Saturday, October 27, 2012

Chinese Man Sues Wife for Being Ugly, Wins Lawsuit

A man from northern China who divorced and sued his wife earlier this year for being ugly has recently won the lawsuit.
Jian Feng said his issues with his wife’s looks only began after the couple’s daughter was born.  Feng was appalled by the child’s appearance, calling her “incredibly ugly” and saying she resembled neither one of her parents.
With that being the case, Feng initially accused his wife of cheating.  It was at that point that his wife, who has not been named, came forward, saying she had spent $100,000 on intense plastic surgeries to drastically change her appearance before she met Feng.  She never told Feng about those surgeries.
When Feng found out about the procedures, he filed the lawsuit. He said the woman convinced him to marry her under false pretenses.
A judge agreed, awarding Feng $120,000.
[Via MyFOX8]

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Some Nominated Individuals Who Did Not Receive the Nobel Peace Prize

The three most common searches on individuals in the Nobel Peace Prize nomination database, are Adolf Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi and Joseph Stalin.
Joseph Stalin, the Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1922-1953), was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945 and 1948 for his efforts to end World War II.

Mahatma Gandhi, one of the strongest symbols of non-violence in the 20th century, was nominated in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947 and, finally, shortly before he was assassinated in January 1948. Although Gandhi was not awarded the Prize (a posthumous award is not allowed by the statutes), the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to make no award that year on the grounds that "there was no suitable living candidate".
Adolf Hitler was nominated once in 1939. Incredulous though it may seem today, the Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1939, by a member of the Swedish parliament, an E.G.C. Brandt. Apparently though, Brandt never intended the nomination to be taken seriously. Brandt was to all intents and purposes a dedicated antifascist, and had intended this nomination more as a satiric criticism of the current political debate in Sweden. ( At the time, a number of Swedish parliamentarians had nominated then British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin for the Nobel Peace Prize, a nomination which Brandt viewed with great skepticism. ) However, Brandt's satirical intentions were not well received at all and the nomination was swiftly withdrawn in a letter dated 1 February 1939.
Other statesmen and national leaders who were nominated but not awarded the Nobel Peace Prize:
Czechoslovakia: Thomas G. Masaryk, Edvard Benes,
Great Britain: Neville Chamberlain, Anthony Eden, Clement Attlee,
Ramsay MacDonald, Winston Churchill
USA: the presidents William Howard Taft, Warren G. Harding, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman &
Dwight D. Eisenhover; the foreign ministers Charles Hughes, John Foster Dulles
France: Pierre Mendès-France
Western Germany: Konrad Adenauer
Argentina: Juan and Eva Peron
India: Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru
Finland: Juho Kusti Paasikivi
Italy: Benito Mussolini
Artists nominated but not awarded the Peace Prize: 
Leo Tolstoy (Russian author), E.M. Remarque (German author), Pablo Casals (Spanish Catalan cellist and later conductor), Nicholas Roerich
Nominees not primarily known for their peace work:
John Maynard Keynes (British economist)
Pierre de Coubertin (French pedagogue and historian best known for founding the International Olympic Committee)
Lord Baden-Powell (Lieutenant-General in the British Army, writer, founder of the Scout Movement)
Maria Montessori (best known for her philosophy and method of educating children from birth to adolescence. Her educational method is still in use today in a number of public as well as private schools throughout the world)
Royal nominees:
Tsar Nikolai II (1901), Prince Carl of Sweden (1919), King Albert I of Belgium (1922), Emperor Haile Selassi of Ethiopia (1938), King Paul I of Greece (1950), Princess Wilhelmina of the Netherlands (1951)

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Time Indiana Tried to Change Pi to 3.2

Any high school geometry student worth his or her protractor knows that pi is an irrational number, but if you’ve got to approximate the famed ratio, 3.14 will work in a pinch. That wasn’t so much the case in late-19th-century Indiana, though. That’s when the state’s legislators tried to pass a bill that legally defined the value of pi as 3.2.

The very notion of legislatively changing a mathematical constant sounds so crazy that it just has to be an urban legend, right? Nope. As unbelievable as it sounds, a bill that would have effectively redefined pi as 3.2 came up before the Indiana legislature in 1897.

The story of the “Indiana pi bill” starts with Edward J. Goodwin, a Solitude, Indiana, physician who spent his free time dabbling in mathematics. Goodwin’s pet obsession was an old problem known as squaring the circle. Since ancient times, mathematicians had theorized that there must be some way to calculate the area of a circle using only a compass and a straightedge. Mathematicians thought that with the help of these tools, they could construct a square that had the exact same area as the circle. Then all one would need to do to find the area of the circle was calculate the area of the square, a simple task.

Sounds like a neat trick. The only problem is that it’s impossible to calculate the area of a circle in this way. It just won’t work. Furthermore, when Goodwin was toying with this problem, mathematicians already knew it was impossible; Ferdinand von Lindemann had proven that the task was a fool’s errand in 1882.

Goodwin wasn’t going to let something trivial like the proven mathematical impossibility of his task deter his efforts, though. He persevered, and in 1894 he even convinced the upstart journal American Mathematical Monthly to print the proof in which he “solved” the squaring-the-circle problem. Goodwin’s proof didn’t explicitly deal with approximating pi, but when you’re quite literally trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, weird things happen. One of the odd side effects of Goodwin’s machinations was that the value of pi morphed into 3.2.

Let’s Make a Deal

Although Goodwin’s “proof” was anything but, he was pretty cocky about its infallibility. He didn’t just publish his faulty method in journals; he copyrighted it. Goodwin figured everyone would be lining up to use his revolutionary new trick, and his plan was to collect royalties from businesses and mathematicians who sought to exploit his method.

Goodwin wasn’t totally greedy, though, and that’s where the Indiana legislature entered the picture. Goodwin couldn’t bear the thought of Hoosier schoolchildren being deprived of the fruits of his brilliance just because the state couldn’t foot the bill for his royalties. So he magnanimously offered to let the state use his masterpiece free of charge.

Indiana wasn’t going to get such an awesome deal totally for free, though. The state could avoid paying royalties if and only if the legislature would accept and adopt this “new mathematical truth” as state law. Goodwin convinced Representative Taylor I. Record to introduce House Bill 246, which outlined both this bargain and the basics of his method.

Again, Goodwin’s method and the accompanying bill never mention the word “pi,” but on the topic of circles, it clearly states, “[T]he ratio of the diameter and circumference is as five-fourths to four.” Yup, that ratio is 3.2. Goodwin isn’t afraid to lambaste the old approximation of pi, either. The bill angrily condemns 3.14 as “wholly wanting and misleading in its practical applications.”

