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19 of the Most Confusing Things We Explained to You in 2021

Dec 29, 2021

Hacks aren’t everything. Sometimes what you really need to improve your life is a better understanding of the world around you. So let’s take a tour through some of our best explainers of the year year, the things that put an end to your confusion about what an NFT is, or why there’s always a novel in front of every recipe online.

What’s an NFT?

Image: Polunina Mariia, Shutterstock Image: Polunina Mariia, Shutterstock

The same technology that brought us Bitcoin has now delivered a way of allowing a person to “own” a code attached to a piece of artwork. Our former finance writer Mike Winters explains why everyone is investing in NFTs:

It might seem bizarre to buy the “authentic” version of something you can easily screengrab off your desktop, but it’s easy to overlook the emotional value of collecting, especially when it comes to original art.

Does that headline say “fucks” or “sucks”?

Photo: Claire Lower Photo: Claire Lower

When senior food editor Claire Lower told us that Popeye’s pre-cooked turkey “absolutely fucks,” she was telling us that it is very good. Readers unfamiliar with this slang wrote in to ask if this was possibly a typo? Did you mean “sucks”? It was not, and we did not. Staff writer Stephen Johnson came to the rescue by explaining the meaning and etymology of the phrase “this guy fucks”:

There’s a definite point of origin for the widespread use of the phrase “this guy fucks”: Season 3, episode 2 of HBO’s Silicon Valley.

In “Bad Money,” first aired on April 26, 2015, Mark Cuban-esque venture capitalist Russ Hanneman takes a look at the wan nerds that make up Silicon Valley’s cast, zeroes in on the (arguably) nerdiest — sunken-eyed CEO Jared Dunne — and declares, “This guy fucks. Am I right? ‘Cause I’m looking at the rest of you guys, and this is the guy in the house doing all the fucking. Am I right? You know I’m right. This guy fucks.”

How bad is Omicron?

Photo: Arif biswas, Shutterstock Photo: Arif biswas, Shutterstock

The news exploded over Thanksgiving weekend with headlines about the new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19, officially named Omicron. (Fun fact: The next letter in the Greek alphabet was actually Nu, but the World Health Organisation thought that “the Nu variant” would sound too much like “the new variant,” so it skipped to omicron. Read more about the Omicron variant here.

Omicron gained public health officials’ notice because its numbers rose quickly in a few southern African countries, and because it has several genetic mutations that could be bad news, but we don’t know yet how bad. You’re not hearing so much about it because it’s disastrously bad; you’re hearing about it because it’s concerning and it’s new.

Why do recipes have so much text beforehand?

Photo: Halfpoint, Shutterstock Photo: Halfpoint, Shutterstock

Yes, we know, you just want to skip to the recipe. But that wall of text is not just a boring obstacle to be scrolled past; it’s there for multiple reasons, and Claire Lower has a good explanation of what you miss when you ignore it. She also ends with a recommendation:

Anyway. Scrolling is not hard, and a lot of sites and blogs have a “skip to the recipe” function. If you truly despise even seeing (free) anecdotes and (free) theory before you get to a (free) recipe, I suggest you buy some cookbooks, read writers whose words you actually enjoy, or try and come up with your own damn recipes. It might give you a little more appreciation for recipe writers — what they do, and the grandmothers who made them what they are today.

What’s the difference between loneliness and isolation?

Photo: Kedardome, Shutterstock Photo: Kedardome, Shutterstock

You can be alone without being lonely, Rachel Fairbank explains in a post about the difference between loneliness and isolation, but the two tend to go together. Solving that problem involves figuring out exactly what you’re missing:

However, when it comes to social isolation and loneliness, what we can do is think about what it is that we need to feel less alone. When it comes to meaningful social contact, this will look different for everyone, which means that what works for one person may not work for another. As Perissinotto told the NY Times, what we can do is think about the kinds of connections we need, and how we might be able to get them.

What can I do if there’s a solar flare?

Photo: Mumemories, Shutterstock Photo: Mumemories, Shutterstock

A massive ejection of plasma from the sun could disrupt life on earth, frying electrical and communication systems. And it will probably happen in our lifetime. We can’t predict or prevent these flares, but we can prepare for them, Stephen Johnson explains:

While there’s nothing we mere humans can do to prevent solar flares, they don’t hurt humans, and the damage to our infrastructure can be mitigated. There are at least 27 separate federal programs aimed at preventing a worst-case-scenario outcome of a solar flare, and private power companies are developing and employing technology to counter massive power surges, too. On the other hand, taking steps to prevent a foreseeable worldwide catastrophe isn’t something we’re exactly great at (See: Pandemic, the).

