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Why Do Olympians Wear That Colorful Tape?

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You may have first noticed the markings on the synchronized swimmers' backs. Or cascading down a beach volleyball player's chiseled abs. Birthmarks? Accessories? A bizarre form of intimidation? No, no, and no. The answer is Kinesio tape. And, yes, it's all the rage in the sports world.

So, what is this tricked-out injury treatment?

It's a heavily adhesive, hypoallergenic, stretchy tape that comes, as we have seen, in an array of colors and patterns. It is designed to approximate the weight and thickness of skin and can be stretched over any part of the body. Made of cotton fiber, the tape has an acrylic, heat-activated backing and can stay attached for up to five days. When adhered, the tape lifts the upper layers of the skin away from the muscle, relieving pressure and pain in the affected area.

While the tape was developed by Dr. Kenzo Kase in the mid-1970s, it first started cropping up on a body part here or there during the Beijing Olympics in 2008. But that was enough to spark an interest and, following the summer games, sales of the tape jumped a reported 300 percent. Now, clearly, it has taken the athletic world by storm.

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But if you, lay-athletic person, were hoping to jump on the Kinesio bandwagon, you may have to sit tight, because not just anyone can slap on the tape. To do it properly, you need to use a particular technique that requires training.

DOES IT WORK?

The research is slim, and some scientists are dubious. According to Reuters, a 2012 report in the journal Sports Medicine found "little quality evidence to support the use of Kinesio tape over other types of elastic taping in the management or prevention of sports injuries." But Kevin Anderson, director of Kinesio UK, says the research just needs time to catch up to the sports phenomenon.

"There's nothing magical in the tape," Anderson told Reuters, "it certainly can't improve your performance or make you Superman," but he says it does help relieve pain and swelling for the athletes.

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German beach volleyball player Sara Goller, who wore hot pink tape throughout the 2012 London Games, says the color is nice, but its purpose is what matters. "It can release or put tension on a muscle, it depends on what you want," she told Reuters.

Lindon, Utah-based brand KT Tape is the official Kinesiology tape licensee of the U.S. Olympic team and counts Kerri Walsh Jennings, James Harden, and Kerri Strug among its fans.

Even if the tape doesn't actually do anything beneficial, physically, it can give athletes a boost of confidence, simply because they think it is working wonders on their battered bodies. And in such high-stakes, high-pressure situations like the Olympic Games, the slightest form of encouragement is sometimes all you need.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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holidays
What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
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Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

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Big Questions
Where Does the Phrase '… And the Horse You Rode In On' Come From?
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Horses may no longer be the dominant form of transportation in the U.S., but the legacy of our horseback-riding history lives on in language. When telling people off, we still use the phrase “... and the horse you rode in on.” These days, it’s rare for anyone you're telling to go screw themselves to actually be an equestrian, so where did “and the horse you rode in on” come from, anyway?

Well, let’s start with the basics. The phrase is, essentially, an intensifier, one typically appended to the phrase “F*** you.” As the public radio show "A Way With Words" puts it, it’s usually aimed at “someone who’s full of himself and unwelcome to boot.” As co-host and lexicographer Grant Barrett explains, “instead of just insulting you, they want to insult your whole circumstance.”

The phrase can be traced back to at least the 1950s, but it may be even older than that, since, as Barrett notes, plenty of crude language didn’t make it into print in the early 20th century. He suggests that it could have been in wide use even prior to World War II.

In 1998, William Safire of The New York Times tracked down several novels that employed the term, including The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1972) and No Bugles, No Drums (1976). The literary editor of the latter book, Michael Seidman, told Safire that he heard the term growing up in the Bronx just after the Korean War, leading the journalist to peg the origin of the phrase to at least the late 1950s.

The phrase has had some pretty die-hard fans over the years, too. Donald Regan, who was Secretary of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan from 1981 through 1984, worked it into his official Treasury Department portrait. You can see a title along the spine of a book in the background of the painting. It reads: “And the Horse You Rode In On,” apparently one of Regan’s favorite sayings. (The book in the painting didn't refer to a real book, but there have since been a few published that bear similar names, like Clinton strategist James Carville’s book …and the Horse He Rode In On: The People V. Kenneth Starr and Dakota McFadzean’s 2013 book of comics Other Stories And the Horse You Rode In On.)

It seems that even in a world where almost no one rides in on a horse, insulting a man’s steed is a timeless burn.

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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