Image composite: Getty Images
Image composite: Getty Images

40 Things Turning 40 in 2016

Image composite: Getty Images
Image composite: Getty Images

If you were born in 1976, you're in good company! You're the same age as Apple, U2, the meme, The Blues Brothers, and a bunch of talented actors. You were also born just as the United States was celebrating its bicentennial ... and getting super into The Eagles. Read on.

1. RYAN REYNOLDS AND BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH 

Lots of hunks were born in 1976, but Ryan Reynolds (October 23) and Benedict Cumberbatch (July 19) have to top this list. Both men have graced various "Sexiest Man Alive" lists, and apparently they're actors as well.

Some more of our favorite actors born in 1976: Cillian Murphy (May 25); Colin Farrell (May 31); Fred Savage (July 9); Adrian Grenier (July 10); Mark Duplass (December 7); and Danny McBride (December 29).

2. U2

In the fall of 1976, 14-year-old drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. posted a flyer on his Irish high school's bulletin board looking for musicians to join him in a new band. In short order he met Adam Clayton (bass), Paul Hewson ("Bono," vocals), and Dave Evans ("The Edge," guitar). The band was first known as Feedback, then changed to The Hype, and finally settled on U2 in 1978.

3. APPLE

On April Fools' Day 1976, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple Computer. The Steves had already been friends for years, having worked on telephone system hacks, Atari's Breakout, and various other projects. But what would put them on the map was Woz's Apple I computer, priced provocatively at $666.66.

There was actually a third Apple founder, Ronald Wayne. He is largely omitted from modern stories about Apple's founding, likely because he left the company on April 12, just 11 days after it began. Oops.

4. THE MEME

In Richard Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene, he coined the term meme, which is now defined by Wiktionary (via Wordnik) as "Any unit of cultural information, such as a practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another."

While today the term also has specific technical connotations (think images posted to the web with text superimposed on them), the original Dawkins idea applied to all ideas that propagated among people through non-genetic means.

5. THE FIRST PLATINUM RECORD // THEIR GREATEST HITS, THE EAGLES 

In 1976, the Recording Industry Association of America introduced the concept of a "Platinum Record," meaning an album or single selling one million units in the U.S. (This was super-confusing because previously the one-million-unit mark had already been achieved.) The Eagles were awarded the first Platinum Record for Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975, which today is basically tied with Michael Jackson's Thriller in sales volume.

6. ALICIA SILVERSTONE, REESE WITHERSPOON, AND RASHIDA JONES

On March 22, Reese Witherspoon entered the world, with the rather wondrous name Laura Jeanne Reese Witherspoon. She was preceded by Rashida Jones (February 25) and followed by Alicia Silverstone (October 4). Silverstone's first acting credit was on TV's The Wonder Years, appearing alongside Fred Savage.

Other notable women of the silver screen born in 1976 include: Kelly Macdonald (February 23); Audrey Tautou (August 9); Anna Faris (November 29).

7. WEIRD AL'S FIRST AIRPLAY 

On March 14, 1976, Dr. Demento played the first "Weird Al" Yankovic song on the radio. That first tune was "Belvedere Cruisin'," recorded on a boombox in the 16-year-old Yankovic's bedroom. The song refers to the Plymouth Belvedere, which was discontinued around 1970.

8. THE BICENTENNIAL QUARTER 

The mid-1970s were filled with U.S. bicentennial events as the country celebrated 200 years of independence. Several U.S. coins were redesigned, most notably the bicentennial quarter, which was marked "1776-1976" on its face and featured a colonial drummer on the reverse. More than 1.5 billion of these quarters made their way into circulation, making them quite common in the pockets of Americans throughout the following few decades.

In addition to the famous quarter, various other bicentennial coins were issued, including a dollar coin showing the Liberty Bell over the face of the moon.

This leads us to ...

9. THE RE-RELEASE OF THE $2 BILL

In 1966, the U.S. stopped printing $2 bills. Featuring Thomas Jefferson on the front, the bill was always useful but also always a little odd, since it was more rare than the $1 and $5 notes. In 1976, the bill returned (with Trumbull's The Declaration of Independence on the back), and contrary to popular myth, it's still being printed and remains in circulation. According to the Treasury Department (emphasis added):

"The $2 bill has not been removed from circulation and is still a circulating denomination of United States paper currency. The Federal Reserve System does not, however, request the printing of that denomination as often as the others. The Series 2003 $2 bill was the last printed and bears the names of former Secretary of the Treasury John W. Snow and Treasurer Rosario Marin. As of April 30, 2007 there were $1,549,052,714 worth of $2 bills in circulation worldwide."

