Amendments to the U.S. Constitution

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The 2nd Amendment: How the gun control debate went crazy

The gun control debate has been at fever pitch for several years now, and as things fail to change the stats get grimmer. The New York Times reports that there have been 239 school shootings nationwide since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre, where 20 first graders and six adults were killed. Six years later, 438 more people have been shot in schools, and for 138 of them it was fatal. Here, journalist and author Kurt Andersen reads the Second Amendment, and explains its history from 1791 all the way to now. "What people need to know is that the Second Amendment only recently became such a salient amendment," says Andersen. It's only in the last 50 years that the gun debate has gone haywire, and it was the moment the NRA went from reasonable to absolutist. So what does the "right to bear arms" really mean? What was a firearm in the 1790s, and what is a firearm now? "Compared to [the] many, many, many rounds-per-second firearms that we have today, it's the same word but virtually a different machine." Kurt Andersen is the author of Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire.

The 5th Amendment: Do not break in case of emergency

The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution is often talked about but rarely read in full. The reason? Counterterrorism expert Amaryllis Fox explains that it has, these days, simply become shorthand for not saying anything in court to incriminate yourself. But the full text states how important the due process of law is to every American. So perhaps learning the full text, not just the shorthand, is an important step to being an American citizen. You can find out more about Amaryllis Fox here.

The 13th Amendment: The unjust prison to profit pipeline

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery—but it still remains legal under one condition. The amendment reads: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Today in America, big corporations profit of cheap prison labor in both privatized and state-run prisons. Shaka Senghor knows this second wave of slavery well—he spent 19 years in jail, working for a starting wage of 17 cents per hour, in a prison where a 15-minute phone call costs between $3-$15. In this video, he shares the exploitation that goes on in American prisons, and how the 13th Amendment allows slavery to continue. He also questions the profit incentive to incarcerate in this country: why does America represent less than 5% of the world's population, but almost 25% of the world's prisoners? Shaka Senghor's latest venture is Mind Blown Media.

The 14th Amendment: History's most radical idea?

In 1868, three years after slavery was abolished, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted, granting equal protection under the law to every born and naturalized U.S. citizen. For CNN news commentator Van Jones this amendment is, in his words, the "whole enchilada." It's not the most popular amendment—it doesn't get name-dropped in TV courtroom dramas, or fiercely debated before elections—but to Jones it is a weighty principle that was far ahead of its time. "It doesn't say equal protection under the law unless you're a lesbian. That's not what it says. It doesn't say equal protection under the law unless you're African American. That's not what it says. It says if you're in the jurisdiction you get equal protection under the law. That's radical. In 10,000 years of human history, that's radical." Van Jones is the author of Beyond the Messy Truth: How We Came Apart, How We Come Together.

The 26th Amendment: The act of voting should empower people

Is a 55.7% voter turnout really enough? Bryan Cranston was disappointed with the 2016 presidential election, not for the outcome but for the process. According to Census Bureau figures it was a bumper year for voter engagement with 137.5 million total ballots cast—but is just over half of the eligible voters really that impressive? The Pew Research Center shows that the U.S. still trails behind most developed nations in voter registration and turnout. "I think we've devalued the honor and privilege of voting and we've become complacent, and maybe a bit cynical about our place and rights as citizens and our duties and responsibilities," says Cranston. The good news? Millennials and Gen Xers are on an upward trend in civic engagement, casting more votes than Boomers and older generations in the 2016 election. Cranston reminds us of how empowering the 26th Amendment is in granting voting rights to Americans over the age of 18. "We can't take that lightly," says Cranston. It's a timely reminder too, as 40 million people are expected to drop off that 55.7% figure for the midterm elections, mostly from the millennial, unmarried women and people of color demographics. Bryan Cranston's new book is the spectacular memoir A Life in Parts.

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  • There are two kinds of masks leaders wear. Executive coach Peter Fuda likens one to The Phantom of the Opera—projecting perfectionism to hide feelings of inadequacy—and the other to The Mask, where leaders assume a persona of toughness or brashness because they imagine it projects the power needed for the position.
  • Both of those masks are motivated by self-protection, rather than learning, growth and contribution. "By the way," says Fuda, "your people know you're imperfect anyway, so when you embrace your imperfections they know you're honest as well."
  • The most effective leaders are those who try to perfect their craft rather than try to perfect their image. They inspire a culture of learning and growth, not a culture where people are afraid to ask for help.

To learn more, visit peterfuda.com.

