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When and How Jeans Became Popular

jeans

Jeans are easily one of the most ubiquitous pieces of clothing on Earth with millions of pairs being made, sold and wrapped around the butts of style conscious individuals every single day. But why are jeans so popular and for what purpose were they first made?

Before we answer that it’s important for us to first define exactly what we mean when we say “jeans” because the word has changed in context over the last few hundred years. As detailed by the Fashion Enyclopedia, the term “jeans” has existed since the 1600s, where it was used as a catch-all term to describe the “rough clothing worn by working men”. Since the fabric used to make these clothes often came from the Genoa region in Italy, it was commonly referred to as “jean”. Weavers from the Nimes area of France tried to replicate this fabric and it eventually came to be known as “denim” a bastardization of the words “de Nimes” (from Nimes). Cool, huh?

So what makes modern jeans so different from the work trousers found on the legs of 16th century workers? Well, the key difference is in how modern jeans are held together, rivets. If you’re currently wearing a pair of jeans, which is statistically quite likely, you may notice that they are held together at key points with small rivets. (You may also notice that your zipper has the letters “YKK” on it and if you’re interested in why, we covered that in another article). These rivets are a relatively new addition to jeans and they’re the reason for the garments legendary longevity.

Jacob_Davis

Jacob Davis

Contrary to what you may have thought, unlike the stitch pattern often found on the rear pockets, the rivets aren’t just for show, they’re strategically placed at the locations the garments suffers the most strain, like the pockets and (sometimes) the zipper (hey-oh!).

The idea to use metal rivets to reinforce the stitching of work trousers is the brainchild of one, Jacob Davis, a native Latvian who lived in Nevada as a salesmen during the 19th century. Davis earned his keep selling clothing and general supplies to the many miners and workers who called the area their home. The legend goes that the wife of a miner (some sources say a woodsman) came to Davis lamenting the fact that he often tore the pockets off of his work trousers and implored him to find a way to strengthen them. The legend continues that Davis drew inspiration from a horse’s saddle in his shop and hatched the ingenious idea to reinforce the pockets and other areas with metal rivets.

Annoyingly, the exact details surrounding the invention of the first pair of jeans as we’d understand them today will likely never be known, so we’re just left with the aforementioned legend. But it, at the least, seems plausible enough that Davis probably got the idea from a customer or customers who were having problems with torn pants, so he came up with a solution.

What we do know for sure though is that Davis’ “riveted work pants” were a huge hit with locals and that it only took a short while for demand to greatly outstrip the already meagre supply. Realising that he’d stumbled upon a goldmine potentially more lucrative than the actual goldmines his customers were working in, Davis understandably became very paranoid about someone stealing his idea and he sought to patent it. However, despite his short-term success, he simply didn’t have the scratch to do it himself, a whole $68 (about $1300 today). So, he reached out to the man whose name would eventually become synonymous with the product, Levi Strauss.

Levi Strauss

Levi Strauss

Strauss, similar to Davis, was a native European (originally hailing from Bavaria) who’d travelled to the states to try and make his fortune. The pair became acquaintances through Strauss’ dry goods store, which supplied Davis with the material he needed to make his riveted pants, among other product. After a brief and poorly spelled letter exchange (“The secratt of them Pents is the Rivits that I put in those Pockots… I cannot make them up fast enough…My nabors are getting yealouse of these success…”), the two men met and, with Strauss’ money, they were able to successfully apply for a patent on their riveted pants in 1873. That same year the pair began producing the pants on a mass scale.

Curiously, when the pair first began producing jeans, they sold two varieties, the blue denim kind you could find on the shelf of any clothing store today and a pair made from a fabric not dissimilar from canvas, known as “duck cotton” (often also used by Davis for making tents and wagon covers). The former proved to be wildly more popular than the latter and soon became the only kind the company sold.

The reason denim proved to be so much more popular than duck cotton is twofold. Firstly, denim becomes softer as it ages (unlike duck cotton that will pretty much always feel like you’re wearing a wagon cover), an attractive quality in a piece of clothing you’re expected to wear every day. And secondly, because it looked better. Denim jeans were originally dyed blue partially because indigo dye was cheap and readily available in large quantities in America, but also because the dye was dark enough to easily hide stains. Further, the dye in the small quantity needed per jean, combined with the weave of denim, wouldn’t seep through the denim to the other side. This meant the risk of the dye staining your legs is effectively nil, which is again, a desirable quality in a piece of clothing you’re going to be getting sweaty in on a daily basis.

The fact that the dye only stains the outside of denim jeans also means that as they age, they gradually fade as the dye is inevitably worn away. This proved to be another highly desirable quality of the garments that’s still popular today, with many even preferring to buy pre-faded versions.

So how did the world of riveted pants go from being the exclusive domain of the cowboy to the go-to fashion for everyone from sweaty hipsters to cool grandparents? Well, that’s down to a multitude of factors. The first, and probably biggest thing to happen to the world of riveted pants was the expiration of Levi’s patent in 1908, which gave dozens of imitators a chance to flood the market with knock-offs. The second thing was likely the romanization of the “cowboy lifestyle”. While the deeply entrenched association with manual laborers and rural people initially turned more affluent people off of the idea of wearing denim jeans, as time passed, the allure of wearing something so quintessentially American began to take hold, culminating in the “dude ranch craze” of the 1930s with people paying money to experience the “traditional” cowboy lifestyle, jeans and all.

A third thing that helped denim jeans become popular, particularly overseas, was their popularity with servicemen in the 1940s and 1950s, who often liked to wear them when they were off duty.

A fourth thing that made the garment popular with the younger generation was the release of films like Rebel Without a Cause and The Wild One, in which the protagonists wore jeans as a way of rebelling against societal expectations. After the release of these films in the 1950s, demand for jeans exploded amongst like-minded youths. This demand continued through the 1960s and 1970s where jeans were picked up by almost every youth counter-culture movement that sprung up. In the 1980s, interest in jeans went nuclear with the release of a series of sexually charged, strong armed ads like the infamous Brook Shields Calvin Klein ads or the decidedly more tame “laundrette ad” which saw sales of Levi’s increase by 800% in the UK.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy subscribing to our new Daily Knowledge YouTube channel, as well as:

Bonus Fact:

  • The stitch pattern on the back of Levi’s jeans is trademarked by the company and was introduced as a way to distinguish their jeans from competitors that popped up.  If other companies try to put anything remotely similar to Levi’s pattern on jean pockets, to protect their trademark, Levi’s happily sues them.  In fact, Levi Strauss is the number one filer of trademark infringement cases in the apparel industry, averaging about eight such lawsuits per year since 2001.
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The post When and How Jeans Became Popular appeared first on Today I Found Out.

I think I’m being stalked.

Email from company I’ve never heard of before:  DEAR JEMMY, DON’T MISS OUT ON TODAY’S EXCLUSIVE SPECIALS! me:  ::Clicks unsubscribe button:: Their website:  To unsubscribe you must go to this webpage to update your email preference. me:  ::Unchecks the EIGHTEEN … Continue reading

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Do Words Get Removed from a Dictionary When People Stop Using Them?

Kerry U. asks: When words fall out of usage are they removed from the dictionary?

dictionary-unlimittedThe Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary is generally regarded as the single most comprehensive record of the English language to exist. Included in this work are many thousands of words considered completely “obsolete” by lexicographers. You see, in something of a Hotel California of linguistics, once a word has made it into the OED, it can never leave. Whether other dictionaries remove words or not varies from dictionary to dictionary, but major dictionaries who attempt to put out “complete” editions tend to follow suit in never removing words once they make it in. However, the much more common concise editions of all dictionaries do occasionally remove not just obsolete words, but sometimes quite common ones that simply don’t fit and are deemed less important to include than other words for various reasons.

Before we get to how a word becomes obsolete in the eyes of dictionary creators, it’s helpful to understand how a word enters the dictionary in the first place and what it means for a word to be there, with the latter being something of a common misconception.

While it’s very common for people to say something like, “It’s not in the dictionary, so it’s not a word”, this sentiment is rarely, if ever, shared by professional word-nerds.  One does not have to look hard to find editors at all of the major dictionaries specifically denouncing this popular notion.  As co-founder of the phenomenal word reference site Wordnik and one time chief editor of American Dictionaries at Oxford University Press, including editing the second edition of The New Oxford American Dictionary, Erin McKean, notes,

All words (aside from unintentional errors and malapropisms) are words at their birth. All you have to decide is whether the word in question is the right one for the job. Dictionaries don’t measure realness; they serve as rough proxies for the extent of a word’s use.

Or as noted in the FAQ section of Merriam-Webster’s website,

Most general English dictionaries are designed to include only those words that meet certain criteria of usage across wide areas and over extended periods of time. As a result, they may omit words that are still in the process of becoming established, those that are too highly specialized, or those that are so informal that they are rarely documented in professionally edited writing. The words left out are as real as those that gain entry; the former simply haven’t met the criteria for dictionary entry – at least not yet (newer ones may ultimately gain admission to the dictionary’s pages if they gain sufficient use).

Going further, in a rather enjoyable diatribe on this general topic, professor of linguistics at Stanford, Arnold Zwicky, states,

We start with the admonition that people of taste and refinement should not use X. This is then exaggerated, elevated to the admonition that people, in general, should not use X; what should govern the behavior of the “best” of us (those are genuine sneer quotes) in certain circumstances should govern the behavior of all of us, all of the time, in all contexts, for all purposes. (What a remarkable lack of nuance! What a divorcement from the complex textures of social life!)

As if that weren’t enough, it ratchets up, hysterically, one more notch, to the bald assertion that X simply isn’t available for use; it’s just not part of the social repertoire. My dear, it just isn’t done.

But if it truly isn’t done, then there’s no need for the admonitions.

