Atlas Obscura
Iowa 80 Truck Stop
The world’s largest truck stop includes a barber shop, chiropractor, and a huge museum with antique trucks.

“In eastern Iowa, just west of the Quad Cities, lies the Iowa 80 Truck Stop, the largest truck stop in the world. Established in 1964, the Iowa 80 Truck Stop has been dubbed “A Small City” and “A Trucker’s Disneyland,” and to this day it serves as the ultimate one stop shop to make every cross-country trucker feel at home….”

They’re really not kidding. I’ve been here!

Never did get up to the second floor, though. That’s where the workout room, barbershop, chapel, and showers are. (Didn’t get to the actual trucking museum, either. That’s across the parking lot, which is a frickin’ huge parking lot.)


An interesting article about the “pop-punk voice”: “I made a linguistics professor listen to a Blink-182 song and analyze the accent”. The song is in the video above, and an excerpt from the article is below, although the whole thing’s worth reading: 

Penelope Eckert, a linguistics professor at Stanford, is one of the foremost scholars examining what’s known as the “California Shift.” The California Shift is a linguistic theory covering the particular changes in dialect that affect the Pacific coast of the United States. Eckert was nice enough to humor me and listen several times to a song I chose based on its particularly egregious “pop-punk voice,” Blink-182’s “First Date.” I love the song, but am aware others may find it horribly annoying. “It really does sound like someone’s messing around,” she told me. […]

Eckert walked me through the Blink-182 song word by word, pointing out places where DeLonge was playing around with accent. “When they say ‘to pick you up on our very first date,’ the interesting thing about ‘date’ is that he renders it as a monophthong ‘dehhht’ instead of ‘date,’ says Eckert. “In most American English it’s a diphthong.” A diphthong is a vowel sound with two simpler sounds in it; for most Americans, “date” is a kind of compound vowel made up of the “eh” sound and the “ee” sound. Not so much for Tom DeLonge, who eliminates all but the “eh,” making it a single sound, or a monophthong.
How to Choose the Pet Bug That's Right for You
Consider the millipede.

When I was interviewed for this article they just told me they had a few questions about raising insects. By the end, they told me they wanted to feature me in it! I’m really excited about how the whole thing turned out! I hope this is the first thing that comes up when people google my name ^____^
The Linguistic Mystery of How Canadians Say 'About'
It's not pronounced how you think it is.

Atlas Obscura has a nice description of Canadian Raising: 

Everyone knows what Canadians are supposed to sound like: they are a people who pronounce “about” as “aboot” and add “eh” to the ends of sentences.

Unfortunately, that’s wrong. Like, linguistically incorrect. Canadians do not say “aboot.” What they do say is actually much weirder. […]

The Canadian diphthong in “about” starts with something closer to “eh,” and migrates to a blank space on the American linguistic map somewhere between “uh,” “oh,” and “ooh.” That transition is actually easier on the mouth than the American version; our vowels go from low to high, and theirs from mid to high.

To say that Canadians are saying “aboot” is linguistically inaccurate; “ooh” is a monophthong and the proper Canadian dialect uses a diphthong. “A-boat” would actually be a bit closer, but still relies on a monophthong. Why can’t Americans get their heads around the Canadian “about”? 

“What’s going on is a compound of pronunciation and perception,” says Dailey-O’Cain. “The Canadians do pronounce it differently. Americans hear this and they know it’s different—they’re hearing a difference but they don’t know exactly what that difference is.” Americans do not have the Canadian diphthong present in the word “about,” which makes it hard to understand. We know that the Canadians are doing something weird, but in fact it’s so unlike our own dialect that we can’t even really figure out what’s weird about it.

Our best guess? Well, we can hear that the Canadians are raising that first vowel in the diphthong, even if we don’t know what “raising” means. But in a true American disdain for subtlety, we choose to interpret that as the most extreme possible raised vowel sound: “ooh.” It’s like a beach artist caricature that exaggerates a feature beyond realism and into cartoon-land: we hear a difference, and boost that difference to a height that isn’t actually correct anymore.

(Read the rest.)

I’ve also written about Canadian Raising, including an audio clip so that you can hear me say it
How The Smithsonian Is Crowdsourcing History
It’s the end of the day, you’ve worked hard, and now you’re home and it’s time to relax. So you open up your laptop and settle in to transcribe some bee...

We had the chance to talk with Andy Wright of @atlasobscura about our amazing #volunpeers and the @smithsonian collections that they are helping to make more accessible every day. 

In addition to showcasing the tiny mysteries and adventures on each page, the article highlights the fascinating connections that emerge across projects and subjects through transcription. Projects featured include materials from the Department of Botany, @archivesofamericanart, @nmaahc, Smithsonian Institution Archives, and Anacostia Community Museum Archives. 