What do you call the bread-based dish we serve on Thanksgiving?

Photo: Brent Hofacker, Shutterstock Photo: Brent Hofacker, Shutterstock

My family always called it stuffing, whether it’s in or out of the bird, but if you want to speak accurately about turkey-related bread dishes, you need to know a the difference between stuffing and dressing. Claire Lower tells all:

Far be it from me — a person from a state that calls all carbonated soft drinks “coke” — to argue semantics, but most of what is made and served in homes around the U.S. is dressing, or at least it should be. Mississippi is not known for being “correct” about a lot of things (like the Civil War or COVID restrictions), but their refusal to call it anything but dressing is technically correct, the best kind of correct one can be. So let us have this one. Football season is so very hard.

Is the housing market going to crash?

Photo: ZikG, Shutterstock Photo: ZikG, Shutterstock

The last time we had a housing market this hot was 2007 or so, and we all know what happened after that. But Mike Winters wants us to know that this time is (probably) different:

The housing market isn’t easy to predict, but most experts don’t expect a crash. Unlike the 2007 housing crisis, which was caused by a bad lending climate, today’s overheated housing market is a result of supply and demand.

Is there supposed to be a space in the word “weightlifting”?

Photo: CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP, Getty Images Photo: CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP, Getty Images

I’m never happier than when I get to be a nerd and a jock at the same time, so please enjoy the backstory behind why weightlifting and weight lifting are completely different things:

Weightlifting, all one word, is the sport that is contested in the Olympics where people in what look like old-timey swimsuits pick up barbells loaded with kindergarten-coloured weights. In one of the events, the snatch, the bar is lifted from the ground to overhead in one swift movement. In the other, the clean and jerk, the bar is lifted to the shoulders and the lifter pauses to breathe and maybe grimaces a bit before shoving it sky high. (You can lift more weight the second way, which is why they are separate events. Each lifter’s best snatch and best clean and jerk are added together to find out who wins.)

Are secrets in a relationship always bad?

Photo: Shchus, Shutterstock Photo: Shchus, Shutterstock

We all deserve privacy, even from our significant others, but you know a relationship is doomed when the two of you start keeping secrets. Writer Elizabeth Yuko explains the difference between secrecy and privacy here:

“If you aren’t revealing something because you don’t want to, it’s likely an example of maintaining privacy,” Amy Morin, LCSW, a psychotherapist and editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind tells Well+Good. “And if you’re not revealing something because you are afraid of the consequences, it’s likely secrecy.”

Is Instagram hurting teen’s mental health?

Photo: CarlosBarquero, Shutterstock Photo: CarlosBarquero, Shutterstock

Damning data leaked from Facebook showed that the company’s social networks make teens feel bad about themselves. But is that the whole story? It turns out that what we actually know about how social media affects teens’ mental health is more of a mixed bag. Teens’ connections with their peers can help their mental health, too.

A teen who chucks their phone into the sea is still going to have feelings and is still going to have to find their own way to fit into the world. It may be most useful to think about how we can positively influence our kids’ social lives and not just their social media use.

What is functional fitness, anyway?

Photo: Master1305, Shutterstock Photo: Master1305, Shutterstock

Everything from CrossFit to kettlebells to squatting on a Bosu trainer has been branded as “functional.” The word doesn’t identify a specific way of exercising, just an outcome. And it turns out that there are many ways to improve your body’s function.

If you want to take a lesson from the world of functional fitness, let it be that you’re not limited to any stereotype of fitness. Balance training can be fun and helpful; so can grip training, and core training, and interval cardio training, and all kinds of things you might not normally think to do in the gym. Learning new skills is an exercise for your brain, as well as your body, and it’s a worthwhile one, too — even if you’ll never find a “functional” use for something like handstand pushups.

Is my phone battery healthy?

Photo: Rawpixel.com, Shutterstock Photo: Rawpixel.com, Shutterstock

Batteries need special care to last their longest, but senior tech editor Jake Peterson explains that your phone already takes care of the important stuff automatically. While it may have made sense in the past to worry about exactly how to take care of your battery, those days are pretty much over:

For something like your smartphone, your best bet might be to just leave it plugged in while you sleep. Your phone will figure out the routine, and keep its battery around 80% for most of the night.

