Wednesday, July 12

The Debunker: Did Canada Really Burn Down the White House?

by Ken Jennings

Since it's July, we're celebrating North America's most important patriotic holiday. Put that watermelon on ice and stock up on fireworks, because Canada Day is here! July 1 celebrates the Constitution Act of 1867 that unified Canada into a single dominion—but have American really studied up on our neighbor to the north, or do we take its many accomplishments for granted? Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings is not Canadian, but he does live just two hours from the border, and is very pale and polite. All month, he's going to be correcting our counterfactual Canadian conjectures, eh?

Did Canada Really Burn Down the White House?

From many conversations with Canadians over the years, I get the impression that this little-remembered episode from the War of 1812—a footnote in most American history classes—gets a lot of play in Canadian elementary schools and popular culture. "Yeah, the War of 1812. That's when we burned down your White House, eh?" This was apparently the all-time high-water mark for Canadian military efficiency until January 1992, when Jacques "The Mountie" Rougeau won the WWF Intercontinental championship belt just two days before the Royal Rumble.

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Wednesday, July 05

The Debunker: Do Canadians Say "Oot" and "Aboot"?

by Ken Jennings

Since it's July, we're celebrating North America's most important patriotic holiday. Put that watermelon on ice and stock up on fireworks, because Canada Day is here! July 1 celebrates the Constitution Act of 1867 that unified Canada into a single dominion—but have American really studied up on our neighbor to the north, or do we take its many accomplishments for granted? Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings is not Canadian, but he does live just two hours from the border, and is very pale and polite. All month, he's going to be correcting our counterfactual Canadian conjectures, eh?

Do Canadians Say "Oot" and "Aboot"?

The most common stereotype of Canadian English to American ears, after the omnipresent "eh?", is the idea that Canadians pronounce "out" and "about" with a long 'u' sound. "Let's go oot and get some Tim Hortons, eh? How aboot that?" Even the BBC [http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20150820-why-is-canadian-english-unique] props up this notion, but I always thought it was crazy when I heard it from the mouths of American impressionists. I grew up on a strict diet of Degrassi, and I knew those kids were actually saying something more like "aboat." "Soh-rry, we're just going to hang aboat the hoase."

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Wednesday, June 28

The Debunker: Are Praying Mantises Protected by Law?

by Ken Jennings

Ah, June. The bees are buzzing, the crickets are chirping, the fireflies are glowing, and the June bugs are—doing whatever June bugs do, I guess? It's their month. In the United Kingdom, the connection between summer and the insect kingdom has been formalized by turning the last week of June into National Insect Week. We're also celebrating our six-legged friends all month, and we've called in Ken Jennings (not an insect, but at least a WASP) as a guest expert. He tells us that our insect knowledge has a few bugs.

The Debunker: Are Praying Mantises Protected by Law?

I've already debunked one common mistake in the title, which in my opinion puts me way ahead of the game already. The name of the insect is often incorrectly spelled "preying mantis," and that's understandable, since mantises are famed for their ability to eat other bugs and even each other. (The female mantis will often devour her mate after sex, a dream come true if the male mantis is a "vore" fetishist, but a pretty raw deal otherwise.) But no, the name refers to the posture of the insect's bent forearms, which look a little like hands clasped in prayer.

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Wednesday, June 21

The Debunker: Will Earwigs Nest in Your Ear?

by Ken Jennings

Ah, June. The bees are buzzing, the crickets are chirping, the fireflies are glowing, and the June bugs are—doing whatever June bugs do, I guess? It's their month. In the United Kingdom, the connection between summer and the insect kingdom has been formalized by turning the last week of June into National Insect Week. We're also celebrating our six-legged friends all month, and we've called in Ken Jennings (not an insect, but at least a WASP) as a guest expert. He tells us that our insect knowledge has a few bugs.

The Debunker: Will Earwigs Nest in Your Ear?

The word "earwig" comes from the Middle English "eare wicga," meaning "ear-beetle." There are similar etymologies in at least six other European languages, and The Oxford English Dictionary credits that to a folk belief, at least a thousand years old, that the insects like to burrow through people's ears to their brain, where they nest, lay eggs, and cause insanity. This is a horrific idea that it's probably best not to imagine too much—though at least it gave us that crazy scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan where Chekov gets mind-controlled by the alien earwig (oh, all right, the Ceti eel) that Khan sticks in his spacesuit helmet.

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Tuesday, June 13

The Debunker: Does a Bumblebee's Flight Defy Physics?

by Ken Jennings

Ah, June. The bees are buzzing, the crickets are chirping, the fireflies are glowing, and the June bugs are—doing whatever June bugs do, I guess? It's their month. In the United Kingdom, the connection between summer and the insect kingdom has been formalized by turning the last week of June into National Insect Week. We're also celebrating our six-legged friends all month, and we've called in Ken Jennings (not an insect, but at least a WASP) as a guest expert. He tells us that our insect knowledge has a few bugs.

The Debunker: Does a Bumblebee's Flight Defy Physics?

In popular culture, the fact that the roly-poly little bumblebee can fly with those flimsy little wings is often used an inspiring bit of motivational puffery. "By the laws of physics, science says that a bumblebee shouldn't even be able to fly!" we are told. "And yet it can." The implication is a little confusing: if I'm not able to accomplish tasks that literally violate physical law, then I'm falling disappointingly short of my full potential? That seems like an awful high bar.

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Tuesday, June 06

The Debunker: Are Ants Hard Workers?

by Ken Jennings

Ah, June. The bees are buzzing, the crickets are chirping, the fireflies are glowing, and the June bugs are—doing whatever June bugs do, I guess? It's their month. In the United Kingdom, the connection between summer and the insect kingdom has been formalized by turning the last week of June into National Insect Week. We're also celebrating our six-legged friends all month, and we've called in Ken Jennings (not an insect, but at least a WASP) as a guest expert. He tells us that our insect knowledge has a few bugs.

The Debunker: Are Ants Hard Workers?

Every time you see an ant, it always looks like it has someplace to be, right? Ants are the head-down, earbuds-in-ear, man-on-a-mission fast-walkers of the insect kingdom. Ants are in a hurry. When Aesop wanted an industrious animal for his fable about provident hard work, he chose the ant as his protagonist, the one who tells off the hungry, lazy grasshopper. Get a job, grasshopper!

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Tuesday, June 28

The Debunker: Was "No Irish Need Apply" a Myth?

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: Was "No Irish Need Apply" a Myth?

"I'm a decent boy just landed from the town of Ballyfad,
I want a situation, yes, and I want it very bad.
I have seen employment advertised. 'It's just the thing,' says I,
'But the dirty spalpeen ended with NO IRISH NEED APPLY.'"

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Tuesday, June 21

The Debunker: Is Cinco de Mayo Mexico's "Fourth of July"?

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: Is Cinco de Mayo Mexico's "Fourth of July"?

Boy oh boy do we white people look forward to the fifth of May! That's when we can wear sombreros and drink frozen Margaritas and feel like we're saluting diversity! After all, Cinco de Mayo is a pretty important holiday in Mexico. It's like their independence day, or something.

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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.

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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!

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