But wait! There’s more! Andy also shared projects from our friends at @NYPL (What’s on the Menu?), DIYHistory from University of Iowa Libraries (please share with colleagues, @uispeccoll!), Atlas of Living Australia’s DigiVol, as well as our near-by neighbors @usnatarchives and the Citizen Archivist platform (please also share @todaysdocument!).

If you want to help, we have ever-expanding opportunities with new projects launched each week from archives, museums, and libraries across the Smithsonian. We’d love to see you join us or other crowdsourcing projects. You can make a difference to historical, cultural, and scientific research. Let us know how we can help you get started by using the feedback button or emailing ( - or asking here or tweeting (@transcribesi).

And some citations JIC you’d like to research materials the images in the article: 

  • Oscar Bluemner – Image: Oscar Bluemner papers, 1886-1939, 1960. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
  • Joseph Nelson Rose field notes, uncovering a woman in science: Mrs. D.D. Gaillard, née Katherine Ross Davis  – Image: Joseph Nelson Rose field notes, Rose, cacti 1909-1917. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 12-052, Box 1, Folder 1. Image Number: SIA2012-7970.
  • Lister v Clay promotional material: Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Holy shit, Kotaku posted an interesting and informative article about video games.

Except it’s not actually on Kotaku, it’s on io9, it was crossposted. So io9 produces better gaming content than the Gawker site ostensibly about gaming.

Except it’s not actually on io9 either, it’s word for word an Atlas Obscura article that they asked the writer to also put on io9. So it has nothing to do with Gawker at all.

Gawker: The middle man between you and worthwhile content since forever.


Willard Asylum for the Chronic Insane

Though asylums often carry connotations of dark and torturous existences, Willard and other institutions like it were intended to be a better alternative to systems in place for taking care of the mentally ill. In the early 19th century, those without anyone to care for them and incapable of taking care of themselves were left to almshouses (basically shelters) which were overcrowded and under resourced. In response to these squalid conditions,New York’s Surgeon General Dr. Sylvester D. Willard proposed a state-run hospital for the insane. Abraham Lincoln himself signed off on the proposal a mere six days before his death.

Willard welcomed its first patient in 1869. She was a woman named Mary Rote, described as “demented and deformed”, who had spent ten years confined to an almshouse. The theme of horrific neglect would follow in patients admitted later. One girl had been shackled in a cell since childhood, another patient arrived at Willard in a chicken crate. The dreadful situations patients were arriving from coupled with the lack of understanding of mental disability meant that Willard essentially became a dumping ground for undesirables. Patients’ afflictions ranged from severe mental and physical handicaps to “nervousness”, “chronic” to “acute” insanity, “feeblemindedness”, and “lunacy.”

After Geraldo Rivera’s 1972 expose on the deplorable conditions at Willowbrook Asylum, numbers in large institutions declined sharply. Willard Asylum discharged its final patient in 1995 and shuttered its doors for good. Now some of its buildings are used as training facilities and dormitories by the Department of Correctional Facilities, which maintains the grounds, but many of them have been left to rot for so long that they are totally unusable. In these, asylum life has been preserved in the artifacts left behind by staff and patients.

Since Reed does not have a nuclear engineering department (or any engineering department), the staff comes from a broad selection of academic majors, primarily in the sciences but including nearly every major—from English and philosophy to psychology, religion, economics, and political science. According to one astonishing statistic, the Reed Research Reactor has more female reactor operators than all the other research reactors in the world…combined.
—  Do yourself a favor and read this Atlas Obscura article about the world’s only nuclear reactor operated by liberal arts undergraduates.
Why ‘Garbage Person’ Is Such a Popular Insult
We trace the phrase's provenance from Charles Manson to Clickhole.

I did a fun interview with Atlas Obscura about the term “garbage person”: 

Thanks to a pattern called the “hyperbole treadmill,” speakers and writers aiming to make a potent impression will reach for strong words and then slowly wear them out over decades of use, McCulloch says. This explains many of our more deflated go-to descriptors–”really,” “truly,” “awesome”–and our attempts to rhetorically pump up statements with newer ones like “literally.”

Of course, “garbage” is not to be confused with “trash”: 


Atlas Obscura’s 20 Most Astonishing Discoveries of 2013

It has been an incredible year in curious places — from lost cities, to a cat island, to the unsettling details of Icelandic magic — and we are looking forward to the year ahead in uncovering more of the world’s hidden wonders.

Keep reading for the 20 most astonishing new additions to the Atlas Obscura from 2013!