13 Facts About the Tooth Fairy

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Losing a tooth can be a scary experience, so it’s no surprise that parents throughout history have created rituals to celebrate this rite of passage. In the United States, children who leave a newly lost tooth under their pillow know to expect a nocturnal visit from the Tooth Fairy, who might leave a shiny quarter, a new toothbrush, or perhaps even a crisp $20 bill! But how did this tradition begin, and what is a tooth really worth? Here are 13 bite-sized facts about our favorite dainty dental dealer.

1. THE TOOTH FAIRY IS YOUNGER THAN YOU MIGHT EXPECT.

Compared to the two other main figures in modern American mythology, the Tooth Fairy is the new kid on the block. Santa Claus can be traced back to Saint Nicholas, born around 280 CE, and the Easter Bunny arrived in the United States with German immigrants during the 1700s, but the very earliest reference to the Tooth Fairy appears in a Chicago Daily Tribune "Household Hints" column from September 1908. Tribune reader Lillian Brown wrote in to suggest that "Many a refractory child will allow a loose tooth to be removed if he knows about the tooth fairy. If he takes his little tooth and puts it under the pillow when he goes to bed the tooth fairy will come in the night and take it away, and in its place will leave some little gift." The story was further popularized by Esther Watkins Arnold’s 1927 play for children, The Tooth Fairy.

2. BUT CELEBRATING A LOST TOOTH IS A LONGSTANDING UNIVERSAL TRADITION.

While the specific concept of a fairy is recent, cultures around the world have been commemorating lost baby teeth for hundreds of years. In the 13th century, Islamic scholar Ibn Abi el-Hadid referenced the Middle Eastern tradition of throwing a baby tooth into the sky (or "to the sun") and praying for a better tooth to replace it. Throwing teeth is a common practice: In Turkey, Mexico, and Greece, children traditionally toss their baby teeth onto the roof of their house. In India, Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines, lower teeth are thrown upward but teeth from the upper jaw are thrown to the floor, to encourage the new adult teeth to grow straight. Traditions aren't always sunny, though—Norwegian and Finnish children are warned of Hammaspeikko, the "tooth troll" who comes for children who don’t brush.

3. EVEN THE VIKINGS PRIZED BABY TEETH.

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Think the Vikings were too busy pillaging to celebrate baby teeth? In fact, the Norse Eddas—myths, verse, and poetry from 13th century Scandinavia—make reference to the tand-fé ("tooth fee"), a small payment from parent to child to recognize the other side of the milestone—when an infant's first tooth came in. The ancient poem "Grimnismal" even notes that Alfheim, the "fairy world" in Norse mythology, was given to their god Frey as a "tooth gift" in his youth. According to various sources, some Viking warriors would later wear their children’s teeth as talismans, believing they’d bestow luck and protection in battle.

4. SOMETIMES THE FAIRY IS A MOUSE.

Many global baby-tooth traditions are tied to rodents. Psychiatrist and physician Leo Kanner’s 1928 study "Folklore of the Teeth" references children offering their lost baby teeth to mice, rats, squirrels, or other animals known to have sturdy teeth. In Spain, author Luis Coloma developed the character El Ratoncito Pérez as a Tooth Fairy analog for the boy-king Alfonso XIII. El Ratoncito Pérez is still popular in most Spanish-speaking countries today, and has even appeared in modern marketing campaigns for Colgate toothpaste. Likewise, in France and Belgium, children wait for La Petite Souris ("the little mouse") and leave him not only baby teeth, but morsels of cheese as well.

5. THE AVERAGE AMERICAN TOOTH IS CURRENTLY WORTH AROUND $3.19.

What’s a tooth worth? According to an annual survey conducted by Visa, 32 percent of children receive a single dollar, which is by far the most common amount. But 5 percent of children received $20 or more, bringing the nationwide average to $3.40 in 2014. Unsurprisingly, the value of a tooth is tied not only to family income level, but geographic region—the Tooth Fairy tends to be more generous in the Northeast and stingier in the South and West. Confused about how much to give your sweet dreamer? Visa now provides a helpful calculator to check what other children in their demographic are receiving.