Don’t tell me there’s “no such word”. Parade your idiosyncratic prejudices, if you wish, and if your mind is open enough we might be able to talk about the bases of your prejudices (and mine). But don’t lie to me about the state of the language.

(Two other great similar rants we recommend are linguist professor Mark Leberman’s Snoot? Bluck. and Stephen Fry’s, Language.)

Backing up this slightly philosophical point of view with real world usage is a 2011 paper published in Science, “Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books”, which analyzes the language used in 5,195,769 books (about 4% of all books ever published). Among other things, they found that when comparing words used in those books to the OED and Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, even when excluding proper nouns (which those dictionaries don’t include), “a large fraction of the words in our lexicon (63%) were in this lowest frequency bin. As a result, we estimated that 52% of the English lexicon – the majority of the words used in English books – consists of lexical ‘dark matter’ undocumented in standard references.”

On a similar note, with regards to not just what constitutes a word, but proper usage, the OED also distances themselves from carrying that banner, stating quite frankly,

The Oxford English Dictionary is not an arbiter of proper usage, despite its widespread reputation to the contrary. The Dictionary is intended to be descriptive, not prescriptive. In other words, its content should be viewed as an objective reflection of English language usage, not a subjective collection of usage ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’.

In the end, language is an ever evolving beast and really any combination of letters can count as a word if said combination has or is given some meaning; and grammatical conventions exist to serve language, not the other way around.

For reference here, the venerable OED *only* contains about 600,000 entries, with most lexicographers estimating there are probably actually about twice that many words in the English language. (There is much debate on this, however, owing to what actually counts as a distinct word. For instance, Webster’s Third New International Dictionary lists 12 distinct words spelled “post”. On top of this, there are numerous regional slang terms largely unknown by the general speaker of English that would never be included in most dictionaries. On that note, Wordnik, which seeks to document every word ever appearing in the English language, regardless of dialect or how obscure the word is, currently has almost seven million unique entries!)

Alright, so now we’ve laid to rest the popular notion that dictionaries are the bastions of what counts as a word or not. If even the OED isn’t including every word, then what is required for a word to make it into their distinguished record of the English language?

In two words- sustained usage.

Or to quote the OED on their general method:

The OED requires several independent examples of the word being used, and also evidence that the word has been in use for a reasonable amount of time. The exact time-span and number of examples may vary: for instance, one word may be included on the evidence of only a few examples, spread out over a long period of time, while another may gather momentum very quickly, resulting in a wide range of evidence in a shorter space of time. We also look for the word to reach a level of general currency where it is unselfconsciously used with the expectation of being understood: that is, we look for examples of uses of a word that are not immediately followed by an explanation of its meaning for the benefit of the reader. We have a large range of words under constant review, and as items are assessed for inclusion in the dictionary, words which have not yet accumulated enough evidence are kept on file, so that we can refer back to them if further evidence comes to light.

Evidence of a potential new word’s use is provided mostly by volunteers who pore over everything from magazines to obscure scientific journals as part of something dubbed the “Reading Programme”, which “recruits voluntary and paid readers, and these readers provide the OED editors with quotations which illustrate how words are used.”

These quotations are all meticulously catalogued and if they happen to contain a new word or “new sense of an existing word” editors aren’t familiar with it can easily be cross-referenced with other quotations to see if it needs to be added to the dictionary or perhaps investigated further.

As it is the mission of the OED to provide “a permanent record of [a word’s] place in the language”, once a word is deemed worthy to be added to the dictionary, as previously noted, it will never be removed, regardless of whether or not it later falls out of use.

The reasoning behind this is twofold- first, to ensure the OED remains as close to a definitive record of the English language as practically possible; second, to ensure a reader can be reasonably confident that a large percentage of the time, any word they do not know the definition or meaning of will be found in the OED. To quote the OED website: “The idea is that a puzzled reader encountering an unfamiliar word in, say, a 1920s novel, will be able to find the word in the OED even if it has been little used for the past fifty years.”

Though admirable, a side-effect of this dedication to broadly documenting the English language is that editors struggle mightily to keep up with the rate at which language evolves. For example, the complete Third Edition of the OED, the hotly anticipated follow-up to the Second Edition, isn’t set to be completed until around the late 2030s and at an estimated production cost of around £34 million (about $45 million).

As an idea of how painstakingly slowly this process is, in 2010 the Third Edition was estimated to be 28% complete. At the time, around 80 lexicographers, then led by John Simpson, had been working on it for 21 years…

In fact, Simpson ended up retiring in 2013 after 24 years of working on the OED3, with the chief editor job falling to then 48 year old Michael Proffitt. Given the estimates for the completion of the Third Edition, Proffitt will be around 70 years old, and perhaps himself retired, by the time it’s finished.

So yeah, Game of Thrones fans, if you think you Throners have had it bad waiting for the next book in the series to be finished, spare a thought for us OEDers. (Though, at least in our case, we get regular published updates on the work as small sections are completed.)

Now, although it is the policy of the OED to never remove a word from the dictionary, they do release abridged versions containing what they feel reflects “the living English language” at the time, or in some editions a set of words curated to be suitable for a given audience.

Towards this end, the OED, and other dictionaries, regularly remove what they feel are “obsolete” words from newer editions of abridged versions. This has historically been done for the sake of cost and size practicality, though the digital age is rapidly making this less of a concern.

To illustrate how much of a problem this historically has been, however, consider the Second Edition of the OED, which consists of a collection of a whopping 20 volumes and roughly 22,000 pages; that’s a lot of paper, binding, and shipping. The end cost to the consumer for that complete set is in turn about $1100. (And it should be noted that, according to Chief Executive of Oxford University Press, Nigel Portwood, the OED has never made a profit, even with such prices, not to mention the $295 annual fee if one wants access to the online digital edition.)

Obviously the market for such a massive physical product is very niche, and most word-nerds these days who do have a use for the product use the digital version anyway, including ourselves, as it’s a vastly superior research tool. (This is, in part, why the completed much longer Third Edition will likely never be printed.) But concise print editions are still somewhat commonly used, at least for now, so it makes sense to trim some of the more extraneous content and release an abridged version that doesn’t cost as much as a flight to Hawaii or take up an entire bookshelf.

So how is it decided which words won’t make the cut in these concise editions? Well this process varies from publisher to publisher, although the typical method seems to be simply going through the previous edition with a fine toothed comb to look for words that are no longer terribly common in a given sphere- hopefully finding more words that are acceptable to cut than new words that need added, though this seems rarely to be the case.

For example, Angus Stevenson, the head of dictionary projects at the Oxford University Press was tasked with cutting 200 words from the 12th edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary to make way for around 400 newer words in 2011. To accomplish this, he had to rejigger the font and formatting in the dictionary to avoid having to cut too many words still in relatively popular use.

Editors at Collins dictionary had to do more or less the same thing when they excised some 2000 words from their 2008 edition to make way for newer words more familiar to modern English speakers. The senior editor of the dictionary, Cormac McKeown, would later explain that to accomplish this, “We’ve been fiddling around with the typeface to try to get more in, but it is at saturation point. There is a trade-off between getting them in and legibility.”

Unfortunately, this inevitably leads to familiar, but somewhat obsolete, words being removed. For example, in the aforementioned 12th edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, amongst the entries culled were the likes of “cassette player” in favor of things like “mankini” (though “cassette tape” still remained, contrary to many dozens of news reports we read to the contrary).

This process can become highly controversial, such as happened in the case of the Oxford Junior Dictionary, where they decided to cut out about 50 words connected to nature, like “acorn” and “buttercup”, using the freed up space to add words like “chatroom” and “blog”. As the latter new technologies have given rise to everyone having a platform for their outrage (and the media loving a good controversy surrounding a major brand for the clicks it brings), naturally, this resulted in a well-published outcry over the removal of words describing the “outside” world in favor of the “interior, solitary”.

Of course, these words weren’t actually being removed from the English language (nor common usage), merely a Junior Edition of the dictionary which could only include a minuscule 10,000 or so of the over 600,000 entries found in the OED. In the end, the editors simply chose words that best reflect those that kids today most frequently use or encounter.

So to sum up the question posed at the start of this article, if you’re referring to complete editions of certain major dictionaries, like the OED, once a word is added to it, it will never be removed. However, if you’re referring to the more commonly found various abridged dictionaries lying around, words are removed whenever the respective editors decide they are no longer as relevant as other words, even if sometimes those cut words are still relatively commonly used… Bringing us all back to the point that if ever someone picks up such a dictionary and tells you the word you just used “isn’t a word because it’s not in the dictionary”, you have our permission to slap them upside the head* with that very tome of knowledge and then politely tell them that’s not how dictionaries or languages work…

(*Full disclosure: we may be slightly oversensitive on this topic owing to having published over six million words online read by millions of people from various dialects of English… Certain Grammar Nazis, or as I prefer to refer to this flavour, “Grammar Nazi’s”, as opposed to regular pro word-nerds we have the utmost respect for and are usually extremely helpful and polite- not to mention generally vastly more flexible with language than their Grammar Nazi counterparts- have, naturally, created something of a perpetually open wound for us on this one over the years. For instance, “anyways” is a word, dammit, has been around in English since at least the 13th century, and we have no plans to stop using it- if for no other reason than out of unabashedly petty spite. ;-))

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy subscribing to our new Daily Knowledge YouTube channel, as well as:

Bonus Facts:

  • Erin McKean is not just a distinguished linguist we have a little bit of a crush on, but also the creator of Mckean’s law- “Any correction of the speech or writing of others will contain at least one grammatical, spelling or typographical error.”
  • In 2008, in an attempt to draw attention to the plight of obsolete words, Collins dictionary invited celebrities and the public to “adopt” an archaic word to prevent it being cut from that year’s edition of the dictionary. Some of the more amusing words put up for adoption include “niddering” meaning “cowardly”, “fusby” meaning “fat, short or squat”, “Vilipend” meaning “to treat or regard with contempt”, “threequel” meaning “the third film, book, event, etc. in a series; a second sequel”, and “wittol” meaning “a man who tolerates his wife’s infidelity”.
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The post Do Words Get Removed from a Dictionary When People Stop Using Them? appeared first on Today I Found Out.

