Tuesday, March 10

The Debunker: Does the Word "Squaw" Mean Something Vulgar?

by Ken Jennings

March is Women's History Month in much of the English-speaking world. This means the patriarchy is currently keeping the eleven other months for itself but hey, baby steps. Ken Jennings, like many Jeopardy! contestants, would be the first to admit he knows nothing about women. But he'll be with us all month correcting some misconceptions about history—or is it herstory?!?—that even the most ardent Women's Studies majors might miss on the final.

The Debunker: Does the Word "Squaw" Mean Something Vulgar?

In 1992, Native American spokesperson Suzen Shown Harjo appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and dropped some jaw-dropping knowledge on The Queen of Talk. The word "squaw," she told Oprah, was derived from an Algonquin word meaning "female sexual parts." She went on to say that, as a result, some Indians refer to "squaw" as the "s-word," a rough equivalent of the verboten "c-word" in English.

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Tuesday, March 03

The Debunker: Did Feminists Burn Their Bras?

by Ken Jennings

 

March is Women's History Month in much of the English-speaking world. This means the patriarchy is currently keeping the eleven other months for itself but hey, baby steps. Ken Jennings, like many Jeopardy! contestants, would be the first to admit he knows nothing about women. But he'll be with us all month correcting some misconceptions about history—or is it herstory?!?—that even the most ardent Women's Studies majors might miss on the final.

The Debunker: Did Feminists Burn Their Bras?

"Bra-burning," a shorthand term for the outspoken second-wave feminism of the 1960s and 1970s, was often deployed with a condescending snigger by the older generation—those nutty women's-libbers, burning their bras! What a crazy thing to worry their little heads about. Today, the term has been used for so many decades that most people probably assume bra-burning was a not-uncommon street-corner sight during the turbulent sixties, like sit-ins and bell-bottoms.

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Tuesday, February 24

The Debunker: Do People Breathe in Oxygen and Breathe Out Carbon Dioxide?

by Ken Jennings

In addition to his day job as Woot's full-time "Debunker," Jeopardy! wunderkind Ken Jennings moonlights as an author of books, and this month he has a new one in stores. It's the fifth in his Junior Genius series, this time chock-full of amazing facts about The Human Body. To mark the occasion, he'll spend all of February debunking anatomical anachronisms and medical misinformation for us. Finally: the inside scoop about our own insides.

The Debunker: Do People Breathe in Oxygen and Breathe Out Carbon Dioxide?

Well, okay. Yes, you do breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, which is why you're still alive. Fine. But you also breathe in plenty of carbon dioxide and breathe out plenty of oxygen. It's a lot more complicated than the diagram you remember from third grade where the people are pumping out carbon dioxide and the trees are pumping out oxygen.

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Tuesday, February 17

The Debunker: Do People Have Five Senses?

by Ken Jennings

In addition to his day job as Woot's full-time "Debunker," Jeopardy! wunderkind Ken Jennings moonlights as an author of books, and this month he has a new one in stores. It's the fifth in his Junior Genius series, this time chock-full of amazing facts about The Human Body. To mark the occasion, he'll spend all of February debunking anatomical anachronisms and medical misinformation for us. Finally: the inside scoop about our own insides.

The Debunker: Do People Have Five Senses?

"There is no sixth sense in addition to the five enumerated: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch," wrote Aristotle in his landmark work De Anima, or On the Soul. And for the next two thousand years, Western civilization stuck with this view: five senses, period. "Sixth sense" became shorthand for some rare, ephemeral, unclassifiable-by-science gift, like telepathy.

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Tuesday, February 10

The Debunker: Is the Heart on the Left Side of Your Body?

by Ken Jennings

In addition to his day job as Woot's full-time "Debunker," Jeopardy! wunderkind Ken Jennings moonlights as an author of books, and this month he has a new one in stores. It's the fifth in his Junior Genius series, this time chock-full of amazing facts about The Human Body. To mark the occasion, he'll spend all of February debunking anatomical anachronisms and medical misinformation for us. Finally: the inside scoop about our own insides.

The Debunker: Is the Heart on the Left Side of Your Body?

With Valentine's Day coming up, we're all more aware than usual that there's no greater mystery than the human heart. But it would probably surprise you how little most people know about their own heart. Including where it even is.

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Tuesday, February 03

The Debunker: Does Lactic Acid Make Your Muscles Tired?

by Ken Jennings

In addition to his day job as Woot's full-time "Debunker," Jeopardy! wunderkind Ken Jennings moonlights as an author of books, and this month he has a new one in stores. It's the fifth in his Junior Genius series, this time chock-full of amazing facts about The Human Body. To mark the occasion, he'll spend all of February debunking anatomical anachronisms and medical misinformation for us. Finally: the inside scoop about our own insides.