6. THE VALUE OF TEETH FLUCTUATES WITH THE MARKET.

Insurance group Delta Dental has also been tracking average Tooth Fairy rewards since 1998, and comparing their results to stock market activity. They've found that in at least 12 of the past 15 years, trends in Tooth Fairy payouts have correlated to movement in the S&P 500. Their study also notes that in 2015, the Tooth Fairy gave out a total of $256 million dollars—that’s a lot of teeth!

7. ROSEMARY WELLS WAS AMERICA’S FOREMOST TOOTH FAIRY EXPERT …

In the 1970s, Northwestern University professor Rosemary Wells realized that while the practice of replacing baby teeth with money was extremely popular, little was known about the origins of the Tooth Fairy. Wells took it upon herself to interview anthropologists, parents, and children; write a series of magazine articles exploring the roots of the character; and conduct a national survey of 2000 parents to learn more about families’ various traditions and interpretations. Her fascination with the topic even led to an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and she had her business cards labeled with "Tooth Fairy Consultant."

8. … AND SHE FOUNDED THE TOOTH FAIRY MUSEUM IN DEERFIELD, ILLINOIS.

Dr. Wells's Tooth Fairy research led to her amassing a sizable collection of memorabilia, and in 1993 she turned her split-level suburban home in Deerfield, IL into the Tooth Fairy Museum. A popular choice for local elementary school field trips, the museum contained art, dolls, books, and other memorabilia celebrating depictions of the Tooth Fairy across various cultures. The museum closed following Dr. Wells's death in 2000.

9. THE FAIRY CAN HELP PROMOTE HEALTHY HABITS.

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In addition to commemorating a milestone, many parents now use the Tooth Fairy as a means of promoting good dental hygiene from a young age. Vicki Lansky, author of more than two dozen parenting and household books, cleverly suggests, "Let your child know early on that the tooth fairy pays more for a perfect [tooth] than for a decayed one." Other parents have gotten creative with conditional gifts—like a note promising an extra $20 if the child brushed her teeth every day after lunch for a month.

10. NO ONE’S QUITE SURE WHAT THE TOOTH FAIRY LOOKS LIKE …

Unlike Santa, there isn’t a widely-held consensus on the Fairy’s appearance. Most cartoons and books depict a winged female sprite or pixie, much like Tinkerbell, bearing a wand and trailing sparkles in her wake. But Dr. Wells's 1984 survey found that while 74 percent of Americans viewed the Tooth Fairy as female, another 12 percent envisioned the Fairy as neither male nor female. Other responders gave less traditional answers: Some imagined the Tooth Fairy as a bear, a bat, a dragon, or even "a potbellied, cigar smoking, jeans clad tiny flying male."

11. … WHICH MIGHT EXPLAIN A WIDE VARIETY OF CASTING CHOICES.

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The Tooth Fairy is a recurring character in modern cinema, and has been portrayed by a diverse assortment of actors and actresses. The 2010 comedy Tooth Fairy cast former wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as a bruising hockey star who is pressed into Fairy-duty; the 2012 straight-to-video sequel re-used the concept with comedian Larry the Cable Guy in the title role. Veteran actor Art LaFleur donned the wings for both The Santa Clause 2 and The Santa Clause 3. Meanwhile, actress Isla Fisher voiced an animated (and extremely birdlike) version of the Tooth Fairy for the 2012 Golden-Globe nominated film Rise of the Guardians, while Amy Sedaris played a delightfully deranged version on the kiddie show Yo Gabba Gabba!

12. THE TOOTH FAIRY INSPIRED A PROMINENT SKEPTIC.

As a fictional character, you wouldn’t expect the Tooth Fairy to appear in many serious publications. But Dr. Harriet Hall, an Air Force flight surgeon, skeptic, and critic of alternative medicine, has coined the term "Tooth Fairy Science" to describe the importance of ensuring a phenomenon actually exists before studying it. Dr. Hall offers this fantastic example of how a carefully crafted experiment may still yield an invalid result:

If you don’t consider prior probability, you can end up doing what I call Tooth Fairy Science. You can study whether leaving the tooth in a baggie generates more Tooth Fairy money than leaving it wrapped in Kleenex. You can study the average money left for the first tooth versus the last tooth. You can correlate Tooth Fairy proceeds with parental income. You can get reliable data that are reproducible, consistent, and statistically significant. You think you have learned something about the Tooth Fairy. But you haven’t. Your data has another explanation, parental behavior, that you haven’t even considered. You have deceived yourself by trying to do research on something that doesn’t exist.