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The Unfortunate Truth About The Civil War

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Twitter Goes To 11 With #TrumpIQSongs

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Victor told me to look at the drive-thru window of our local burger joint and I didn’t get why until I suddenly saw it and then I couldn’t stop laughing. And I said in a deep doggie voice, “Hello!  I … Continue reading

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Who Invented Tupperware?

The following is an article from Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader

tupperwareToday the word Tupperware is a generic term for any plastic food container with a sealable lid. That’s thanks to two people: Earl Tupper, inventor of the product that bears his name, and Brownie Wise, who has been all but erased from the company’s history.

BLACK GOLD

In the fall of 1945, a plastics manufacturer named Earl Tupper tried to place an order for plastic resin, one of the key ingredients in plastic, with the Bakelite Corporation. But the material was in short supply, and Bakelite couldn’t fill his order. When Tupper asked if they had anything else for him to work with, the company gave him a black, oily lump of polyethylene slag, a rubbery by-product of the petroleum refining process that collected at the bottom of oil barrels. Bakelite, makers of an early plastic by the same name, couldn’t find a use for the waste product, and neither could the chemical giant DuPont. Both companies had plenty of the stuff lying around. They told Tupper he could have as much as he wanted.

Tupper spent months experimenting with different blends of polyethylene—“Poly-T,” as he called it—and molding them at different pressures and temperatures. He eventually came up with a process for forming it into brightly colored cups, bowls, and other household items. A year later he patented the idea that he’s most famous for: the “Tupperware seal,” which provided a spill-proof, airtight seal between Tupperware containers and their lids. (He borrowed the idea from paint-can lids.) Tupper called his first sealable container the “Wonderbowl.”

UNDER COVER

Today plastic containers with airtight lids are so common that it’s easy to forget just how revolutionary Tupperware was when it was introduced in the late 1940s. In those days, if you wanted to preserve food in the refrigerator, you could cover a dish with wax paper or foil. (Plastic wrap was still a few years away.) If you wanted something that you didn’t have to throw away after a few uses, you could cover the dish with a shower cap or a damp cloth. Glass containers were available, but they weren’t cheap. They weren’t airtight, either, and if you dropped them, they shattered into tiny, razor-sharp pieces—not a good thing during the post-war Baby Boom, when lots of households had small children underfoot. None of these options were very satisfactory. It was difficult to keep food fresh for more than a day or two, or to keep everything in the fridge from smelling like everything else in the fridge.

BLACK SHEEP

And yet for all the advantages that Tupperware had to offer, it just sat on store shelves, even when Tupper promoted the launch with national advertising. Consumers just weren’t interested.

Part of the problem with Tupperware was that a lot of consumers couldn’t figure out how to work the lids. Some people even returned their Tupperware, complaining that the lids didn’t fit. But the real problem with Tupperware was that it was made of plastic. In those very early days of the plastics revolution, the stuff had a bad reputation: Many early plastics were oily; some were flammable. (They were smelly, too. One of the main ingredients in Bakelite was formaldehyde—the main ingredient in embalming fluid.) Some plastics were brittle and prone to chipping and cracking; others peeled, disintegrated, or “melted” and became deformed in hot water.

Tupperware didn’t have any of these problems—it was odorless, non-toxic, lightweight. It was sturdy yet flexible and kept its shape in hot water. And if you dropped it, it bounced without spilling its contents. But consumers didn’t know all that, and they were so turned off by earlier plastics that they didn’t bother to find out.

SILVER LINING

As Earl Tupper pored over the dismal sales figures, he noticed that Tupperware was popular with two types of customers: 1) mental hospitals, which preferred Tupperware cups and dishes to aluminum because they didn’t dent or make noise when patients threw them on the floor; and 2) independent salespeople who sold goods distributed by Stanley Home Products, one of the companies that pioneered the “party plan” sales method.

Stanley salespeople hawked their wares by recruiting a housewife to host a party for her friends and acquaintances. At the party, the salesperson demonstrated Stanley products—mops, brushes, cleaning products, etc.—in the hopes of selling some to the guests. Quite a few companies still sell goods using the home party system, and if you’ve ever been invited to such a party, you probably know that they aren’t always the most pleasant of experiences. A lot of people attend only out of guilt or a sense of obligation to the host and buy just enough merchandise to avoid embarrassment. The same was true in the late 1940s: People could buy cleaning products anywhere, which made it kind of irritating to have to sit through a Stanley demonstration just because a friend had invited them. Even the Stanley salespeople knew it, and that was why growing numbers of them were adding Tupperware to their Stanley offerings.

LIFE OF THE PARTY

Tupperware was no mop or bottle of dish soap. It was something new, a big improvement over the products that had come before it. Once the salesperson explained its advantages and demonstrated how the lids worked—they had to be “burped” to expel excess air and form a proper seal—people were eager to buy it. They bought a lot of it, too: Tupperware sold so well at home parties that many Stanley salespeople were abandoning the company entirely and selling nothing but Tupperware.

One of the most successful of the ex-Stanley salespeople was a woman named Brownie Wise. By the early 1950s, she was ordering more than $150,000 worth of Tupperware a year  (about $1.5 million today) for the sizable home party sales force she’d built up, this at a time when Earl Tupper couldn’t sell Tupperware in department stores no matter how hard he tried.

In April 1951, he hired Wise and made her a vice president of a brand-new division called Tupperware Home Parties, headquartered in Kissimmee, Florida. (Tupper remained in Leominster, Massachusetts, overseeing the company’s manufacturing and product design.) Brownie’s new job was to build the company’s sales force, just as she’d been so successful building her own.

Tupper also pulled Tupperware from department stores. From then on, if you wanted to buy Tupperware (or any plastic container with an airtight lid, since Tupper controlled the patent), you had to buy it from a “Tupperware lady.”

TRIFECTA

The “party plan” sales method was perfect for a product like Tupperware. Clearly, it needed to be demonstrated, and once it was, people bought it. It was great for the company, too, because the sales force Brownie Wise was building cost it almost nothing. “Tupperware ladies” weren’t company employees; they weren’t paid a salary and didn’t receive benefits. Like the Stanley team before them, they were independent salespeople who earned a percentage of their sales.

The party plan was also good for the housewives who sold Tupperware. Remember, they were part of the “Rosie the Riveter” generation—women who’d worked outside the home during World War II and never lost their taste for it. Selling Tupperware offered housewives a chance to develop business skills, make their own money, and earn recognition they seldom got from cooking, cleaning, and taking care of their kids. They could sell Tupperware part-time while they raised their families, and their careers weren’t threatening to their husbands in an era when the man was still expected to be the sole breadwinner in the family.

It was even possible to make a lot of money selling Tupper-ware. Top-performing Tupperware ladies were promoted to manage other Tupperware ladies, and if the husband of a top-performing manager was willing to quit his job and join his wife at Tupper-ware, the couple could be awarded a lucrative distributorship and transferred across the country to open up new territories.

THE QUEEN

In 1953 a public relations firm told Earl Tupper that he should make Brownie Wise the public face of the company. Tupper, who was so reclusive that few company employees even knew what he looked like, happily obliged. In the years that followed, the Tupper-ware publicity department built Wise into an idealized Tupperware lady, giving her an Oprah Winfrey-like status with her sales force.

Each year thousands of Tupperware ladies paid their own way to “Jubilee,” the annual sales conference at Tupperware Home Parties headquarters in Kissimmee, Florida. One of the biggest draws of Jubilee was a chance to meet Brownie Wise. And each year she awarded refrigerators, furs, diamond jewelry, cars, and other fabulous prizes to her top performers. But some of the most coveted prizes of all were the dresses and other outfits that Wise selected from her personal wardrobe and awarded to a very lucky few. If her slender outfits did not fit the winners, many gladly shed 20 or 30 pounds just for the honor of wearing the great lady’s clothes.

Brownie Wise didn’t invent the home party system, but she made it work like it had never worked before. And in the process she and her ever-expanding sales force helped to turn Tupperware from a product that nobody wanted into one of the most iconic brands in American business history, as well known as Kleenex, Jell-O, Xerox, Frisbee, and Band-Aid. In the process, Tupperware ladies became a 1950s cultural force in their own right.

BOWLED OVER

Meanwhile, sales of Tupperware were growing so quickly that the company was on track to become a $100 million-a-year company (~$823 million today) by 1960. Ironically, the only person who wasn’t pleased was Tupper himself. Though Wise had made him a millionaire many times over, and had served as the public face of Tupperware at his own request, Tupper grew increasingly resentful that she seemed to receive all the credit for making Tupperware the huge success that it was.

By 1957 Tupper was ready to sell his company, and in that male-dominated era he was afraid that he’d never find a buyer if the company had such a forceful and powerful woman as its second-in-command. In January 1958, he abruptly fired Wise, without notice and without a penny in severance pay, after accusing her of (among other things) using a Tupperware bowl as a dog dish. Wise later sued the company and settled for $30,000. Eight months later, Tupper sold the company. Price: $16 million (about $112 million today).

Tupper stayed on to run Tupperware for the new owners until he retired in 1973. In those years, he ruthlessly purged the company of any and all record of Wise’s contribution to building the business. In many ways the purge continues to this day; as late as 2011, the Tupperware website still made no mention of Brownie Wise at all.

