CLOSE
iStock
iStock

Why Do Clowns Wear Red Noses?

iStock
iStock

Love ‘em or completely terrified of them, there’s no mistaking clowns when they’ve donned their signature red noses. The feature is a classic part of the costume, but it is likely traced back to a trio of brothers in a circus family.

The Fratellinis were a family of performers; the patriarch, Gustavo, was a trapeze artist, while his sons—Paul, François, and Albert—worked as clowns. When Paul’s partner Louis died in 1909, he and his brothers became a trio, with each one taking on a unique persona: François, the elegant yet pompous clown, donned a white face; Albert—originally playing the contre-auguste, a role now referred to as just Auguste—assumed a more exaggerated face with dark brows and a red nose; and Paul took a middle road between the two, with less makeup.

The Auguste clown has since become its own kind of character; generally the joker in the act, the oddball who wears ill-fitting clothing and has exaggerated features—including a bright red nose. One of the most famous clowns in history is reported to have helped develop the Auguste character.

In the years following World War I, Lou Jacobs performed with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and became a career clown, entertaining for six decades. His obituary in The New York Times noted that “Mr. Jacobs's whiteface makeup with its gargantuan, goofy smile, outlandish eyebrows and plum-sized nose was the emblem for the Ringling circus, and he may have been the world's most famous living clown.” (By the way, he’s also credited with popularizing the now-iconic clown car!)

If there is any uncertainty of Jacobs’ legacy, his costume—including his red nose—was so iconic that when his image was put on a postage stamp in 1966, he became one of the first living people to be honored on the medium. (He’s often incorrectly stated as the first, but the likely actual first was the 1945 "Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima" stamp, where half of the six were still alive when it was issued.)

One legend surrounding the red nose dates back to before both the Fratellinis and Jacobs: As the story goes, in the 1860s, a German circus performer named Tom Belling was wearing oversized clothes and ended up being accidentally pushed into the ring of the show. (The reasoning for his attire and how he found himself in the spotlight varies from tale to tale.) One consistency is Belling falling, bloodying his nose and the crowd chanting “auguste”—German slang for “fool”—at him. Thus, the buffoon stereotype of the Auguste clown, as well as the signature red nose, was born.

While Belling’s story frames the iconic clown image as a happy accident, many regard the tale as more legend than truth. The exact origin of the clown nose is uncertain, but its role in pop culture is much more assured. Clowns and their signature red noses are as much a symbol of the circus as the tents themselves.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images
arrow
Big Questions
What Are Curlers Yelling About?
WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images
WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images

Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
travel
Why You Should Never Take Your Shoes Off On an Airplane
iStock
iStock

What should be worn during takeoff?

Tony Luna:

If you are a frequent flyer, you may often notice that some passengers like to kick off their shoes the moment they've settled down into their seats.

As an ex-flight attendant, I'm here to tell you that it is a dangerous thing to do. Why?

Besides stinking up the whole cabin, footwear is essential during an airplane emergency, even though it is not part of the flight safety information.

During an emergency, all sorts of debris and unpleasant ground surfaces will block your way toward the exit, as well as outside the aircraft. If your feet aren't properly covered, you'll have a hard time making your way to safety.

Imagine destroying your bare feet as you run down the aisle covered with broken glass, fires, and metal shards. Kind of like John McClane in Die Hard, but worse. Ouch!

Bruce Willis stars in 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

A mere couple of seconds delay during an emergency evacuation can be a matter of life and death, especially in an enclosed environment. Not to mention the entire aircraft will likely be engulfed in panic and chaos.

So, the next time you go on a plane trip, please keep your shoes on during takeoff, even if it is uncomfortable.

You can slip on a pair of bathroom slippers if you really need to let your toes breathe. They're pretty useless in a real emergency evacuation, but at least they're better than going barefoot.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios