Atlas Obscura


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.


Hidden Beach - Mexico

A gaping hole in the surface of the lush green island exposes a secret beach, with ample shade, sun and crystal-clear water. The Marieta Islands are an archipelago, a chain of islands that exist as a result of volcanic eruption. The islands themselves are natural wonders, but it was something else that caused the burrowed beach to be shown the light.

The Hidden Beach is invisible from the outside, and is only accessible through a long water tunnel that links the beach to the Pacific Ocean. There is approximately six feet of space above water level, so visitors can arrive at the beach by swimming or kayaking. The islands are still uninhabited, but are frequently visited by tourists who come to enjoy the diverse marine wildlife and the unique tropical eden of Playa Del Amor.

For even more on Mexico’s Hidden Beach, keep reading on Atlas Obscura!
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 ^____^
Is there a place in America where people speak without accents?

Atlas Obscura has a long and interesting article (with video clips) about the attempt to define a “General American” accent and how it ends up saying more about our beliefs about each other than about any objective linguistic reality. Excerpt: 

If you want to anger a linguist, try bringing up a speech pattern called General American. “General American is a concept for which I’ve struggled to find a satisfying definition,” writes Ben Trawick-Smith of Dialect Blog. Dennis Preston, a dialectologist and sociolinguist at Oklahoma State University, goes even further. “General American doesn’t exist,” Preston says, “He was demoted to private or sergeant a long, long time ago.” […]

But where does General American come from? Is there a place where people, young and old, speak like newscasters? […]

As an experiment, try listening to some news broadcasts around the country. These newscasters all supposedly speak in the accent-less General American way, so they should all sound pretty much the same, right? “I can take any handful of broadcasters you want, and unless you cheat and get them all from the same area, I can show you acoustically and probably by ear pretty convincingly that they still have for the most part the same acoustic system they had growing up,” says Preston. I wasn’t sure I believed it, but, well, look. […]

One thing that is consistent, and is not exactly an accent but is related, is in their enunciation. “They don’t really change their language, as such; they change their articulatory precision,” says Preston. This is probably a remnant from the way performance worked live; to reach the entire crowd and make sure you’re speaking comprehensibly to everyone, it was important to enunciate very precisely. Very precise enunciation can actually change the way someone sounds; it may be an effort to be more proper, but it can also shift you to that theoretical General American zone.

One example: the letter “w”. When Americans pronounce the name of this letter, it’s almost always shortened in some way. Most stereotypically, those from the South will shorten it to “dubya.” But nobody says “double-you.” Even in the North and West, the name is typically shortened to something more like “dubba-you.” Go ahead, ask someone to spell the word “white.” They’ll compress it, somehow. Newscasters, in the interest of proper enunciation, will say “double-you.” Another example: most Americans will do something called palatization in a phrase like “did you,” turning it into “did joo.” Newscasters will not, for precision’s sake.

This kind of stuff can add to the feeling of nowhereness, because English really isn’t spoken that way anywhere.

Read the whole thing.

The Dramatic Life and Mysterious Death of Theodosia Burr (Atlas Obscura):

Today, if people know anything about Theodosia, it is because of the lovely lullaby “Dear Theodosia,” sung by the character of Aaron Burr in the sensational musical Hamilton. But the real-life Theodosia grew from a beloved child into a highly intelligent, complex adult, whose fascinating story is largely unknown and worthy of its very own Broadway smash.

Theodosia Bartow Burr was born in Albany, New York, on June 21, 1783. Her mother, also called Theodosia, was a brilliant, cultured woman. She had scandalized New England society, when as a married mother of five, she fell in love with an equally brilliant and much younger blue-blooded lawyer and Revolutionary War soldier—Aaron Burr. After her first husband’s death, the two were married, and little Theodosia, the couple’s only child to survive, became the center of her parents’—particularly her father’s—world.

“Your dear little Theodosia cannot hear you spoken of without an apparent melancholy,” the elder Theodosia wrote to a traveling Aaron in 1785, “insomuch that her nurse is obliged to exert her invention to divert her, and myself avoid to mention you in her presence. She was one whole day indifferent to everything but your name. Her attachment is not of a common nature.”

