8 Odd Things That Were Illegal in the '90s


For those who grew up in the '90s, the decade will forever be linked with things like POGs and that strange sound the modem made when it was connecting to the internet. But it was also a time when society was in flux, and some of the old laws that were on the books suddenly started to look ridiculous. It took a while to repeal them, but these eight things that were against the law in the '90s are totally legal today.


In 1995, one Florida beer drinker wanted to drink one of his favorite beers that he would often get in New Jersey, a 15.5 ounce weiss. But he couldn’t. Not because no one was willing to sell it to him, but because it was illegal: Florida law required “[a]ll malt beverages packaged in individual containers sold or offered for sale by vendors at retail in this state” to be “in individual containers containing only 8, 12, 16, or 32 ounces of such malt beverages.”

Among other things, this precluded some of the specialist craft brews that were starting to emerge, as well as most European brews, because Europeans tend to bottle in milliliters, which often don’t convert to nice round ounces. Some blamed the law on the large beer sellers deliberately keeping these beers out of the Florida market, while a major distributer speculated it was for easier taxation. Come 2001, the craft brew lovers won, and the wording was removed from the law (although 64 ounce growlers remained illegal in Florida until mid-2015).


Planning on traveling through Ebensburg, Pennsylvania? If you’re a communist, you can breathe safely knowing you won’t need to register as someone promoting “the evil forces of communism” (apparently a direct quote from the ordinance). According to the Observer-Reporter, the community passed an ordinance in 1950 requiring all communists entering or leaving Ebensburg to register with the chief of police, and the mayor was required to publish a list of known communists. In 1996, communists were again allowed to travel freely through that part of Pennsylvania.


Going into the '90s, several states had bans on fortune telling (especially for a profit). Coming out of the '90s, some of those states had either dropped their bans or had their bans dropped for them. One such law was in Nebraska, where Michael Argello was charged with running a fortune-telling business in direct violation of a Lincoln Ordinance. The case went to the Court of Appeals, which overturned the law based on First Amendment concerns, stating “[the g]overnment is not free to declare certain beliefs—for example, that someone can see into the future—forbidden,” specifying that if someone wants to believe the Earth is flat, the government has no power to stop them. Unlike other items on this list though, there are still some states that ban fortune telling, such as Pennsylvania. So predict the future carefully.


In 1989, Congress passed the Ethics Reform Act, which, beginning in 1991, prevented any government employee from doing any paid speeches or appearances whatsoever. The motivation was admirable—protect sitting government officials from accusations of graft. But the law was so broad people soon began having problems. No more preaching on Sundays, and according to the Lawrence Journal-World, even moonlighting as a dance teacher was an offense for all government employees (dance was "construe[d] as speaking for a fee," according to the paper). Another odd casualty? Crossword puzzle writers. One government investigator was explicitly told that he’d have to either give up his night job of writing crossword puzzles or write them for free.

The law was widely condemned, with even the Bush administration admitting it was poorly worded. In 1992, the law was amended to cover only official appearances, and in 1995, the Supreme Court largely gutted the law for most government employees because it was too broad.


This was not a law per se, but at the beginning of the '90s, women weren’t allowed to wear pants on the Senate floor (ladies had been wearing pantsuits off and on in the House since 1969). This wasn’t so much an issue for senators—though there had been a couple of female senators in the preceding decades, it wasn’t until Paula Hawkins in 1980 that a woman was elected to a full term without a husband or father preceding her (Hazel Abel, who was elected in 1954, only served a few months to fill out a term of the previous office holder). But the rule had a massive effect on staffers: Senate historian Richard A. Baker told the Washington Post that "We've heard from women staff that in the 1980s, if they came in to work—if they were called in on an emergency basis—they needed to keep a dress to put on quickly or they had to borrow one if they had to appear on the Senate floor.” This ended in 1993, when Senators Carol Moseley-Braun and Barbara Mikulski defiantly wore pants on the Senate floor. Soon, the female staffers followed (pant)suit, and the dress code was amended.

The United States Senate wasn't the only place where allowing women to wear pants was controversial. In 1994, the California Senate twice killed a bill that would have prevented employers from prohibiting women to wear pants to work. Not long after, though, lawmakers apparently realized that there was an election coming up in which women would be voting, so they passed the law, allowing women to choose their attire without their employer's approval.


In 1999, a task force attempted to get rid of some of the odder laws in Michigan. Among them was a law that made it a crime to advertise “the treating or curing of venereal diseases, the restoration of ‘lost manhood’ or ‘lost vitality or vigor.’” State Senator Thaddeus McCotter pointed out that, technically, this meant that those icons of the '90s, Bob Dole’s Viagra ads, were in violation of state law. But apparently the legislature of Michigan was deeply concerned about “lost vitality” ads appearing in their state, because the law was only successfully repealed in 2015.


Another of the crop of laws Michigan repealed in 2015 that no one in the '90s knew they were violating had to do with "The Star-Spangled Banner." Michigan law stated that you couldn’t perform the song in any public place (including theaters, motion picture halls, and restaurants) without performing it in its entirety, with no embellishments of other songs. But the most inexplicable is the final sentence, which specifies that the song cannot be played “for dancing.” Because so many people have tried ...


