The Unexpected Origins Of 5 Common Practices

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by Jordan Breeding

Most of modern life is built around routines: We wake up, go to work, come home, change into a skin-tight latex bodysuit and punch criminals in the crotch, then brush our teeth and go to bed -- rinse and repeat. But what you probably don’t realize is that some of the routines you take for granted were invented for some pretty unexpected reasons. For instance ...


Servers Live On Tips Because Business Owners Didn't Want To Pay Newly Freed Slaves

Does anybody actually like tipping? Are there servers out there, pumped about how a massive chunk of their income is dependent on the generosity of strangers? And do patrons enjoy paying 20% extra after a bowel-churning plate of TGI Friday's potato skins? No matter how you look at it, tipping is pretty awful for everybody involved ... well, except for the business owners. So maybe it's not that big of a surprise to learn that tipping has racist origins.

When tipping was first “invented” it was primarily used as a way for European aristocrats to show off how rich they were. While at somebody else’s house, they’d hand the butler or the maid a wad of cash so everybody in the vicinity would know that they were rolling in the big bucks. Americans, enthralled by the idea of looking like they were important, brought tipping to the U.S. so they could grandstand at home.



"I don't have much. Here's $2 and my phone."

But it wasn’t just rich people that liked tipping, it was also racist rich people. See, after the Civil War, there were tons of newly freed slaves that were looking for work. Restaurants and train companies weren’t very excited about having to pay black people to do work, so they too embraced the idea of tipping ... but they added the wrinkle of doing so in lieu of a traditional salary. And guess how willing the racist customers were to tip their black servers and ticket punchers?

Many Americans actually opposed the idea of tipping, and unions pushed to get rid of the whole concept. Eventually it fizzled out because hooray capitalism, but before it did, Europe latched onto the idea and removed tipping from their economy. By 1926, America had decided that tipping was an essential part of how workers should be paid.

UK Drives On The Left Side Of The Road So They Can Stab Each Other Better, America Changed It For Whipping Purposes

It’s not as important nowadays, but in ancient Greece and Rome, you always needed to be ready at a moment’s notice to stab the hell out of somebody. You never knew if you were going to cross paths with your sworn, mortal enemy on the way to the public bath house (though Brian Brushwood still lives by this). This was apparently doubly important when riding a chariot to work (which Jason Murphy still does).

Since most people are right-handed, ancient civilizations build their roads so that people would pass each other on the left. If two right-handers approaching each other on the road decided they wanted to stab each other's faces off, it made sense for them to pass each other on the left. Otherwise, they’d have to readjust or spin endlessly in circles or, heaven forbid, get out of their chariots and skewer each other in the streets like animals. Thousands of years later, Britain just stuck with the system they'd inherited from their old conquerors, even though there are significantly fewer jousts between Uber drivers these days.



Do NOT go up against this guy. He can come at you from all angles.

The US, by contrast, got started a bit later than the UK, and thus had no inherent system for goring on the go. It wasn’t until wagons started going places in the late 1700s that anybody thought to set up a few ground rules. The most important thing for American drivers wasn’t so much impaling each other in passing as it was effectively whipping their horses any time they decided they’d had enough of hauling loads of pioneer butts. For those drivers, it made more sense to sit on the left side of the wagon, because it made brutalizing pairs of horses much more effective. And since the driver was now on the left, it made more sense for vehicles to pass on the right, so as to not crash into other wagons full of animal abusers.

If that sounds arbitrary, think of it like this: If you drive on the left (and sit on the right), your stabbing hand is as close to the center line as it can get. So it's easy to reach out and stab. If you're driving on the right (sitting on the left), your whipping hand is further from the center line, so you don't accidentally miss and whip oncoming drivers in the face.

Late Night Talk Shows Start 5 Minutes Later Than Other Shows Because Of The Gulf War

Have you ever wondered why late-night shows start at 35 minutes on the hour? Everything else in life is cordoned off into 15 minute blocks. Does Jimmy Fallon’s nightly dump fluctuate in length (and girth) so greatly that producers finally decided they needed a five minute buffer, just in case? Actually, like most things, the real problem was Saddam Hussein.