Aaron reciprocated these feelings. His plans for his lovely, dark-haired “Little Miss Priss,” who was already displaying an extraordinary intellect and sharp wit, were incredibly ambitious, and for the times, highly progressive. “I hope yet by her [Theodosia] to convince the world what neither sex seems to believe,” he wrote, “that women have soul!”

In 1800, Theodosia became deeply enamored with Joseph Alston, a wealthy planter from South Carolina. “My father laughs at my impatience to hear from you,” Theodosia wrote teasingly to Joseph during a separation.

The couple were married on February 2, 1801, in Albany. Little more than a month afterwards, she and her new husband watched as her father was sworn in as Vice-President of the United States, under President Thomas Jefferson. They were further blessed nine months later when their son Aaron Burr Alston, nicknamed “Gampy” by his doting grandfather, was born.

However, the birth of her only child took a heavy toll on Theodosia. She was severely injured during the traumatic birth, and the prolapsed uterus she suffered left her in immense pain, and made intercourse impossible. Although she adored her husband and his family, she had a hard time adjusting to the isolated life of a plantation mistress at The Oaks, the family estate on the Waccamaw River in South Carolina, and was soon spending half the year in New York with her father.

On July 10, 1804, Aaron sat down at his desk and wrote his Theodosia a letter of goodbye. “I am indebted to you, my dearest Theodosia, for a very great portion of the happiness which I have enjoyed in this life. You have completely satisfied all that my heart and affections had hoped for or even wished.” The next day, Aaron—still the Vice President of the United States—would kill Alexander Hamilton in a duel in Weehawken, New Jersey.


On December 10, 1812, Joseph Alston was elected governor of South Carolina. His new position made it impossible for him to accompany Theodosia to New York, and with the War of 1812 raging in the Atlantic, he was worried about his frail wife making the treacherous trip to New York. To ensure his daughter’s safety, Aaron sent down his friend Dr. Timothy Green to secure a boat and make sure that Theodosia made it home to him.

Theodosia, along with Dr. Green, a French maid and skeleton crew, boarded a small schooner called the Patriot at the port of Georgetown on December 31. One week passed, then two, then three—with no word from the Patriot, its small crew or passengers. “In three weeks I have not yet had one line from her,” Joseph wrote Aaron. “My mind is tortured—after 30 days—my wife is either captured or lost!” By February 24th, he had given up all hope. “My boy and-my wife- gone both! This, then is the end of all the hopes we had formed,” he wrote to his father-in-law. “You may well observe that you feel severed from the human race. She was the last thing that bound us to the species.”

Within weeks of the Patriot’s disappearance, rumors about Theodosia’s fate began to spread in the North and the South. Joseph died in 1816, a shell of the man he once was. Burr lived another 23 years, long enough to witness the cottage-industry of conspiracy theories about his daughter’s disappearance come to life. He refused to believe she was still alive, stating firmly: “She is dead. She perished in the miserable little pilot boat in which she left. Were she alive, all the prisons in the world could not keep her from her father.”


Today the legend of Theodosia lives on. The Nags Head Portrait now hangs in the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale. Her ghost is said to haunt her plantation The Oaks, the Outer Banks, Richmond Hill and Bald Head Island, where it is said her spirit is chased by three headless pirates. In the late 19th and early 20th century the mystery was spun into several novels and countless magazine articles. Many little girls were named after her—including Theodosia Burr Goodman, who would become famous as the silent screen vamp Theda Bara. Her story was a favorite of poets, including Robert Frost, whose poem Kitty Hawk includes the line:

Did I recollect how the wreckers wrecked Theodosia Burr off this very shore? T’was to punish her, but her father more.

But perhaps the impact of the mystery of Theodosia is best summed up by her friend Margaret Blennerhasset in her poem On A Friend Who Was Supposed To Have Suffered A Shipwreck:

And now I wander all alone, Nor heed the balmy breeze, but list the ring dove’s tender moan, and think upon the seas.
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.

Everybody loves the Sedlec Ossuary (heck, my avatar is the sidewalk there) but maybe it’s time to switch it up. Let’s go to Brno, your new deathstination in the Czech Republic!

They have this sweet skeleton door, a crypt full of mummified monks, and the second largest ossuary in Europe outside of the Paris catacombs. Read my article on it over at Atlas Obscura.
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

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.