  • Monogamy is natural, but adultery is, too, says biological anthropologist Helen Fisher.
  • Even though humans are animals that form pair bonds, some humans have a predisposition for restlessness. This might come from the evolutionary development of a dual human reproductive strategy.
  • This drive to fall in love and form a pair bond evolved for an ecological reason: to rear our children as a team.


  • Marathons gained popularity over the last decade. In 2018, 456,700 Americans completed a marathon, an 11 percent increase in participation from 2008.
  • Training for and racing 26.2 miles has been shown to have adverse effects on the heart, such as plaque buildup in the arteries and inflammation.
  • Running too much can lead to chronically increased cortisol levels, resulting in weight gain, fatigue, and lower immune function.


Over the past decade, marathons have become rather trendy in the fitness community. The numbers back it up. For example, in 2018, 456,700 Americans completed the full 26.2 mile race, an 11 percent increase in participation from 2008.

We've come to lionize marathoners as embodying peak physical fitness, what with their typically lean physiques, low resting heart rates, and herculean discipline. But what the training and race does to your body isn't glamorous, and it certainly isn't the epitome of health. Here are four reasons to opt for a less masochistic fitness goal this year.

Marathons might bad for your heart

Alberto Salazar, pictured before winning his third New York City Marathon in 1982, later suffered a heart attack at the age of 48.

Photo Source: Wikimedia

Some experts are divided over whether or not running the marathon is bad for your cardiac health. But the concern is mostly rooted in fear that discussing the adverse health effects could dissuading people from exercising. To be clear: Running is good for you. In moderation. However, grinding for hours on end at a moderate pace to prepare for a marathon is probably not the best thing for your heart. Studies have shown that extreme endurance sports like marathons and Ironmans can have adverse effects on heart health. When your body is burning through sugar and fat to fuel you for long runs, it releases free radicals that can bind with cholesterol. This process can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries and inflammation. Thus, training for a marathon might increase a person's risk of heart disease and lead to heart scarring. A person's chance of going into cardiac arrest even doubles by some estimates during a race, likely because of the stress of racing placing an extra strain on someone's heart who was already at risk. A 2010 study found that for less fit runners, a marathon damaged the heart for up to three months.

DNA and muscle damage

The free radicals that burn through your system when running too much can also damage your cells in a process known as oxidative stress. In a 2016 study on thirty amateur male runners, researchers found that DNA damage correlated positively with running long distances. The increased oxygen intake involved with running marathons, and oxygen supply to tissues that are active during the race and training, result in higher levels of "reactive oxygen species" (ROS). The accumulation of this, in turn, can cause oxidative DNA damage.

The repetitive muscle contractions associated with marathon training and racing can also cause muscular damage. Studies have suggested that competitive endurance events result in an increase of creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase. These chemical compounds are indicators of the extent of skeletal muscle cell damage. Research has shown that this muscle damage can be caused not only by the full 26 mile race, but also by 10 km races and 13-mile half marathons.

High mileage training boosts cortisol levels

Running too much, and a marathon is too much for most of us, can cause a spike in your cortisol levels. The hours of running required for marathon training are perceived by the body as constant stress, which causes the adrenal glands to increase the release of the hormone cortisol. This hormone boosts blood sugar levels to provide the body with energy during times of stress, and puts its digestive and reproductive systems on ice until the stressor has been dealt with. Chronically increased cortisol levels comes with some unpleasant side effects, like weight gain, fatigue, increased risk of illness, and out-of-whack menstrual cycles for women.

When it comes to marathons, the danger here is going from a relatively sedentary lifestyle to suddenly putting in a grueling number of miles to train for a 26.2 mile race. This is what freaks your body out and can cause cortisol levels to shoot up. So, if you do insist on training for a marathon, build mileage gradually.

It damages your kidneys

Back in 2017, researchers at Yale found that an alarming 82 percent of marathon participants suffered from a kidney injury that left them unable to filter waste products from the blood. This is known as stage 1 acute kidney injury. Essentially, it means that kidney cells become damaged by the lack of blood flow to the organs during a race and the loss of fluid volume. It sounds (and can literally be) nauseating, but runners' kidneys typically recover within two days. Yet, it does raise the question of whether completing multiple marathons, and the high mileage training involved, could cause chronic, or even permanent, kidney damage.

But listen, if completing the full 26.2 mile beast of a race is a true ambition of yours, I'm not here to knock it. No one's living forever. However, if the marathon hype has got you wondering if signing up for a race and spending hours pounding on pavement is a good way to get into shape this year — it really isn't. Opt for a gentler goal, like running every other day or snowshoeing. You don't need to punish your body into exhaustion to live a fitter lifestyle.

