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How We Came to Make Wishes on These 11 Things

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Happy 11/11! Today is considered a lucky day for the superstitious, and a great day to make a wish if you happen to catch the clock when it hits 11:11. Almost everyone has made a wish on a coin before dropping it into a well or before blowing away an eyelash, but where did those traditions come from?

1. Birthday candles

You can probably thank the Ancient Greeks for putting candles on cakes. Baked goods were brought to the temple of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt and the moon, as offerings; they were adorned with candles to signify the glow of the moon. It was believed that smoke was a vehicle to bring prayers to the gods; that might be the origin of wishing while blowing out candles.

The first birthday cake is believed to be from Germany in the middle ages. Young children would receive these treats for their birthdays in a celebration called Kinderfest. Candles were placed on the cake—one for each year of life, and an extra candle for the coming year—to represent the “light of life.” The superstition is to blow out the candles and make a silent wish.

2. Eyelashes

Wishing on eyelashes was common folklore in the mid-19th century. A fallen eyelash is placed on the back of the hand before the wisher throws it over their shoulder. If the eyelash gets stuck, the wish does not come true. A Cornish schoolgirl version dictates that the eyelash should be placed on the tip of the nose; if she blows it off, she'll get her wish.

3. Shooting stars

Ptolemy, Greco-Egyptian writer and astronomer, believed that shooting stars were a sign that the gods were looking down and listening to wishes.

4. Ladybugs

Ladybugs get their name from the Virgin Mary, who was often portrayed in a red cloak in medieval times. The beetle’s redness represented her cloak, and the black spots were her sorrows. The bugs have long been a symbol of a good harvest, likely due to their knack for eating pests that would harm crops. Farmers would pray to the Virgin Mary to protect their crops, and if ladybugs appeared, the crops would be saved, seemingly miraculously.

Thanks to farmers, ladybugs are considered good luck; if one lands on you, it is believed to grant you a wish.

5. 11:11

The origin of society’s fascination with this number sequence is murky at best, but it’s safe to say it has to do with its satisfying symmetry. Numerologists like Uri Geller believe that the number follows people and occurs too frequently to be coincidence. Geller and like-minded New Age philosophers believe that the numbers hold a mystic power. Skeptics dismiss this theory as confirmation bias, but the trend continues nonetheless.

6. White horses

In the mid-19th century, many British children believed that if you crossed paths with a white horse, you could make a wish. Others would count the white horses they saw and would make a wish after reaching a hundred. Children’s author Alison Uttley grew up in Derbyshire in the 1890s, and had a more complicated version: a hundred white horses, a fiddler, a blind man, and a chimney sweep combined would grant a wish.

7. Wishbones

The origin of wishbones dates back to the Etruscans, an ancient Italian civilization. Believing chickens to hold prophetic powers, the Etruscans would perform a ritual called alectryomancy, or “rooster divination.” Chickens were placed in the middle of a circle divided into wedges (one for each letter of the alphabet). Bits of food were scattered on each section, and scribes would take note of each wedge the chickens snacked from. The letters were then taken to the local priests, who would use the information to answer the city’s questions about the future. It was sort of like an ancient Ouija board.

After the oracle chicken was killed, the wishbone, or furcula, was laid out in the sun to be preserved. People would come to stroke and wish on the bone, believing it to retain the powers of the living chicken. The Romans eventually picked up this tradition, but gave it their own twist: Due to a high demand for the bones, two people would share one and break it in half. The owner of the larger half got their wish.

8. Dandelions

Young girls commonly used dandelions in the 1800s for romantic and oracular purposes. It was believed that if you blew on a dandelion and all the seeds flew away, your loved one returned the feelings; if any seeds remained, they might have reservations or no feelings at all. Children would blow on these flowers while thinking hard about the objects of their affection. Eventually this tradition spread to encompass all wishing, romantic or otherwise.

9. Leprechauns

Leprechauns are mischievous mythological creatures that will supposedly grant you three wishes if you catch one. The ancient Irish folklore can trace its roots back to small river spirits known as luchorpáns, or “small body.” The spirits eventually morphed into the little green-suited men we know today.

A popular folk etymology is that the word comes from the Irish leath bhrogan, or shoemaker. Leprechauns were once thought to be humble cobblers who made a decent living and each had their own pot of gold.

