Get Your Free Declaration of Independence Guest Book!

A Flossy Fourth party gift from us to you: a free, printable Declaration of Independence Guest Book! [PDF here.]

Some fun stories about a few of the lesser-known real signers of the Declaration of Independence from the book Signing Their Lives Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed the Declaration of Independence:

• One of only three signers to live into his nineties, William Ellery of Rhode Island is a wonderful addition to your “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” arsenal – he's an ancestor of Bacon’s wife, actress Kyra Sedgwick.

• Carter Braxton of Virginia had 18 children.

• Roger Sherman of Connecticut was the only cobbler by trade of the signers, and the only person to sign the Articles of Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution.

• Thomas Lynch, Jr. of South Carolina was ultimately lost at sea in 1779 when he and his wife embarked on a trip to France.

• Josiah Bartlett of New Hampshire was the first to cast a vote for Independence and second to sign after John Hancock, but today his name may be more closely associated with the president played by Martin Sheen on The West Wing (Josiah "Jed" Bartlet, with one fewer 't').

• Richard Henry Lee of Virginia had six fingers – total. Four fingers on one hand were blown off in a hunting accident.

• John Morton of Pennsylvania was the first of the signers of the Declaration to die – in April of 1777. On his deathbed, he dictated a message to those who criticized his signing of the Declaration. “Tell them that they will live to see an hour when they shall acknowledge it to have been the most glorious service I ever rendered to my country.”

• Samuel Chase of Maryland was nicknamed “Old Bacon Face.”

The crew at your Fourth party surely has some stories of their own and will enjoy putting their John Hancocks on your Declaration guest book [PDF]!

How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?

Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

TAKWest, Youtube
Watch Boris Karloff's 1966 Coffee Commercial
TAKWest, Youtube
TAKWest, Youtube

Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.

But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace

In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly. 

Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff. 

[h/t: Retroist]


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