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The Fleeting Fame of the New Year’s Baby

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Being born on New Year's Day can bring you fame and a little bit of luck—that is, if you’re first and at the right hospital.

It’s not clear precisely when newspapers and television broadcasts began announcing the arrival of the year’s first babies. But the image of a baby representing a fresh start dates back to ancient Greece. Each year, Greeks celebrated the rebirth of Dionysus, the god of fertility and wine. Part of the festivities included placing a baby in a basket and parading the infant through town.

While there are fewer (if any) baby parades now, there’s still a ton of attention when it comes to the tiny face of a new year. Between 1906 and 1943, The Saturday Evening Post featured its own rendition of the New Year baby on every first-of-the-year issue. And classic films like Rudolph’s Shiny New Year reinforced the tiny icon’s popularity while showing just how hard New Year babies have it (hint: they get a lot of attention).

By J. C. Leyendecker (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons

So, it’s no wonder that being the first baby born in a given year is a pretty big deal. And maybe that’s why some New Year’s babies have scored prizes of all sizes, scholarships, and free meals for their parents. While it’s not a universal rule that the first baby born on January 1 gets gifts, it’s been a common marketing tool for businesses to donate prizes to the newly birthed for decades.

Take Bonnie Lee Little from Cambridge, Massachusetts, who won a bundle of gifts for being born right after midnight in 1960. But not all those gifts were for her. Along with gift certificates to local stores, a crib mattress, and a comb and brush set, Little’s parents also received “two deluxe dinners” at a nearby Italian restaurant, 14 dozen donuts, and $10. In 2007, Toys "R" Us held a "First Baby of the Year Sweepstakes" in the U.S. with a $25,000 savings bond prize. Diapers.com gave away a year’s worth of free diapers to the first baby of 2015 born in New York City, along with a free cab ride home. Car seats, strollers, and gift cards are also common gifts. In some regions, hospitals will release New Year babies with gift baskets or certificates for things they’ll need during their 12-month reign as New Year's royalty.

But those gifts are tame compared to the pandemonium of potentially having a globally famous millennium baby. In 1999, a British TV show Birthrace 2000 featured families looking to bring home the first baby of the new century. Some baby stores even sold $50 “Millennium Conception Kits” to help couples aim for the perfect date (March 25 through April 1, 1999 was considered the prime window for conceiving a millennium New Year baby).

So, what about babies that just miss the midnight delivery? There’s still a prize for parents in the form of a tax deduction for the year. While the 2000 New Year's baby competition seemed intense, some doctors say their patients aren’t overly concerned with precisely meeting the midnight deadline because there’s no exact way to know if a baby is truly first. Larger cities with multiple hospitals often have several New Year's babies with no clear winner, and it's nearly impossible to determine a national first baby. But, that doesn’t mean being a New Year's newborn is normal—the odds of having a baby within the first minute of the ball drop is close to that of being struck by lightning.

As for babies born first in coming years, they could be a little less famous. Many hospitals are nixing the New Year's publicity as a safety precaution against increasing child abductions. Instead, some families have to contact news stations on their own. But that doesn’t mean the New Year's birth tradition isn’t something to strive for—babies born on the first day of the year supposedly have the best luck throughout their long lives.

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12 Things Called ‘French’ In English and Whether They're Actually French
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Happy Bastille Day! To celebrate this French holiday, let’s take a look at some of the things we call "French" in English that may not be French at all.

1. FRENCH TOAST

They don’t eat French toast in France. There, it’s called pain perdu ("lost bread," because it’s what you do with stale bread) or pain doré (golden bread). In the 17th century French toast was a term used for any kind of bread soaked and then griddled: In a 1660 citation, it refers to bread soaked in wine with sugar and orange and then cooked.

2. FRENCH VANILLA

Vanilla is a bean from a tropical plant not grown in France, so what’s so French about French vanilla? French vanilla was originally not a term for a type of vanilla, but a type of vanilla ice cream, one made using a French technique with an eggy, custard base. It’s since detached from ice cream and become a flavor with a certain rich profile.