But even battery optimisation aside, you shouldn’t devote too much stress too worrying about battery health. Batteries degrade; it’s just what they do. Eventually, you’ll notice a difference in your device’s ability to hold a charge. And, at that point, it might be worth just replacing the battery.

What is a menstrual disc?

Photo: Elena Graham, Shutterstock Photo: Elena Graham, Shutterstock

If you’re familiar with a menstrual cup as an alternative to pads and tampons, you might start wondering about this newfangled menstrual disc that’s being advertised all over the place. They’ve been around a long time, actually, but are seeing a surge in popularity. Here’s the lowdown:

The biggest advantage of discs over cups — and one of the main benefits that companies like to tout — is that you can have penetrative sex with a disc in. That’s because the ring portion is out of the way, and the cup-like portion is soft and flexible. (The vagina also tends to expand and elongate when you’re aroused, which helps make more room.)

The discs’ manufacturers say that most people either don’t feel it during sex, or feel it but don’t find it uncomfortable. Everybody’s anatomy is different, though. And be aware that even though it fits like a diaphragm, a disc is not considered to be a type of birth control.

Why does my dog get the zoomies?

Photo: Mary Swift, Shutterstock Photo: Mary Swift, Shutterstock

Call it the zoomies, or dog parkour — or sound like a scientist by saying “frenetic random activity periods” — but sometimes our four-legged friends just need to run. Elizabeth Yuko explains that this isn’t really a problem, so long as you can keep your pup safe and refrain from chasing them:

Although they are adorable and entertaining to watch, if you haven’t spent a lot of time with dogs before, you may see this high-energy behaviour and become genuinely concerned about their well-being. But don’t worry: According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), the zoomies are completely natural and normal, and are safe for a dog, as long as they have enough room to run around and do their thing. Plus, the zoomies usually only last for a few minutes.

What’s the catch with all these money-making apps?

Billion-dollar companies need actual humans to do a lot of the boring tasks their business depends on, like entering and reviewing data. Increasingly they’re spinning this work as something you can do in your spare time for extra cash, but the reality is grim, as A. A. Newton explains.

There’s no good way to do microwork as it currently exists, but that doesn’t change the fact that people need money to live. If you or someone you know plans to sign up for one of the many sites out there, the best thing to do is connect with other workers. Join the forums or subreddit for your platform of choice, and if you’re already on AMT, install the Turkopticon script. (It lets workers report scams and shady employers.) Don’t try to go it alone — collective action is the only way out of this mess.

Are couches and sofas the same thing?

Photo: Followtheflow, Shutterstock Photo: Followtheflow, Shutterstock

Although we often use the words “couch” and “sofa” interchangeably, the words each have a different history and are used in subtly different ways on furniture websites — so knowing the difference between a couch and a sofa can make furniture shopping easier.

So if you’re searching for a couch to fit your needs and coming up short, try doing the search using the term “sofa” instead. At this point, even furniture manufacturers use the words interchangeably, so the product description may not match the historical arms/no arms distinction (though it can come in particularly handy when shopping for vintage furniture).

Are cotton tote bags actually good for the environment?

Photo: Olinda, Shutterstock Photo: Olinda, Shutterstock

Disposable plastic bags are obviously not good for the environment, but a headline this summer suggested that cotton totes might actually be worse. Fortunately that’s not really accurate, as A. A. Newton explains here.

Please don’t give up and throw away your reusable totes — they’re so much better than single-use plastic — or even paper — bags. Bring them with you to the store, every time. It’s OK to buy more totes if you don’t have enough, but you know what’s even better than buying new? Getting them for free. Extra tote bags are everywhere these days: Free piles, Buy Nothing groups, Facebook Marketplace, and your very own closet. Taking a few bags off someone’s hands gives them a second life and keeps them out of the landfill.

Will deodorant make me sweat less?

Photo: nastya_ph, Shutterstock Photo: nastya_ph, Shutterstock

Deodorant and antiperspirant are often combined in the same product, but they are not the same thing. When you’re shopping, you need to decide if you want to sweat less, smell less, or both:

The major difference between antiperspirant and deodorant is the ingredients. Antiperspirants contain aluminium-based compounds that plug up your sweat ducts, and keeping underarms dry, Dr. Lucy Chen, a dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology tells Good Housekeeping. In some cases, antiperspirants can also decrease the kind of bacteria responsible for making sweat smell, but that’s more of a bonus than the aim of the product.

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