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Why is “Weiner” Sometimes “Weener” and Sometimes “Whiner”?

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With his latest scandalous revelations, former congressman Anthony Weiner has provided another round of giggle-worthy news coverage playing on the connotations of his name. The word “wiener” came to mean, well, a man’s wiener, through its association with a type of sausage from Vienna, the Wiener Würstchen. The German word for Vienna is Wien, pronounced “veen,” and Viennese is Wiener, prounounced “veener.” In the same way people say “Polish” for Polish sausage, people started calling the wiener wurst a “weener,” and the word then traveled over to the domain of other sausage-like objects.

But Anthony Weiner’s name is not Wiener! It is spelled with “ei” rather than “ie,” and in German, “ei” is pronounced “eye,” as it would be in “whiner.” So why doesn’t he use that pronunciation? What sort of glutton for punishment is he?

If he lived in Germany, his name would indeed have the “eye” pronunciation but in the United States both the “eye” and “ee” pronunciations show up for this name, for reasons having to do with ethnicity, sound drift, and chance. There is a German name Weiner that comes from a dialectal pronunciation of Wagner, related to Waggoner, meaning wagon-maker. But Anthony Weiner is Jewish, and according to dictionaries of Jewish surnames, his name probably originates from the Yiddish name Vayner, meaning wine merchant. Yiddish is related to German, and Vayner is related to the German word Wein for “wine,” and pronounced with the “eye” vowel. But there is another less common but also predominately Jewish surname Wiener, meaning someone who comes from Vienna.

So there have long been two surnames with two pronunciations and two different but very close spellings floating about in the same American community, and in the process of Americanization things were likely to get mixed up. Probably adding to the confusion was influence from the inconsistent “ie” “ei” spelling rules in English, and a slew of common American Scottish names where “ei” stood for the “ee” sound (MacLeish, Neil, Reid, Weir, Keith).

Of course, in the American tradition, it’s up to each family to decide how they want to spell and pronounce their name. If Anthony Weiner wants to reinvent himself again, he could always consider a name change.

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Big Questions
What Are Curlers Yelling About?
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WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images

Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

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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Why You Should Never Take Your Shoes Off On an Airplane
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What should be worn during takeoff?

Tony Luna:

If you are a frequent flyer, you may often notice that some passengers like to kick off their shoes the moment they've settled down into their seats.

As an ex-flight attendant, I'm here to tell you that it is a dangerous thing to do. Why?

Besides stinking up the whole cabin, footwear is essential during an airplane emergency, even though it is not part of the flight safety information.

During an emergency, all sorts of debris and unpleasant ground surfaces will block your way toward the exit, as well as outside the aircraft. If your feet aren't properly covered, you'll have a hard time making your way to safety.

Imagine destroying your bare feet as you run down the aisle covered with broken glass, fires, and metal shards. Kind of like John McClane in Die Hard, but worse. Ouch!

Bruce Willis stars in 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

A mere couple of seconds delay during an emergency evacuation can be a matter of life and death, especially in an enclosed environment. Not to mention the entire aircraft will likely be engulfed in panic and chaos.

So, the next time you go on a plane trip, please keep your shoes on during takeoff, even if it is uncomfortable.

You can slip on a pair of bathroom slippers if you really need to let your toes breathe. They're pretty useless in a real emergency evacuation, but at least they're better than going barefoot.

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

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