13. NATIONAL TOOTH FAIRY DAY IS FEBRUARY 28 (OR MAYBE AUGUST 22?)

According to no less an authority than www.toothfairy.org, National Tooth Fairy Day is celebrated annually on February 28. However, other sources and calendars also list the holiday on August 22. (With such a busy schedule, the Fairy surely deserves two days, right?) The second week of August is also recognized as National Smile Week (to promote dental health) so a follow-up celebration for the Tooth Fairy seems appropriate. (But the cynics among us might note that February 27 is Sword Swallower's Day [PDF], so perhaps the Fairy has some extra work to do.)

15 Animal Names That Can Be Used As Verbs

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People can go fishing, rabbit on incessantly, dog one another, and horse around. But because of their usefulness in completing burdensome work, horse has also been used in (originally naval) slang since the mid-19th century to mean “to work to the point of exhaustion”—or, in the words of the Oxford English Dictionary, “to drive or urge at work unfairly or tyrannically.” But horses aren’t the only animals whose names can be “verbed.” From turtles to tigers, you can drop any one of these 15 creatures into your everyday conversation.

1. Bulldog

No one is entirely sure why bulldogs are called bulldogs, with different theories pointing to everything from their bull-like stature to their bullish faces to the fact that they might once have been bred to bait bulls. Whatever the origin, the bulldog’s strength and its robust, resilient behavior means that you can use its name as a verb meaning “to attack roughly,” or “to wrestle to the ground.”

2. Tiger

A tiger
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If you tiger, then you walk to and fro, like a tiger pacing in a cage. If you tiger something, then you paint or mark it with contrasting stripes.

3. Spider

Jumping spider
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As well as being used simply to mean “to creep” or “to move like a spider,” if you ensnare or entrap something, or else cover it in a cobweb-like pattern, then you spider it.

4. Cat

British shorthair cat with expressive orange eyes
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Because the cathead is the horizontal beam at the bow of a ship that’s used to raise an anchor, the word cat has a number of nautical uses as a verb, including “to lift an anchor from the water,” “to secure an anchor,” and “to draw an anchor through the water.” But because shooting the cat was 19th century slang for being sick from drinking too much, you can also use cat to mean “to vomit.”

5. Vulture

White-backed vulture
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Vultures’ grim feeding habits and their remarkable flying ability have given the word two meanings as a verb in English. Feel free to use it to mean “to eat voraciously” or “to tear at your food,” or else “to descend steadily through the air.”

6. Owl

Owl in flight
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Owling (as well as being a short-lived social media craze) was once the name given to the crime of smuggling sheep and wool from England to the continent—a crime so-called because the nefarious “owlers” carried out their crimes at night. That might not be the most useful of words these days of course, so feel free to also use owl to mean “to act wisely, despite not knowing anything.”

7. Shark

It’s easy to presume that the use of shark as a verb to mean “to act like a predator” (which is the same shark as in loanshark, incidentally) derives from the deadly sea creatures. In fact, it might be the opposite: Both meanings of the word shark date back to the late 16th century, but it’s possible that the verb shark is the older of the two. If so, it’s possible that it comes from the earlier word shirk (in the sense of using deceit or trickery to avoid work) or else a northeastern French word, cherquier, which was often used in a phrase that essentially meant “to sponge of others” or “to act as a parasite.” So how did sea-dwelling sharks come to be called sharks? It’s possible the deceitful sharks gave their name to the menacing creatures, or else the two could be completely unrelated—and, thanks to a sea battle off the Yucatan peninsula in 1569, shark could in fact be a Mayan word.

8. Monkey

Chimpanzee looking surprised
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As well as meaning “to play the fool” or “to behave playfully”—as in “monkeying around”—monkey, like ape, can also be used to mean “to mimic” or “to copy someone’s movements or actions.”

9. Turtle

If a boat “turns turtle,” then it capsizes and flips over, so that it looks like a turtle’s domed shell floating atop the water. Because of that, to turtle something is to turn it upside down.

