Tuesday, June 14

The Debunker: Did German Almost Become the National Language?

by Ken Jennings

Since 2014, June has been Immigrant Heritage Month in the United States, a time for Americans to remember our status as a nation of newcomers. So celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month along with us, until President Trump cancels it! After all, if you're here and you're not fully Native American, we guarantee that either you or an ancestor qualifies! As an extra bonus, we have Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! fame (and English/Welsh/Scotch-Irish stock) to school us about all the things we thought we knew about our ocean-crossing forebears.

The Debunker: Did German Almost Become the National Language?

There's a legend that's been circulating since at least the 1840s on both sides of the Atlantic, from travel literature to school lectures to Ann Landers columns. According to these authorities, in 1794, Congress came within one vote of making German the official language of the United States. When I heard first heard this story growing up, it seemed strange but not impossible. In the mists of early federal experimentation, we almost had all kinds of weird stuff. Ben Franklin once wrote that the turkey should be our national bird. John Adams wanted to call the president "Your Highness." The American rulebook was still being written back then—why not stick it to the English by bailing on their language? After all, fully nine percent of early Americans were already native German speakers, making them the nation's biggest linguistic minority.

read more…

 

Tuesday, June 07

The Debunker: Did Immigrants' Names Get Changed at Ellis Island?

by Ken Jennings

Since 2014, June has been Immigrant Heritage Month in the United States, a time for Americans to remember our status as a nation of newcomers. So celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month along with us, until President Trump cancels it! After all, if you're here and you're not fully Native American, we guarantee that either you or an ancestor qualifies! As an extra bonus, we have Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! fame (and English/Welsh/Scotch-Irish stock) to school us about all the things we thought we knew about our ocean-crossing forebears.

The Debunker: Did Immigrants' Names Get Changed at Ellis Island?

American family lore is full of tales of surnames being changed for the New World: Guttmans becoming Goodmans, DiMartinos becoming Martins, Szelbracikowskis becoming Shelbricks. In many accounts, this change is the fault of a clueless or capricious clerk at Ellis Island, like the harried immigration officer who accidentally renames Vito Andolini "Corleone" in The Godfather, Part II when he mistakes the name of Vito's Sicilian village for his surname. Consider the poor immigrants, having given up so many worldly possessions to make it to these shores, who now discovers that they won't even be allowed to keep their last name. Sad!

read more…

 

Tuesday, May 24

The Debunker: Where Do Fortune Cookies Come From?

by Ken Jennings

May is Asian heritage month in the U.S. and Canada, but most of us probably celebrate the Asian diaspora year-round by enjoying one of the greatest gifts from the other edge of the Pacific Rim: Asian food. But sometimes, in our uncommon hurry to enjoy the ramen or the curry, we may find ourselves slurping up all kinds of bad takes along with our good takeout. Ken Jennings, of Jeopardy! fame is obviously not Asian, but (fun fact!) he grew up in Asia, which sort of qualifies him to set us straight on some of the biggest culinary misconceptions about the world's biggest continent. Check, please!

The Debunker: Where Do Fortune Cookies Come From?

Fortune cookies! Where else would you get great life advice like "☺ Your fondest dream will come true ☺ 07 22 31 43 05 30 "? A Chinese meal wouldn't be complete without this dessert that, mysteriously, nobody likes but nobody ever skips. Actually, I should correct that. Believe it or not, there is one place where you can eat Chinese food without fortune cookies appearing with the bill, and that's because no one there has ever even heard of them. That place is China.

read more…

 

Tuesday, May 17

The Debunker: What Utensils Should I Use for Thai Food?

by Ken Jennings

May is Asian heritage month in the U.S. and Canada, but most of us probably celebrate the Asian diaspora year-round by enjoying one of the greatest gifts from the other edge of the Pacific Rim: Asian food. But sometimes, in our uncommon hurry to enjoy the ramen or the curry, we may find ourselves slurping up all kinds of bad takes along with our good takeout. Ken Jennings, of Jeopardy! fame is obviously not Asian, but (fun fact!) he grew up in Asia, which sort of qualifies him to set us straight on some of the biggest culinary misconceptions about the world's biggest continent. Check, please!

The Debunker: What Utensils Should I Use for Thai Food?

Asking for a fork at an Asian restaurant might be one of life's most demoralizing small defeats—or small embarrassments, if it's your visiting parent who's harassing the waiter. Eating competently with chopsticks, the paired sticks first used as utensils in China over six thousand years ago, is a neat shorthand for worldliness and open-mindedness and, in general, having your culinary s*** together.

read more…

 

Tuesday, May 10

The Debunker: Does MSG Cause "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome"?

by Ken Jennings

May is Asian heritage month in the U.S. and Canada, but most of us probably celebrate the Asian diaspora year-round by enjoying one of the greatest gifts from the other edge of the Pacific Rim: Asian food. But sometimes, in our uncommon hurry to enjoy the ramen or the curry, we may find ourselves slurping up all kinds of bad takes along with our good takeout. Ken Jennings, of Jeopardy! fame is obviously not Asian, but (fun fact!) he grew up in Asia, which sort of qualifies him to set us straight on some of the biggest culinary misconceptions about the world's biggest continent. Check, please!

The Debunker: Does MSG Cause "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome"?

