Why Is There So Much Poop in Swimming Pools?


By Jon Terbush

Who would've guessed Caddyshack would prove so prophetic?

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than half of all public pools had tested positive for E. coli, the bacteria most commonly associated with fecal matter.

In the study, the CDC sampled water from filters in 161 public swimming pools, both indoor and outdoor, in the Atlanta, Ga., area. Of those samples, 58 percent showed signs of E. coli. Though the researchers could not definitively blame human waste for the results, they wrote that it "signifies that swimmers introduced fecal material into pool water."

"It is time to stop treating the swimming pool as a toilet," Michele Hlavsa, head of the CDC's Healthy Swimming Program, told NBC. "Nowhere else except for the pool is it acceptable to poop in public or pee in public. In other places if we did this in public, we'd be arrested."

So what's the blame for the stinky problem?

Children, specifically diapered babies and those who aren't toilet trained, can easily introduce poop into the water — a "formed fecal incident," as the CDC kindly calls it. (There's a reason for the kiddie pool.)

However, children aren't alone in fouling the water. The report also faults adults for poor pre-swim etiquette, noting that those who dive in without first properly showering—with soap—can bring traces of fecal matter with them. And just in case you needed another reason not to pee in the pool, the report says that traces of sweat and urine inhibit chlorine's ability to clean water. In short, going number one makes it that much worse when someone else goes number two.

Swimmers ill with diarrhea greatly increase the risk of contamination. So, the report says, you really shouldn't swim in a public pool if suffering from intestinal troubles. Even if there's no sign telling you not to, which was the case at 70 percent of the pools the CDC checked, it's still a bad idea.

Though the CDC confirmed that public pools are pretty gross, they're not necessarily hazardous. Researchers never confirmed any illness related to the pool water, and as the report states, "Results alone cannot be used to determine whether the detected pathogens were viable or infectious or determine the level of swimmer risk."

Plus, the report looked only at pools in the Atlanta area, so the results might not be representative of the country as a whole.

Still, the report asked that everyone kindly use a bathroom when they have to use the bathroom, to ensure that people are the only floaters found in pools this summer.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?

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.

Big Questions
Where Does the Phrase '… And the Horse You Rode In On' Come From?

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.

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