  • Isogloss maps show what most cartography doesn't: the diversity of language.
  • This baker's dozen charts the richness and humour of French.
  • France is more than French alone: There's Breton and German, too – and more.

Most maps show physical features and political divisions, but there's a special subset of cartography that reveals language as an exciting, unpredictable layer of human geography.

These are called isogloss maps, because they illuminate regions that share similar linguistic traits. Those traits sometimes echo the landscape or the history of the area they depict – and sometimes they appear to be completely random.

That mutability is one of the main attractions of isogloss maps, as Mathieu Avanzi surely will agree. He is the creator of these maps (and many more like them), that chart the diversity, the richness and the humour of the French language.

You can find them at his website, Français de nos regions (mapping French regionalisms) or in his Twitter feed. Here's an amuse-bouche, assembled for your enjoyment. Bon appétit!

Don't fall off the va-gong

In both English and French, a 'wagon' is a vehicle – mainly horse-drawn in English, exclusively rail-bound in French. An English wagon is used for transporting goods, and occasionally people. A French wagon never carries people; that's a 'voiture'.

Although French seems to have a clearer idea of what a 'wagon' is supposed to be, it's in two minds on how to pronounce the word. In most of the Francophone world, the common practice is to say something like 'va-gong' (in blue). In a much smaller part of the French language area - essentially, French-speaking Belgium – the popular pronunciation approximates 'wa-gong' (in red). There's a narrow fifty-fifty zone just across the French border (in white).

French has a habit of dealing poorly with the "w" sound at the start of words, which are often Germanic loan words. It's produced English word pairs of similar origin with different shades of meaning, such as guarantee (a promise to assume responsibility for something) and warranty (a written, formal version of a guarantee); or warden (a keeper) and guardian (a protector).

Shut the door already

If you're an English-speaker who wants to express their deep admiration of a French-speaker, just say "Shut the door". That's close enough to Je t'adore ("I adore you"). If you want that French speaker to actually shut (and lock) the door, the options are a bit more varied.

  • In most of France, the rather matter-of-fact request would be: Fermez à clef: "Close (the door) with the key".
  • In the Loire Valley, plus bits of Normandy and Artois, further north (in blue), you'd have to ask: Barrez (la porte): "Bar the door". Which suggests that surviving the night depends on a firm obstacle to keep the bandits outs. Which may have been true, not that many centuries ago.
  • In the Lorraine area in the northeast and in most of Normandy, your best bet would be to ask: Clenchez (la porte). In the Belgian province of Luxembourg, the variant is: Clinchez (la porte). Sounds like an anglicism, and indeed, some dictionaries refer to this as an expression used in Québec.
  • In the départements of Aveyron and Lozère, you may have to ask: Clavez (la porte). ('Claver' is related to 'clef', key), with smaller areas insisting on crouillez, ticlez or cottez (la porte).

Sharpen your pencils

The humble pencil has more than half a dozen appelations across the French language area. In Belgium and the Alsace, it's a simple crayon. But in most of northern France, it's a crayon de papier, while in most of southern France, it's a subtly different crayon à papier; although there are pockets of de/à dissenters in both halves. Sprinkled across the rest of France (and Switzerland) are small islands, where the locals insist a pencil is a crayon de bois, or a crayon papier, or a crayon gris.

How did the same variant emerge in areas so far apart? Was perhaps the whole Francosphere once crayon gris territory, only for it to be beaten back to the periphery by newer, more aggressive strains of crayon? The smallest, most isolated island is the crayon de mine zone astride the Aisne and Marne departments. Beset on all sides by three other variants, it is only a matter of time before it falls to one of its besiegers – the question is, which one?

Foot-fingers and lexical poverty

The French language is an excellent vehicle for complexity and subtlety, be it poetic or scientific. But it doesn't have to be. Take this map, which collects vernacular descriptions for 'toes'.

The information was collected in the 19th century – hence the non-inclusion of Brittany and Alsace, where the majority at that time still spoke Breton and German, respectively. Also note the white spot in the middle: this is Paris and environs. Of course, these locals speak proper French. No need to do any research here.

In most of France, the common word for toe is orteil. Which is the one still used today. One area, half in southern Belgium and half in northern France, insists on calling toes doilles. But in some areas, in the northeast and southwest especially, people use the descriptor doigts de pied, which literally translates as: 'foot-fingers'. It's a shocking indicator of lexical poverty. What did these people call their nose: 'face-finger'?