The Debunker: Does Lactic Acid Make Your Muscles Tired?

If you ever went to a gym- or a gym class - in the late 20th century, you probably heard this helpful exercise "fact": the reason why muscles get sore and give out, my fifth grade P.E. teacher assured us, is a chemical called lactic acid. Yup, the same stuff that makes sour milk sour and yogurt yogurt-y. It's in the body as well, and when it's produced by active muscles, it eventually causes fatigue and then soreness. Burning, overworked muscles were a sign of lactic acid building up, a warning sign from your body that you need to dial it back a bit.

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Tuesday, January 27

The Debunker: Does the Word "Gringo" Come from Songs of the Mexican-American War?

by Ken Jennings

In January, we stand at the frontier of a new year. Obviously, there's no better month to remember that other mythic uncharted territory, the American frontier of the Old West! In the Western classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a newspaper editor famously says, "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." But that attitude has led to a lot of frontier lore that's just plain loco. We've asked Jeopardy gunfighter Ken Jennings to separate fact from legend--and print only the facts. Let's see if he can clean up this town.

The Debunker: Does the Word "Gringo" Come from Songs of the Mexican-American War?

Etymology rule of thumb: as well-known stories about word origins become more and more "fun" and improbable, the likelihood that they are true approaches zero. Take the word gringo, a scornful Spanish slang word for anglo types. According to an oft-told story, gringo dates back to the Mexican-American War, when American soldiers were frequently overheard singing marching songs like "Green Grow the Rushes" and "Green Grow the Lilacs." Gringo is actually a corruption of the words "green grow," this theory would have you believe.

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Tuesday, January 20

The Debunker: Did Jesse James's Gang Rob from the Rich and Give to the Poor?

by Ken Jennings

In January, we stand at the frontier of a new year. Obviously, there's no better month to remember that other mythic uncharted territory, the American frontier of the Old West! In the Western classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a newspaper editor famously says, "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." But that attitude has led to a lot of frontier lore that's just plain loco. We've asked Jeopardy gunfighter Ken Jennings to separate fact from legend--and print only the facts. Let's see if he can clean up this town.

The Debunker: Did Jesse James's Gang Rob from the Rich and Give to the Poor?

In 1882, the famed outlaw Jesse James was shot in the back by one of his gang members, Robert Ford (Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck, if you saw the movie). The shooting was immortalized in the folk song "Jesse James," which takes a strongly pro-Jesse/anti-Ford stance. Robert Ford is dismissed as a "dirty little coward," while Jesse James is lauded because "he stole from the rich and he gave to the poor." "He'd never see a man suffer pain," insists the star-struck balladeer. "He'd never rob a mother or child." The song, covered by everyone from Woody Guthrie to Bruce Springsteen, has cemented in the public mind the notion that Jesse James was a colorful do-gooder. Sure, maybe he was an outlaw, but the noble Robin Hood kind! A likable rascal!

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Monday, January 12

The Debunker: Did Cowboys Wear Ten-Gallon Hats?

by Ken Jennings

In January, we stand at the frontier of a new year. Obviously, there's no better month to remember that other mythic uncharted territory, the American frontier of the Old West! In the Western classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a newspaper editor famously says, "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." But that attitude has led to a lot of frontier lore that's just plain loco. We've asked Jeopardy gunfighter Ken Jennings to separate fact from legend--and print only the facts. Let's see if he can clean up this town.

The Debunker: Did Cowboys Wear Ten-Gallon Hats?

Real talk: no hat can hold ten gallons, not even Pharrell's. Your average Stetson has a maximum carrying capacity of three quarts, just 7.5% of what's advertised. Not sure why you'd want to carry liquid in your hat, cowpokes, but "let the buyer beware" is all I'm saying.

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Tuesday, January 06

The Debunker: Was There a Gunfight at the O.K. Corral?

by Ken Jennings

In January, we stand at the frontier of a new year. Obviously, there's no better month to remember that other mythic uncharted territory, the American frontier of the Old West! In the Western classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a newspaper editor famously says, "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." But that attitude has led to a lot of frontier lore that's just plain loco. We've asked Jeopardy gunfighter Ken Jennings to separate fact from legend--and print only the facts. Let's see if he can clean up this town.

The Debunker: Was There a Gunfight at the O.K. Corral?

If Westerns were accurate, they'd be the most sedate movie and TV genre ever. They'd make Errol Morris documentaries look like Errol Flynn movies. They'd make BBC costume dramas look like Sons of Anarchy. That's because, despite what Hollywood would have you believe, violence was uncommon in the "Wild" West. Six-shooters were too inaccurate and ammo too expensive for precision dueling at high noon. Most frontier towns were safe, quiet places where visitors had to surrender firearms to the sheriff upon arrival. Don't tell the NRA.

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