One more law repealed in that same group was the prohibition against dueling. While presumably dueling is still banned under other parts of Michigan’s state code, they also removed the law prohibiting “reproachful or contemptuous language” [PDF] in print against anyone who declines a duel challenge.


One of the strangest of Michigan's laws on the books dated back to 1915 and said that anyone in Michigan who killed a rat was entitled to a five-cent bounty (later upped to 10 cents). All someone needed to do was kill a rat, deliver it to a town or city clerk, and collect the bounty, assuming the rat was “in [a] state of good preservation." The clerk would then “destroy the heads of such rats by burning.” This law was soon forgotten, but every so often it reemerged to horrify a local clerk. For instance, in 1985, Marathon Township Clerk Laura Ring was told that an enterprising resident had 76 dead rats and wanted to know how to go about collecting the bounty. Ring would later say, "I went to the board meeting wearing surgical gloves that month ... I actually had visions of a sack of rats appearing on the front doorstep.” (Thankfully, the sack never appeared.) Clerks (and rats) were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief when the law was repealed in 2000.

Charles Dickens Museum Highlights the Author's Contributions to Science and Medicine

Charles Dickens is celebrated for his verbose prose and memorable opening lines, but lesser known are his contributions to science—particularly the field of medicine.

A new exhibition at London’s Charles Dickens Museum—titled "Charles Dickens: Man of Science"—is showcasing the English author’s scientific side. In several instances, the writer's detailed descriptions of medical conditions predated and sometimes even inspired the discovery of several diseases, The Guardian reports.

In his novel Dombey and Son, the character of Mrs. Skewton was paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak. Dickens was the first person to document this inexplicable condition, and a scientist later discovered that one side of the brain was largely responsible for speech production. "Fat boy" Joe, a character in The Pickwick Papers who snored loudly while sleeping, later lent his namesake to Pickwickian Syndrome, otherwise known as obesity hypoventilation syndrome.

A figurine of Fat Boy Joe
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Dickens also wrote eloquently about the symptoms of tuberculosis and dyslexia, and some of his passages were used to teach diagnosis to students of medicine.

“Dickens is an unbelievably acute observer of human behaviors,” museum curator Frankie Kubicki told The Guardian. “He captures these behaviors so perfectly that his descriptions can be used to build relationships between symptoms and disease.”

Dickens was also chummy with some of the leading scientists of his day, including Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, and chemist Jane Marcet, and the exhibition showcases some of the writer's correspondence with these notable figures. Beyond medicine, Dickens also contributed to the fields of chemistry, geology, and environmental science.

Less scientifically sound was the author’s affinity for mesmerism, a form of hypnotism introduced in the 1770s as a method of controlling “animal magnetism,” a magnetic fluid which proponents of the practice believed flowed through all people. Dickens studied the methods of mesmerism and was so convinced by his powers that he later wrote, “I have the perfect conviction that I could magnetize a frying-pan.” A playbill of Animal Magnetism, an 1857 production that Dickens starred in, is also part of the exhibit.

A play script from Animal Magnetism
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Located at 48-49 Doughty Street in London, the exhibition will be on display until November 11, 2018.

[h/t The Guardian]

Beyond Wanderlust: 30 Words Every Traveler Should Know

For those who travel, wanderlust is a familiar feeling. It’s that nagging voice in your head that says, “Yes, you do need to book that flight,” even if your bank account says otherwise. Regardless of how many passport covers this word may adorn, it doesn’t begin to cover the spectrum of emotions and experiences that can be revealed through the act of travel. Here are 30 travel words from around the world to keep in your back pocket as you're exploring this summer.


From the Latin vagari, meaning “to wander,” this 16th-century word originally meant a wandering journey. Nowadays, "vagaries" refer to unpredictable or erratic situations, but that doesn’t mean the old sense of the word can’t be invoked from time to time.


An Old English word that refers to something that’s both strange and marvelous. It's a great way to sum up those seemingly indescribable moments spent in an unfamiliar land.


Who hasn’t felt a strong desire to be somewhere—anywhere—other than where you currently are? That’s fernweh, or “farsickness," and this German word has been described as a cousin of wanderlust, another German loan word.


A busy street in Hong Kong

Anyone who has traveled abroad will recognize this feeling. The French word refers to the sense of disorientation that often sets in when you step outside your comfort zone, such as when you leave your home country.


Another gift from the French, this word literally translates to “drift,” but thanks to some mid-20th century French philosophers, it can also refer to a spontaneous trip, completely free of plans, in which you let your surroundings guide you.


To peregrinate is to travel from place to place, especially on foot. Its Latin root, peregrinus (meaning “foreign”), is also where the peregrine falcon (literally “pilgrim falcon”) gets its name.


Similar to peregrinate, this word essentially means to travel over or through an area by foot. So instead of saying that you’ll be walking around London, you can say you’ll be perambulating the city’s streets—much more sophisticated.


The Grand Canyon

This English word could appropriately be used to describe the Grand Canyon or the Northern Lights. Something numinous is awe-inspiring and mysterious. It's difficult to understand from a rational perspective, which gives it a spiritual or unearthly quality.


