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Where Does the Word 'Hoser' Come From?

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CBC.ca

Fans of the legendary sketch comedy show SCTV are probably familiar with Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas’ dim-witted characters Bob and Doug McKenzie, the Molson beer-swilling Canadian brothers who ended each sentence with everyone’s favorite stereotypical Canadian interjection, “eh.” But it was the pair's catchphrase—“Take off, hoser!”—that really gained traction in popular language.

When the two comedians called someone a hoser, they were telling him that he was a foolish or unsophisticated Canadian slob who does nothing but watch hockey, wear tons of flannel, and propagate the lighthearted and absentminded view of the clichéd average Canadian male. According to Stephan Dollinger of the University of British Columbia—one of the institutions working on the second edition of the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles—the Oxford English Dictionary entry for "hoser" cites the first written example as a 1981 article in the Toronto Star about the McKenzie characters, in which Moranis said “a hoser is what you call your brother when your folks won't let you swear.” Beyond this, the etymology of the word is hard to trace, with informal origins coming from different folk traditions and Canadian history.

The most prominent unofficial derivation comes from every Canadian’s favorite pastime—pond hockey. Whenever groups would get together to play some shinny (another Canadian slang term, for an informal pick-up hockey game) on the local pond, the losing team would have to hose down the ice with water afterwards to make the playing surface smooth again. In this version of hoser's etymology, "hose” and “loser” were contracted to make “hoser,” giving it a colloquially negative connotation tied to the Canadian national game.

According to others, though, the word "hoser" originated with poor, Depression-era Canadian farmers who would use a hose to siphon gas out of other people’s farming equipment because they couldn't pay for it themselves. But this definition is most likely a verbal colloquialism passed from generation to generation; it has no concrete formal source.

Because of Moranis and Thomas’ lampooning of Canadian culture, "hoser" lives on in popular vocabulary—though you’ll probably be hard-pressed to hear any actual Canadians use the term. But I know what I’d say to them: “Take off, you hoser!”

Primary image courtesy of CBC.

This article originally ran in 2013.

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Big Questions
What Makes a Cat's Tail Puff Up When It's Scared?
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Cats wear their emotions on their tails, not their sleeves. They tap their fluffy rear appendages during relaxing naps, thrash them while tense, and hold them stiff and aloft when they’re feeling aggressive, among other behaviors. And in some scary situations (like, say, being surprised by a cucumber), a cat’s tail will actually expand, puffing up to nearly twice its volume as its owner hisses, arches its back, and flattens its ears. What does a super-sized tail signify, and how does it occur naturally without help from hairspray?

Cats with puffed tails are “basically trying to make themselves look as big as possible, and that’s because they detect a threat in the environment," Dr. Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior consultant who studied animal behavior and human-pet relationships as a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Mental Floss. The “threat” in question can be as major as an approaching dog or as minor as an unexpected noise. Even if a cat isn't technically in any real danger, it's still biologically wired to spring to the offensive at a moment’s notice, as it's "not quite at the top of the food chain,” Delgado says. And a big tail is reflexive feline body language for “I’m big and scary, and you wouldn't want to mess with me,” she adds.

A cat’s tail puffs when muscles in its skin (where the hair base is) contract in response to hormone signals from the stress/fight or flight system, or sympathetic nervous system. Occasionally, the hairs on a cat’s back will also puff up along with the tail. That said, not all cats swell up when a startling situation strikes. “I’ve seen some cats that seem unflappable, and they never get poofed up,” Delgado says. “My cats get puffed up pretty easily.”

In addition to cats, other animals also experience piloerection, as this phenomenon is technically called. For example, “some birds puff up when they're encountering an enemy or a threat,” Delgado says. “I think it is a universal response among animals to try to get themselves out of a [potentially dangerous] situation. Really, the idea is that you don't have to fight because if you fight, you might lose an ear or you might get an injury that could be fatal. For most animals, they’re trying to figure out how to scare another animal off without actually going fisticuffs.” In other words, hiss softly, but carry a big tail.

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What Happened to the Physical Copy of the 'I Have a Dream' Speech?
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AFP, Getty Images

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave a speech for the ages, delivering the oratorical masterpiece "I Have a Dream" to nearly 250,000 people.

When he was done, King stepped away from the podium, folded his speech, and found himself standing in front of George Raveling, a former Villanova basketball player who, along with his friend Warren Wilson, had been asked to provide extra security around Dr. King while he was speaking. "We were both tall, gangly guys," Raveling told TIME in 2003. "We didn't know what we were doing but we certainly made for a good appearance."

Moved by the speech, Raveling saw the folded papers in King’s hands and asked if he could have them. King gave the young volunteer the speech without hesitation, and that was that.

“At no time do I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we got this historic document,’” Raveling told Sports Illustrated in 2015. Not realizing he was holding what would become an important piece of history in his hands, Raveling went home and stuck the three sheets of paper into a Harry Truman biography for safekeeping. They sat there for nearly two decades while Raveling developed an impressive career coaching NCAA men’s basketball.

In 1984, he had recently taken over as the head coach at the University of Iowa and was chatting with Bob Denney of the Cedar Rapids Gazette when Denney brought up the March on Washington. That's when Raveling dropped the bomb: “You know, I’ve got a copy of that speech," he said, and dug it out of the Truman book. After writing an article about Raveling's connection, the reporter had the speech professionally framed for the coach.

Though he displayed the framed speech in his house for a few years, Raveling began to realize the value of the piece and moved it to a bank vault in Los Angeles. Though he has received offers for King’s speech—one collector wanted to purchase the speech for $3 million in 2014—Raveling has turned them all down. He has been in talks with various museums and universities and hopes to put the speech on display in the future, but for now, he cherishes having it in his possession.

“That to me is something I’ll always be able to look back and say I was there,” Raveling said in the original Cedar Rapids Gazette article. “And not only out there in that arena of people, but to be within touching distance of him. That’s like when you’re 80 or 90 years old you can look back and say ‘I was in touching distance of Abraham Lincoln when he made the Gettysburg Address.’"

“I have no idea why I even asked him for the speech,” Raveling, now CEO of Coaching for Success, has said. “But I’m sure glad that I did.”

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