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Can You Legally Marry A Dead Person?

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If, for whatever reason, you long to wed someone who has already departed for the great beyond, your local government might just be willing to oblige … depending on where you live, and if you meet certain criteria.

France is currently the world’s capital of posthumous matrimony. This practice dates back roughly to the First World War, when the fiancées and girlfriends of slain soldiers would tie the knot with their fallen lovers via proxy. In 1950, the French government legally clarified the ritual. Under this legislation, the living spouse must get the approval of the nation’s President and Justice Minister. A simple ceremony is then held in which the bride or groom stands beside a photo of their significant other. The phrase “till death do us part” is eliminated from the vows and “I do” is replaced with saying “I did.”

To qualify, one must provide compelling evidence that the deceased intended to marry them while alive. For example, Magali Jaskiewicz’ request was granted in 2009 after she pointed out that her fiancé had previously arranged a tentative wedding date at their local town hall just two days before he was killed in a car accident (furthermore, she’d already purchased her gown).

In the U.S., federal law doesn’t recognize posthumous marriage ceremonies, but a few people have tried to conduct one anyway. After Floridian Isaac Woginiak passed away, his surviving fiancée successfully filed for a marriage license in 1988. However, feeling they hadn’t been properly notified, Woginiak’s sons took their case to a higher court, which revoked it.

The South Korean government permitted the pregnant bride-to-be of dead boxer Duk-koo Kim to “console” his spirit by marrying him after a fatal match against Ray Mancini in 1982. And in Germany, Fritz Pfeffer—referred to by the pseudonym “Albert Dussel” in the diary of Anne Frank—was posthumously wed in 1950 to Charlotta Kaletta, whom he’d lived with before going into hiding and his eventual death in a concentration camp.

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Words
Why Is 'Colonel' Spelled That Way?
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English spelling is bizarre. We know that. From the moment we learn about silent “e” in school, our innocent expectations that sound and spelling should neatly match up begin to fade away, and soon we accept that “eight” rhymes with “ate,” “of” rhymes with “love,” and “to” sounds like “too” sounds like “two.” If we do sometimes briefly pause to wonder at these eccentricities, we quickly resign ourselves to the fact that there must be reasons—stuff about history and etymology and sound changing over time. Whatever. English. LOL. Right? It is what it is.

But sometimes English takes it a step too far, does something so brazen and shameless we can’t just let it slide. That’s when we have to throw our shoulders back, put our hands on our hips and ask, point blank, what is the deal with the word “colonel”?

“Colonel” is pronounced just like “kernel.” How did this happen? From borrowing the same word from two different places. In the 1500s, English borrowed a bunch of military vocabulary from French, words like cavalerie, infanterie, citadelle, canon, and also, coronel. The French had borrowed them from the Italians, then the reigning experts in the art of war, but in doing so, had changed colonello to coronel.

Why did they do that? A common process called dissimilation—when two instances of the same sound occur close to each other in a word, people tend to change one of the instances to something else. Here, the first “l” was changed to “r.” The opposite process happened with the Latin word peregrinus (pilgrim), when the first “r” was changed to an “l” (now it’s peregrino in Spanish and Pellegrino in Italian. English inherited the “l” version in pilgrim.)

After the dissimilated French coronel made its way into English, late 16th century scholars started producing English translations of Italian military treatises. Under the influence of the originals, people started spelling it “colonel.” By the middle of the 17th century, the spelling had standardized to the “l” version, but the “r” pronunciation was still popular (it later lost a syllable, turning kor-o-nel to ker-nel). Both pronunciations were in play for a while, and adding to the confusion was the mistaken idea that “coronel” was etymologically related to “crown”—a colonel was sometimes translated as “crowner” in English. In fact, the root is colonna, Italian for column.

Meanwhile, French switched back to “colonel,” in both spelling and pronunciation. English throws its shoulders back, puts its hands on its hips and asks, how boring is that?

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Love Scratching Furniture?
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Allergy suffering aside, cat ownership has proven health benefits. A feline friend can aid in the grieving process, reduce anxiety, and offer companionship.

The con in the cat column? They have no reservations about turning your furniture into shredded pleather. No matter how expensive your living room set, these furry troublemakers will treat it with the respect accorded to a college futon. Do cats do this out of some kind of spite? Are they conspiring with Raymour & Flanigan to get you to keep updating home decor?

Neither. According to cat behaviorists, cats gravitate toward scratching furniture mostly because that love seat is in a really conspicuous area [PDF]. As a result, cats want to send a message to any other animal that may happen by: namely, that this plush seating belongs to the cat who marked it. Scratching provides both visual evidence (claw marks) as well as a scent marker. Cat paws have scent glands that can leave smells that are detectable to other cats and animals.

But it’s not just territorial: Cats also scratch to remove sloughed-off nail tips, allowing fresh nail growth to occur. And they can work out their knotted back muscles—cramped from sleeping 16 hours a day, no doubt—by kneading the soft foam of a sectional.

If you want to dissuade your cat from such behavior, purchasing a scratching post is a good start. Make sure it’s non-carpeted—their nails can get caught on the fibers—and tall enough to allow for a good stretch. Most importantly, put it near furniture so cats can mark their hangout in high-traffic areas. A good post might be a little more expensive, but will likely result in fewer trips to Ethan Allen.

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