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What is the Origin of Twerking?

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From the Charleston to the Twist to the Hustle, dance fads have always served to define their decade—though not without raising a few eyebrows from older generations. In fact, the disapproval of popular dance fads often seems as quintessentially American as the dances themselves. Such is the case with one of the most scandalous dance crazes to date, one that’s quickly becoming the definitive dance of our decade: twerking. 

Let’s get this out of the way. To twerk, essentially, is to shake one’s butt.  So yes, obviously, it’s not something to pull out in front of your grandparents at your next family reunion. A tongue-in-cheek definition by Urban Dictionary lists twerking as “a series of movements made by females of the humanoid variety as an expression of contempt for their fathers.” While it’s not exactly family friendly, claims that twerking originated in American strip clubs are sketchy at best. Rather, the dance’s strongest ties lie in Africa.

The movements involved in twerking show similarities to several traditional West African dances, most notably mapouka, hailing from the Cote d’Ivoire. Known colloquially as “la dance du fessier,” or “dance of the behind,” mapouka is said to exist in two forms: A tamer, more traditional dance performed ceremonially, and the newer, more scandalous version popular with young Ivoirians.

The more modern version—and the one most closely related to twerking—is considered obscene and suggestive by some, and its traditional roots haven’t immunized it against controversy. In fact, the public performance of modern mapouka by groups such as Les Tueuses (The Killers), was outlawed in the 1980s; the Ivoirian government cited lewdness as the reason for the ban. After that government was toppled by a military coup around 2000, mapouka performances were rendered legal once again. However, despite (or possibly due to) its prohibition, the infectious dance style had already spread throughout coastal West Africa and even taken up roots in the U.S. And so, in 1993, it twerked toward Bethlehem—err, New Orleans—to be born. 

In the early 90s, New Orleans was home “bounce” music, a form of hip hop that relied heavily on call-and-response chanting. A popular artist at the time, DJ Jubilee, recorded a song called “Do the Jubilee All.” When the accompanying video featured young people furiously shaking their fessiers alongside the lyrics “twerk baby, twerk baby, twerk, twerk, twerk”—the word “twerk” a combination of the words twist and jerk—the new dance craze had arrived with a new name.

Since that fateful moment, twerking has been on the rise, steadily picking up speed in the U.S. with each passing year. Twerking popularity met new highs with the 2012 release of Diplo’s “Express Yourself.” The music video for Diplo’s hit song popularized a newer, death-defying (okay, not really) version of twerking: the “wall twerk,” wherein the twerker inverts themselves against a wall in an assisted handstand, assumes the twerking position, and fires away.  Stop before you get dizzy, and have a wet rag handy to wipe the footprints off the wall when you’re done.

In its thirty-something-year span, the dance has been far from devoid of controversy. Former child star Miley Cyrus has notoriously used her twerking skills to shed her squeaky clean Disney image. Earlier this year, 33 San Diego high school students were suspended for reportedly using school equipment to film a video in which the students twerked for the camera. Their dance moves earned them a minimum of five days suspension for violating the school’s zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy. While it sounds a little like Footloose, there’s no doubt the sexually-charged dance move is slightly less appropriate for school than good old rock ‘n’ roll.

But it’s a scandalous idea that becomes less scandalous when considering the controversy that followed Elvis’s gyrations or even Chubby Checker’s legendary Twist, both movements once condemned for their vulgarity. Those interested in trying out the dance themselves can follow a non-intimidating, step-by-step tutorial here. The less courageous can entertain themselves by replacing the word “work” with “twerk” in popular idioms (“twerking hard, or hardly twerking?”).

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What’s the Difference Between Prison and Jail?
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Many people use the terms jail and prison interchangeably, and while both terms refer to areas where people are held, there's a substantial difference between the two methods of incarceration. Where a person who is accused of a crime is held, and for how long, is a factor in determining the difference between the two—and whether a person is held in a jail or a prison is largely determined by the severity of the crime they have committed.

A jail (or, for our British friends, a gaol) refers to a small, temporary holding facility—run by local governments and supervised by county sheriff departments—that is designed to detain recently arrested people who have committed a minor offense or misdemeanor. A person can also be held in jail for an extended period of time if the sentence for their offense is less than a year. There are currently 3163 local jail facilities in the United States.

A jail is different from the similarly temporary “lockup”—sort of like “pre-jail”—which is located in local police departments and holds offenders unable to post bail, people arrested for public drunkenness who are kept until they are sober, or, most importantly, offenders waiting to be processed into the jail system.

A prison, on the other hand, is usually a large state- or federal-run facility meant to house people convicted of a serious crime or felony, and whose sentences for those crimes surpass 365 days. A prison could also be called a “penitentiary,” among other names.

To be put in a state prison, a person must be convicted of breaking a state law. To be put in a federal prison, a person must be convicted of breaking federal law. Basic amenities in a prison are more extensive than in a jail because, obviously, an inmate is likely to spend more than a year of his or her life confined inside a prison. As of 2012, there were 4575 operating prisons in the U.S.—the most in the world. The country with the second highest number of operating prisons is Russia, which has just 1029 facilities.

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 Do Morticians Do With the Blood They Take Out of Dead Bodies?
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Zoe-Anne Barcellos:

The blood goes down the sink drain, into the sewer system.

I am not a mortician, but I work for a medical examiner/coroner. During an autopsy, most blood is drained from the decedent. This is not on purpose, but a result of gravity. Later a mortician may or may not embalm, depending on the wishes of the family.

Autopsies are done on a table that has a drain at one end; this drain is placed over a sink—a regular sink, with a garbage disposal in it. The blood and bodily fluids just drain down the table, into the sink, and down the drain. This goes into the sewer, like every other sink and toilet, and (usually) goes to a water treatment plant.

You may be thinking that this is biohazardous waste and needs to be treated differently. [If] we can’t put oil, or chemicals (like formalin) down the drains due to regulations, why is blood not treated similarly? I would assume because it is effectively handled by the water treatment plants. If it wasn’t, I am sure the regulations would be changed.

Now any items that are soiled with blood—those cannot be thrown away in the regular trash. Most clothing worn by the decedent is either retained for evidence or released with the decedent to the funeral home—even if they were bloody.

But any gauze, medical tubing, papers, etc. that have blood or bodily fluids on them must be thrown away into a biohazardous trash. These are lined with bright red trash liners, and these are placed in a specially marked box and taped closed. These boxes are stacked up in the garage until they are picked up by a specialty garbage company. I am not sure, but I am pretty sure they are incinerated.

Additionally anything sharp or pointy—like needles, scalpels, etc.—must go into a rigid “sharps” container. When they are 2/3 full we just toss these into one of the biotrash containers.

The biotrash is treated differently, as, if it went to a landfill, then the blood (and therefore the bloodborne pathogens like Hepatitis and HIV) could be exposed to people or animals. Rain could wash it into untreated water systems.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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