Goodwin’s blasting of the old approximation isn’t even the funniest part of the bill’s text. The third and final section extols his other mathematical breakthroughs, including solving the similarly impossible problems of angle trisection and doubling the cube, before reminding any reader who wasn’t sufficiently awestruck at his magnificence, “And be it remembered that these noted problems had been long since given up by scientific bodies as insolvable mysteries and above man’s ability to comprehend.“

Math Problem

To anyone who passed the aforementioned high school geometry class, this bill was patently absurd. Apparently Indiana legislators weren’t a pack of math whizzes, though. After the bill bounced around between committees, the Committee on Education finally sent it out for a vote, and the bill passed the House unanimously. No, not a single one of Indiana’s 67 House members raised an eyebrow at a proof that effectively redefined pi as 3.2.

Luckily the state’s senators had a bit more numerical acumen. Well, some of them did. Eventually. After sailing through the House, the bill first went to the Senate’s Committee on Temperance, which also recommended that it pass. By this point, news of Indiana attempting to legislate a new value of pi and endorse an airtight solution to an unsolvable math problem had become national news, and papers all over the country were mocking the legislature’s questionable calculations.

All this attention ended up working in Indiana’s favor. While the state’s lawmakers couldn’t follow Goodwin’s bizarre brand of mathe-magic well enough to refute his proof, there were other smart Hoosiers who could. Professor C.A. Waldo of Purdue University was in Indianapolis while the pi hoopla was unfolding, and after watching part of the debate at the statehouse he was so thoroughly horrified that he decided to intervene.

The legislators may have been nearly bamboozled by Goodwin’s pseudo-math, but Waldo certainly wasn’t. Waldo got the ear of a group of senators after watching the absurd debate and explained why Goodwin’s theory was nonsense. (It seemed that most of the legislators didn’t really understand what was going on in the bill; they just knew that by approving it the state would get to use a new theory for free.)

After receiving Waldo’s coaching, the Senate realized that the new bill was a very, very bad idea. Senator Orrin Hubbel moved that a vote on the bill be postponed indefinitely, and Goodwin’s new math died a quiet legislative death. The Indiana legislature hasn’t tried to rewrite the basic principles of math in the 114 years since. We’ll keep holding out hope that some brave political hopeful jumps on the 2012 campaign as a chance to finally take a stand against the irrational tyranny of √2.

[Via Mental Floss]

