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Why Is an Informant Called a “Stool Pigeon”?

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Pigeons aren’t particularly talkative birds. They prefer to spend their time on windowsills and park statues rather than ottomans, all of which leads us to believe that the expression “stool pigeon” wasn’t originally meant to be taken literally.

Indeed, several sources (including the Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins) indicate that the term most likely evolved from the Old French word estale, which dates back to the 1400s and was used to describe a decoy bird (often a pigeon) used to lure birds of prey into a net. When it entered the English language, the initial “e” was dropped from the word and stale was used to refer to a person or thing used as a lure to entrap a person. (William Shakespeare was referring to burglar bait when he wrote “The trumpery in my house, go bring it hither for stale to catch these thieves” in The Tempest.)

The phrase "stool pigeon" first appeared sometime during the early 1800s, with Noah Webster using it to describe a pigeon hunting tactic where a pigeon was tied to a moving stool to make the bird flutter and attract a large flock of pigeons for easy catching. But the animal uses are relatively rare compared to the frequency with which the phrase is used to describe people, when it was used to describe not just any old decoy, but one who would infiltrate a criminal enterprise and then report back to law enforcement personnel with their findings just to curry favor with the local cops.

Many etymologists think that the association between the phrase and an actual physical "stool pigeon" is a false etymology, not least of all because references to the hunting method are extremely rare, while references to it as a person are common.

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What Are Curlers Yelling About?
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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.

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Why You Should Never Take Your Shoes Off On an Airplane
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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)
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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.

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