10. Snail

Burgundy snail
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For obvious reasons, snail has been used to mean “to move slowly” since the late 16th century, but because of the snail’s coiled shell, you can also use snail to mean “to draw or carve a spiral,” or “to roll into a spiral shape.”

11. Porcupine

Porcupine walking
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When your hair stands on end, feel free to say that it porcupined.

12. Canary

Canary birds take their name from the Canary Islands, which, somewhat confusingly, take their name from canis, the Latin word for “dog.” But in the 16th and 17th centuries, the canary was also the name of an energetic dance inspired by a traditional dance performed by the natives of the Canary Islands. And because of that, you can also use the word canary as a verb meaning “to dance in a lively fashion.”

13. Earwig

Earwig
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Earwigs are so-called because they were once (thankfully erroneously) thought to crawl inside people’s ears as they slept. Through association with someone whispering clandestinely into someone’s ear, in the late 18th century eavesdroppers and people who seeked to secretly influence others became known as earwiggers—and so to earwig is to do precisely that.

14. Pig

Cute pig leaning on railing of his cot
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Pig has been used to mean “to give birth” since as far back as the 15th century in English (a fairly uncomplimentary allusion to a pregnant sow delivering a litter of piglets). But slightly less depreciatively, the living habits of pigs mean that it can also be used to mean “to huddle together,” or else “to live or sleep in crowded or dirty conditions.”

15. Dingo

A dingo
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Because of their stereotypically sneaky behavior, to dingo on someone meant “to let down” or “to betray” them in 1930s Australian slang, while to dingo meant simply “to shirk” or “to back out of something at the last minute.”

This list first ran in 2016.

10 Facts About The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On its surface, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a straightforward story about a boy and a runaway slave floating down the Mississippi River. But underneath, the book—which was published in the U.S. on February 18, 1885—is a subversive confrontation of slavery and racism. It remains one of the most loved, and most banned, books in American history. 

1. Huckleberry Finn first appears in Tom Sawyer.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a sequel to Tom Sawyer, Twain’s novel about his childhood in Hannibal, Missouri. Huck is the “juvenile pariah of the village” and “son of the town drunkard,” Pap Finn. He wears cast-off adult clothes and sleeps in doorways and empty barrels. Despite this, the other children “wished they dared to be like him.” Huck also appears in Tom Sawyer, Detective, and Tom Sawyer Abroad, as well as the unfinished Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Among the Indians.  

2. Huckleberry Finn may be based on Mark Twain's childhood friend.

Twain said Huck is based on Tom Blankenship, a childhood playmate whose father, Woodson Blankenship, was a poor drunkard and the likely model for Pap Finn. “In Huckleberry Finn I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was,” he wrote in Autobiography. “He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had." 

However, Twain may be exaggerating here. In 1885, when the Minneapolis Tribune asked who Huck was based on, Twain admitted it was no single person: “I could not point you out the youngster all in a lump; but still his story is what I call a true story.”

3. It took Twain seven years to write the book.

Huckleberry Finn was written in two short bursts. The first was in 1876, when Twain wrote 400 pages that he told his friend he liked “only tolerably well, as far as I have got, and may possibly pigeonhole or burn” the manuscript. He stopped working on it for several years to write The Prince and the Pauper and Life on the Mississippi.

In 1882, Twain took a steamboat ride on the Mississippi from New Orleans to Minnesota, with a stop in Hannibal. It must have inspired him, because he dove into finishing Huckleberry Finn. In August 1883, he wrote: “I have written eight or nine hundred manuscript pages in such a brief space of time that I mustn’t name the number of days; I shouldn’t believe it myself, and of course couldn’t expect you to.” The book was published in 1884. 

4. Like Huck, Twain changed his view of slavery.

Huck, who grows up in South before the Civil War, not only accepts slavery, but believes that helping Jim run away is a sin. The moral climax of the novel is when Huck debates whether to send Jim’s owner a letter detailing Jim’s whereabouts. Finally, Huck says, "All right, then, I'll go to hell,” and tears the letter up. 

As a child, Twain didn’t question the institution of slavery. Not only was Missouri a slave state, his uncle owned 20 slaves. In Autobiography, Twain wrote, “I vividly remember seeing a dozen black men and women chained to one another, once, and lying in a group on the pavement, awaiting shipment to the Southern slave market. Those were the saddest faces I have ever seen.”