Sunday, October 7, 2012

How Technology is Changing the Way We Have Sex

Engineers have three years left to deliver the hoverboard promised to us by Back To The Future II. It’s not looking good though the self-lacing Nike dunks are on track. In the area of sex tech though, we’re already on track to surpass the orgasmatron – the machine for giving instant orgasms – from Woody Allen’s 1973 flick Sleeper well before the 2173 deadline.
Technology is already having a major effect on sex lives the world over and there’s far more to be explored than simply burbling about sexting or women reading 50 Shades Of Grey on their Kindles undetected by the other commuters on their train. From web communities to hardware – pun obviously intended – our sexual culture is evolving and being altered by technology.
Matt Curry, head of e-commerce at Lovehoney or, as he describes himself in his Twitter profile, “Chief Whip & Sexual Tastemaker”, has great insight into the public’s sexual tastes – he sees what they spend their cash on. He reveals that Lovehoney’s latest gadget makes catering to its customers’ whims much easier:
“With sex toys, having instant access via Skype to overseas manufacturing is great. We’ve taken that one step further though: we’re now printing out prototypes sent by sex toy designers in Europe and China with our office 3D printer. It really helps with speed of development. Previously we had to wait for prototypes – even non-functional models – to be shipped via air or even sea. Now we can get an idea of shape and size very quickly.”
It’s not just the ability to quickly see designs that’s helped by the 3D printer. It also means Lovehoney can be far more experimental. Curry says: “We can definitely experiment with more unusual designs now before we expend the time and money required to knock out functional versions.”
His list of favorite sex toys, published on Lovehoney’s blog, gives a good sense of how online purchases make it easier for us to buy what we really want rather than one we’re comfortable to be seen buying. BASIC Sex Toys’s Slimline Butt Buddy is the third most popular sex toy on the site. Curry says: “I try to convince people that the British public are much more into sticking things up their bottoms than they let on and this is brilliant proof of that.”
He goes on: “Working in this industry has taught me that everyone is into something other people would think weird. There’s also a lot more choice now. Ten years ago, you would never have been able to get access to specialist kit like Pipedream Extreme [makers of realistic vaginas, dicks, anuses and mouths], medical fetish equipment or electro items from your local sex shop.”
The ‘Amazon’ shopping experience, our expectation of easy ordering and delivery, has made it normal to buy things off the web and, of course, that means sex toys and related products. Curry brightly notes; “On Lovehoney, you can even read user reviews of a speculum, if that’s what you’re into. 5 stars, I might add!” Amusingly, a search on Amazon itself for vibrators, brings up a selection of “pelvic floor exercisers” and “personal massagers”, code words used by mainstream companies in place of more direct words like vibrator and dildo.
The future of vibrators may be in “teledildonics” — remotely controlled sex toys — but Curry warns that the technology is somewhat slums at this point. He highlights items like the Mojowijo – an add-on for turning your Wiimote into a sex toy – and the Fleshlight VStroker but does not recommend them as they are “not great products”. Better options may be on the way though. Curry reveals:
“There are some advances on the way. I’ve seen various mockups and prototypes of toys that work with iPads and other video chat apps to provide a better long-distance experience. There’s even a semi-satirical mockup of an iPad Fleshlight doing the rounds on the Internet.”
iOS devices have been put to work in the pursuit of pleasure by former Apple employee, Suki Dunham, whose company OhMiBod makes a whole range of music-activated vibrators. The devices buzz to the rhythm of the tunes you choose and the company recently launched an iPhone app that allows users to remotely control connected vibrators and created their own unique vibration patterns. The company’s devices were featured in the Grammy Awards goodie bags in 2010.
At the more extreme of innovation, researchers from the University of Electro Communications in Tokyo developed a machine – dubbed the Kiss Translation Device – that aims to connect couples French kiss over long-distances. The machine links two rotating straw-like tongues to computers. Noburhiro Takahashi, a member of the team developing the device, told DigInfo TV that the team is working on other elements of kissing like taste, breath and tongue moistness. Thankfully bad breath isn’t one of the factors being studied.
Scientists are also turning their attentions to other orifices. While the Fleshlight is the most famous or infamous artificial vagina, the ungainly RealTouch pushes things even further. The device, designed by a former NASA engineer, has two bands running inside with a reservoir releasing lube. It plugs in using USB and its motion is synced to specially selected porn movies to theoretically mimic the experience of fucking the performers. Quite how erotic that can possibly feel is debatable.
For those who want more than a hole, there is an arms, legs and other body part race between makers of highly detailed dolls. The most prominent brand at the high end is Real Doll, which featured prominently in the Oscar-nominated Lars And The Real Girl, a Playboy shoot by Helmut Newton, and RyanMurphy’s Nip/Tuck among many other TV shows. Less pleasingly for the doll makers, Merlin Mann and John Roderick dubbed the anatomically correct creations “dead rubber girls” in an episode of the Roderick On The Line podcast.
RealDoll’s most prominent rival is the more robotic Roxxxy from True Companion, marketed as a sex robot can that can hold conversation. Each Roxxy model has three inputs (read: orifices) and a programmed personality which allows her to be sleepy, garrulous or “in the mood”. Other “girlfriend profiles” are offered with highly descriptive names: Wild Wendy, Frigid Farrah, S&M Susan, Mature Martha and Young Yoko.
RealDoll has been producing realistic sex dolls since 1996 and while it did offer robotic featured such as remote-controlled hip actuators and computer controlled speech feedback for a time, it has opted to focus on the “realism” of its products. RealDoll’s creator Matt McMullen says of his rivals at True Companion:
“What they’re trying to do really is completely different than what we’ve been doing. We’ve always aspired to make our dolls look and feel as real as possible, hence the name Real Doll, not so much like “hey, we’re going to build a robot.” Not that that’s an area we haven’t explored…it’s just something that I’ve never really been comfortable releasing as a product mostly because of the aesthetics that have to sacrificed when you start putting gears in a doll…it’s hard to keep the doll as beautiful as I would demand it to look.”
The team behind True Companion has been working on their concept for a high-tech sex doll since 1993. Douglas Hines, a former employee of Bell Labs – a crucible of technology that helped produce radio astronomy, the transistor, the laser, Unix, C and C++ – created a rudimentary sex robot called Trudy.
True Companion’s official company history explains their goal: “The sex industry was effective at creating very expensive and somewhat realistic dolls but many people were telling us it was like their dolls were ‘catatonic’, like they were injured and unable to speak and interact. They wanted to have their dolls become interactive and be their friends. We solved this problem…”
Speaking to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’s magazine, Spectrum, Hines talked about his sex doll like any inventor dealing with practical problems: “Roxxxy has three inputs and motors where it counts. There’s a lot of heat buildup, so we installed a convection system. [There are] other motors to simulate heartbeat and responsive gestures.”
Like a lot of more traditional consumer technology, Roxxxy hooks up to the web to grab firmware updates that add new behavior based on interactions between owner and robot. Hines employed a voiceover artist to record her vocals as well as noises like snoring and orgasmic yelps. The robot’s knowledge database is pre-populated with phrases based on the buyer’s answers to a 400-question preference questionnaire.
Meanwhile, RealDoll has taken another step forward in its quest for realism by striking a licensing deal with porn studio Wicked to produce representations of its stars. To someone not used to the culture of the realistic sex doll market, the features list of the new product might be a little disturbing:
“…new articulated spine, which allows for completely realistic and natural torso positioning and range of motion…the new removable deep throat mouth insert, which features a canal which goes down the throat of the doll versus straight back into the head, for up to 7” of penetration…full head design without magnets or velcro…a numbered certificate of authenticity signed by the actress…”
While many RealDoll fans are very taken with the latex version of women of Wicked, others are disappointed by the specs and option packages available. Despite the very different products under discussion, RealDoll forums don’t differ all that much from those discussing mobile phones or cars. Here’s an example of one user’s view of the Wicked RealDoll range:
“I really like the Wicked Real Doll body out of them all – specifically the body on the Electra doll. I just don’t like the face. Unfortunately, when I tried to find the options available, there are none. Is it possible to switch out a head on this body if you pay extra? I could live without any special skin tone but I can’t handle the face on the doll…to me [it] looks a bit agitated…I really would like that body but not a doll that looks like it wants to kick my ass. Sorry for being blunt. What would it cost to order a different head?”
Jessica Drake, a writer, performer and producer for Wicked, has also been immortalized as a RealDoll. She described the process to
“It’s a really scientific process. My body and my face was scanned by a computer from head to toe, all the way round. The doll is an exact replica of me, right down to the lifelines on my palms…my hands and feet were molded separately for even more details like my nails and veins. My doll has the same dimples in her lower back that I have…my ‘lady parts’ were molded to be exactly the same as the real thing. That meant another visit to RealDoll, where their specialists poured a special mixture around my bits as I was on a table in a rather compromising position. It was cold but it warmed up rather quickly. My nipples were done in the same way.”
Drake is very positive about the response she has received from fans who have purchased her in doll form: “I’m really flattered…[it’s] giving me the ability to fulfill the fantasies of even more people…that someone would enjoy me so much that they’d take me home and make me theirs is quite the turn on. I’ve already gotten a few emails from people telling me how much they enjoy me!”
It’s unsurprising that customers are so demanding. The standard RealDoll, female or male, costs $5999 before you choose any of the optional extras (which include pubic hair and the option of extra faces). A rather matter-of-fact note at the bottom of the order form states: “Your female doll comes dressed in stylish seasonal lingerie with high heeled shoes. She will also come with a bottle of perfume and a cleaning kit.” The male doll ships in boxers and, curiously, a tank top.
While modern materials and the freedom provided by the web have made a more profitable business of developing and selling sex dolls, they are by no means a new concept. As far back as the 16th century the dame de voyage, a makeshift sex doll made of cloth, was used by French and Spanish sailors on long, lonely voyages. Iwan Bloch in The Sexual Life of Our Time discussed commercialized sex dolls in 1908:
“[There are] clever mechanics who, from rubber and other plastic materials, prepare entire male or female bodies which subserve fornicatory purposes. More especially are the genital organs represented in a manner true to nature…such artificial human beings are actually offered for sale in the catalogue of certain manufacturers of “Parisian rubber articles.”
By 1955, dolls were being openly advertised with Max Weissbrodt promoting Bild Lilli in Germany, a model based on a cartoon character popularized by the Bild Zeitung newspaper. However, unlike the direct and serious copy that promotes the RealDoll today, poor Lilli was marketed as a joke for “men who perhaps could not afford the real thing” and advertised in pamphlets distributed in red light districts.
It was another technological leap forward that kicked the sex doll industry into the 20th century as vinyl, latex and silicone became more commonly available and allowed more realism. The great joy of the web for the sexual adventurer is that there is no longer a need to seek out a catalogue packed with “Parisian rubber articles” as the internet is history’s greatest repository of the niche and naughty.
Matt Curry says of the web’s more niche hangouts: “I see so many niches. Online communities are giving people the opportunity to discuss and explore aspects of their sexuality. If you realized you had a sexual attachment to cuddly toys, you’d once have felt repressed but now you have access to, say, the Teddy Babe section of the UK Love Doll forums.” I checked. That’s definitely a thing. Once again Rule 34 – the hypothesis that pornography or sexually related material exists online for any conceivable subject – is proved right.
Curry makes a strong over-arching point about how the web has renewed and revitalized sexual culture: “Anonymity has really allowed people to be much more open online. Yes, you get exhibitionists and fantasists but the majority are people just looking for an outlet and some advice.”
For young people, there seems to be, despite media reports to the contrary, a lot to be celebrated about the interaction of technology and our sex lives. “The Use of Technology in Relationships”, a report published by the University of Plymouth earlier this year in association with the UK Safer Internet Centre found that 88% of 16 – 24 year-olds strongly agree that technology has had a positive impact on their relationship.
Over half of respondents said online activities formed a regular part of interaction in their relationship (60%) and were an important part of forming new relationships (52%). However, almost half of those surveyed agreed that online interaction could damage “offline” relationships.
The interaction between online and offline relationships is blurring though. Whether they are out-and-out hookup apps like Grindr and its straight equivalent Blendr or presenting themselves as a “social experiment” when users are clearly getting sexual like Badoo, so many apps are places for getting sex. Craigslist has always been a hot bed of no-strings attached action but location-awareness has given the quest for anonymous sex a new lease of life.
Grindr has over 4 million users in 192 countries. That’s a sexual revolution by anyone’s arithmetic. Cottaging meets coding. Mutual masturbation meets monetization strategies. But not everyone believes that’s a good thing. The problem with Grindr and, in fact, all web and mobile hook up strategies was brilliantly summed up by journalist and theorist Mark Simpson:
“Now, call me old-fashioned but what is the point of sex to a single homosexualist if it doesn’t get you out of the bloody house? On the hottest night of the year? Gays – all of them, every last one of them, especially those in relationships – are ‘logged on’ with lob ons, looking for someone who will ‘travel’ while they ‘accom’.
If Joe Orton had his time again his diaries would have been just printouts of thousands of Gaydar profiles and alarming digicam photos. “I, for my part, look back on my pre-internet days of compulsive cruising…in the driving sleet and rain as a golden age of warmth, romance and human contact…the evil of internet cruising – and the reason it will become irresistibly, devastatingly mainstream – is precisely its efficiency…but efficiency is precisely what sex is not about.”
That is the crux of where technology’s role in the future of sex gets problematic. The human experience that is most tied to the idea of intimacy can be enhanced by technology but it can also allow us to dive into the most solipsistic behavior possible, fulfilling our own most selfish needs without the need to think of anything else. In June 2006, Henrik Christensen of the European Robotics Research Network told The Sunday Times he believed “people [were] going to be having sex with robots within five years.” True Companion’s customers already are but how long before the robotic side of the sex industry becomes mainstream?
Wherever there is a new technology, be it VHS, BluRay or 3D, the sex industry is quick to adopt it. Days after Google announced its Glass AR eyewear would be available to developers, Quentin Boyer of major porn producers Pink Visual was claiming his company would be the first to develop porn for it. He says, matter-of-factly: “The style of porn known as ‘point of view’ has been a popular type of content for a while now. Obviously a device that allows you to shoot high quality video in a truly hands-free fashion will make shooting porn that much easier.” Good work Google, you’ve just brought us the future of dirty movies.
Whether it is allowing us to indulge our kinks, however mild – 50 Shades of Grey on Kindle – or extreme – discussing $6000 latex girls, or facilitating real life contact, technology has an increasing role in modern sexuality. The defining question of the next 10 years is likely to be whether it’s used more to maintain intimacy with partners over great distances and enhance relationships or create insular worlds where we can please ourselves. Oh, and when that orgasmatron is going to get off the drawing board.
[Via The Next Web]