And since that was written, the Treasury has (intermittently) printed more $2 bills, most recently in 2014.

10. THE MUPPET SHOW 

Although there had been two pilot episodes aired as specials in the years prior, The Muppet Show officially premiered in the United States as a syndicated show in September 1976. Because Jim Henson had several complete shows produced, stations could pick which one they started the series off with; most chose the one starring Rita Moreno (for which she won an Emmy). The show was an immediate hit around the world, though it struggled in U.S. ratings initially. (It had been turned down by all three networks, and was only made when British TV mogul Lord Lew Grade funded the series on a handshake deal with Henson, insisting only that it be filmed in England.)

11. THE BLUES BROTHERS

In a January 17 musical performance on Saturday Night Live, proto-Jake and Elwood Blues (John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd) showed off their musical chops to the world. Although they weren't fully formed as a comedy act ("We're on a mission from God, ma'am"), or even a band (they initially performed dressed as bees, calling themselves "Howard Shore and his All-Bee Band"), the energy was undeniable. Prior to that musical performance, the duo (typically backed up by the SNL house band) played as a warmup act before the live show. It wasn't until April 1978 that the Blues Brothers performed on SNL wearing their signature outfits.

12. THAT BOGUS "FACE" ON MARS (...AND VIKING 1 & 2 LAND ON MARS)

On July 20, Viking 1 became the first American spacecraft to land on Mars, following a bunch of Soviet probes that had landed (or crash-landed) in years prior. Although the spacecraft had originally been slated to land on July 4 (a rather important date for the United States, ahem), plans were changed after the original landing site was deemed unsuitable and NASA needed to find a new site. July 20 was still an auspicious day, though: It marked the seven-year anniversary of humans landing on the moon.

After the landing, the Viking 1 orbiter (the rover's orbiting friend) went about searching for a landing site for Viking 2 and sent back plenty of photos, including one which shows that creepy "face" staring up. As subsequent photos and studies have demonstrated, the "face" is just a lump of rock with some shadows, but that didn't stop decades of conspiracy theorists from commenting on it.

After its landing and main experiments concluded, Viking 1 spent six years taking and sending pictures back to Earth. Its sister craft, Viking 2, landed on September 3.

13. ROCKY 

Sylvester Stallone became famous as the eponymous Rocky, a boxer working as a debt-collector for a loan shark in Philly. When Rocky gets a chance to fight Apollo Creed, his life changes forever (and, indeed, Stallone's career changed forever). The film took home three Oscars, including Best Picture, and introduced us to the pained cry "Adrian!" It also popularized the Philadelphia Museum of Art, also known as "The Rocky Steps," where Rocky pumps his fists.

14. THE SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

In 1974, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle awarded an expansion franchise to a group in Seattle, and by 1975 a local contest gave us the name "Seahawks." The team first took the field on August 1, 1976, playing a pre-season game against the 49ers.

15. THE TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Tampa, Florida, also got a new franchise. Jacksonville attorney Hugh Culverhouse received the franchise after failing to buy the LA Rams. A contest chose the name "Buccaneers," referring to Florida's history of coastal pirates. The three-syllable name was pretty much instantly shortened to "Bucs."

The Bucs had a tough time starting out—record-breakingly rough. The 1976 Bucs had a record 0-14 season (the Lions finally broke this by going 0-16 in 2008), suffered tons of injuries, and were mocked on late-night TV. It took until Week 13 in the 1977 season for the Bucs to catch a break, winning their first regular-season game against the New Orleans Saints. For more detail on the rough early years, enjoy the gloriously detailed Wikipedia section entitled The worst team in the league (1983–1996).

16.  THE ACTORS WHO PLAYED KIMMY GIBBLER AND STEVE URKEL, OUR FAVORITE SITCOM NEIGHBORS 

Although their signature roles wouldn't come until the 1980s, 1976 saw the birth of Jaleel White on November 27 and Andrea Barber on July 3. White would go on to play Steve Urkel on Family Matters and Barber was Kimmy Gibbler on Full House. Both actors are, weirdly, best known as annoying-but-lovable neighbors on sitcoms.

