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What's the Origin of the “Sometimes, Always, Never” Rule?

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Sometimes, always, never. If you’re a man wearing a three-button blazer, those are the only three words you need to know. The middle button should always be fastened. The top button is up to you. But the bottom button? Don’t even think about it.

But where did this fashion edict originate? In the grand scheme of things, it’s a rather new rule. Over a century ago, there were no hard-and-fast buttoning guidelines. Some jackets had five or more buttons, and you could fasten them in any combination you pleased. That all changed when England’s King Edward VII—then the Prince of Wales—started growing a belly in the late 19th century.

Edward liked to eat. A lot. On a typical day, he’d mow down a plateful of bacon and eggs for breakfast, a tower of roast beef and shortcakes for lunch, and a 12-course dinner. A 48-inch waist—the same bulge Henry VIII flaunted when he first sat on the throne—was a little too big for the future king to handle. Edward grew so quickly that he couldn’t fasten his waistcoat’s bottom button. Deciding that he liked the look, he kept it unbuttoned.

In an age before models and TV stars, royals like Edward influenced most fashion crazes. So when Edward kept that bottom button undone, people noticed. A trend caught on, and men of all sizes have been leaving that bottom button open ever since. Nowadays, blazers are designed to keep that bottom button undone. Buttoning it can cause a well-fitted jacket to tighten too closely, making it uncomfortable and unsightly. So although the rule has arbitrary origins, over the years it has become both practical and fashionable.

Incidentally, this isn’t the only fashion trend Edward started. You can thank him for the tuxedo, too! When Edward was still a prince, he wanted a slightly more casual alternative to the extremely formal dinner attire of the day. He opted for a blue jacket, black trousers, and a bowtie. In 1886, his American friend James Brown Potter brought the style to Tuxedo Park, NY, from which it has spread to wedding parties and proms everywhere.

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Big Questions
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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Big Questions
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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