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Learning Chinese in Zambia

A growing number of students are producing really first rate field research on China in Africa. The M.A. thesis of Arwen Hoogenbosch "Made-in-China”: Chinese as a commodity and a socioeconomic resource in Chinese language schools in Zambia" makes fascinating reading.

Arwen spent several months doing "participant observation", enrolled in a Chinese language school in Zambia. He got to know his fellow students, and reports on their varied goals and hopes for learning Chinese.

It's vividly written and full of interesting findings. For example, the story of "William":

... For most of his life, William and his siblings grew up on a Chinese operated farm. The Chinese farmer invested in the children and paid their tuition. The farmer also sent William to the Confucius Institute to learn Chinese. The Chinese employer can be seen as the family’s patron, which improved the cultural capital of the children. The Chinese employer also advised William to work at a Chinese restaurant to improve his Chinese. William’s social capital translated into cultural capital, by living with the Chinese farmer.

Then there is "Raymond":

In his work as a policeman he noticed that Chinese people in Zambia were increasingly coming into contact with law enforcement: “Often when they come to the office they cannot defend themselves because they do not speak English, but they have the right to hear what they have done wrong in a language they understand”. When he proposed to learn Chinese, his boss agreed and told him he could do a course in Chinese language during office hours.

Arwen's analysis of the motives for Zambians to study Chinese is thoughtful. Some thought it would advance their job prospects, although Arwen writes: "it appears that Chinese companies prefer Chinese skilled employees." 

[Via China in Africa]