A WORD TO THE WISE

After she was fired from Tupperware, Wise became the president of a new home party company called Cinderella Cosmetics. She hoped to persuade her Tupperware ladies to jump ship and help her build the new company, but only a handful did—even her own mother decided to stick with Tupperware.

Cinderella Cosmetics folded after just a year in business. After that Wise dabbled in Florida real estate and pursued other interests, but she never made another big mark in the business world. When she died in 1992, still living just a few miles from Tupper-ware Home Party headquarters in Kissimmee, her passing was ignored by the company and barely noted anywhere else.

PARTY ON

Perhaps the biggest and most backhanded compliment Tupper ever paid to Brownie Wise came the day he sold the company in 1958. As he was leaving the building, he warned one of his top executives to get out while the getting was still good. “This thing is going to blow up, it’ll never last,” he told his head of manufacturing, “go out and get yourself another job.” Tupper apparently didn’t envision the company prospering long without Wise at the head of her devoted sales force, urging the ladies ever onward and upward.

He was wrong. The world has changed a lot since 1958, but Tupperware is still around; today it’s a $4.2 billion company with sales in nearly 100 countries. And though you can now buy Tupperware direct from the company’s website, you can still buy it at a Tupperware party; there are more than 2.6 million Tupper-ware ladies worldwide. Every 1.75 seconds, one of them hosts another Tupperware party somewhere in the world, using the sales techniques that Brownie Wise perfected more than a half century ago.

This article is reprinted with permission from Uncle John’s 24 Karat Gold Bathroom Reader. The information miners at the Bathroom Readers’ Institute have unearthed a priceless collection of surprising, amazing, headscratching, and hilarious articles. 24-Karat Gold is chock-full of little-known history, random origins, weird news, celebrity secrets, and urban legends.

Since 1987, the Bathroom Readers’ Institute has led the movement to stand up for those who sit down and read in the bathroom (and everywhere else for that matter). With more than 15 million books in print, the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader series is the longest-running, most popular series of its kind in the world.

If you like Today I Found Out, I guarantee you’ll love the Bathroom Reader Institute’s books, so check them out!

The post Who Invented Tupperware? appeared first on Today I Found Out.

Dutch TV Comedy Perfectly Sums Up America’s Gun Problem

Are you or a loved one suffering from "nonsensical rifle addiction?"

Donald Trump Jr.’s Attack On Jimmy Kimmel Backfires Spectacularly

BURNED!

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Weekly Wrap Volume 166

This is a weekly wrap of our popular Daily Knowledge Newsletter. You can get that newsletter for free here.

octopus2The Curious Case of Octopus Wrestling

Arising out of the peace and prosperity of the post-war world, in the middle of the 20th century Americans threw themselves into a variety of weird fads, with goldfish swallowing, pet rocks (see: How Did the Pet Rock Fad Start?), streaking, dance marathons, and sea monkeys (see What are Sea Monkeys?) among the most popular. One that received less attention internationally, but whose participants and spectators ardently loved, was the curious case of octopus wrestling. At the time, the general perception of giant octopuses was that they were fearsome predators of the deep. As such, wrestling one seemed the height of manliness. As for the developed sport itself…(more)

RooseveltThat Time Teddy Roosevelt Got Shot in the Chest but Gave a 90 Minute Speech Anyway

To most of the approximately 10,000 people packed into Milwaukee Auditorium on October 14, 1912, nothing seemed out of the ordinary in the moments before Teddy Roosevelt was scheduled to give what was supposed to be a simple campaign speech. The former President of the United States was running for a near unprecedented third term, this time as the Progressive Party candidate. However, when Roosevelt stepped onto the stage with a sort of wobble, his friend and fellow Progressive Party member, Henry Cochems, felt obligated to tell the audience what had happened – Roosevelt had been shot only moments before. Most people were stunned, while others couldn’t believe it – one person even reportedly yelled “Fake!” Chuckling…(more)

This Week’s YouTube Videos (Click to Subscribe)

Bonus Quick Facts:

  • While Amanda McBroom is probably best known for her role as Judge Advocate General Captain Philippa Louvois in what is generally considered one of the best Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes, The Measure of a Man, it might also surprise you to learn that she wrote the song, The Rose, first made famous by Bette Midler in the film of the same name. According to McBroom, she wrote the song in under an hour in 1977, attempting to make something “Bob-Seger-like” in hopes of getting a record deal. She performed the song over the next couple years with little fanfare before it was tabbed to be used in the 1979 Midler film.
  • The inability to create mental images of any sort is an exceptionally rare condition very recently dubbed by Dr. Adam Zeman as aphantasia. One sufferer of the condition, Tom Ebeyer, notes that “It had a serious emotional impact. I began to feel isolated – unable to do something so central to the average human experience. The ability to recall memories and experiences, the smell of flowers or the sound of a loved one’s voice; before I discovered that recalling these things was humanly possible [at age 21], I wasn’t even aware of what I was missing out on.” What causes this condition is currently unknown.
  • A few years ago a man from Singapore became an Internet sensation thanks to his unique name, “Batman bin Suparman” which in English would translate as “Batman son of Suparman.” So what happened after? He was arrested in 2013 for robbing a store. He also had previously stolen his brother’s (Nurazman Suparman) ATM card, using it to buy $680 worth of purchases before he was discovered. Beyond that, he also plead guilty to taking heroin, among a few other things. For his crimes, he was sentenced to three years in prison.
  • According to famed entomologists Derek Wragge Morley, who studied ants for the better part of his professional career (and before, beginning at 14 years old, including publishing his first academic paper on ants at the tender age of 16), ants stretch just like humans when they wake up and also look like they’re yawning too.
  • Despite most movie fans connecting the nickname “Braveheart” with William Wallace because of the award winning film with Mel Gibson (1995), in real life the specific nickname actually belonged to one of the semi-bad guys depicted in the film- Robert the Bruce. In real life, while Robert (then the Earl of Carrick) really did switch sides several times during the Wars of Scottish Independence, there is no record of him betraying Wallace and the Battle of Bannockburn wasn’t waged spontaneously as it seemed in the movie. He had been battling the English for nearly a decade up to that point. Robert ultimately became the King of Scots from 1306 and held that title until his death in 1329.

Other Interesting Stuff

richard-nixon-340x509Nixon’s Tactic of Acting Unbalanced as a Political Strategy – The Madman Theory

Developed from game theory and a key tactic of his early administration, President Richard Nixon came into office with a clear plan – scare the hell out of other world leaders to get them to do what he wanted. Called the “madman theory,” it depended on possessing a massive nuclear arsenal, then simply acting sufficiently erratic and unbalanced to convince people that you were crazy enough to use it. During the 1968 Presidential campaign, Nixon promised to end the war in Vietnam and obtain “peace with honor,” yet nearly one year into his first term, he was having little success. Peace talks between the…(more)

CicadaThe Bizarre World of Cicadas

Cicadas are big, green and gross. They fly, have giant eyes and make loud clicking noises. (A male swarm of these insects can produce noise at over 100 dB!) Oh, and they are often seen in large groups – like by the millions. If you think this sounds like a nightmare or a beginning of a cheesy horror movie, you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. However, cicadas are harmless and essentially only survive as a species because of their sheer numbers and weird life-cycle which has ensured that no predator has evolved to specifically depend on them as a food source…(more)

pizza-340x450The Origin of Pizza

Pizza has become such a staple of the modern diet that certain people, often found in Computer Science labs at 2 a.m. the world over, practically consider it one of the basic food groups. For such a popular food, its origins are difficult to pinpoint, as it all depends on your definition of what pizza is. If you choose to loosely define pizza as flat bread with toppings strewn on it, there is evidence that the Persian army around the 5th and 6th centuries used their shields to cook flat bread in this way out in the field. The soldiers would then cover the bread with things like cheese and dates for a quick meal. Further, it is very likely that people have been…(more)

the-endThe Actress Who Died on Stage While Portraying Her Own Death

Several artists have died on stage while conducting live performances; however, one case is highly unique and probably the most ironic at the same time. The incident involved actress Edith Webster. Webster was a relatively unknown actress who never managed to make a name for herself during her lifetime, but left her mark in history with her bizarre death. During The Drunkard, which was being performed at the Towson Moose Lodge in Baltimore, the 60-year-old Edith Webster was playing the role of the grandmother. According to the plot of the play, during the second half of the show, just before…(more)

scorpion-340x507Scorpions Can Live for as Munch as a Year Without Eating

Scorpions are amazing little creatures. With almost two thousand known species found on six of the seven continents, these arthropods have been able to adapt to some of the harshest environments on earth. One evolutionary benefit they have gained is the ability to slow down their metabolic rate. Scorpions also have an organ called the “hepatopancreas” which is extremely efficient and fulfills the functions equivalent to the liver and pancreas found in humans. In addition to this, scorpions have the ability to consume large quantities of food compared to their body size. For instance…(more)

The post Weekly Wrap Volume 166 appeared first on Today I Found Out.

What’s my name again?

I consider myself very lucky that my brand of crazy is recognized so universally that my books have been translated into lots of different languages, and that means I have a whole shelf full of books that I wrote but … Continue reading

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That Time Teddy Roosevelt Got Shot in the Chest But Gave a 90 Minute Speech Anyway

RooseveltTo most of the approximately 10,000 people packed into Milwaukee Auditorium on October 14, 1912, nothing seemed out of the ordinary in the moments before Teddy Roosevelt was scheduled to give what was supposed to be a simple campaign speech. The former President of the United States was running for a near unprecedented third term, this time as the Progressive Party candidate. However, when Roosevelt stepped onto the stage with a sort of wobble, his friend and fellow Progressive Party member, Henry Cochems, felt obligated to tell the audience what had happened – Roosevelt had been shot only moments before.

Most people were stunned, while others couldn’t believe it – one person even reportedly yelled “Fake!”