The young and the restless will want to incorporate this word into their lexicon. The adjective refers to those who are constantly moving from place to place—in other words, a nomadic existence. It stems from the Greek word peripatein (“to walk up and down”), which was originally associated with Aristotle and the shaded walkways near his school (or, according to legend, his habit of pacing back and forth during lectures).


You’re alone in a forest. It’s peaceful. The sun is filtering through the trees and there’s a light breeze. That’s waldeinsamkeit. (Literally "forest solitude." And yes, Germans have all the best travel words.)


In a similar vein, this Japanese word means “forest bathing,” and it's considered a form of natural medicine and stress reliever. There are now forest bathing clubs around the world, but you can try it out for yourself on your next camping trip. Take deep breaths, close your eyes, and take in the smells and sounds of the forest. Simple.


In those moments when you just want to run away from your responsibilities, you may consider becoming a solivagant: a solo wanderer.


This Japanese phrase literally translates to “a meal eaten sideways,” which is an apt way to describe the awkwardness of speaking in a foreign language that you haven’t quite mastered, especially over dinner.


A woman at the airport

You just booked your flight. Your heart starts racing. You’re a little nervous about your journey, but mostly you just can’t wait to get going. The anticipation, anxiety, and excitement you get before a big trip is all rolled into one word—resfeber—and you can thank the Swedes for it.


Taken from the French flâner, meaning to stroll or saunter, this word describes someone who has no particular plans or place they need to be. They merely stroll around the city at a leisurely pace, taking in the sights and enjoying the day as it unfolds.


This could be construed as the traditional English equivalent of flâneur. Likely stemming from the Middle English verb gadden, meaning “to wander without a specific aim or purpose,” a gadabout is one who frequently travels from place to place for the sheer fun of it. In other words: a modern-day backpacker.


Sometimes, no matter how amazing your vacation may be, you just want to come home to your bed and cats. This Welsh word sums up the deep yearning for home that can strike without warning. As Gillian Thomas put it in an interview with the BBC, “Home sickness is too weak. You feel hiraeth, which is a longing of the soul to come home to be safe.”


The karst peaks of Guilin, China

This Japanese word can be taken to mean “graceful elegance” or “subtle mystery,” but it’s much more than that. It's when the beauty of the universe is felt most profoundly, awakening an emotional response that goes beyond words.


Translating to “threshold anxiety,” this German word sums up the fears that are present before you enter somewhere new—like a theater or an intimidating cafe—and by extension going anywhere unfamiliar. The fear of crossing a threshold is normal, even among the most adventurous of travelers—but it often leads to the most unforgettable experiences.


Have you ever seen something so beautiful it made you cry? That’s commuovere in action. The Italian word describes the feeling of being moved, touched, or stirred by something you witness or experience.


This Danish word refers to a warm feeling of contentedness and coziness, as well as the acknowledgement of that feeling. Although not explicitly related to this term, author Kurt Vonnegut summed up the idea behind this concept quite nicely when he said, “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'"


Here's one for those who have a beach trip coming up. Taken from Kwangali, a language spoken in Namibia, hanyauku is the act of tiptoeing across hot sand.


A patch of wild strawberries

This Swedish word translates to something along the lines of “place of wild strawberries,” but its metaphorical meaning is something along the lines of a "happy place." Whether it’s a hidden overlook of the city or your favorite vacation spot that hasn’t been “discovered” yet, smultronställe refers to those semi-secret places you return to time and time again because they’re special and personal to you.


This Old English word describes what might happen when you visit a place like Pompeii or a ghost town. While reflecting on past civilizations, you realize that everything will eventually turn to dust. A cheery thought.


In some Spanish dialects, the word vacilando describes someone who travels with a vague destination in mind but has no real incentive to get there. In other words, the journey is more important than the destination. As John Steinbeck described it in his travelogue Travels With Charley: “It does not mean vacillating at all. If one is vacilando, he is going somewhere, but doesn't greatly care whether or not he gets there, although he has direction. My friend Jack Wagner has often, in Mexico, assumed this state of being. Let us say we wanted to walk in the streets of Mexico city but not at random. We would choose some article almost certain not to exist there and then diligently try to find it.”


Backpackers and budget travelers, this one is for you: The Hebrew word lehitkalev translates to “dog it” and means to deal with uncomfortable living or travel arrangements.


Sun shining in the woods

This beautiful Japanese word is a good one to save for a sunny day spent in the woods. Komorebi translates to “sunshine filtering through the leaves.” Does it get any lovelier than that?

28. RAMÉ

This Balinese word refers to something that is simultaneously chaotic and joyful. It isn’t specifically a travel word, but it does seem to fit the feelings that are often awakened by travel.


Translating to a “lucky find,” this French word can be applied to that cool cafe, flower-lined street, or quirky craft store that you stumbled upon by chance. Indeed, these are the moments that make travel worthwhile.


Just in case you needed another reason to plan that trip to Yosemite, here's one last word for nature lovers. The Sanskrit word ullassa refers to the feelings of pleasantness that come from observing natural beauty in all its glory.


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