In Marriage, the Unseen Bottom Line

LONDON — When Rachel revealed that her husband was happy for her to buy shoes with their joint credit card, two questions popped into my head: How can I get our husbands to hang out more? And how many pairs of Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin could I afford if I was reimbursed for half of all the (much less fancy) footwear I’ve bought with my own money since I met my husband 15 years ago?
More serious is the equally pressing third question: How do modern couples manage their finances — and how does that affect the status of women, their long-term financial security and even their career prospects?
A completely unscientific snap poll of 44 girlfriends in Europe and the United States — all highly educated, in their 30s and in relationships, most with children and a job — showed that 41 pooled at least some money with their partners.
Dissecting what constitutes joint spending makes for an intriguing study in gender equality: Milk and diapers rarely cause disputes. But what about postnatal yoga? Or haircuts, invariably more expensive for women than men?
One friend charges a weekly massage to the joint account, arguing that pregnancy is doing her back in. Another makes her husband pay half her cellphone bill; his is covered by his employer. A third shares all her waxing expenses in the spirit of he-can’t-share-the-pain-but-he-can-share-the-bill.
I asked Paul, Rachel’s husband, why he felt that shoes (and, it turns out, makeup and clothes! What am I doing wrong?) should be paid for by the joint account. “There are so many explicit and implicit requirements on how a woman should look,” he said. You shouldn’t be punished financially for being female, he said.
Caitlin Moran, author of the best-selling “How to Be a Woman,” called it a tax on being a woman.
“For a woman to feel normal she has to spend more than a man. If you don’t want to have to justify yourself every time you walk out of your door, you have to throw some money at it.”
Some people don’t care about societal norms. That doesn’t change the tricky trade-off between equality and independence that lies at the heart of family finance.
When women have children and one parent, still usually the mother, sacrifices at least some earnings to maternity leave or part-time work or a less ambitious career, the notion of equality would seem to demand that both parents pool their (often different) incomes and decide on an identical spending allowance.
But in my mini-survey, 30 of the 41 women with joint accounts preferred keeping their (often lower) salaries in a personal account and paying a pro-rated amount into the family pool in order to enjoy some unscrutinized spending.
“I know that a lot of my spending is frivolous, and I couldn’t defend it if you shoved a spreadsheet in my face,” said one American friend who has been resisting her fiancé’s efforts to open a joint account. But “the thought of having another person in control of — and able to make comments about — my spending habits makes me antsy.”
Indeed, several friends have found creative ways to maintain the independence they ostensibly sacrificed in the name of equality. One has a secret trove of prewedding savings she never mentioned to her husband so she can spend beyond the jointly agreed monthly spending allowance. “I like having a bit of a buffer,” she says. Another tries to get away with the occasional shopping spree by buying her husband a new pair of shoes for every pair she buys herself.
But if the women spend the money, the guys control it.
Only one of the friends I interviewed is in charge of family finances (her husband once forgot to cancel his gym membership when he changed cities because he didn’t check his bank statements for 18 months).
Half of the 36 women in my sample with joint mortgages did not know the interest rate they pay. Fourteen admitted not remembering the password to their joint bank account. Ten couldn’t say how much money was currently in their accounts, and a handful didn’t know how much they earn after tax.
What it is with us liberated women? We took care of our financial affairs when we were single. Why do we give up control when a man shows up?
“It’s boring,” groaned one French friend — a banker, no less — echoing many others.
“I’m rubbish at math,” said another.
It’s just a division of labor, suggested a third. “He is finance minister, and I am minister of culture and entertainment.”
Such willful ignorance is risky, said Heather McGregor, author of “Mrs. Moneypenny’s Careers Advice for Ambitious Women.”
Financial literacy is an “insurance policy in case something happens to your husband or he leaves you for a model,” she said. About one in three marriages end in divorce in Britain. Some friends admitted a feeling of unease somewhere in the back of their stomachs about an arrangement that was entirely voluntary but made them feel vulnerable.
One pointed to her mother, who asked to borrow some money shortly after her father died. “One thing that terrifies me is how vague my mum is about her finances and always seems to be worrying that she doesn’t have enough to live on,” my friend said. “I feel that I’m very much heading down that road.”
Not understanding your own finances can also affect career ambitions. “If you don’t talk the language of money, you don’t talk the language of the boardroom,” said Mrs. McGregor, a former stockbroker and mother of three, who is not only “the finance director of McGregor Plc” (her husband is a cricket teacher) but also runs her own headhunting business.
Senior women in most fields, from human resource departments to art galleries, have some understanding of finance and often a financial qualification.
Women control 70 percent of consumer spending worldwide, a 2009 Boston Consulting Group poll of 23,000 women in 22 countries showed, but run only 18 Fortune 500 companies and account for only about a tenth of the voting power on the world’s key interest rates, according to Bloomberg News.
The family is a good place to start changing that. Ms. Moran sums it up this way: “Money is possibilities and the ability to change and shape your life. If you don’t control your finances you don’t control your life.”

Saturday, September 29, 2012

How All 50 States Got Their Names


Before Europeans landed on American shores, the upper stretches of the Alabama River in present-day Alabama used to be the home lands of a Native American tribe called – drum roll, please – the Alabama (Albaamaha in their own tribal language). The river and the state both take their names from the tribe, that’s clear enough, but the meaning of the name was another matter. Despite a wealth of recorded encounters with the tribe – Hernando de Soto was the first to make contact with them, followed by other Spanish, French and British explorers and settlers (who referred to the tribe, variously, as the Albama, Alebamon, Alibama, Alibamou, Alibamon, Alabamu, Allibamou, Alibamo and Alibamu) – there are no explanations of the name’s meaning in the accounts of early explorers, so if the Europeans asked, they don’t appear to have gotten an answer. An un-bylined article in the July 27, 1842 edition of the Jacksonville Republican put forth the idea that the word meant “here we rest.” Alexander Beaufort Meek, who served as the Attorney General of Alabama, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury and the President of the First American Chess Congress, popularized this theory in his writings throughout the next decade.

The rub, of course, is that experts in the Alabama language have never been able to find any evidence to support that translation. What they did find are two words in the Choctaw language (both tribes’ languages are in the Muskogean language family), alba (“plants” or “weeds”) and amo (“to cut” or “to gather”), that together make Albaamo, or “plant gatherers.” We also know that the Alabama referred to a member of their tribe as an Albaamo, cleared land and practiced agriculture largely without tools and by hand and had contact with the neighboring Choctaws. Today, the prevailing theory is that the phrase was used by the Choctaws to describe their neighbors and the Alabama eventually adopted it as their own.


Like Alabama, the name Alaska comes from the language of the area’s indigenous people. The Aleuts (a name given to them by Russian fur traders in the mid 18th century; they used to, and sometimes still do, call themselves the Unangan), natives of the Aleutian Islands, referred to the Alaskan Peninsula and the mainland as alaxsxaq (ah-lock-shock), literally, “the object toward which the action of the sea is directed.”


There are two sides in the argument over the origin of Arizona’s name. One side says that the name comes from the Basque aritz onak (“good oak”) and was applied to the territory because the oak trees reminded the Basque settlers in the area of their homeland. The other side says that the name comes from the Spanish Arizonac, which was derived from the O’odham (the language of the native Pima people) word ali ṣona-g (“having a little spring”), which might refer to actual springs or a site near rich veins of silver discovered in 1736. For what it’s worth, official Arizona state historian Marshall Trimble had supported the latter explanation but for now favors the former.


The first Europeans to arrive in the area of present-day Arkansas were French explorers accompanied by Illinois Indian guides. The Illinois referred to the Ugakhpa people native to the region as the Akansa (“wind people” or “people of the south wind”), which the French adopted and pronounced with an r. They added an s to the end for pluralization, and for some reason it stuck when the word was adopted as the state’s name. The pronunciation of Arkansas was a matter of debate (Ar-ken-saw vs. Ar-kan-zes) until it was officially decided by an act of the state legislature in 1881.


California existed in European literature way before Europeans settled the Western U.S. It wasn’t a state filled with vineyards and movie stars, but an island in the West Indies filled with gold and women. The fictional paradise, first mentioned in the early 1500s by Spanish author Garci Ordóñez de Montalvo in his novel Las Sergas de Esplandián, is ruled by Queen Califia and “inhabited by black women, without a single man among them, [living in] the manner of Amazons.” The island is said to be “one of the wildest in the world on account of the bold and craggy rocks… everywhere abounds with gold and precious stones” and is home to griffins and other mythical beasts.

While there is some consensus that the area was named for the fictional island, scholars have also suggested that the name comes from the Catalan words calor (“hot”) and forn (“oven”) or from a Native America phrase, kali forno (“high hill”).