Chuckling, Roosevelt opened his coat to reveal a bloodied and bullet-pierced shirt.  An audible gasp was heard as Roosevelt advanced to the podium. Proving yet again, he was determined to make men everywhere feel a little less manly, he stepped up and started what would become a 90-minute speech, in spite of his injury. He began with, “Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.”

So who shot Roosevelt?  Why was he so determined to give his speech anyway? And why was the famed Republican president now running under the so-called “Bull Moose” ticket?

When Teddy Roosevelt left office in 1909, he was thankful to leave the White House under the care of good friend, William Taft – who had been elected the next President of the United States by a substantial electoral margin in large part owing to his promises to continue Roosevelt’s programs and agenda.

But the now ex-president always had this nagging feeling that perhaps he should have run for President again in order to ensure said progressive policies would not fall by the wayside. By the time the 1912 election rolled around, Roosevelt’s suspicion was confirmed. At least in Roosevelt’s mind, Taft had betrayed him and many of the things Roosevelt had fought for in his years as president.

As such, Roosevelt lashed out at the president, calling him a traitor and challenging him as the 1912 Republican nominee for President. As the election season continued, Roosevelt became the favorite. However, despite Roosevelt winning a majority of the primary votes, Taft was awarded the Republican nomination seemingly due to his ability as president to give out federal patronage – essentially favors for votes.

Dismayed by this corruption, Roosevelt formed his own party – the Progressive Party or the “Bull Moose Party” – and gave himself the nomination. Meanwhile, the Democrats, were obviously ecstatic at the Republican chaos- after all, a split in Republican votes meant for the first time in a long time they had a great shot at the White House. As such, they nominated New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson, who, interestingly enough, was a lot closer in policy to Roosevelt than Taft.

In the end, it was a four-way race: Roosevelt, Wilson, Taft and the Socialist Party’s Eugene Debs. Not one to go half-way on anything (again, see: In Which Teddy Roosevelt Makes Men Everywhere Feel a Little Less Manly), he visited 38 states on the campaign trail to ask citizens to vote for him – more than all of his opponents combined.

This brings us to October 14th, which started as most others had for Roosevelt in 1912, with him on the move. He began the day in Chicago, then moved to Racine, Wisconsin before heading south to Milwaukee for a nighttime address to an expected large crowd.

Roosevelt’s voice was nearly gone when he stepped out of the Hotel Gilpatrick wearing his Army overcoat to combat the fall chill that was in the air. Inside his breast pocket was his neatly double-folded 50-page speech for the evening (after all, Roosevelt was anything but concise) along with an eyeglass case.

As he hustled to a waiting car, a roar erupted from bystanders upon noticing the former President was in their midst. Roosevelt turned around and, with his hat in hand, waved to the crowd. All of sudden, a loud pop and a puff of smoke was seen as a bullet erupted from a Colt .38 revolver on its way into Roosevelt’s chest.

John Schrank was a New York City saloon owner until he decided that it was his duty to kill “Colonel Roosevelt.” In a later confession, he said that he had at one time admired Roosevelt, but began to think ill of him when he showed his interest in running for a third term. He felt strongly that, “Any man looking for a third term ought to be shot.”

He also would confess that,

I was convinced that if he was defeated at the Fall election he would… cry ‘Thief’, and that his action would plunge the country into a bloody civil war. I deemed it my duty, after much consideration of the situation, to put him out of the way. …

I had a dream in which former President McKinley appeared to me.  I was told by McKinley in this dream that it was not Czolgosz who murdered him, but Roosevelt.  McKinley… told me that his blood was on Roosevelt’s hand, and that Roosevelt had killed him so that he might become President.

I was more deeply impressed by what I read in the newspapers than others, and after having this dream was move convinced than ever that I should free the country from the menace of Roosevelt’s ambition.

And so it was that on September 21st, his stalking pursuit of Roosevelt began when he bought a steamer ticket to Charleston. From there, he continued to follow his target for weeks, traversing the country along with him – from Charleston to Atlanta to Chattanooga to Evansville to Indianapolis to Chicago to, finally, Milwaukee. As Schrank noted in his confession, at each stop he was either foiled by a change in Roosevelt’s schedule or Schrank’s own cowardice. In Milwaukee, however, neither got in his way.

I came to Milwaukee Sunday morning and went to the Argyle, a lodging house on Third Street.  I then purchased newspapers to inform myself as to Roosevelt’s whereabouts and learned on Monday that he was to arrive at 5 o’clock. I learned also that he was to be a guest a the Gilpatrick, and managed to gain a position near the entrance where I could shoot to kill when Roosevelt appeared.

Schrank was only five feet away from Roosevelt when he shot him in the chest. As Roosevelt stumbled back, the candidate’s stenographer put Schrank in a headlock and pushed him to the ground. While concern was obviously directed at Roosevelt, the crowd went after Schrank – kicking and punching the would-be assassin.

As would later be revealed, the massive bulge of the 50-page speech and his hard leather eyeglass case in his breast pocket- not to mention Roosevelt’s famously ample chest muscles- prevented the bullet from doing significant damage.

After an initial stumble, he coughed into his hand to check for blood. When none came up, he felt sure that the bullet had not pierced his lung. “He pinked me,” he said to one of his aides.

Schrank was whisked away in a paddy wagon (followed by a group of people yelling “lynch him”). He would later plead guilty, stating, “I am sorry I have caused all this trouble for the good people of Milwaukee and Wisconsin, but I am not sorry that I carried out my plan.”  He was eventually determined to be “insane” and would live out his days at a Wisconsin asylum until his death 31 years later in 1943.

As for Roosevelt, those with him demanded that he go to the hospital, but that wasn’t really Roosevelt’s style; he refused and told the driver to take him to his scheduled speech.

Once there, three doctors examined him backstage, found the dime-sized hole where the bullet had pierced him and a patch of blood. They likewise implored him to get to a hospital, but he insisted he had a speech to give. However, he did take time out to send a telegram to his wife saying he was in excellent shape and that the wound wasn’t “a particle more serious than one of the injuries any of the boys used continually to be having.”

Nevertheless, walking onto the stage, he reportedly was pale and unsteady, and admitted to the crowd, “The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.” He then proceeded to talk for about 90 minutes…

The bulk of his speech was railing against Wilson, saying that a majority of the trusts that Roosevelt worked so hard to rid the country of were organized in New Jersey – Wilson’s home state.  

About 30 minutes into his speech, his campaign manager gently tried to get him to stop, but Roosevelt remarked, “My friends are a little more nervous than I am. Don’t you waste any sympathy on me.”

TR-XrayAs noted, he continued for almost another hour after this. Finally, he finished to great applause and headed to the hospital. After an X-ray was taken, it was found that the bullet was lodged next to a rib in his chest. It stayed there the rest of Roosevelt’s life.

This was probably for the best, as, contrary to what is often depicted by Hollywood, leaving the bullet in his generally better than trying to remove it, even today. Back then, this was even more the case due to increased risk of infection, which was what eventually claimed the lived of President James Garfield and Roosevelt’s own predecessor, President William McKinley, when they had their own meetings with assassins’ bullets. Thus, choosing to essentially do nothing, may have saved Roosevelt’s life.

Whatever the case, a week later, Roosevelt was out the hospital and back on the campaign trail. In a show of respect for Roosevelt, his opponents chose to cease their own campaigns while he was in the hospital, despite being so close to election day.

In the end, Wilson ended up winning the 1912 election because Roosevelt and Taft split the Republican vote, with Wilson getting 42% of the popular vote, while Roosevelt (27%) and Taft (23%) combined for 50%. But the ex-president had no regrets, not even about the assassination attempt. Explaining his thinking to a friend years later about his decision to go forward with the speech, “In the very unlikely event of the wound being mortal, I wished to die with my boots on.”

Or as he explained in his speech directly after being shot, when whether he would die or not was still uncertain,

I want you to understand that I am ahead of the game, anyway. No man has had a happier life than I have led; a happier life in every way. I have been able to do certain things that I greatly wished to do, and I am interested in doing other things. I can tell you with absolute truthfulness that I am very much uninterested in whether I am shot or not. It was just as when I was colonel of my regiment. I always felt that a private was to be excused for feeling at times some pangs of anxiety about his personal safety, but I cannot understand a man fit to be a colonel who can pay any heed to his personal safety when he is occupied as he ought to be with the absorbing desire to do his duty.

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The post That Time Teddy Roosevelt Got Shot in the Chest But Gave a 90 Minute Speech Anyway appeared first on Today I Found Out.

Agnes for Oct 06, 2017 for 10/06/2017

Agnes for Oct 06, 2017

Updated: Fri Oct 06, 2017

The Other Coast for Oct 06, 2017 for 10/06/2017

The Other Coast for Oct 06, 2017

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Wizard of Id for Oct 06, 2017 for 10/06/2017

Wizard of Id for Oct 06, 2017

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Heathcliff for Oct 06, 2017 for 10/06/2017

Heathcliff for Oct 06, 2017

Updated: Fri Oct 06, 2017

B.C. for Oct 06, 2017 for 10/06/2017

B.C. for Oct 06, 2017

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Dogs of C-Kennel for Oct 06, 2017 for 10/06/2017

Dogs of C-Kennel for Oct 06, 2017

Updated: Fri Oct 06, 2017

Andy Capp for Oct 06, 2017 for 10/06/2017

Andy Capp for Oct 06, 2017

Updated: Fri Oct 06, 2017

Herb and Jamaal for Oct 06, 2017 for 10/06/2017

Herb and Jamaal for Oct 06, 2017

Updated: Fri Oct 06, 2017

Momma for Oct 06, 2017 for 10/06/2017

Momma for Oct 06, 2017

Updated: Fri Oct 06, 2017

It’s late.

