Category Archives: Language

What’s the Difference Between a Tidal Wave and a Tsunami?

At 2:46 PM on March 11, 2011, at a spot 60 kilometres off the coast of Japan, the Pacific tectonic plate suddenly slipped and plunged under the Eurasian plate. The resulting Tohoku earthquake, lasting six minutes and measuring 9.0 on the Moment Magnitude Scale, was the most powerful in Japanese history and the fourth largest ever recorded, causing thousands of […]

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First World, Third World… What are the Second World Countries

If I say the words “Third World Country”, what image springs to mind? Most likely something out of a World Vision commercial: starving children, ramshackle villages of corrugated metal huts, dirty water, disease, corruption, human rights abuses, and war. Now, what about a “First World Country?” Well, if you’re watching this video right now, odds are you live in one […]

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Why Do We Call a Software Glitch a ‘Bug’?

“It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.” At one point or another we’ve all heard someone use this phrase or a variation thereof to sarcastically describe some malfunctioning piece of equipment or software. Indeed, the word “bug” has long been ubiquitous in the world of engineering and computer science, with “debugging” – the act of seeking out and correcting errors […]

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Who Invented the Emoticon and Emoji? (And How They’re Forever Changing Written Language)

Historically, written language has always been rather limited in its ability to adequately represent the nuance of in-person communication, which comes with a whole slew of gesticulations, facial expressions, subtle shifts in tone and the like. As such, humans have been attempting to find ways around this problem seemingly as long as we’ve been writing stuff down. Going back to […]

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How Far Back in Time Could a Modern English Speaker Go and Still Communicate Effectively?

Neikoptic asks: If I was transported back in time to Medieval times like in a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court could I still talk to people or would we not understand each other? Contrary to what many a Grammar Nazi the world over would have you believe, language is constantly evolving, occasionally extremely rapidly, and there is nothing wrong […]

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Why White People are Sometimes Called “Caucasian”

Kathy B. asks: Why do we call white people Caucasian? Throughout history a variety of ways to scientifically classify different groups of humans have popped up, most notable to the story today being a system suggested by pioneering social scientist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, often considered the “father of scientific anthropology.” Building upon other’s classification schemes, including Carl Linnaeus and Christoph […]

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Math or Maths?

Travis T. asks: Why do Americans say “math” and other English speaking countries say “maths”? Aluminium or aluminum, zee or zed, and removing u’s from certain words or not- among the many discrepancies between American and British English, perhaps none conjures as much religious fervor as math vs. maths. So which one is correct? Well, really neither is technically more […]

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