Colorado is a Spanish adjective that means “red.” The early Spanish explorers in the Rocky Mountain region named a river they found the Rio Colorado for the reddish silt that the water carried down from the mountains. When Colorado became a territory in 1861, the Spanish word was used as a name because it was commonly thought that the Rio Colorado originated in the territory. This was not the case, however. Prior to 1921, the Colorado River began where the Green River of Utah and the Grand River of Colorado converged outside of Moab, Utah, and the United States Geological Survey identified Green River of Wyoming as the Colorado’s actual headwaters. The Rio Colorado did not actually flow through Colorado until 1921, when House Joint Resolution 460 of the 66th United States Congress changed the name of the Grand River.


The state is named after the Connecticut River, which was named quinnitukqut by the Mohegans who lived in the eastern upper Thames valley. In their Algonquian language, the word means “long river place” or “beside the long tidal river.”


Delaware is named for the Delaware River and Delaware Bay. These, in turn, were named for Sir Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr, the first colonial governor of Virginia, who traveled the river in 1610. The title is likely ultimately derived from the Old French de la werre (“of the war” or a warrior).


Six days after Easter in 1513, the Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León landed near what is now the city of Saint Augustine. In honor of the holiday and the area’s plant life, he named the land Florida for the Spanish phrase for the Easter season, pascua florida (“feast of flowers”). The name is the oldest surviving European place-name in the U.S.

In the early 18th century, the British Parliament assigned a committee to investigate the conditions of the country’s debtor prisons and didn’t like what they found. A group of philanthropists concerned with the plight of debtors proposed the creation of a colony in North America where the “worthy poor” could get back on their feet and be productive citizens again. Their plan ultimately didn’t pan out as the colony wasn’t settled by debtors, but the trustees of the colony still wanted to thank King George II for granting their charter, so they named the place after him.


No one is certain, so take your pick. The name may come from the Proto-Polynesian Sawaiki or “homeland” (some early explorers’ accounts have the natives calling the place Hawaiki, a compound of hawa, “homeland,” and ii, “small, active”) or from Hawaii Loa, the Polynesian who tradition says discovered the islands.


The origin of Idaho’s name, like a few other names we’ve already talked about, is a mystery. When it was proposed as the name of a new U.S. territory, it was explained as a derivation of the Shoshone Indian term ee-da-how, meaning “gem of the mountains” or “the sun comes from the mountains.” It’s possible that the word, and its Indian origin, were made up by the man who proposed the name, George M. Willing, an eccentric industrialist and mining lobbyist (not all historians and linguists agree on this, though, and the most common alternate explanation is that the name comes from the Apache word idaahe (“enemy”), which the Kiowas Indians applied to the Comanches they came in contact with when they migrated to southern Colorado). When Congress was considering establishing a mining territory in the Rocky Mountains in 1860, Willing and B. D. Williams, a delegate from the region, championed “Idaho.” The request for the name came up in the Senate in January 1861 and Senator Joseph Lane of Oregon objected to “Idaho,” saying, “I do not believe it is an Indian word. It is a corruption. No Indian tribe in this nation has that word, in my opinion… It is a corruption certainly, a counterfeit, and ought not to be adopted.” Lane was roundly ignored, probably because he had the bad luck of having been the vice presidential candidate for the pro-slavery southern wing of the Democratic Party in the previous year’s election.

After the Senate approved the name, Williams, for some reason, gave into curiosity and looked into Lane’s claim. He heard from several sources that Willing or someone in his group of territorial supporters had invented the name “Idaho” and that the word didn’t actually mean anything. Williams went back to the Senate and requested that the name be changed. The Senate agreed and used a name that had been on the table before Willing and Williams showed up: “Colorado.”

A year later, Congress set out to establish another mining territory in the northwest part of the continent. “Idaho” was again a contender as a name. Without Williams there to call shenanigans and with the senators who should have remembered the last naming incident just a little bit preoccupied with the Civil War, “Idaho” went unchallenged and became the name of the territory and the state.


“Illinois” is the modern spelling of the early French explorers’ name for the people they found living in the area, which they spelled in endless variations in their records. The Europeans’ first meeting with the Illinois was in 1674. Father Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit missionary and explorer, followed a path to a village and asked the people there who they were. According to Marquette’s writings, “They replied that they were Ilinois…when one speaks the word…it is as if one said, in their language, ‘the men’.” The explorers thought the tribal name to signify a grown man in his prime, separate from, and superior to, the men of other tribes.


The state’s name means “Indian Land” or “Land of the Indians,” named so for the Indian tribes that lived there when white settlers arrived. While its meaning might be simple enough, the way it got the name is a little more interesting. At the end of the French and Indian War, the French were forced out of the Ohio Valley, so a Philadelphia trading company moved in to monopolize trade with the Indians in the area. At the time, the tribes of the Iroquois had already formed a confederacy and conquered territory beyond their home lands, subjugating other tribes and treating them as tributaries. In the fall of 1763, members of the Shawnee and other tribes who were tributary to the Iroquois Confederacy conducted raids on traders from the Philadelphia company and stole their goods. The company complained to the chiefs of the Iroquois 

Confederacy and demanded restitution. The chiefs accepted responsibility for the behavior of their tributaries, but did not have the money to pay off the debt. Instead, when making a boundary treaty with the English five years later, the chiefs gave a 5,000-square-mile tract of land to the Philadelphia company, which accepted the land as payment.

The land’s new owners, in the search for a name, noted a trend in the way states and countries in both the Old World and New World were named. Bulgaria was the land of the Bulgars, Pennsylvania was the woodland of Penn, etc. They decided to honor the people to whom the land originally belonged and from whom it had been obtained and named it Indiana, land of the Indians. The year the colonies declared their independence from Britain, the Indiana land was transferred to a new company, who wanted to sell it. Some of the land, though, was within the boundaries of Virginia, which claimed that it had jurisdiction over the land’s settlers and forbade the company from selling it. In 1779, the company asked Congress to settle the matter. It made an attempt, but, still operating under Articles of Confederation, had no power to compel Virginia to do anything. The argument eventually went to the United States Supreme Court, but Virginia’s government officials, strong believers in states’ rights, refused to become involved with a federal court and ignored the summons to appear. In the meantime, Virginia’s politicians worked to secure the Eleventh Amendment, which protected the states’ sovereign immunity from being sued in federal court by someone of another state or country (and was proposed in response to a Supreme Court case dealing with Georgia’s refusal to appear to hear a suit against itself, in which the Supreme Court decided against Georgia).

After the amendment was passed and ratified, the company’s suit was dismissed and it lost its claim to the land, which was absorbed by Virginia. The name would come back in 1800, when Congress carved the state of Ohio out of the Northwest Territory and gave the name “Indiana” to the remaining territorial land and, 16 years later, a new state.


