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Why There Are So Many Bicycles in the Netherlands

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Getty

Though Sunday is ostensibly a day of rest, in practice, it's usually a day for errand-running, church-going, and family-visiting. In other words, while most people aren't commuting, they're still putting plenty of miles on their cars. Not so for citizens of the Netherlands during the last handful of Sundays in 1973. Whatever the Dutch were up to, they did it on two wheels, not four—and not by choice.

Although the bicycle had long been a common mode of transportation in the Netherlands, the popularity of the car continued to grow after the war, just like in the U.S. Unfortunately, more cars also meant more car accidents. More than 3000 citizens were in fatal wrecks in 1971, 450 of them children. The tragic deaths sparked a national movement called Stop de Kindermoord—“Stop the Child Murder.”

But even the increase in fatalities wasn’t enough to put the brakes on cars; what finally brought the situation to a head was the oil crisis of 1973, when the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) proclaimed an oil embargo. In an attempt to conserve resources, the government announced Car-Free Sundays. Where 3 million sedans and vans usually roamed, bicycles and even horses took over the streets. Children roller skated down the middle of formerly busy thoroughfares. People had picnics on freeways. And only a few people disobeyed; just 239 vehicles were impounded the first day.Picknicken op een autosnelweg 

The official mandate was lifted just a couple of months later on January 6, 1974, but many people continued to use alternative means of transportation (although the roller skating down packed avenues probably stopped). With so much public support for the movement, the government and urban planners worked together to make roads more cycle-centric than car-centric—and the plan worked. These days, there are tens of millions of bikes in the Netherlands—and only 8 million cars.

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How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?
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Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

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Watch Boris Karloff's 1966 Coffee Commercial
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TAKWest, Youtube

Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.

But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace

In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly. 

Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff. 

[h/t: Retroist]

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