17. CARRIE (THE FILM)

Stephen King's breakthrough novel Carrie came out in 1974, and by November 3, 1976, we had the Brian De Palma-directed film in theaters. The film earned Oscar nominations for Sissy Spacek as the title character, and for Piper Laurie, who played her abusive mother. In 1999, an ill-conceived Carrie 2 came out. It wasn't exactly a hit. (It earned a staggering 21 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.)

18. NETWORK

On November 27, the stunning satire Network introduced us to the phrase, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch, who won a posthumous Oscar for the performance) played a dangerously unhinged TV anchor, who promised to commit suicide on air in order to boost ratings. As the movie goes on, Beale digs himself into ever-deeper holes with his madness, and the audience eats it up as network executives let it happen. Network took home four Oscars, including Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay (non-adapted). Not too shabby.

19. THE FIRST ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW MIDNIGHT SCREENING 

Although The Rocky Horror Picture Show was released in 1975, it really became a cultural staple on April Fools' Day 1976 (the same day Apple was founded!) when the Waverly Theater in Greenwich Village started showing it at midnight. Previous midnight programming at the Waverly (including a Night of the Living Dead run) had established its audience's tolerance for camp, and suddenly, an American tradition was born. Within the year, audiences developed dialogue to yell at the screen, theater-goers made costumes, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show became a cult classic.

20. THE LAST AMERICAN SLIDE RULE

On July 11, Keuffel & Esser manufactured its last slide rule in the United States. For four decades, K&E had been making popular slide rules, but digital calculators were faster and more accurate, which accounts for why most people under age 40 today don't even know what a slide rule is. The last K&E slide rule was donated to the Smithsonian.

That leads us to ...

21. THE CRAY-1 SUPERCOMPUTER

Cray Research installed its first supercomputer, the Cray-1, at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The computer cost $8.8 million, weighed 11,500 pounds, ran at 160 megaflops, and was cooled by liquid Freon. The machine was insanely powerful for its time, and spent five years as the fastest supercomputer on the planet (until the Cray X-MP came out).

Without getting too technical, yes, the computer in your smartphone (or even your dumbphone) is radically faster than the Cray-1. Deeply, profoundly, staggeringly faster. But does your phone come with its own sectional couch to go around it? No, it does not.

22. THE RAMONES' EPONYMOUS  FIRST ALBUM

On February 4, the Ramones released their album Ramones, featuring the cult anthems "Blitzkrieg Bop," "Judy Is a Punk," "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend," and "Beat on the Brat." The longest song on the album is two and a half minutes, which is totally punk rock. Another punk concept they pioneered was the use of pseudonyms; all band members adopted the last name "Ramone," although none of them were related.

23. THE CN TOWER 

Toronto's CN Tower had its grand opening on October 1. It was the world's tallest tower at the time, and also the world's tallest free-standing structure. (It remained so for more than three decades!)

Built as a monument to Canadian industry, the CN Tower is a radical skyscraper. In the SkyPod, you can sometimes feel a slight sway. If you ever have the opportunity to go up, do it. Otherwise, just keep an eye open for the color symbolism shown on the tower throughout the year.

24. BILL GATES'S "OPEN LETTER TO HOBBYISTS"

On February 3, Bill Gates wrote a famous open letter to computer hobbyists. In it, he asked people to pay for software, which was actually something people had to argue about at the time. (In the mid-1970s, "Micro-Soft" BASIC was being pirated all over the place and hobbyists typically placed little or no value on software, but they paid for hardware.) In part, Gates wrote:

The feedback we have gotten from the hundreds of people who say they are using BASIC has all been positive. Two surprising things are apparent, however, 1) Most of these "users" never bought BASIC (less than 10% of all Altair owners have bought BASIC), and 2) The amount of royalties we have received from sales to hobbyists makes the time spent on Altair BASIC worth less than $2 an hour.

Why is this? As the majority of hobbyists must be aware, most of you steal your software. Hardware must be paid for, but software is something to share. Who cares if the people who worked on it get paid? ...

...I would appreciate letters from any one [sic] who wants to pay up, or has a suggestion or comment. ...