It’s late, but that’s not a surprise. It’s always late when this happens.  The business and sunlight and work drive away any time you have to feel too strongly, but eventually the sun goes down and everyone is tucked into … Continue reading

Agnes for Oct 05, 2017 for 10/05/2017

Agnes for Oct 05, 2017

Updated: Thu Oct 05, 2017

Wizard of Id for Oct 05, 2017 for 10/05/2017

Wizard of Id for Oct 05, 2017

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Heathcliff for Oct 05, 2017 for 10/05/2017

Heathcliff for Oct 05, 2017

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B.C. for Oct 05, 2017 for 10/05/2017

B.C. for Oct 05, 2017

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Dogs of C-Kennel for Oct 05, 2017 for 10/05/2017

Dogs of C-Kennel for Oct 05, 2017

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Andy Capp for Oct 05, 2017 for 10/05/2017

Andy Capp for Oct 05, 2017

Updated: Thu Oct 05, 2017

Herb and Jamaal for Oct 05, 2017 for 10/05/2017

Herb and Jamaal for Oct 05, 2017

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Momma for Oct 05, 2017 for 10/05/2017

Momma for Oct 05, 2017

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Nixon’s Tactic of Acting Unbalanced as a Political Strategy- The Madman Theory

richard-nixonDeveloped from game theory and a key tactic of his early administration, President Richard Nixon came into office with a clear plan – scare the hell out of other world leaders to get them to do what he wanted. Called the “madman theory,” it depended on possessing a massive nuclear arsenal, then simply acting sufficiently erratic and unbalanced to convince people that you were crazy enough to use it.

During the 1968 Presidential campaign, Nixon promised to end the war in Vietnam and obtain “peace with honor,” yet nearly one year into his first term, he was having little success. Peace talks between the North Vietnamese (supported by the Soviet Union) and the South (supported by the United States) had devolved into little more than sitting at a table, with the North Vietnamese saying they could wait “until the chairs rot.” Frustrated, Nixon decided it was time to use his secret weapon – his own reputation as a violent and unhinged, rabid anti-communist who wasn’t afraid to drop a nuclear bomb or two.

This reputation was, at least in part, carefully crafted by Nixon and his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger. As Nixon told his then-aide, H.R. Haldeman (later Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff who ultimately spent 18 months in jail for his role in Watergate):

I call it the Madman Theory Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We’ll just slip the word that, “for God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can’t restrain him when he’s angry – and he has this hand on the nuclear button” and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.

A common example from game theory demonstrates how this works: Two people, chained together, are placed at the edge of a cliff. As soon as one says “uncle,” both will be released, but the other, the guy who held out the longest, wins a big prize. One implementing the “madman theory” would try to bluff his opponent into thinking he just may jump off of the cliff by inching closer, dancing and walking near it, and talking crazy. If he is sufficiently convincing, the other will yield.

This is precisely what Nixon was trying to do with the North Vietnamese – appear absolutely impatient, totally reckless and even a bit insane – in order to convince them to cry “uncle.”

When it became clear it wasn’t working on the North Vietnamese, Nixon decided to try bluffing North Vietnam’s benefactor (and chief military supporter), the Soviet Union. Beginning on October 10, 1969, Nixon ordered the Strategic Air Command (SAC) to prepare for battle, while Kissinger engaged in a campaign of “all sorts of signal-type activity . . . .around the world to try to jar the Soviets and . . . North Vietnam[ese].”[1]

Called Giant Lance, on October 27, 1969, the operation launched 18 B-52 bombers, each armed with nuclear weapons, toward the eastern border of the Soviet Union. Unbelievably reckless, the bombers even required mid-air refueling – a procedure that posed the risk of the aircraft colliding and dropping their nuclear bombs at the border, something hardly advisable in such tense times, even if they weren’t armed. (Note: In January of 1966, a mid-air refueling of a B-52 resulted in four nuclear bombs accidentally being dropped on Spain.)

Halting at the edge of Soviet airspace, the nuclear-laden bombers prowled the skies for three days, taunting Soviet aircraft that had been launched in response. On the diplomatic side, Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev sent the Soviet ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Dobrynin, to meet with Kissinger and Nixon. At this meeting, Nixon continued with his “madman” ploy – lashing out at and even threatening the ambassador, who reported to Moscow: “Nixon is unable to control himself even in a conversation with a foreign ambassador.”

Believing they had achieved their goals, on October 30, 1969, Nixon recalled the bombers and ended Giant Lance. He and Kissinger were convinced that this sudden reversal of tactics only reinforced his “madman” image in the eyes of the Kremlin, and enabled the arms deal that followed on its heels.

Just a little over two weeks later, on November 17, 1969, formal talks for limiting nuclear weapons began in Helsinki, Finland, and 2.5 years later, on May 26, 1972, Nixon and Brezhnev signed an interim Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

Who’s crazy now?

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Bonus Facts:

  • Ever the clever strategist, shortly after, Nixon decided to employ the help of the country with the most people in his quest to contain the Soviet Union – China. Nearly unthinkable a few years before, Nixon was an ardent anti-communist and a vocal advocate of Taiwan. Yet in the foreign-policy morass of the early 1970s, the unimaginable became possible. Knowing he couldn’t just flip his policy, according to The Washington Post’s David Ignatius, Nixon carefully paved the way. In April 1971, he eased travel and trade restrictions and even allowed the U.S. pingpong team to visit the country, and then in July 1971, Kissinger had a secret, and successful, meeting with Chinese officials. Seizing the moment, Nixon announced Kissinger’s mission on national television as part of his plan to “open up China.”
  • Nixon, himself, visited from February 21-28, 1972, and was warmly received by the Chinese. At the end of his trip, Nixon described it as “the week that changed the world,” and history seems to agree. Breaking the hard ice formally between the two countries, thereafter they engaged in coordinated efforts to check the power of the Soviet Union throughout the remainder of the Cold War.
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The post Nixon’s Tactic of Acting Unbalanced as a Political Strategy- The Madman Theory appeared first on Today I Found Out.

Agnes for Oct 04, 2017 for 10/04/2017

Agnes for Oct 04, 2017

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The Other Coast for Oct 04, 2017 for 10/04/2017

The Other Coast for Oct 04, 2017

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Wizard of Id for Oct 04, 2017 for 10/04/2017

Wizard of Id for Oct 04, 2017

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Heathcliff for Oct 04, 2017 for 10/04/2017

Heathcliff for Oct 04, 2017

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B.C. for Oct 04, 2017 for 10/04/2017

B.C. for Oct 04, 2017

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Dogs of C-Kennel for Oct 04, 2017 for 10/04/2017

Dogs of C-Kennel for Oct 04, 2017

Updated: Wed Oct 04, 2017

Andy Capp for Oct 04, 2017 for 10/04/2017

Andy Capp for Oct 04, 2017

Updated: Wed Oct 04, 2017

Herb and Jamaal for Oct 04, 2017 for 10/04/2017

Herb and Jamaal for Oct 04, 2017

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Momma for Oct 04, 2017 for 10/04/2017

Momma for Oct 04, 2017

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Agnes for Oct 03, 2017 for 10/03/2017

Agnes for Oct 03, 2017

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The Other Coast for Oct 03, 2017 for 10/03/2017

The Other Coast for Oct 03, 2017

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Wizard of Id for Oct 03, 2017 for 10/03/2017

Wizard of Id for Oct 03, 2017

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Heathcliff for Oct 03, 2017 for 10/03/2017

Heathcliff for Oct 03, 2017

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B.C. for Oct 03, 2017 for 10/03/2017

B.C. for Oct 03, 2017

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Dogs of C-Kennel for Oct 03, 2017 for 10/03/2017

Dogs of C-Kennel for Oct 03, 2017

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Andy Capp for Oct 03, 2017 for 10/03/2017

Andy Capp for Oct 03, 2017

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Herb and Jamaal for Oct 03, 2017 for 10/03/2017

Herb and Jamaal for Oct 03, 2017

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Momma for Oct 03, 2017 for 10/03/2017

Momma for Oct 03, 2017

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Agnes for Oct 02, 2017 for 10/02/2017

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The Other Coast for Oct 02, 2017 for 10/02/2017

The Other Coast for Oct 02, 2017

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Wizard of Id for Oct 02, 2017 for 10/02/2017

Wizard of Id for Oct 02, 2017

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Heathcliff for Oct 02, 2017 for 10/02/2017

Heathcliff for Oct 02, 2017

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B.C. for Oct 02, 2017 for 10/02/2017

B.C. for Oct 02, 2017

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Dogs of C-Kennel for Oct 02, 2017 for 10/02/2017

Dogs of C-Kennel for Oct 02, 2017

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Andy Capp for Oct 02, 2017 for 10/02/2017

Andy Capp for Oct 02, 2017

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Herb and Jamaal for Oct 02, 2017 for 10/02/2017

Herb and Jamaal for Oct 02, 2017

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Momma for Oct 02, 2017 for 10/02/2017

Momma for Oct 02, 2017

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Agnes for Oct 01, 2017 for 10/01/2017

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The Other Coast for Oct 01, 2017 for 10/01/2017

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Wizard of Id for Oct 01, 2017 for 10/01/2017

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Heathcliff for Oct 01, 2017 for 10/01/2017

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B.C. for Oct 01, 2017 for 10/01/2017

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Dogs of C-Kennel for Oct 01, 2017 for 10/01/2017

Dogs of C-Kennel for Oct 01, 2017

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Andy Capp for Oct 01, 2017 for 10/01/2017

Andy Capp for Oct 01, 2017

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Herb and Jamaal for Oct 01, 2017 for 10/01/2017

Herb and Jamaal for Oct 01, 2017

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Momma for Oct 01, 2017 for 10/01/2017

Momma for Oct 01, 2017

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Agnes for Sep 30, 2017 for 09/30/2017

Agnes for Sep 30, 2017

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The Other Coast for Sep 30, 2017 for 09/30/2017

The Other Coast for Sep 30, 2017

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Heathcliff for Sep 30, 2017 for 09/30/2017

Heathcliff for Sep 30, 2017

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B.C. for Sep 30, 2017 for 09/30/2017

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Dogs of C-Kennel for Sep 30, 2017 for 09/30/2017

Dogs of C-Kennel for Sep 30, 2017

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Andy Capp for Sep 30, 2017 for 09/30/2017

Andy Capp for Sep 30, 2017

Updated: Sat Sep 30, 2017

Momma for Sep 30, 2017 for 09/30/2017

Momma for Sep 30, 2017

Updated: Sat Sep 30, 2017

It’s sort of a happy birthday to all of us.

