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What Causes Morning Breath?

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Some mornings, the only thing that can convince you to get out of a warm, snuggly bed is the overwhelming stench emanating from your own mouth. Possibly the only thing worse than morning breath is the alarm clock itself, but no amount of brushing, flossing, or stinging mouthwash rinsing the night before seem capable of saving you from the stinking scourge. What gives?

Here’s the good news: Morning breath is just regular, run-of-the-mill bad breath, or halitosis—a diagnosis that sounds much worse than it is. While chronic halitosis is fairly uncommon, most people wake up with some form of oral unpleasantness, and there’s nothing medically worrying about it. But that doesn’t make it any more of a joy, especially for the first person you talk to before brushing your teeth.

The key to understanding why our breath smells first thing in the morning is to first understand why it doesn’t smell the rest of the time. As we go about our usual daylight business, bacteria are at work breaking down all the amino acids, proteins, and other chemicals left behind in our mouths from our last meal. This process produces volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) like hydrogen sulfide, dimethyl sulfide, and methyl mercapatan, which are responsible for the funk. In our waking hours, our own saliva washes away the bacteria before they can do their smelly damage; when we fall asleep, our saliva production calls it a night, too.  In the absence of much saliva, the VSC-causing bacteria run wild, and the sulfuric compounds build up until their grand unveiling in the morning.

It’s a simple equation—mouth plus bacteria minus saliva equals yuck—but the bad news is that there’s not much we can do about it. Brushing before bed will help minimize the damage by reducing the amount of compounds for the bacteria to feed on, and drinking a glass of water before bed will compensate at least a little bit for the impending loss of saliva.  Other than that, keep your mouth locked down in the morning until you can get to a toothbrush, and we’ll all live happier, fresher-smelling lives.

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