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Jennifer Dickert, Wikimedia Commons /  CC by 2.0 
Jennifer Dickert, Wikimedia Commons /  CC by 2.0 

Why Are Wedding Rings Worn on the Left Hand?

Jennifer Dickert, Wikimedia Commons /  CC by 2.0 
Jennifer Dickert, Wikimedia Commons /  CC by 2.0 

For years, couples have dedicated a single "ring" finger to romance when any other digit would do. A case of left side, strong side? Not according to history.

In medieval times, getting caught scribbling with one's left hand could earn accusations of being possessed and, during the Spanish Inquisition, lefties were more likely to be tortured or killed. In fact, the aversion touched many cultures, from the long-standing taboo in Islamic countries against eating and drinking with one’s left hand, to the expectation in ancient Japan that any wife who didn’t favor her right could be legally divorced on the spot, no questions asked. So why do we favor a finger on a cursed hand to symbolize lasting love?

Past perception wasn't all bad. The union between marriage and the now-standard ring placement can be traced back to second-century Egyptians who falsely believed that “a certain most delicate nerve” began in the fourth left finger and stretched directly to the heart, according to the Greek scholar Appian. Centuries later, the Romans came to a similar conclusion. In place of a nerve, they were convinced that a vena amoris—or “lover’s vein”—connected this digit with the blood-pumping organ.

During the Roman engagement process, a well-off suitor who could afford a ring would slip it over his bride-to-be’s fourth finger. Thus, he’d always have a symbolic grip around her lover’s vein. The modern world may have adopted that practice from the Romans. 

Still, others argue that reverence for the fourth finger begun as an early Christian ritual. While crossing themselves in an Orthodox Church, worshipers are expected to join the thumb with the index and middle fingers. Historians contend that the group represented the father, son, and Holy Ghost when placed together, while the “ring” finger signified earthly love, making it the perfect location for a spouse’s wedding ring.

Until the seventeenth century, Orthodox couples normally wore their rings on the right hand (an extremity that’s associated with strength) and most Europeans of all faiths followed suit. But during the Reformation in 1549, an English Bishop and Protestant reformer named Thomas Cranmer used wedding rings as a way to break from tradition. That year, he published The Book of Common Prayer, which instructs couples to ditch a centuries-old practice in favor of slipping their wedding rings over the left fourth finger. Before long, husbands and wives throughout the continent were doing so.

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Big Questions
Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?
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Why do people have such a hard time staying awake after Thanksgiving dinner? Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. And what is tryptophan, anyway?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts, and a slew of other foods. Some of these foods, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats: That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol: What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating: Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

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
How Are Balloons Chosen for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?
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Getty Images

The balloons for this year's Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade range from the classics like Charlie Brown to more modern characters who have debuted in the past few years, including The Elf On The Shelf. New to the parade this year are Olaf from Disney's Frozen and Chase from Paw Patrol. But how does the retail giant choose which characters will appear in the lineup?

Balloon characters are chosen in different ways. For example, in 2011, Macy’s requested B. Boy after parade organizers saw the Tim Burton retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. (The company had been adding a series of art balloons to the parade lineup since 2005, which it called the Blue Sky Gallery.) When it comes to commercial balloons, though, it appears to be all about the Benjamins.

First-time balloons cost at least $190,000—this covers admission into the parade and the cost of balloon construction. After the initial year, companies can expect to pay Macy’s about $90,000 to get a character into the parade lineup. If you consider that the balloons are out for only an hour or so, that’s about $1500 a minute.

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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