The strategy appears to have worked, because Microsoft (it dropped the hyphen later in 1976) went on to bring in loads of cash selling software. Indeed, its success in the software business created an estimated 10,000 millionaires, plus three billionaires.

25. FAMILY FEUD

On July 12, Family Feud debuted on ABC. Hosted by Richard Dawson of Hogan's Heroes and Match Game fame, the show had the same format it does today: two families guessed answers to simple questions, often with awkward results. In the premiere episode (seen in the video above), the Abramowitz family was asked to name "Something you can do to a nose." As the family members screamed "Pick! Pick! Pick!," the Abramowitz matriarch was mortified, murmuring, "Powder?" but finally gave in to her family's answer. "Pick" was in fact on the board, and won them the round. ("Powder," however, was the better answer.)

26. LAVERNE & SHIRLEY 

On January 27, Laverne & Shirley premiered on ABC as a spin-off from Happy Days. It starred Penny Marshall (her brother Garry Marshall served as producer) and Cindy Williams as the title characters, who worked in the "Shotz Brewery" in Milwaukee. Also notable is the appearance of a young Michael McKean as Lenny Kosnowski, their upstairs neighbor. (McKean's college friend and bandmate David Lander played Squiggy.)

Two notable albums came from this show: Lenny and the Squigtones (one song shown above), and Laverne & Shirley Sing.

27. THE EAGLES' HOTEL CALIFORNIA 

The same year that The Eagles had the first-ever Platinum record with their Greatest Hits album, they also released Hotel California, which was a massive hit. Hotel California came out on December 8, along with the single "New Kid in Town" (the title track wasn't a single until 1977).

28. ALEX HALEY'S ROOTS

In 1976, Alex Haley's Roots: The Saga of an American Family brought Kunta Kinte to American readers. The novel followed Kunta's enslavement and subsequent generations' struggles, leading down a family tree to Haley himself.

At the time, Haley said the book was largely based on oral history within his family, though it was later shown to be a mixture of fact and fiction (and indeed, Kunta Kinte's life was lifted at least in part from anthropologist Harold Courlander's book The African). This led to Haley calling it "faction" (fact + fiction). Literary issues aside, Roots was an incredible success, and was rapidly adapted into the landmark 1977 TV miniseries. The novel spent 22 weeks at the top of The New York Times Best Seller List. It spawned a renewed interest in genealogy as well as the history of slavery in America.

29. BIG RED GUM 

Cinnamon-flavored Big Red gum debuted in 1976. By 1979 the famous "Kiss a Little Longer" slogan was introduced, and ads like the one above pounded home the message that Big Red was a breath-freshener. You know, for people seeking to extend their make-out sessions.

30. TAXI DRIVER

On February 8, Americans met Travis Bickle, a Marine and Vietnam vet who drove a cab through a filthy New York City. (The filth was real, due to a sanitation workers' strike going on during filming.) Taxi Driver was bleak and brutal, and we have 13 grimy facts about it. My favorite? "You talkin' to me?" came from Bruce Springsteen.

31. THE QUEEN'S FIRST EMAIL 

On March 26, Queen Elizabeth II sent her first email (sorry, "e-mail") from the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment in Malvern, Worcestershire. Connected to the ARPANET, Her Majesty showed up, punched a few keys, and instantly became the most wired monarch in the world. Her username? "HME2," chosen by Peter Kirstein, who had set up the ARPANET node.

32. FIRST EBOLA OUTBREAK(S)

Ebola was first identified in 1976 when it broke out in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) and Sudan (now South Sudan), infecting more than 300 people and killing most of them. Initially called Ebola hemorrhagic fever, it was named for the Ebola River, near the site of the Zaire outbreak. After many outbreaks since, the largest epidemic to date occurred in West Africa starting in 2013, causing more than 11,000 deaths.

33. THE BAND PERFORMS THE LAST WALTZ

On November 25, The Band performed The Last Waltz, its final show. The show was packed full of guest stars and filmed by Martin Scorsese, who released his landmark documentary (and the hit soundtrack) in 1978. Years later, a black-and-white alternate recording surfaced, showing another view of the famous concert (and demonstrating the extent to which the finished music had been enhanced with overdubs).