At some point, Twain’s attitudes changed and he married into an abolitionist family. His father-in-law, Jervis Langdon, was a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad and housed Frederick Douglass.

5. Emmeline Grangerford is a parody of a Victorian poetaster.

Huckleberry Finn parodies adventure novels, politics, religion, the Hatfields and the McCoys, and even Hamlet’s soliloquy. But most memorable may be Emmeline Grangerford, the 15-year-old poet. Emmeline is a parody of Julia A. Moore, the “Sweet Singer of Michigan,” who wrote bad poetry about death. So does Emmeline, according to Huck: “Every time a man died, or a woman died, or a child died, she would be on hand with her "tribute" before he was cold. She called them tributes.” Along with bad poetry, Emmeline paints “crayons” of dramatic subjects, such as a girl “crying into a handkerchief” over a dead bird with the caption, "I Shall Never Hear Thy Sweet Chirrup More Alas."

6. A PENIS DRAWING ALMOST RUINED THE BOOK.

Twain, who ran his own printing press, hired 23-year-old E. W. Kemble to illustrate the first edition of Huckleberry Finn. Right as the book went to press, someone—it was never discovered who—added a penis to the illustration of Uncle Silas. The engraving shows Uncle Silas talking to Huck and Aunt Sally while a crude penis bulges from his pants. 

According to Twain’s business manager Charles Webster, 250 books were sent out before the mistake was caught. They were recalled and publication was postponed for a reprint. If the full run had been sent out, Webster said, Twain’s “credit for decency and morality would have been destroyed.” You can view Kemble’s original illustrations here.

7. Many consider Huckleberry Finn the first American novel.

“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn,” Ernest Hemingway wrote in Green Hills Of Africa. “There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since." 

While this statement ignores great works like Moby-Dick and The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn was notable because it was the first novel to be written in the American vernacular. Huck speaks in dialect, using phrases like “it ain’t no matter” or "it warn’t no time to be sentimentering.” Since most writers of the time were still imitating European literature, writing the way Americans actually talked seemed revolutionary. It was language that was clear, crisp, and vivid, and it changed how Americans wrote. 

8. The end of the book is often considered a cop-out.

A major criticism of Huckleberry Finn is that the book begins to fail when Tom Sawyer enters the novel. Up until that point, Huck and Jim have developed a friendship bound by their mutual plight as runaways. We believe Huck cares about Jim and has learned to see his humanity. But when Tom Sawyer comes into the novel, Huck changes. He becomes passive and doesn’t even seem to care when Jim is captured.

To make matters worse, it turns out that Jim’s owner has already set him free, and that Huck’s abusive dad is dead. Essentially, Huck and Jim have been running away from nothing. Many, including American novelist Jane Smiley, believe that by slapping on a happy ending, Twain was ignoring the complex questions his book raises.

9. The book is frequently banned.

Huckleberry Finn was first banned in Concord, Massachussets in 1885 (“trash and suitable only for the slums”) and continues to be one of the most-challenged books.

The objections are usually over n-word, which occurs over 200 times in the book. Others say that the portrayal of African Americans is stereotypical, racially insensitive, or racist.

In 2011, Stephen Railton, a professor at University of Virginia, published a version of the book that replaced that offensive word with “slave.” Soon after appeared The Hipster Huckleberry Finn, where the word was replaced with “hipster.” The book's description says, “the adventures of Huckleberry Finn are now neither offensive nor uncool.”

10. Twain had some thoughts about the book's censorship.

In 1905, the Brooklyn Public Library removed Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer from the shelves because, as librarian wrote Twain, Huck is “a deceitful boy who said 'sweat' when he should have said 'perspiration.'" Here’s Twain’s reply: 

DEAR SIR:

I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn for adults exclusively, and it always distresses me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean; I know this by my own experience, and to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again this side of the grave. Ask that young lady—she will tell you so.

Most honestly do I wish I could say a softening word or two in defence of Huck's character, since you wish it, but really in my opinion it is no better than those of Solomon, David, Satan, and the rest of the sacred brotherhood. 

If there is an unexpurgated Bible in the Children's Department, won't you please help that young woman remove Huck and Tom from that questionable companionship?

Sincerely yours,

S. L. Clemens

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