3. FRENCH DRESSING

Originally the phrase French dressing referred to the type of dressing people might actually eat in France: oil, vinegar, herbs, maybe a little mustard. But somehow during the early 20th century it came to be the name for a pinkish-red, ketchup-added version that’s totally American.

4. FRENCH PRESS

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In France, the French press coffeemaker, a pot for steeping coffee grounds with a plunger for filtering them out, is called a cafetière à piston or just a bodum after the most common brand. It may have been invented in France, but the first patent for one was taken out by an Italian in 1929. The style of coffee became popular in France in the 1950s, and was later referred to by American journalists as "French-press style coffee."

5. FRENCH KISS

The term French kiss, for kissing with tongue, came into English during World War I when soldiers brought the phrase—and perhaps the kissing style—back from the war with them. French had long been used as a common adjective for various naughty, sexually explicit things like French letters (condoms), French postcards (naked pictures), and French pox (VD). In French, to kiss with the tongue is rouler un patin, “roll a skate” (having to do with gliding?), but in Québec they do say frencher.

6. FRENCH HORN

In French, a French horn is a cor d’harmonie or just cor, a name given to the looping, tubed hunting horns that were made in France in the 17th century. French became to the way to distinguish it from other horn types, like the German or Viennese horn, which had different types of tubes and valves.

7. FRENCH FRIES

The phrase French fries evolved in North America at the end of the 19th century out of the longer “French fried potatoes.” The dish is said to be more properly Belgian than French, but it was introduced to America by Thomas Jefferson after he brought a recipe back from France. In French they are simply pommes frites, fried potatoes.

8. FRENCH MANICURE

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The French manicure, a pinkish, nude nail with a bright, whitened tip, was apparently invented in Hollywood in the 1970s. It began to be called a French manicure after the look made it to fashion runways. The style isn’t as popular in France, but women there do tend toward a groomed look with a natural color. In France, the term has been borrowed in from English: It's called la French manucure.

9. FRENCH BRAID

The term French braid (or French plait in British English) has been around since the 1870s, but the braid style itself, where hair is gathered gradually from the sides of the head over the course of braiding, has been around for thousands of years, according to archeological artifacts. It may have become associated with France simply for being seen as high fashion and French being equated with stylishness. In French, they also call this specific style of braid a French braid, or tresse française.

10. FRENCH TWIST

The vertically rolled and tucked French twist hairdo also came to be in the 19th century, and was also associated with French high fashion. In French it is called a chignon banane for its long, vertical shape.

11. FRENCH MAID

Housemaids in 19th-century France did wear black and white uniforms—though they were not quite as skimpy as the French maid costumes you see today. The French maid became a trope comic character in theater and opera, and the costume, along with other titillating characteristics, came to define what we now think of as the classic French maid.

12. FRENCH BREAD

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These days French bread has come to stand for any white bread with a vaguely baguette-like shape, whether or not it has a traditional, crusty exterior. It has been used as a term in English as far back as the 15th century to distinguish it from other, coarser types of bread.

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The Chemistry of Fireworks and Sparklers
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Independence Day is upon us, and that means grilling, s’mores, and plenty of good old-fashioned explosions. In other words: lots and lots of chemistry. For a breakdown of exactly how our favorite pyrotechnics work, check out the videos below from the American Chemical Society.

As a professor emeritus at Washington College, John Conkling may have one of the coolest jobs ever: experimenting with explosive chemicals and teaching his students to do the same. As Conkling explains in the video above, every explosion in a fireworks display is the result of two separate chemical reactions: one to launch the device into the air, and another that produces all those ooh- and ahh-inspiring sparkles.

The sparkles themselves are tiny flecks of metal, burning up in midair. Getting them to explode is easy, Conkling says. But getting them to explode blue? That’s a science

While sparklers may look like miniature, handheld fireworks, the mechanics are quite different. They do rely on fuel and oxidation like fireworks, but rather than just going off in midair, those reactions have to occur safely on a metal stick. Sparklers’ reactive chemicals are mixed with a binder that keeps the fire in place and slows it down, so you can enjoy your tiny explosions for just a little longer.

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