Sixty-ten or seventy?

French famously doesn't have a dedicated word for 'seventy'. Instead, the French use soixante-dix ('sixty-ten'). But that hasn't always been true - nor is it true everywhere.

As indicated by the red triangles on the map on the left, septante (or setante) was dominant in much of the southern, eastern and northern areas where French was spoken. Fast forward to now (map on the right), and modern education and media have done their work.

Both in France, where soixante-dix has won the battle, and in the Francophone parts of Belgium and Switzerland, where septante has retained its local dominance. The Belgians and Swiss also say nonante for ninety, by the way, while the French seem to think quatre-vingt-dix ('four times twenty plus ten') sounds better.

Le Wite-Out or La Wite-Out?

When writing was still mainly a matter of ink and paper, corrector fluid was the analog version of the backspace key. Americans may know it under the brand name Wite-Out. In the UK and Europe, the corresponding corporate designation was Tipp-Ex. And that's what Parisians, Belgians, Swiss and the inhabitants of Alsace and Lorraine also call it.

A swathe of eastern France corresponding roughly with Burgundy calls it, simply, blanc ('white') – without the final -o that gives it the product a slightly exotic flourish in the rest of France.

The graph to the left of the map indicates the preferred terms in French Canada: mostly Liquid-Paper (another brand name), sometimes also its French translation papier liquide, and Wite-Out or, simply, correcteur.

Pitcher perfect

It's a warm day, and/or the food itself is too hot. How do you ask your French waiter for a pitcher of water? This map will tell you.

In Paris, and various areas in the center and south of France: un broc, s'il vous plaît. In the northeast: une chruche. In the north and west: un pichet. In various parts of the south: une carafe. Or un pot à eau, if not un pot d'eau. In case you don't have this map handy: there's just one word for wine: vin.

Case of the melting mitten

'Mitten' is such a common English word that its foreign origin comes as a surprise. It is from the 14th-century French word mitain, for 'hand-covering, with only the thumb separated'.

While the word has flourished in English, it has melted away in its native France. The standard French term for 'mittens' these days is moufles.

Mitaines survives as a regionalism, in the Charente region, the hinterland of the port city of La Rochelle; and in parts of Francophone Switzerland.

Your pelouse or mine?

France – and French – used to be characterised by a deep split between north and south. The north was the land of butter and beer, the south of olive oil and wine. In the north, in the past often referred to as 'Langue d'ouïl', the common way to say 'yes' was the current standard term, oui. In the south, today often stlll called 'Languedoc', the local version of 'yes' was oc.

While the edges of France's great north-south divide have softened, there are still traces to be found, in culture and language. Take for instance the pronunciation of pelouse ('lawn'). Northern French will have you believe the word is p'louse ('plooz'), while southern French will take the time to pronounce the entire word, as peulouse ('puh-looz').

It is possible that name for the Palouse, the region in the northwestern US, was provided by French trappers, impressed by its rolling grasslands. A more common French loanword for grasslands is, of course, prairie.

France is not all French

The French language is essential for France's understanding of itself as a nation, yet for much of its history, the nation was not contiguous with the language. Some parts of the French language area are (and mostly always have been) outside the French borders, notably in Belgium and Switzerland. French language and culture is also significantly present in Luxembourg, northern Italy and the Channel Islands.

Conversely, while most of France now speaks French as its first language, other languages have historic significance (and lingering presences today) at the nation's extremities: Flemish in the north, German in the northeast, Breton in the west and Basque in the southwest, to name the most familiar non-Romance ones.

What survives in daily use are local expressions, like these three Breton words. Louzhou is used at the very tip of the Breton peninsula as a synonym for 'herb, medicine'. Kenavo has a wider purchase, across three and a half departments, and means 'goodbye'. Bigaille is understood down to Nantes and beyond as slang for 'small change'.

As a conversational vehicle for daily life, German in Alsace and elsewhere in eastern France is moribund, if not already dead. But a bit of Deutsch survives nonetheless, for example in Ca gehts?, the curious local portmanteau for "How are you?" – composed equally of the French "Ca va?" and the German "Wie geht's?" Another Germanic survivor: the term "Schnapps". In the rest of France, it's called "Eau de vie" ("Water of life").

All images reproduced with kind permission by Mathieu Avanzi. Check out his website and/or his Twitter feed, both focusing on isogloss maps of French, in France and beyond.

Strange Maps #1006

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

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