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Did Americans Really Call French Fries "Freedom Fries"?

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Taylor writes: I'm a high school student and my history teacher just told us about how the United States once called French fries "freedom fries" to spite France. Please tell me he's joking.

Yes, there was a time when some Americans decided to call French fries "freedom fries"—embarrassingly, a number of those people happened to be elected officials in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In early 2003, the United States was in the midst of a (rather unsuccessful) attempt to drum up worldwide support for a potential war with Iraq. While cobbling together a "coalition of the willing," many historical allies of the U.S. said, "Nope." One notable dissenter was France, whose officials had been vocally opposed to the imminent conflict. "As we’ve said from the outset," French Foreign affairs Minister Dominique de Villepin said in January 2003, "we will not join in military intervention that did not have international support... We believe that military intervention would be the worst solution."

By March, the course had been set. The UN couldn't find evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but the United States made it clear that invasion was inevitable. War fever grew, and "with us or against us" found its way to the U.S. House of Representatives cafeteria. Rep. Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican who was chairman of the House Administration Committee and therefore in charge of operations for the Capitol complex, ordered that the word "French" be removed from all affiliated menus. French fries would become "freedom fries," French toast "freedom toast." According to the New York Times, "The action was unilateral."

Barely a week before U.S. forces (along with troops from the U.K., Australia, and Poland) officially invaded Iraq, a sign was placed in the Longworth House Office Building food court that read, ''Update: Now serving in all House office buildings. Freedom fries.''

"This action today is a small, but symbolic effort to show the strong displeasure of many on Capitol Hill with the actions of our so-called ally, France," Rep. Ney said at the time.

The idea for the change came from North Carolina Representative Walter B. Jones, who was inspired by Cubbie's, a restaurant in his home state that had earned a little bit of press after deciding to rename their fries. Jones passed the suggestion on to Rep. Ney, who instituted the change.

When reached for a statement by the Times, a French Embassy spokeswoman said, ''I wonder if it's worth a comment. Honestly. We are working these days on very, very serious issues of war and peace, life or death. We are not working on potatoes.'' She also noted that French fries are, in fact, Belgian.

This wasn't the first wartime name-switch in U.S. history. In the late '50s, the Cincinnati Reds became the "Redlegs" in light of the McCarthy era and the Red Scare. During WWI, German measles were dubbed "Liberty Measles."

Neal Rowland, the owner of Cubbie's, said his decision to update the menu was inspired after learning about some of these decades-old name-switches. He is pictured above, outside of Cubbie's. According to Yelp, his Beaufort, N.C. eatery no longer exists.

Rep. Bob Ney resigned from Congress in 2006 for his role in the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal. (Ney was eventually sentenced to 30 months in jail.) Upon leaving his post as chairman of the House Administration Committee, all the menus in the Capitol and connected buildings were changed, and French fries were finally served again.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Stuffing and Dressing?
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For carbohydrate consumers, nothing completes a Thanksgiving meal like stuffing—shovelfuls of bread, celery, mushrooms, and other ingredients that complement all of that turkey protein.

Some people don’t say “stuffing,” though. They say “dressing.” In these calamitous times, knowing how to properly refer to the giant glob of insulin-spiking bread seems necessary. So what's the difference?

Let’s dismiss one theory off the bat: Dressing and stuffing do not correlate with how the side dish is prepared. A turkey can be stuffed with dressing, and stuffing can be served in a casserole dish. Whether it’s ever seen the inside of a bird is irrelevant, and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be met with suspicion, if not outright derision.

The terms are actually separated due to regional dialects. “Dressing” seems to be the favored descriptor for southern states like Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, while “stuffing” is preferred by Maine, New York, and other northern areas. (Some parts of Pennsylvania call it "filling," which is a bit too on the nose, but to each their own.)

If “stuffing” stemmed from the common practice of filling a turkey with carbs, why the division? According to The Huffington Post, it may have been because Southerners considered the word “stuffing” impolite, so never embraced it.

While you should experience no material difference in asking for stuffing or dressing, when visiting relatives it might be helpful to keep to their regionally-preferred word to avoid confusion. Enjoy stuffing yourselves.

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
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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