English Towns Are Installing ‘Chat Benches’ to Combat Loneliness

iStock/monkeybusinessimages
iStock/monkeybusinessimages

Loneliness is a serious health condition: One AARP study found that prolonged social isolation can have the same risks as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. But unlike other ailments, the symptoms of loneliness can be hard to detect to everyone but the person having them. A new initiative in the UK aims to combat the problem by making it easier for people who feel alone to socialize with strangers.

As Yahoo! reports, the police department of Burnham-On-Sea, in southwest England, has posted signs designating some public seating as "chat benches." Two were unveiled in a park in nearby Taunton and one was installed on the waterfront in Burnham-On-Sea. The signs read: “The ‘Happy to Chat’ Bench: Sit Here If You Don’t Mind Someone Stopping To Say Hello.”

For people who feel isolated in their daily lives, the benches are an opportunity to make a connection with someone new. They also give people who want to help the lonely members of their community a way to do so.


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Burnham-On-Sea police community support officer Tracey Grobbeler told Burnham-On-Sea.com, “Simply stopping to say ‘hello’ to someone at the Chat Bench could make a huge difference to the vulnerable people in our communities and help to make life a little better for them.”

The initiative was launched to coincide with United Nations World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. According to a recent poll, more than a third of seniors reported feeling a lack of companionship at least some of the time, while 27 percent said they feel isolated some of the time or more often. While the project was conceived with the elderly population in mind, the Burnham-On-Sea police department encourages residents of all ages to use the chat benches.

Giving people permission to strike up conversations with strangers is just one of way to fight social isolation among seniors. In China, young people can live in a nursing home for a discounted price in exchange for spending time with older residents. Meanwhile, in the U.S. and Europe, adult playgrounds act as social hubs for seniors.

[h/t Yahoo!]

It’s Official: Merriam-Webster Has Added They to Its Online Dictionary as a Nonbinary Pronoun

psphotograph/iStock via Getty Images
psphotograph/iStock via Getty Images

Two and a half years after the Associated Press announced it would recognize they as a singular pronoun, America’s oldest dictionary is following suit. The Guardian reports that Merriam-Webster has officially added they into its online dictionary as a grammatically correct nonbinary pronoun.

Merriam-Webster notes in a blog post that people have been using they as a singular pronoun since the 1300s, and quoted an 1881 letter in which Emily Dickinson refers to a person of unknown gender with the pronouns they, theirs, and even themself. The post also mentions that using you as a singular pronoun wasn’t always considered grammatically correct, either: it was born out of necessity, gained popularity in casual conversation, and eventually became formally accepted as a singular pronoun.

Merriam-Webster does acknowledge that this new application of they differs from how the general public has most commonly used it in previous centuries. In the past, the singular they has referred to “a person whose gender isn’t known or isn’t important in the context.” For example, you would probably say “Tell each person that they are responsible for cleaning up their own trash,” rather than “Tell each person that he or she is responsible for cleaning up his or her own trash.” Now, however, we use they to describe a person who simply doesn't identify as either male or female.

It’s a much more direct use of the pronoun, and it’s this definition that Merriam-Webster is adding to the existing dictionary entry for the word they: “used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary.”

And with that, “Don’t use they as a singular pronoun” has become nothing more than bad writing advice, much like “Don’t split infinitives” and these other grammar myths.

[h/t The Guardian]

An Exercise in Poo-Tility: Scientist Tries to Make a Knife Out of Poop

Courtesy of Metin Eren
Courtesy of Metin Eren

Having a career in science often means enjoying the thrill of discovery. Gaining a better understanding of the world around us is among the most noble of professional pursuits. Other times, you may find yourself crafting a knife out of frozen feces.

In an experiment reported by Sapiens, researchers at Kent State University recently tested the validity of an old and possibly apocryphal tale involving an Inuit man whose family wanted him to join them in a new settlement. When he insisted on living a solitary life on the ice, the family took away his tools. The man indignantly used his bowel movement to forge a blade to kill a dog for his rib cage and hide—which he repurposed as a sled—and disappeared into the countryside. Scientists wanted to see if it would really be possible to create a bladed tool out of poop.

The study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, contains a spoiler in its title: “Experimental Replication Shows Knives Manufactured from Frozen Feces Do Not Work.” Lead author Metin Eren, director of archaeology and assistant professor of anthropology at Kent State, fully committed to the task, eating a high-protein diet typical of the Inuit for eight days and preserving his excrement. “Raw material collection did not begin until day four,” he writes, though it’s unclear whether that was due to a need to create distance from the remnants of a contemporary diet or whether he was constipated.

The waste was manipulated into two blades, one shaped by hand and the other by a knife mold, then frozen at -20°C. Immediately prior to use, they were subjected to dry ice at -50°C to ensure firmness. A metal file was used to hone the cutting edge.

A knife made from human feces is pictured pressed against pig hide
An exercise in poo-tility: The knife is unable to penetrate pig hide.
Courtesy of Metin Eren

Armed with this weaponized fecal matter, Eren tried to mimic how the Inuit would have used such a tool, attempting to cut into animal hide with it—in this case, pig hide. Lacking the properties of steel, the waste simply turned to mush when pressed against flesh. This remained the case even when Eren solicited the bowel contents of a colleague eating a more traditional Western diet. (A conversation that was unfortunately not recounted.) Only the most pliable subcutaneous fat of the pig could be penetrated before the knife became blunted.

“…Our results suggest that knives manufactured from frozen human feces are not functional,” Eren writes, adding that “we gave our knives the best possible chance to succeed and they still could not function.”

The value of a poop-based tool appears to be nil, but the story might still have resonance: scholars familiar with the tale believe it could have been a figurative attempt to describe the resourcefulness of the Inuit.

[h/t Sapiens]

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