34. STEVE WONDER'S SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE

Stevie Wonder's masterpiece album Songs In the Key of Life came out on September 28. The double-disc album (plus bonus seven-inch EP) had tremendous musical depth, and in 1977 it won the Grammy for Best Album, Pop Male Vocalist, and Producer of the Year. In 2015, Wonder concluded a world tour performing Songs in its entirety.

35. "SILLY LOVE LONGS" BY WINGS

On April Fools' Day (also the day Apple was founded, and the day the Rocky Horror Picture Show midnight screenings began), Wings released the song of the summer: "Silly Love Songs." The biggest single from Wings at the Speed of Sound, "Silly Love Songs" was a reaction by Paul McCartney to criticism that he mainly wrote love songs of little substance.

(There was another contender for song of the summer of '76, though: "Afternoon Delight," which released in April and hit #1 by mid-July.)

36. THE FDA'S BAN ON RED DYE NO. 2 (AND THE DISCONTINUATION OF RED M&Ms)

Early in 1976, Red Dye No. 2, also called amaranth, was banned by the FDA. It was a tremendously common food coloring at the time, so the ban caused many food companies to pull products from store shelves and reformulate them.

The story of the ban is a complex tale of murky science, in which various studies disagreed about a possible link between the food additive and cancer. Mars went ahead and discontinued red M&Ms, despite never having used Red Dye No. 2 in them—their concern was that the public might assume the candy contained the coloring, as red was now a bit of a tainted color.

Within a decade, red M&Ms were back but Red Dye No. 2 remains banned.

37. NEAR-PEAK DAVID BOWIE: THE THIN WHITE DUKE, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, and STATION TO STATION

On January 23, David Bowie released his tenth studio album, Station to Station. The album was recorded while Bowie was heavily addicted to cocaine, and he later recalled very little of its recording. It's also the first appearance of Bowie's character The Thin White Duke, developed in part for another major project released in 1976: The Man Who Fell to Earth. (The character was retired in 1977.)

On March 18, The Man Who Fell to Earth was released in the UK, featuring Bowie in his first major film role. (He said he “didn't really know what was being made at all" due to the aforementioned massive cocaine addiction.) Based on the 1963 novel by Walter Tevis, the film follows Thomas Jerome Newton, a very human-like alien who visits Earth seeking water for his drought-stricken home world, and ends up becoming an alcoholic. It became a cult classic, and Bowie became sober shortly after.

38. PEYTON MANNING & RONALDO 

On March 24, Peyton Manning was born. He's currently a five-time NFL MVP. On September 18, Brazilian soccer legend Ronaldo was born. Known as "the phenomenon," he's among the best strikers (and overall soccer players) ever.

39. THE FIRST COMMERCIALLY AVAILABLE LASER PRINTER

In 1976, if you wanted a finely-printed document, you weren't going to make it with a home computer. The advent of desktop publishing was still years away, but the first laser printer to be used in business did arrive in 1976. IBM installed the IBM 3800, a laser printer designed to replace the noisy line printers typically used in data centers. It printed on fanfold paper and was designed to print high volume documents like bank statements and financial reports.

A year later, Xerox responded with its Xerox 9700, a cut-sheet laser printer, which was the first to support loading alternate fonts.

40. HAIR CLUB FOR MEN

In 1976, Sy Sperling founded the Hair Club for Men due to his dissatisfaction with the quality of hair replacement solutions for men dealing with baldness. In TV ads, he famously proclaimed, "I'm not only the Hair Club president, but I'm also a client." By 1995, the Hair Club had expanded to include services for women, and by 2000, Sperling sold the business to a private equity firm.

If you're a fan of Sy Sperling and/or his Hair Club, check out the documentary Roots: The Hair-Raising Story of a Guy Named Sy.

All images courtesy of Getty Images

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Afternoon Map
From Snoopy to Shark Bait: The Top Slang Word in Each State
iStock
iStock

There’s a minute, and then there’s a hot minute. Defined as “a longish amount of time,” this unit of time is familiar to Alabamians but may stir up confusion beyond the state’s borders.

It’s Louisianans, though, who feel the “most misunderstood,” according to the results of a survey regarding regional slang by PlayNJ. Of the Louisiana residents surveyed, 72 percent said their fellow Americans from other states—even neighboring ones—have a hard time grasping their lingo. Some learned the hard way that ordering a burger “dressed” (with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo) isn’t universally understood, nor is the phrase “to pass a good time” (instead of “to have” a good time).