I just found out that you can design your own leggings, so of course I was like, “You know what these pants need?  A motherfucking happy raccoon.” The best part is that not only is an insane raccoon staring down … Continue reading

Agnes for Sep 29, 2017 for 09/29/2017

Agnes for Sep 29, 2017

Updated: Fri Sep 29, 2017

The Other Coast for Sep 29, 2017 for 09/29/2017

The Other Coast for Sep 29, 2017

Updated: Fri Sep 29, 2017

Heathcliff for Sep 29, 2017 for 09/29/2017

Heathcliff for Sep 29, 2017

Updated: Fri Sep 29, 2017

Dogs of C-Kennel for Sep 29, 2017 for 09/29/2017

Dogs of C-Kennel for Sep 29, 2017

Updated: Fri Sep 29, 2017

Andy Capp for Sep 29, 2017 for 09/29/2017

Andy Capp for Sep 29, 2017

Updated: Fri Sep 29, 2017

Herb and Jamaal for Sep 29, 2017 for 09/29/2017

Herb and Jamaal for Sep 29, 2017

Updated: Fri Sep 29, 2017

Momma for Sep 29, 2017 for 09/29/2017

Momma for Sep 29, 2017

Updated: Fri Sep 29, 2017

Agnes for Sep 28, 2017 for 09/28/2017

Agnes for Sep 28, 2017

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The Other Coast for Sep 28, 2017 for 09/28/2017

The Other Coast for Sep 28, 2017

Updated: Thu Sep 28, 2017

Wizard of Id for Sep 28, 2017 for 09/28/2017

Wizard of Id for Sep 28, 2017

Updated: Thu Sep 28, 2017

Heathcliff for Sep 28, 2017 for 09/28/2017

Heathcliff for Sep 28, 2017

Updated: Thu Sep 28, 2017

B.C. for Sep 28, 2017 for 09/28/2017

B.C. for Sep 28, 2017

Updated: Thu Sep 28, 2017

Dogs of C-Kennel for Sep 28, 2017 for 09/28/2017

Dogs of C-Kennel for Sep 28, 2017

Updated: Thu Sep 28, 2017

Andy Capp for Sep 28, 2017 for 09/28/2017

Andy Capp for Sep 28, 2017

Updated: Thu Sep 28, 2017

Herb and Jamaal for Sep 28, 2017 for 09/28/2017

Herb and Jamaal for Sep 28, 2017

Updated: Thu Sep 28, 2017

Momma for Sep 28, 2017 for 09/28/2017

Momma for Sep 28, 2017

Updated: Thu Sep 28, 2017

I love this so hard.

A lot of high school kids do monologues or speeches or interpretive scripts based on my books but I almost never get to see the finished products.  This one was online though and I just watched it and it made … Continue reading

Ow. My heart.

Today is Hailey’s birthday.  She’s now officially a teenager, which seems wrong because this was her yesterday: Or maybe it was seven years ago. Feels like yesterday. Except yesterday she was still a pre-teen and two days ago I tucked … Continue reading

Surviving September

There’s something about September that wants to eat you. I wrote that years ago and it’s still just as true today.  In fact, every September for years and years I’ve written a post about how – for me at least … Continue reading

Watching Donald Trump Sing ‘Despacito’ Is Weirdly Mesmerizing

This will get you feeling some kind of way.

Seth Meyers Rips Donald Trump For Playing Dress Up Instead Of Tackling Opioid Crisis

"Man, what is this, the 'Make-A-Wish' presidency?"

Twitter Earns Internet Points Creating #TrumpScoutBadges

Keeping it physically strong, mentally awake and morally ... eh, whatever!

Sean Spicer Grows Strong, Learns How To Get Along In Spoof Music Video

At first he was afraid, he was petrified.

These Tweets About Sean Spicer’s Resignation Will Make You LOL

"Congrats to Sean Spicer on his new job as a CNN commentator."

Seth Meyers Calculates The Damage Done By The EPA In Just 6 Months

"Scott Pruitt being the head of the EPA is the same as New York’s food inspector being a rat with a clipboard."

Twitter Can’t Help But Make Trump Jokes About Tropical Storm Don

It’s the perfect storm.

What’s Playing At The Drive-In On The Planet Of The Apes

There's no business like monkey business.

Stephen Colbert Channels Kellyanne Conway, Has His Own ‘Fun With Words’

The "Late Show" host put his spin on the spin.

Trevor Noah Judges Conservatives’ Herculean Performances In The ‘Doncathalon’

We may be looking at a bulls**t world record!

‘The Late Show’ Got A Sneak Peek Into Donald Jr.’s Spam Folder

But would you even WANT to see what's inside?

‘Star Trek’ Villain And Comedian Comic Kahn Gets Up Warmed Up For Comic-Con

"FRIIIIIIIIIESSSSSS!"

Twitter Plays #DonJrChildrensBooks On His Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

For Donald Trump Jr., it probably isn't his last.

These 40 NSFW Cringeworthy Stories of the Worst Sex People Have Had Will Make You Shudder Uncontrollably

Cringeworthy stories of the worst sex that people have ever had will make you shudder terribly.

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Tagged: NSFW , sex , struggle , cringe , Awkward , dating

Best of This Blog

best of blog

With over 700 posts, the Humor That Works Blog is a vast resource covering all sorts of humor topics. But it can also be a bit overwhelming; new readers aren’t sure where to start or what to focus on. Well, new readers should definitely start with the Getting Started Guide, but after that, it’s choose-your-own-adventure.

But if you want some insight from the author, I decided to share some of my favorite posts from the last 7+ years of writing about humor at work.

#1. Funny Work Jokes

Who doesn’t like a good one-liner? That was my thought with this collection of work jokes. Yes, there are plenty of posts on this blog that cover the benefits of humor or how to use it, but sometimes all you need is a laugh or 101.

Read 101 Funny Work Jokes to Get You Through the Day

2. The Best Teambuilding Exercise

Some of my posts are dedicated to teaching you how to do a very specific humor activity with the hopes that it helps you get started using humor by sharing all the details you need to repeat something I already know works. My favorite such exercise turns your peers into zombies.

Read Zombie Tag – A Teambuilding Exercise

3. The Power of Improv

I’m a huge proponent of applied improvisation and truly believe that improv can (and will) change the world. One post in particular wraps some of the wonderful life perspective that improv can provide into a nice list of ten.

Read 10 Life Tips from Improv Class

4. A Proper News Story

I’ve shared a number of personal updates over the years, all with the goal of keeping you abreast of what was going on behind-the-scenes of the company. No post was more meaningful than reflecting on my decision to leave my corporate job to pursue this project of humor at work.

Read 3 Year Anniversary of Leaving P&G

5. My Most Popular Post According to Google

The goal of the blog has always been to provide practical resources to various challenges. As an introvert, one challenge I ran into was creating engaging conversation with peers and coworkers, so I created a list of questions I could use to avoid terrible small talk. It turns out other people were looking for the same thing because this is my most popular post based on Google search traffic.

Read 50 Questions to Get to Know Someone

6. An Ancillary Skill

Humor That Works has never been exclusively about humor; it’s always been about being more effective. It just turns out that humor is one of the keys to being effective, even on personal tasks like learning how to wake up in the morning.

Read How to Stop Hitting Snooze

7. A Post to Prove My Mom Wrong

Inspiration can come from all sorts of places, including the radio / iTunes / Spotify. It’s why I decided to create an entire database of office humor–to curate inspiration into one spot. One of my favorite collections is that inspirational hip hop lyrics. Growing up, my mom was never a fan of me listening to rap (she didn’t like the lyrical content) but I realized that there’s a lot of positivity in the hip hop, so I wrote a post to prove her wrong.

Read 12 Inspirational Lyrics from Hip Hop

8. One of the Best Business Books

Reading has always been a great way to clarify my own thinking and ideas, particularly around humor at work. Periodically, I take the time to share what I’ve learned from what I’ve read. Peter F Drucker is one of those people who has taught me a great deal from his writings. His book, The Effective Executive is perhaps the first truly life-changing non-fiction book I ever read. So I shared some of the most important lessons from the book.

Read 12 Effectiveness Lessons from The Effective Executive

9. One of the Best Fiction Books

I think you can learn just as much from fiction as you can from non-fiction, and I set out to prove it by sharing some of the greatest wisdom from one of my favorite books and one of the most successful graphic novels of all time: The Watchmen.

Read Life Lessons from The Watchmen

10. A Post that Makes Me Smile

Building off the idea of getting inspiration from unlikely places, I found a site dedicated to creating inspirational picture quotes using prompts, error messages, and readouts from machines. It’s fantastic.

Read Unintentionally Profound Life Advice from Machines

Looking for More?

Still looking for more? Check out any of the other 700+ posts on the blog or read one at random.

Awesome Parents Surprise Their Kid With Homemade Blockbuster to Cheer Him Up

Awesome parents surprise their autistic son with homemade Blockbuster to cheer him up for the win.

