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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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Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?
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Why do people have such a hard time staying awake after Thanksgiving dinner? Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. And what is tryptophan, anyway?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts, and a slew of other foods. Some of these foods, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats: That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol: What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating: Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

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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How Are Balloons Chosen for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?
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The balloons for this year's Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade range from the classics like Charlie Brown to more modern characters who have debuted in the past few years, including The Elf On The Shelf. New to the parade this year are Olaf from Disney's Frozen and Chase from Paw Patrol. But how does the retail giant choose which characters will appear in the lineup?

Balloon characters are chosen in different ways. For example, in 2011, Macy’s requested B. Boy after parade organizers saw the Tim Burton retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. (The company had been adding a series of art balloons to the parade lineup since 2005, which it called the Blue Sky Gallery.) When it comes to commercial balloons, though, it appears to be all about the Benjamins.

First-time balloons cost at least $190,000—this covers admission into the parade and the cost of balloon construction. After the initial year, companies can expect to pay Macy’s about $90,000 to get a character into the parade lineup. If you consider that the balloons are out for only an hour or so, that’s about $1500 a minute.

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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