After surveying 2000 people (with proportional numbers from each state), PlayNJ created a map showing the top slang word in each state. Many are words that are unlikely to be understood beyond state lines, but others—like California’s bomb (something you really like) and New York’s deadass (to be completely serious)—have spread well beyond their respective borders thanks to memes and internet culture.

Hawaiians are also known for their distinctive slang words, with 71 percent reporting that words like shaka (hello) and poho (waste of time) are frequently misunderstood. Shark bait, one of the state’s more colorful terms, refers to tourists who are so pale that they attract sharks.

Check out the full list below and test your knowledge of regional slang words with PlayNJ’s online quiz.

A chart showing the top slang words in each state
PlayNJ
nextArticle.image_alt|e
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
arrow
The Body
10 Facts About the Appendix
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock

Despite some 500 years of study, the appendix might be one of the least understood structures in the human body. Here's what we know about this mysterious organ.

1. THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS CALLED IT THE "WORM" OF THE BOWEL.

The human appendix is small, tube-shaped, and squishy, giving ancient Egyptians, who encountered it when preparing bodies for funerary rites, the impression of a worm. Even today, some medical texts refer to the organ as vermiform—Latin for "worm-like."

2. THE APPENDIX SHOWS UP IN LEONARDO DA VINCI’S DRAWINGS.

The earliest description of a human appendix was written by the Renaissance physician-anatomist Jacopo Berengario da Carpi in 1521. But before that, Leonardo da Vinci is believed to drawn the first depiction of the organ in his anatomical drawings in 1492. Leonardo claimed to have dissected 30 human corpses in his effort to understand the way the body worked from mechanical and physiological perspectives.

3. IT'S ABOUT THE SIZE OF A PINKY FINGER.

The appendix is a small pouch connected to the cecum—the beginning of the large intestine in the lower right-hand corner of your abdomen. The cecum’s job is to receive undigested food from the small intestine, absorb fluids and salts that remain after food is digested, and mix them with mucus for easier elimination; according to Mohamad Abouzeid, M.D., assistant professor and attending surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center, the cecum and appendix have similar tissue structures.

4. CHARLES DARWIN THOUGHT IT WAS A VESTIGIAL ORGAN …

The appendix has an ill-deserved reputation as a vestigial organ—meaning that it allegedly evolved without a detectable function—and we can blame Charles Darwin for that. In the mid-19th century, the appendix had been identified only in humans and great apes. Darwin thought that our earlier ancestors ate mostly plants, and thus needed a large cecum in which to break down the tough fibers. He hypothesized that over time, apes and humans evolved to eat a more varied and easier-to-digest diet, and the cecum shrank accordingly. The appendix itself, Darwin believed, emerged from the folds of the wizened cecum without its own special purpose.

5. … BUT THE APPENDIX PROBABLY EVOLVED TO HELP IMMUNE FUNCTION.

The proximity and tissue similarities between the cecum and appendix suggest that the latter plays a part in the digestive process. But there’s one noticeable difference in the appendix that you can see only under a microscope. “[The appendix] has a high concentration of the immune cells within its walls,” Abouzeid tells Mental Floss.

Recent research into the appendix's connection to the immune system has suggested a few theories. In a 2015 study in Nature Immunology, Australian researchers discovered that a type of immune cells called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) proliferate in the appendix and seem to encourage the repopulation of symbiotic bacteria in the gut. This action may help the gut recover from infections, which tend to wipe out fluids, nutrients, and good bacteria.

For a 2013 study examining the evolutionary rationale for the appendix in mammal species, researchers at Midwestern University and Duke University Medical Center concluded that the organ evolved at least 32 times among different lineages, but not in response to dietary or environmental factors.

The same researchers analyzed 533 mammal species for a 2017 study and found that those with appendices had more lymphatic (immune) tissue in the cecum. That suggests that the nearby appendix could serve as "a secondary immune organ," the researchers said in a statement. "Lymphatic tissue can also stimulate growth of some types of beneficial gut bacteria, providing further evidence that the appendix may serve as a 'safe house' for helpful gut bacteria." This good bacteria may help to replenish healthy flora in the gut after infection or illness.

