice, under the Federal Trade Commission Act.”

The move deterred dishonest mattress dealers, but also confused more than a few consumers, who dutifully left the tags on for fear of prosecution. In recent years, the feds and many state governments have eased the minds of law-abiding citizens by amending the mattress laws so the tags read “this tag shall not be removed except by the consumer.”

So, go ahead, tear that sucker off and sleep easy.

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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.

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