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10 Words for Fanciful, Obscure, Batty, Nonexistent Creatures

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Since the days of yore, tales of imaginary creatures have been spread by storytellers, myth-makers, and drunk guys lost in the woods. But not all are as literary as the Bandersnatch or as hairy as the Yeti—some non-existent creatures, like the ones mentioned below, are nearly nonexistent in language as well.


Though one would hope this term referred to a creature one part horse, one part person, and one part hippopotamus, alas: this is simply a synonym for centaur. There’s also an amusing variation that popped up in the early 1600s, described by clergyman Thomas Jackson as “A monstrous Hippocentaurique combination.”


This is an Australian term for a shaggy creature familiar to cryptozoology enthusiasts around the world. A 1980 use from Brisbane’s Courier-Journal suggests a lengthy history: “The ‘yowie’, a large hairy animal similar to the Himalayan yeti and American Big Foot, has existed in Aboriginal folklore for thousands of years.”


Part griffin, part horse, this is one of many hybrid beasts. People have been talking about hippogriffs since the 1600s, and much to my amusement, the term has been used figuratively, like when anything unique is described as a unicorn. In 1837, poet Thomas Carlyle referred to “that wild Hippogryff of a Democracy.” More recently, they've been featured in the Harry Potter novels and movies.


At least as old as the early 1900s, this critter—who inspired the name of the NHL team—was memorably discussed in John McPhee’s 1968 book The Pine Barrens: “This creature has been feared in the woods—on a somewhat diminishing scale—from the seventeen–thirties to the present. It is known as Leeds’ Devil, or the Jersey Devil.” As to the origin, McPhee claimed, “A woman named Leeds ... had her thirteenth child, and it growed, and one day it flew away. It’s haunted the earth ever since. It’s took pigs right out of pens. And little lambs ... The Leeds Devil is a crooked-faced thing, with wings.”


Since the 1500s, this beast has captured the fevered imaginations of anyone with a dangerously high fever. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines it as “An imaginary creature, freq. represented as having the head and wings of an eagle or griffin, the body and legs of a lion, and the tail of a camel.”


You didn’t think the unicorn was immune to the variations of nature, did you? Among other uses, tricorn has applied to a unicorn times three in the horn department. The OED also records bicorn and millecorns, suggesting an infinity of fanciful horned animals.


We’ve all heard of the Sasquatch, but a different hairy beast was first spotted near Mount St. Helens in 1980. As described by the National Paranormal Society: “The creature has been reported as having yellow eyes and a wolf-like muzzle, bluish fur, sharp pointy teeth, bird-like feet and leather bat-like wings that possibly span up to 50 feet. The creature is reported as about 9 feet tall and has the ability to affect car engines.”


Read the OED’s definition and weep: “An imaginary creature resembling a llama or antelope, but with a head at either end of the body, pointing away from the torso, so that the creature always faces in two directions at once.” Double yikes. Often, this word refers to something a bit less fanciful: wishy-washy-ness, as seen in a 2001 use from London’s Daily Telegraph: “Ever since the election, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have been engaged in a sort of pushmi-pullyu struggle over the euro.”


Henry H. Tyron’s 1939 book Fearsome Critters detailed a full kookload of imaginary creatures, including the ludicrously named dungavenhooter. Tyron describes the beast as alligator-like but mouthless and paints a freaky picture: “… behind a whiffle bush, the Dungavenhooter awaits the passing logger. On coming within reach of the dreadful tail, the victim is knocked senseless and then pounded steadily until he becomes entirely gaseous, whereat he is greedily inhaled through the wide nostrils.”


One would think the ice worm is quite annoying to the Abominable Snowman and the frost giants of Jotunheim. Fortunately, it’s just as imaginary—or at least it was when first coined in the early 1800s. In the life imitating art department, it turns out there are some actual ice worms out there, particularly in the glaciers of Alaska.

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Let Alexa Help You Brine a Turkey This Thanksgiving
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There’s a reason most of us only cook turkey once a year: The bird is notoriously easy to overcook. You could rely on gravy and cranberry sauce to salvage your dried-out turkey this Thanksgiving, or you could follow cooking advice from the experts.

Brining a turkey is the best way to guarantee it retains its moisture after hours in the oven. The process is also time-consuming, so do yourself a favor this year and let Alexa be your sous chef.

“Morton Brine Time” is a new skill from the cloud-based home assistant. If you own an Amazon Echo you can download it for free by going online or by asking Alexa to enable it. Once it’s set up, start asking Alexa for brining tips and step-by-step recipes customized to the size of your turkey. Two recipes were developed by Richard Blais, the celebrity chef and restaurateur best known for his Top Chef win and Food Network appearances.

Whether you go for a wet brine (soaking your turkey in water, salt, sugar, and spices) or a dry one (just salt and spices), the process isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. And the knowledge that your bird will come out succulent and juicy will definitely take some stress out of the holiday.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.


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