Even though Blockbuster as a chain went under back in 2013, some franchisees' defied all odds like the true cockroaches they were and soldiered on. When this particular Blockbuster closed down recently it destroyed @Javiii_Zuniga's younger brother, and his parents proceeded to find the perfect heartwarming solution. 

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George R.R. Martin’s Ridiculous Tweet Has People Feeling Some Type of Way Right Now

twitter Game of Thrones reactions ridiculous - 1925381

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Guy Creates Troll Tinder Account Using Male Model Pics, Doesn’t Fail to Pull Amazing Number of Thirsty Chicks

Social Experiment tinder dating - 1667589

I get it, I get it: shocker right? Bro with affinity for trolling and Imgur fame breaks out the fake male model Tinder account, and manages to get away with being a bane of the earth, insensitive, sex-crazed, depraved simeon. Do really really ridiculous good looking people just get away with being, well, shittier people, or what? Obviously the results from this dude's 'social experiment' have been skewed and framed in such a way that highlights the more ridiculous encounters for the sake of those self-serving upvotes, but it still makes you wonder. Or wait, does it.

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Can You Learn to Be Funny? Yes

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of speaking at the same event as Kevin Richardson, aka the Lion Whisperer, aka this dude:

Before the event, he and I were talking and when he found out I did stand-up comedy, his reaction was, “I could never do that, it’s too scary.” This, from a guy who LIVES WITH LIONS.

But that’s what a lot of people think; they think being funny is something you’re either born with or you will never be able to do.

The reality is that humor is a skill. And if it’s a skill, that means humor can be learned.

I’ve done over 1,000 shows as a performer. I’ve spoken or performed in all 50 states, 18 countries, and 3 continents. I’ve opened for Pauly Shore, performed with Rachel Dratch, and had a joke go viral.

And yet, a few years ago, when I went to my high school reunion and old classmates found out I did comedy, their response was, “But you’re not funny.”

In some ways they were right because this is not the face of funny:

awkward school dance photo

There is a lot that’s funny about this picture, but none of it is intentional. I have the old school blonde tips; my clothes are too baggy for me; the theme was “Into a Dream…” I am no one’s dream in this picture.

Growing up, I was never the life of the party or class clown. I am very much an introvert; if you know Myers-Briggs, I’m INTJ. If you know Star Wars, I’m R2D2.

But in college, my best friend wanted to start an improv group, he needed people and forced me to join. And I was terrible. I tried too hard to be clever, I made only bad jokes, and I was constantly nervous.

But over time, with practice and repetition, I got better. The nerves went away, I felt more comfortable on stage, and I started to see the world through a more humorous lens.

As I improved on stage, first as an improviser and then as a stand-up comedian, I also became funnier in everyday situations. I started adding humor to my presentations, at the end of my emails, and in conversations. My reaction time was quicker, I was able to think faster on my feet, and I had better delivery when I added a funny comment to a conversation.

Soon, I became obsessed with learning everything I could about comedy. I read every comedy book I could find, went to live shows every week, and watched comedy specials over and over to see how different comedians made people laugh. I also practiced and performed nearly every single day.

Then, as Humor That Works started to grow, I started teaching comedy. First to people who wanted to do stand-up or improv, then to people who wanted to add it to their presentations, then to people who just wanted to be wittier in everyday situations.

Along the way, my belief has been reaffirmed: you can learn to be funny. Or at least, funnier.

There’s no magic formula to learning to be as funny as Louis CK, Eddie Izzard, or Ellen (some of my favorites). That takes years of hard work, hours of practice (10,000+ if we believe Malcolm Gladwell), and probably some intangibles that we’ll never truly know.

But anyone can learn to be witty in conversations, to add humor to their work, or to write funny tweets. Because if this kid…

awkward graduation picture

… can learn to do it, anyone can.

So how does one learn to be funny? That’s what I’ll be explaining over the next series of blog posts or you can check out my TEDx talk on the Skill of Humor. To get the posts as they come out, follow me on Twitter or Facebook, or sign up for the Humor That Works newsletter.

Cell Phone Operating Systems

are here to stay and so is the technology that makes all those cool features work. You know all about your phone and what it can (and sometimes can’t) do, but maybe you don’t realize what’s in that little handset making all those apps come to life. Just like your car has an engine and that engine is a little bit different from the one in a different type, size or make of car, so

20 Festive Breakup Excuses That Want to Help Get You out of Buying a Christmas Gift This Year

christmas twitter FAIL holiday breakup funny dating - 1246725

Over the weekend people shared their favorite takes on #ChristmasBreakUpExcuses, and going through these, I've gotta admit..pretty impressed. Goes without saying these are NOT going to help you avoid the steaming sugar coated sh*tpile that'll fall from the sky upon your life if you try to use one of 'em.

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What is Applied Improvisation?

When clients hear that my training includes applied improvisation, they often have no idea what I’m talking about or immediately fear the worst.

They worry that it means their employees will have to tell jokes, will be forced to do silly exercises, or will have to do some form of trust fall.

Applied improv is none of the above.

What is Applied Improvisation

At its basic level, applied improv is simply taking concepts, ideas, and techniques from the world of improvisation and applying them to business, relationships, and life.

It’s not joke-telling, silly activities, or the theater equivalent of Minute to Win It challenges. It is effective, experiential learning that inspires, educates, and entertains.

With this is mind, it’s important to understand that applied improv is a not a what, but a how.

It’s how we train incredibly valuable business skills such as communication, collaboration, innovation, problem-solving, and leadership. It’s how we instill a culture of growth mindset, build psychological safety, and embrace authentic leadership. It’s how we learn to be more effective at what we do.

As my good friend Kat Koppett says, improv is the gym. It’s a way to get reps building valuable skills in a low-risk, effective way.

The Benefits of Applied Improvisation

Why is applied improv so important? Why do I, as an engineer obsessed with efficiency and effectiveness, incorporate applied improv into my programs? Because it works.

There are five primary benefits to using applied improv in training and development:

#1. Participants experience the learning.

applied improv experience the learning

Remember as a kid when your parents told you not to touch the stove because it was hot, but you touched it anyway and burned yourself? And after that, you never touched the hot stove again? You know that the things you learn from experience have a more lasting impression than the things you learn because someone told you.

So much of today’s training is the equivalent of a parent telling you not to touch the stove. Lectures are great for introducing an idea like growth mindset, but it’s not how we learn to actually live it.

Applied improv serves as the hot stove where you experience the lesson (but without the burn). Rather than be told what’s important, participants go through an activity that helps them come to the learning point on their own. It’s one thing to hear an idea, it’s another thing to experience it.

#2. Participants practice the skills.

applied improv practice new skills

Imagine you’ve decided you wanted to become a violinist. To do this, you wouldn’t just read a bunch of books on what it means to play the violin and then immediately step on stage in front of thousands of people. Instead, you might do some of that reading, but mostly you would practice. A lot. Before you ever stepped foot on stage, you would have spent hours practicing scales, exercises, and songs.

And yet, when we train business skills, we have people go sit in a lecture and then expect them to be able to implement those ideas immediately, without any practice or experience. Listening to a talk on communication is like listening to a talk on how to be a violinist–it won’t be effective unless you can practice what you’ve learned.

Applied improv gives participants an opportunity to practice new skills so they can be more effective immediately. A trainer doesn’t just talk about the importance of listening to understand, the participants actually have an opportunity to build their skill in doing so.

#3. Participants feel safe to try new things.

applied improv try new things

Think back to the first time you learned how to ride a bike. How did it go? Did you pedal to glory on your first attempt? Probably not. If you’re like me, you fell on your first few tries but eventually you got better and before you knew it, you were riding down the entire length of the street (only to realize you didn’t know how to stop).

Failure is a key part of any learning experience; it’s how you learn to make adjustments and determine what works and what doesn’t. But failing in our jobs can have consequences. A first time leader can be at risk of demotivating their employees while trying to learn what it means to lead.

Applied improv provides a safe environment for the participants to try new things and to fail in a low stakes environment. Participants learn what works and doesn’t work in a classroom instead of in the middle of an important project for their company.

#4. Participants build relationships with each other.

applied improv build relationships

Of all the people you work with, who do you have the best relationships with? Chances are it’s the people who you have something in common with: maybe you work in the same department, sat next to them at a training, or have bonded over your mutual love of the show Game of Thrones. 

That’s how all relationships are formed, through shared interests and shared experiences. Relationships, both internal and external, are a vital part of any company; it’s why Google determined that the most important trait of an effective team is psychological safety.

Applied improv creates a positive shared experience that helps build the relationships of the people in the room. You could learn about psychological safety by listening to someone talk about it, or you could do it through interacting with your fellow participants, learning about each other, becoming closer together, and actually building that safety in the room.

#5. Participants have fun.

applied improv have fun

Which would you rather do: sit in a room and be bored or laugh with your peers and have fun? Which would you learn more from? Which would leave you with a more lasting impression? Which would you think more positively about and share with others? I’ll take “laugh with my peers and have fun” every time.

Sadly, many of today’s corporate trainings are death-by-PowerPoint boring. Learning about a topic as interesting as innovation can still be heart-wrenchingly dreadful. The simple truth is that you quickly forget about boring experiences and become more invested in the things you find enjoyable (duh).

Applied improv is fun. And not in a “corporate is telling us this is fun so it’s actually going to be awful” way, but in an actual “I haven’t laughed like this at work in years” way. The exercises are geared to be entertaining and the fun doesn’t come from cracking jokes, but by having authentic moments with the other participants. As a result, you learn the keys to something like being more innovative while staying actively involved in the learning experience.

Getting Started with Applied Improvisation

get started with applied improv

Applied improv is a crucial component of all of my trainings because it works. It’s effective, engaging, and entertaining all at the same time. It’s why I’ve delivered trainings at more than 200 organizations at corporate offsites, conferences, and for organizational team building. To learn more, check out my Humor That Works Programs.

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