But Seriously: Why Do We Drive on Parkways and Park on Driveways?

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“Hey! How come we drive on parkways and park on driveways? Huh? Huh? Amiright?!”

Good grief. This rusty one-liner’s gotten plenty of mileage, but few realize that the question is actually answerable.

The words “drive” and “park” existed long before automobiles. Remember, whenever you write or speak, you’re voting with your vocabulary. Languages evolve over time and a given term’s meaning is subject to dramatically change based on the whim of its users.

Back in the 1800s, for example, “parking” meant planting trees, flowers, and other bits of vegetation. A “parking place,” therefore, had nothing to do with stationary vehicles. Instead, it was a location specifically designed to encourage diverse, extensive plant growth for non-agricultural purposes.

Yet, many were soon commandeered for an entirely different objective. Historian Kirk Savagewrites, “By the turn of the century, such parking areas were sometimes used to hold horse-drawn carriages on special occasions...When automobiles started to overrun cities in the early twentieth century, parking areas were given over to car storage and the word began to refer to the cars themselves rather than the trees and grass they were replacing.”

During this transitional period, America’s parkways also began taking shape. Metropolitan reformers—who feared the health costs of industrial growth—started establishing wooded parks within cities nationwide, hoping their trees would make urban air more breathable. As automobiles rose in popularity, special car-friendly routes were carved through such parks. Unimaginatively, these were named “parkways”.

So parkways have nothing to do with the actual parking of vehicles. But what about “driveways”? Well, that particular word’s been around since at least 1884 and has essentially meant the same thing ever since—namely, a path that connects somebody’s private property to a public road. However, while lengthy driveways were once the norm (and, hence, enabled more driving), today’s average specimen is little more than a dinky personal parking station.

Why Does Hand Sanitizer Have an Expiration Date?

Hand sanitizer does expire. Here's why.
Hand sanitizer does expire. Here's why.
galitskaya/iStock via Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has turned hand sanitizer from something that was once idly tossed into cars and drawers into a bit of a national obsession. Shortages persist, and people are trying to make their own, often to little avail. (DIY sanitizer may not be sterile or contain the proper concentration of ingredients.)

If you do manage to get your hands on a bottle of Purell or other name-brand sanitizer, you may notice it typically has an expiration date. Can it really go “bad” and be rendered less effective?

The short answer: yes. Hand sanitizer is typically made up of at least 60 percent alcohol, which is enough to provide germicidal benefit when applied to your hands. According to Insider, that crucial percentage of alcohol can be affected over time once it begins to evaporate after the bottle has been opened. As the volume is reduced, so is the effectiveness of the solution.

Though there’s no hard rule on how long it takes a bottle of sanitizer to lose alcohol content, manufacturers usually set the expiration date three years from the time of production. (Because the product is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, it has to have an expiration date.)

Let's assume you’ve found a bottle of old and forgotten sanitizer in your house somewhere. It expired in 2018. Should you still use it? It’s not ideal, but if you have no other options, even a reduced amount of alcohol will still have some germ-fighting effectiveness. If it’s never been opened, you’re in better shape, as more of the alcohol will have remained.

Remember that sanitizer of any potency is best left to times when soap and water isn’t available. Consider it a bridge until you’re able to get your hands under a faucet. There’s no substitution for a good scrub.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Why Are Sloths So Slow?

Sloths have little problem holding still for nature photographers.
Sloths have little problem holding still for nature photographers.
Geoview/iStock via Getty Images

When it comes to physical activity, few animals have as maligned a reputation as the sloth. The six sloth species, which call Brazil and Panama home, move with no urgency, having seemingly adapted to an existence that allows for a life lived in slow motion. But what makes sloths so sedate? And what horrible, poop-related price must they pay in order to maintain life in the slow lane?

According to HowStuffWorks, the sloth’s limited movements are primarily the result of their diet. Residing mainly in the canopy vines of Central and South American forests, sloths dine out on leaves, fruits, and buds. With virtually no fat or protein, sloths conserve energy by taking a leisurely approach to life. On average, a sloth will climb or travel roughly 125 feet per day. On land, it takes them roughly one minute to move just one foot.

A sloth’s digestive system matches their locomotion. After munching leaves using their lips—they have no incisors—it can take up to a month for their meals to be fully digested. And a sloth's metabolic rate is 40 to 45 percent slower than most mammals' to help compensate for their low caloric intake. With so little fuel to burn, a sloth makes the most of it.

Deliberate movement shouldn’t be confused for weakness, however. Sloths can hang from branches for hours, showing off some impressive stamina. And because they spend most of their time high up in trees, they have no need for rapid movement to evade predators.

There is, however, one major downside to the sloth's leisurely lifestyle. Owing to their meager diet, they typically only have to poop once per week. Like going in a public bathroom, this can be a stressful event, as it means going to the ground and risking detection by predators—which puts their lives on the line. Worse, that slow bowel motility means they’re trying to push out nearly one-third of their body weight in feces at a time. It's something to consider the next time you feel envious of their chill lifestyle.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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