6. ABOUT 7 PERCENT OF AMERICANS WILL GET APPENDICITIS DURING THEIR LIFETIMES.

For such a tiny organ, the appendix gets infected easily. According to Abouzeid, appendicitis occurs when the appendix gets plugged by hardened feces (called a fecalith or appendicolith), too much mucus, or the buildup of immune cells after a viral or bacterial infection. In the United States, the lifetime risk of getting appendicitis is one in 15, and incidence in newly developed countries is rising. It's most common in young adults, and most dangerous in the elderly.

When infected, the appendix swells up as pus fills its interior cavity. It can grow several times larger than its average 3-inch size: One inflamed appendix removed from a British man in 2004 measured just over 8 inches, while another specimen, reported in 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, measured 8.6 inches. People with appendicitis might feel generalized pain around the bellybutton that localizes on the right side of the abdomen, and experience nausea or vomiting, fever, or body aches. Some people also get diarrhea.

7. APPENDECTOMIES ARE ALMOST 100 PERCENT EFFECTIVE FOR TREATING APPENDICITIS.

Treatment for appendicitis can go two ways: appendectomy, a.k.a. surgical removal of the appendix, or a first line of antibiotics to treat the underlying infection. Appendectomies are more than 99 percent effective against recurring infection, since the organ itself is removed. (There have been cases of "stump appendicitis," where an incompletely removed appendix becomes infected, which often require further surgery.)

Studies show that antibiotics produce about a 72 percent initial success rate. “However, if you follow these patients out for about a year, they often get recurrent appendicitis,” Abouzeid says. One 2017 study in the World Journal of Surgery followed 710 appendicitis patients for a year after antibiotic treatment and found a 26.5 percent recurrence rate for subsequent infections.

8. AN INFECTED APPENDIX DOESN’T ACTUALLY BURST.

You might imagine a ruptured appendix, known formally as a perforation, being akin to the "chestbuster" scene in Alien. Abouzeid says it's not quite that dramatic, though it can be dangerous. When the appendix gets clogged, pressure builds inside the cavity of the appendix, called the lumen. That chokes off blood supply to certain tissues. “The tissue dies off and falls apart, and you get perforation,” Abouzeid says. But rather than exploding, the organ leaks fluids that can infect other tissues.

A burst appendix is a medical emergency. Sometimes the body can contain the infection in an abscess, Abouzeid says, which may be identified through CT scans or X-rays and treated with IV antibiotics. But if the infection is left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the abdomen, a serious condition called peritonitis. At that point, the infection can become life-threatening.

9. SURGEONS CAN REMOVE AN APPENDIX THROUGH A TINY INCISION.

In 1894, Charles McBurney, a surgeon at New York's Roosevelt Hospital, popularized an open-cavity, muscle-splitting technique [PDF] to remove an infected appendix, which is now called an open appendectomy. Surgeons continued to use McBurney's method until the advent of laparoscopic surgery, a less invasive method in which the doctor makes small cuts in the patient's abdomen and threads a thin tube with a camera and surgical tools into the incisions. The appendix is removed through one of those incisions, which are usually less than an inch in length.

The first laparoscopic appendectomies were performed by German physician Kurt Semm in the early 1980s. Since then, laparoscopic appendectomies have become the standard treatment for uncomplicated appendicitis. For more serious infections, open appendectomies are still performed.

10. AN APPENDIX ONCE POSTPONED A ROYAL CORONATION.

When the future King Edward VII of Great Britain came down with appendicitis (or "perityphlitis," as it was called back then) in June 1902, mortality rates for the disease were as high as 26 percent. It was about two weeks before his scheduled coronation on June 26, 1902, and Edward resisted having an appendectomy, which was then a relatively new procedure. But surgeon and appendicitis expert Frederick Treves made clear that Edward would probably die without it. Treves drained Edward's infected abscess, without removing the organ, at Buckingham Palace; Edward recovered and was crowned on August 9, 1902.

11. THE WORLD'S LONGEST APPENDIX MEASURED MORE THAN 10 INCHES.

On August 26, 2006, during an autopsy at a Zagreb, Croatia hospital, surgeons obtained a 10.24-inch appendix from 72-year-old Safranco August. The deceased currently holds the Guinness World Record for "largest appendix removed."

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios