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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
How Are Royal Babies Named?
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Jack Taylor, Getty Images

After much anticipation, England's royal family has finally received a tiny new addition. The birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's second son was confirmed by Kensington Palace on April 23, but the name of the royal newborn has yet to be announced. For the heir to the British throne and his wife, choosing a name for their third child—who is already fifth in line to the throne—likely won't be as easy as flipping through a baby name book; it's tradition for royals to select names that honor important figures from British history.

According to ABC WJLA, selecting three or four names is typical when naming a royal baby. Will and Kate followed this unwritten rule when naming their first child, George Alexander Louis, and their second, Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. Each name is an opportunity to pay homage to a different British royal who came before them. Some royal monikers have less savory connotations (Prince Harry's given name, Henry, is reminiscent of a certain wife-beheading monarch), but typically royal babies are named for people who held a significant and honorable spot in the family tree.

Because there's a limited pool of honorable monarchs from which to choose, placing bets on the royal baby name as the due date approaches has become a popular British pastime. One name that keeps cropping up this time around is James; the original King James ruled in the early 17th century, and it has been 330 years since a monarch named James wore the crown.

If the royal family does go with James for the first name of their youngest son, that still leaves at least a couple of slots to be filled. So far, the couple has stuck with three names each for their children, but there doesn't seem to be a limit; Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne to George VI in 1936, shouldered the full name of Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David.

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 Does the Queen Have Two Birthdays?
CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images
CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images

On April 21, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will turn 92 years old. To mark the occasion, there are usually a series of gun salutes around London: a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park, and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. For the most part, the monarch celebrates her big day privately. But on June 9, 2018, Her Majesty will parade through London as part of an opulent birthday celebration known as Trooping the Colour.

Queen Elizabeth, like many British monarchs before her, has two birthdays: the actual anniversary of the day she was born, and a separate day that is labeled her "official" birthday (usually the second Saturday in June). Why? Because April 21 is usually too cold for a proper parade.

The tradition started in 1748, with King George II, who had the misfortune of being born in chilly November. Rather than have his subjects risk catching colds, he combined his birthday celebration with the Trooping the Colour.

The parade itself had been part of British culture for almost a century by that time. At first it was strictly a military event, at which regiments displayed their flags—or "colours"—so that soldiers could familiarize themselves. But George was known as a formidable general after having led troops at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, so the military celebration seemed a fitting occasion onto which to graft his warm-weather birthday. Edward VII, who also had a November birthday, was the first to standardize the June Trooping the Colour and launched a tradition of a monarchical review of the troops that drew crowds of onlookers.

Even now, the date of the "official" birthday varies year to year. For the first seven years of her reign, Elizabeth II held her official birthday on a Thursday but has since switched over to Saturdays. And while the date is tied to the Trooping the Colour in the UK, Commonwealth nations around the world have their own criteria, which generally involve recognizing it as a public holiday.

Australia started recognizing an official birthday back in 1788, and all the provinces (save one) observe the Queen's Birthday on the second Monday in June, with Western Australia holding its celebrations on the last Monday of September or the first Monday of October.

In Canada, the official birthday has been set to align with the actual birth date of Queen Victoria—May 24, 1819—since 1845, and as such they celebrate so-called Victoria Day on May 24 or the Monday before.

In New Zealand, it's the first Monday in June, and in the Falkland Islands the actual day of the Queen's birth is celebrated publicly.

All in all, just another reason it's great to be Queen.

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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