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What's the Origin of the Phrase "Run Amok"?

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Today, the phrase “run amok” (also spelled “amuck”) is often used to describe such things as children making a mess while they run around and play. Classically, though, it more resembled the modern phrase “going postal” or someone who just snaps for various reasons and goes on a rampage.

One false etymology of run amok derives from sailors running a ship aground, literally running the ship into muck—but the English word most directly comes from the Malay amuck (also spelled amuk, and amuco), more or less meaning “attacking furiously” or “attacking with uncontrollable rage” or, more aptly, “homicidal mania.”

Some theorize this Malay word may have Indian origins or be from the name of a group of professional assassins in Malabar, called the Amuco. Others theorize that it came from the Malay word amar, meaning “fight,” specifically via Amar-khan, which was a certain type of warrior. Yet another theory is that the Malay amuck ultimately comes from the Sanskrit amokshya, meaning “that cannot be loosed.”

Whatever the case, amok first popped up in English around the 16th century, associated with the people of Malaysia and Java, first described in the 1516 text The Book of Duarte Barbosa: An Account of the Countries Bordering on the Indian Ocean and Their Inhabitants:

There are some of them [the Javanese] who go out into the streets, and kill as many persons as they meet. These are called Amuco.

The phrase “run amok” was partially popularized by Captain James Cook in 1772. From Cook’s book:

To run amock is to get drunk with opium… to sally forth from the house, kill the person or persons supposed to have injured the Amock, and any other person that attempts to impede his passage…  indiscriminately killing and maiming villagers and animals in a frenzied attack.

In Malay culture at the time, some believed the state of amok was caused by an evil spirit, hantu belia, entering the body of a person, who would then run amok, attacking and attempting to kill anyone they came across, only to recover later and return to normal (if they weren’t killed first). Because it was thought an evil spirit caused this behavior, punishments for someone who ran amok and survived were typically light or even non-existent, with the person sometimes getting off scot-free. Usually, though, the person would be killed while running amok, and some speculate this was generally the point: Those who exhibited the behavior were often those who suddenly experienced great trauma in their lives and were looking for a way out. Sadly, this kind of thing can still be seen today.

Daven Hiskey runs the wildly popular interesting fact website Today I Found Out. To subscribe to his “Daily Knowledge” newsletter, click here

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Why Does the Queen Have Two Birthdays?
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CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images

On April 21, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will turn 92 years old. To mark the occasion, there are usually a series of gun salutes around London: a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park, and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. For the most part, the monarch celebrates her big day privately. But on June 9, 2018, Her Majesty will parade through London as part of an opulent birthday celebration known as Trooping the Colour.

Queen Elizabeth, like many British monarchs before her, has two birthdays: the actual anniversary of the day she was born, and a separate day that is labeled her "official" birthday (usually the second Saturday in June). Why? Because April 21 is usually too cold for a proper parade.

The tradition started in 1748, with King George II, who had the misfortune of being born in chilly November. Rather than have his subjects risk catching colds, he combined his birthday celebration with the Trooping the Colour.

The parade itself had been part of British culture for almost a century by that time. At first it was strictly a military event, at which regiments displayed their flags—or "colours"—so that soldiers could familiarize themselves. But George was known as a formidable general after having led troops at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, so the military celebration seemed a fitting occasion onto which to graft his warm-weather birthday. Edward VII, who also had a November birthday, was the first to standardize the June Trooping the Colour and launched a tradition of a monarchical review of the troops that drew crowds of onlookers.

Even now, the date of the "official" birthday varies year to year. For the first seven years of her reign, Elizabeth II held her official birthday on a Thursday but has since switched over to Saturdays. And while the date is tied to the Trooping the Colour in the UK, Commonwealth nations around the world have their own criteria, which generally involve recognizing it as a public holiday.

Australia started recognizing an official birthday back in 1788, and all the provinces (save one) observe the Queen's Birthday on the second Monday in June, with Western Australia holding its celebrations on the last Monday of September or the first Monday of October.

In Canada, the official birthday has been set to align with the actual birth date of Queen Victoria—May 24, 1819—since 1845, and as such they celebrate so-called Victoria Day on May 24 or the Monday before.

In New Zealand, it's the first Monday in June, and in the Falkland Islands the actual day of the Queen's birth is celebrated publicly.

All in all, just another reason it's great to be Queen.

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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What Is the Meaning Behind "420"?
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Whether or not you’re a marijuana enthusiast, you’re probably aware that today is an unofficial holiday for those who are. April 20—4/20—is a day when pot smokers around the world come together to, well, smoke pot. Others use the day to push for legalization, holding marches and rallies.

But why the code 420? There are a lot of theories as to why that particular number was chosen, but most of them are wrong. You may have heard that 420 is police code for possession, or maybe it’s the penal code for marijuana use. Both are false. There is a California Senate Bill 420 that refers to the use of medical marijuana, but the bill was named for the code, not the other way around.

As far as anyone can tell, the phrase started with a bunch of high school students. Back in 1971, a group of kids at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California, got in the habit of meeting at 4:20 to smoke after school. When they’d see each other in the hallways during the day, their shorthand was “420 Louis,” meaning, “Let’s meet at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 to smoke.”

Somehow, the phrase caught on—and when the Grateful Dead eventually picked it up, "420" spread through the greater community like wildfire. What began as a silly code passed between classes is now a worldwide event for smokers and legalization activists everywhere—not a bad accomplishment for a bunch of high school stoners.

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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