Iowa’s name comes from the Native American tribe that once lived there, the Ioway. What the word means depends on who you ask.

One pioneer in the area wrote in 1868 that “some Indians in search of a new home encamped on a high bluff of the Iowa River near its mouth…and being much pleased with the location and the country around it, in their native dialect exclaimed, ‘Iowa, Iowa, Iowa’ (beautiful, beautiful, beautiful), hence the name Iowa to the river and to those Indians.” A report from the 1879 General Assembly of Iowa translated the word a little differently and claimed it meant “the beautiful land.” However, members of the Ioway Nation, who today inhabit Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma, will tell you that Ioway is the French spelling of Ayuhwa, a name meaning “sleepy ones” given to the tribe in jest by the Dakota Sioux. (The Ioway refer to themselves as Baxoje (bah-ko-jay) or “the gray/ashy heads,” a name that stems from an incident where tribe members were camping in the Iowa River valley and a gust of wind blew sand and campfire ashes onto their heads.)


Kansas was named after the Kansas River, which was named after the Kansa tribe who lived along its banks. Kansa, a Siouan word, is thought to be pretty old. How old? Its full and original meaning was lost to the tribe before they even met their first white settler. Today, we only know that the word has some reference to the wind, possibly “people of the wind” or “people of the south wind.”


There is no consensus on where Kentucky’s name comes from. Among the possibilities, though, are various Indians words, all from the Iroquoian language group, meaning “meadow,” “prairie,” “at the prairie,” “at the field,” “land of tomorrow,” “river bottom,” and “the river of blood.”

Louisiana comes from the French La Louisiane, or “Land of Louis.” It was named for Louis XIV, the King of France from 1643 to 1715. Exciting, no?


Maine is another case where no one is quite sure how the name came about. Ferdinando Gorges and John Mason, who received a charter for land in Maine, were both English Royal Navy veterans, and the name may have originated with the sailors differentiating “the mainland” from the many islands off the state’s coast. Maine’s state legislature, meanwhile, passed a resolution in 2001 that established Franco-American Day and claimed that the state was named after the French province of Maine.


The English colony of Maryland was named for Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of King Charles I, who granted Maryland’s charter. Mariana was also proposed as a name, but Maryland’s founder, Lord Baltimore, believed in the divine right of kings and turned the name down because it reminded him of the Spanish Jesuit and historian Juan de Mariana, who taught that the will of the people was higher than the law of tyrants.


The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Bay Colony that preceded it were named after the area’s indigenous people, the Massachusett. The tribe’s name translates to “near the great hill,” referring to the Blue Hills southwest of Boston. An alternate form of the tribe’s name, the Moswetuset (“hill shaped like an arrowhead”), refers to the Moswetuset Hummock, an arrow-shaped mound in Quincy, MA.


The state takes its name from Lake Michigan. Michigan is a French derivative of the Ojibwa word misshikama (mish-ih-GAH-muh), which translates to “big lake,” “large lake” or “large water.”


Minnesota is derived from the Dakota tribe’s name for the Minnesota River, mnisota (mni “water” + sota “cloudy, muddy;” sometimes translated to the more poetic “sky-tinted water”). The English language doesn’t really dig words beginning with mn (you’ll find only one, mnemonic), so early settlers in the region added some i‘s and produced a mini sound that they wrote as “mine.” The city of Minneapolis combines mni with the Greek polis, or “city.”


The state is named for the Mississippi River. You may have heard that mississippi means “the Father of Waters” and you may have heard that from no less a source than novelist James Fenimore Cooper or President Abraham Lincoln (who wrote in a letter after the Civil War after Union victories during the Civil War, “the Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea”). I hate to pee on Honest Abe’s parade, but the word, a French derivation of the Ojibwa messipi (alternately misi-sipi or misi-ziibi) actually means “big river.” It may not sound as dramatic as Lincoln’s preferred translation, but whatever the meaning, the name caught on. As French explorers took the name down the river with them to the delta, it was adopted by local Indian tribes and replaced their own names, and the earlier Spanish explorers’ names, for the river.


The state and the Missouri River are both named after the Missouri people, a southern Siouan tribe that lived along the river. Missouri comes from an Illinois language reference to the tribe, ouemessourita, which has been translated as “those who have dugout canoes,” “wooden canoe people” or “he of the big canoe.”


Montana is a variation of the Spanish montaña, or “mountain,” a name applied because of its numerous mountain ranges (3,510 mountain peaks, total). Who first used the name, and when, is unknown.


Nebraska comes from the archaic Otoe Indian words Ñí Brásge (in contemporary Otoe, it would be Ñí Bráhge), meaning “flat water.” The words refer to the Platte River, which flows across the Cornhusker State.


The state’s name is the Spanish word for “snowfall” and refers to the Sierra Nevada (“snow-covered mountains”) mountain range. The non-Nevadan pronunciation of the name “neh-vah-dah” (long A sounds like the a in father) differs from the local pronunciation “nuh-vae-duh” (short A sounds like the a in alligator) and is said to annoy Nevadans endlessly.

New Hampshire

John Mason named the area he received in a land grant after the English county of Hampshire, where he had lived for several years as a child. Mason invested heavily in the clearing of land and building of houses in New Hampshire, but died, in England, before ever venturing to the new world to see his property.

New Jersey

New Jersey was named for Jersey, the largest of the British Channel Islands, by its founders Sir John Berkeley and Sir George Carteret. Carteret was born on Jersey and served as its Lieutenant Governor for several years.

New Mexico

New Mexico and the country it used to be part of, Mexico, both take their name from Nahuatl Mexihco. The meaning of the word is unclear, but there are several hypotheses. It might reference Mextli or Mēxihtli, an alternate name for Huitzilopochtli, the god of war and patron of the Aztecs, and mean “place where Mēxihtli lives”. It’s also been suggested that the word is a combination of mētztli (“moon”), xictli (“center”) and the suffix -co (“place”) and means “place at the center of the moon” (in reference to Lake Texcoco).

New York

Both the state and New York City were named for James Stuart, Duke of York and future King James II of England. The old York, a city in England, has been around since before the Romans made their way to the British Isles and the word York comes from the Romans’ Latin name for city, written variously as EboracumEburacum and Eburaci. Tracing the name further back is difficult, as the language of the area’s pre-Roman indigenous people was never recorded. They are thought to have spoken a Celtic language, though, and Eboracum may have been derived from the Brythonic Eborakon, which means “place of the yew trees.”

North Carolina

King Charles II of England, who granted a charter to start a colony in modern-day North Carolina, named the land in honor of his father, Charles I. Carolina comes from Carolus, the Latin form of Charles.

North Dakota

North and South Dakota both take their names from the Dakota, a tribe of Siouan people who lived in the region. No detailed etymology of Dakota is widely accepted, but the most common explanation is that it means “friend” or “ally” in the language of the Sioux.