In 1968, a Chinese-American doctor named Robert Ho Man Kwok wrote a light-hearted letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, wondering about a strange health complaint he noticed after eating in American Chinese restaurants: numbness in the back, heart palpitations, and general weakness. Dr. Kwok wondered what to blame this on. Chinese cooking wine? Foods high in sodium? Dozens of readers eagerly responded that they had noticed "Chinese restaurant syndrome" as well, and the conversation began to center around the food additive MSG.

read more…

 

Tuesday, May 03

The Debunker: What Ingredient Makes Sushi Sushi?

by Ken Jennings

May is Asian heritage month in the U.S. and Canada, but most of us probably celebrate the Asian diaspora year-round by enjoying one of the greatest gifts from the other edge of the Pacific Rim: Asian food. But sometimes, in our uncommon hurry to enjoy the ramen or the curry, we may find ourselves slurping up all kinds of bad takes along with our good takeout. Ken Jennings, of Jeopardy! fame is obviously not Asian, but (fun fact!) he grew up in Asia, which sort of qualifies him to set us straight on some of the biggest culinary misconceptions about the world's biggest continent. Check, please!

The Debunker: What Ingredient Makes Sushi Sushi?

The traditional Japanese treat of sushi hasn't always been appreciated on these shores. When the Ladies' Home Journal introduced Americans to Japanese cuisine in 1929, the editors "purposely omitted…any recipes using the delicate and raw tuna fish which is sliced wafer thin and served iced." America wasn't even eating pizza yet in 1929. It sure as hell weren't ready for cold raw tuna as an entrée.

read more…

 

Tuesday, April 26

The Debunker: Are Dinosaurs Extinct?

by Ken Jennings

If there's one thing everyone knows about the dinosaurs, it's that they're dead. In fact, they're synonymous with deadness, like disco or doornails or Francisco Franco. About 65 million years ago, an asteroid collided with Earth, splashing down in a shallow sea off the coast of what is today Mexico. The dinosaurs, probably already made vulnerable by a million years of climate shifts, didn't stand a chance against a rock the size of Manhattan. Mile-high tsunamis, volcanoes and earthquakes, shock waves circling the globe, rains of molten glass, a year of complete darkness. It was literally lights out for them.

read more…

 

Tuesday, April 19

The Debunker: Did Tyrannosaurus Have Scrawny Little Arms?

by Ken Jennings

It's been a long time—66 million years!—since the Cretaceous Period ended in explosive fashion, so there's a lot we don't know about our predecessors atop the food chain, the dinosaurs. Were they hot-blooded or cold-blooded, fast or slow, pack animals or lone hunters? What color were they, and what did they sound like? Could you really use one to make a record player, like the Flintstones did? Luckily, our Jeopardy! correspondent Ken Jennings has just published his seventh Junior Genius Guide, this one all about the dinosaurs! He's here all month to straighten us out on all the Mesozoic misinformation we thought we knew.

The Debunker: Did Tyrannosaurus Have Scrawny Little Arms?

The lamestream media, from The Far Side to the Toy Story movies, has spent the last few decades trying to convince us that the mighty prehistoric carnivore Tyrannosaurus rex should feel bad about its body. Specifically: that it skipped too many arm days at the Jurassic gym.

read more…

 

Tuesday, April 12

The Debunker: Did Some Dinosaurs Have a Second Brain in Their Butt?

by Ken Jennings

It's been a long time—66 million years!—since the Cretaceous Period ended in explosive fashion, so there's a lot we don't know about our predecessors atop the food chain, the dinosaurs. Were they hot-blooded or cold-blooded, fast or slow, pack animals or lone hunters? What color were they, and what did they sound like? Could you really use one to make a record player, like the Flintstones did? Luckily, our Jeopardy! correspondent Ken Jennings has just published his seventh Junior Genius Guide, this one all about the dinosaurs! He's here all month to straighten us out on all the Mesozoic misinformation we thought we knew.

The Debunker: Did Some Dinosaurs Have a Second Brain in Their Butt?

Poor Stegosaurus. He hasn't walked the Earth for 150 million years, and people are still talking about how dumb he was. That's pretty much his whole reputation. He's the Dan Quayle of dinosaurs.

read more…

 

Tuesday, April 05

The Debunker: Is the Oil in Your Car Made from Dead Dinosaurs?

by Ken Jennings

It's been a long time—66 million years!—since the Cretaceous Period ended in explosive fashion, so there's a lot we don't know about our predecessors atop the food chain, the dinosaurs. Were they hot-blooded or cold-blooded, fast or slow, pack animals or lone hunters? What color were they, and what did they sound like? Could you really use one to make a record player, like the Flintstones did? Luckily, our Jeopardy! correspondent Ken Jennings has just published his seventh Junior Genius Guide, this one all about the dinosaurs! He's here all month to straighten us out on all the Mesozoic misinformation we thought we knew.

The Debunker: Is the Oil in Your Car Made from Dead Dinosaurs?

We call oil, coal, and gas "fossil fuels" because they were produced by the decomposition of animal life from hundreds of millions of years ago. For over eighty years, Sinclair Oil has been playing up this prehistoric connection: using a bright green brontosaurus as its logo, giving away inflatable sauropods to kids, putting talking cartoon dinosaurs in its TV ads, and even calling its premium gas "Dino Supreme." (Now with 15 percent more "Dino"!) Generations of American kids should be forgiven for assuming that the fossil fuels in their plastics and furnaces and gas tanks were actually made of dinosaur fossils.

read more…