Every local TV station is affiliated with a larger network. Yes, even your town’s redneck action news team is likely connected to NBC, ABC or FOX. When the Gulf War started in 1990, the local NBC affiliates found that their news programs couldn’t compete with ABC and FOX. This was the first major war of the 24-hour news cycle, and NBC’s late-night programming was dominated by the extremely popular The Tonight Show which started at 11:30pm. ABC and FOX also had stuff after 11pm, of course, but nothing nearly as popular. Their local stations were able to dedicate more time to the war than NBC’s, and so they were garnering more viewers. NBC affiliates begged the company to push The Tonight Show back to midnight so they could show more footage of Iraqis being blown away by American troops.



*This photo is a reenactment. Actual NBC executives are shorter.

Eventually, NBC acquiesced and decided to give local news a whopping five extra minutes for their war porn. Then ABC and FOX followed suit so as to not look like they were screwing over their local news, and even after the Gulf War ended (for awhile), local stations refused to give that time back, setting a standard that still exists to this day.

One weird consequence of all of this is that it opened up opportunities for cable shows like Adult Swim and Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert to fill in the gap by starting at 11pm and 11:30pm. So, yeah, it’s a little cliche, but you could say Saddam Hussein is kind of responsible for Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

Father’s Day Was A Memorial For 362 Dead Coal Miners

Coal mining is easily one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. A coal miner can die in so many ways, you could start a trivia game, based just on that subject: Tunnel flooding, surprise explosions, severe lung cancer after years of breathing in literal soot and working with diesel machines. But that’s just today. Back in the 1900s, it was way worse.

In December of 1907, an explosion in a West Virginia mine killed 362 miners. The Monongah Mining Disaster, as it was later called, created tons of widows and resulted in over 1,000 children growing up without fathers. As one might imagine, this was pretty upsetting to the townspeople and especially a woman named Grace Clayton. She decided to try and do something to help ease the town’s horrific pain.

Mother’s Day was already a thing that people celebrated, so Grace Clayton suggested to her church that they have a “Father’s Day” to honor all of the fathers who had recently been killed. Unlike your current Father’s Day celebration of burning some toast for your dad and incorrectly guessing what he'd like as a gift, this was incredibly depressing.



"It's PERFECT! How'd you know?"

Of course, America would never let something like that go un-commercialized for long, and though Clayton is ostensibly the founder of the holiday, the holiday didn’t really catch on until a woman named Sonora Smart pitched the idea to stores as a way to sell their manly wares. That was the extra spice and pizzazz that this holiday (a memorial to fathers who died in an coal mining accident) really needed. Businesses latched onto the idea, and Father’s Day became a national tradition.

So if you’re ever frustrated because you feel obligated to buy your dad his 13,000th tie, just remember that he could be exploded right now. And also that he loves pastels.

The NFL Uses A Huddle Because Of A Deaf Quarterback

Back in the 1890s, no football team ever bothered to use a huddle. They’d just yell the plays out to each other utilizing code words, and everybody knew what it meant. Of course, it’s not like the plays were that difficult, because nobody was allowed to throw the football forward. The hardest part of the game was avoiding death. For deaf football players at Gallaudet, this was a bit more challenging.

All students at Gallaudet college are either deaf or extremely hard of hearing. The process of yelling out and/or signing plays to each other took too long and made it easy for other teams to tell what they were going to do. Because the process of signing required each player to at some point face the quarterback, other teams had ample time to decipher what was going on, provided they had somebody on the squad that knew ASL.



"Does anyone know when we're allowed to have names?"

Growing tired of this laborious process, and getting beat all the time, a quarterback for Gallaudet named Paul Hubbard decided to call everybody into a huddle. Suddenly, it was much, much easier to communicate to the entire team at once, and -- this is crucial -- the other team couldn’t see the plays. It's actually kind of strange that nobody had ever thought to do this before.

Weirdly, they actually got to a point a few decades later where they abandoned the huddle again, because over time, it was less and less likely that other teams would know any sign language, anyway.

Like this article? Check out "The Bizarre Origins Of 5 Totally Ordinary Things" and "5 Magicians Who Shaped The Course Of History".

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