A common translation, “beautiful river,” originates in a French traveler’s 1750 account of visiting the region. He referred to the Ohio River as “une belle riviere” and gave its local Indian name as Ohio. People took his description of the river as a translation of the Indian name, though there is no evidence that that was his intention or that that is even a correct translation. In fact, no definitive meaning for the word is available, though ohio is more likely a Wyandot word meaning “large/great” or “the great one,” than “beautiful river.” It could also be derived from the Seneca ohi:yo’ (“large creek”).


Oklahoma is a combination of the Choctaw words ukla (“person”) and humá (“red”). The word was used by the Choctaw to describe Native Americans, “red persons.” Allen Wright, chief of the Choctaw Nation from 1866 to 1870, suggested the name in 1866 during treaty negotiations with the federal government over the use of the Indian Territory. When the Indian Territory was whittled down to what is now Oklahoma, the new territory took its name from the Choctaw word.


The origin of Oregon may be the most hotly debated of the state names. Here’s a few of the competing explanations (and I may have even missed a few):
- Derived from the French ouragan (“hurricane”) and the state named so because French explorers called the Columbia River le fleuve aux ouragans (“Hurricane River”) due to the strong winds in the Columbia Gorge.
- Derived from oolighan, a Chinook name for the eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus), a smelt found along the Pacific coast and prized as a source of food for Native Americans in the area.
- Derived from the Spanish orejón (“big ears”), which early Spanish explorers reportedly used to refer to local natives.
- Derived from Ouragon, a word used by Major Robert Rogers in a 1765 petition asking the British government to finance and supply an overland search for the Northwest Passage. As to where Rogers got the word, it could have come from an error on a French-made map from the early 1700s, where the Ouisiconsink (“Wisconsin River”) is misspelled “Ouaricon-sint,” and broken so “Ouaricon” sits on a line by itself or it might have been derived from the Algonquianwauregan or olighin, which both mean “good and beautiful” (and were both used in reference to the Ohio River at the time).
- Derived from the Shoshone words Ogwa (river) and Pe-On (west) and picked up from the Sioux, who referred to the Columbia as the “River of the West,” by American explorer Jonathan Carver.


Named in honor of Admiral William Penn. The land was granted to Penn’s son, William Penn, to pay off a debt owed by the crown to the senior Penn. The name is made up of Penn + sylva (“woods” ) + nia (a noun suffix) to get “Penn’s Woodland.” The younger Penn was embarrassed by the name and feared that people would think he had named the colony after himself, but King Charles would not rename the land.

Rhode Island

First used in a letter by Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, in which he compares an island near the mouth of Narragansett Bay (a bay on the north side of Rhode Island Sound) to the island of Rhodes in the Mediterranean. The explanation preferred by the state government is that Dutch explorer Adrian Block named the area Roodt Eylandt (“red island”) in reference to the red clay that lined the shore and the name was later anglicized under British rule.

South Carolina
See North Carolina above.

South Dakota

North and South Dakota both take their names from the Dakota, a tribe of Siouan people who lived in the region. No detailed etymology of Dakota is widely accepted, but the most common explanation is that it means “friend” or “ally” in the language of the Sioux.


While traveling inland from South Carolina in 1567, Spanish explorer Juan Pardo passed through a Native American village in modern-day Tennessee named Tanasqui. Almost two centuries later, British traders came upon a Cherokee village called Tanasi (in present-day Monroe County, Tennessee). No one knows whether Tanasi and Tanasqui were actually the same village, though it is known that Tanasi was located on the Little Tennessee River and recent research suggests that Tanasqui was close to the confluence of the Pigeon River and the French Broad River (near modern-day Newport). Tennessee could have come from either one of these village names, but the meanings of both words have since been lost.


Texas comes from teysha (sometimes spelled tejastayshastexiasthecastechanteysas, or techas), a word widely used by the natives of the eastern Texas region before the arrival of the Spanish. The tribes had various spellings and interpretations of the word, but the usual meaning was “friends” or “allies.” Some tribes, like the Hasinais and the Caddo, used it as a greeting, “hello, friend.” This is the usage that Spanish explorers picked up and used to greet friendly tribes throughout Texas and Oklahoma. The explorers also applied the word as a name for the Caddo people and the area around their East Texas settlement.


Derived from the name of the native tribe known as the Nuutsiu or Utes (which itself may come from the Apache yudahyiuta or yuttahih, meaning “they who are higher up”), whom the Spanish first encountered in modern-day Utah in the late 1500s. In the tribe’s language, ute means “Land of the Sun.” (The tribe referred to themselves as the “Nuciu” or “Noochew,” which simply means “The People.”)


Derived from the French words vert (“green”) and mont (“mountain”). Samuel Peters claimed that he christened the land with that name in 1763 while standing on top of a mountain, saying, “The new name is Vert-Mont, in token that her mountains and hills shall be ever green and shall never die.” Most historians would disagree, as would Thomas Young, the Pennsylvania statesman who suggested that his state’s constitution be used as the basis for Vermont’s and is generally credited with suggesting the name to maintain the memory of the Green Mountain Boys, the militia organization formed to resist New York’s attempted take-over of the area.


Named for Queen Elizabeth I of England (known as the Virgin Queen), who granted Walter Raleigh the charter to form a colony north of Spanish Florida.


Named in honor of the first president of the United States, George Washington. In the eastern US, the state is referred to as Washington State or the state of Washington to distinguish it from the District of Columbia, which they usually just call “Washington”, “D.C.” or, if they’re very local, “the District.” Washingtonians and other Pacific Northwesterners simply call the state “Washington” and refer to the national capital as “Washington, D.C.” or just “D.C.”

West Virginia
West Virginia, formed from 39 Virginia counties whose residents voted to form a new state rather than join the Confederacy, was named after the same queen as the state it split from, though the new state was originally to be called Kanawha.


Derived from Meskousing, the name applied to the Wisconsin River by the Algonquian-speaking tribes in the region. The French explorer Jacques Marquette recorded the name in 1673, and the word was eventually corrupted into Ouisconsin, anglicized to its modern form during the early 19th century, and its current spelling made official by the territorial legislature in 1845. Modern linguists had been unable to find any word in an Algonquian language similar to the one Marquette recorded, and now believe that the tribes borrowed the name from the Miami meskonsing, or “it lies red,” a reference to the reddish sandstone of the Wisconsin Dells.


Derived from the Delaware (Lenape) Indian word mecheweami-ing (“at/on the big plains”), which the tribe used to refer their home region in Pennsylvania (which was eventually named the Wyoming Valley [Wilkes-Barre represent!]). Other names considered for the new territory were Cheyenne, Shoshoni, Arapaho, Sioux, Platte, Big Horn, Yellowstone and Sweetwater, but Wyoming was chosen because it was already in common use by the territory’s settlers.

[Via Mental Floss]