10. Wishing well

According to European folklore, wishing wells were homes for deities, or gifts from gods. Water is a valuable commodity; many early European tribes treated wells as shrines and often placed small statues of gods nearby. People would come to the wells to pray and ask for assistance from the gods. Although the idea that gods are watching over wells has faded with history, the tradition of making wishes and giving an offering (usually a coin) continues.

11. First star

Most people have grown up knowing the following rhyme:

Star light star bright,
The first star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have the wish I wish tonight.

The rhyme dates back to America in the late 19th century. Mothers would sing the rhyme to their children when putting them to bed. Later, the rhyme inspired the song, “When You Wish Upon a Star,” from the 1940 Disney movie, Pinocchio.

All images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise stated. 

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From Snoopy to Shark Bait: The Top Slang Word in Each State
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There’s a minute, and then there’s a hot minute. Defined as “a longish amount of time,” this unit of time is familiar to Alabamians but may stir up confusion beyond the state’s borders.

It’s Louisianans, though, who feel the “most misunderstood,” according to the results of a survey regarding regional slang by PlayNJ. Of the Louisiana residents surveyed, 72 percent said their fellow Americans from other states—even neighboring ones—have a hard time grasping their lingo. Some learned the hard way that ordering a burger “dressed” (with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo) isn’t universally understood, nor is the phrase “to pass a good time” (instead of “to have” a good time).

After surveying 2000 people (with proportional numbers from each state), PlayNJ created a map showing the top slang word in each state. Many are words that are unlikely to be understood beyond state lines, but others—like California’s bomb (something you really like) and New York’s deadass (to be completely serious)—have spread well beyond their respective borders thanks to memes and internet culture.

Hawaiians are also known for their distinctive slang words, with 71 percent reporting that words like shaka (hello) and poho (waste of time) are frequently misunderstood. Shark bait, one of the state’s more colorful terms, refers to tourists who are so pale that they attract sharks.

Check out the full list below and test your knowledge of regional slang words with PlayNJ’s online quiz.

A chart showing the top slang words in each state
PlayNJ
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20 States With the Highest Rates of Skin Cancer
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They don’t call it the Sunshine State for nothing. Floridians get to soak up the sun year-round, but that exposure to harmful UV rays also comes with consequences. Prevention magazine reported that Florida has the highest rate of skin cancer in the U.S., according to a survey by Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS).

BCBS surveyed 9 million of its insured members who had been diagnosed with skin cancer between 2014 and 2016 and found that Florida had the highest rate of skin cancer at 7.1 percent. People living in eastern states tend to be more prone to skin cancer, and diagnoses are more common among women.

Here are the 20 states with the highest rates of skin cancer:

1. Florida: 7.1 percent
2. Washington, D.C.: 5.8 percent
3. Connecticut: 5.6 percent
4. Maryland: 5.3 percent
5. Rhode Island: 5.3 percent
6. Vermont: 5.3 percent
7. North Carolina: 5.2 percent
8. New York: 5 percent
9. Massachusetts: 5 percent
10. Colorado: 5 percent
11. Arizona: 5 percent
12. Virginia: 5 percent
13. Delaware: 4.8 percent
14. Kentucky: 4.7 percent
15. Alabama: 4.7 percent
16. New Jersey: 4.7 percent
17. Georgia: 4.7 percent
18. West Virginia: 4.5 percent
19. Tennessee: 4.5 percent
20. South Carolina: 4.4 percent

It may come as a surprise that sunny California doesn’t make the top 20, and Hawaii is the state with the lowest rate of skin cancer at 1.8 percent. Prevention magazine explains that this could be due to the large population of senior citizens in Florida and the fact that the risk of melanoma, a rare but deadly type of skin cancer, increases with age. People living in regions with higher altitudes also face a greater risk of skin cancer due to the thinner atmosphere and greater exposure to UV radiation, which explains why Colorado is in the top 10.

The good news is that the technology used to detect skin cancer is improving, and researchers hope that AI can soon be incorporated into more skin cancer screenings. To reduce your risk, be sure to wear SPF 30+ sunscreen when you know you’ll be spending time outside, and don’t forget to reapply it every two hours. 

[h/t Prevention]

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