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]

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Woman Jailed for Faking Cancer to Get Implants

(CBS/AP) PHOENIX - A Phoenix woman who pretended to have cancer in order to raise money for breast implants has been sentenced to a year in jail and three years of probation.
Court spokesman Kelly Vail says 27-year-old Jami Lynn Toler was sentenced Wednesday. She pleaded guilty in August to a theft charge in a plea agreement. Prosecutors had called this case "appalling," CBS affiliate KPHO in Phoenix reports.
Authorities say Toler helped organize fundraisers and collected more than $8,000 beginning last September. Medical records obtained by Mesa police show she didn't have cancer and paid a plastic surgeon with the cash.
Court Commissioner Brian Kaiser also ordered Toler to pay restitution.
Police reports show Toler told her former boss she needed a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction but was uninsured. She told the same story to her mother and grandparents.
Authorities said Toler helped organize fundraisers and collected more than $8,000 beginning in 2011, KPHO reports.
Medical records obtained by Mesa police show she didn't have cancer and paid a plastic surgeon for breast augmentation with $5,000 cash, KPHO reports.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Retiring Boss Gives Employees $1,000 for Each Year They’ve Worked for Him

Some folks get a gold watch on the day they retire. Others get a handshake and a nudge out the door. Very few people actually give more than they get on the last working day of their lives — and almost nobody has given as much as Howard Cooper.
When Cooper, 83, retired from the auto dealership he owned in Ann Arbor, Mich., he had a special present for each of his 89 employees: a check for $1,000 for every year each employee worked for him.
So, for a worker like Bob Jenkins, a mechanic who had worked for Cooper’s dealership for 26 years, these checks were life changing. “I was shocked,” Jenkins said. “You just don’t expect something like that.”
Cooper told the site that he wanted to thank his employees for giving him the success he has had and the checks were simply a way he could do that. Cooper had already turned down more cash from other offers, but went with Germain after negotiating a guarantee that his entire staff could stay on after he left.
Once Cooper, who started the dealership in 1965, began thinking about his retirement, he brought 46-year employee and controller Sandy Reagan in on the surprise handouts and had her print the checks a few days in advance.
The two kept the secret until the grand reveal that left employees in total shock and earned Cooper a standing ovation.
“The lady behind me had tears running down her face,” Reagan said.
[Via Time]

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Odd Job: Standing in Line for Apple's iPhone 5

SAN FRANCISCO — Charlie Hufnagel, 24, has done a lot of odd jobs over the last couple of months.
He serenaded someone’s sick boyfriend (Prince’s "Let’s Go Crazy"), pulled an all-nighter making 12 alligator piñatas out of papier-mâché, and fetches limited releases of 1980s punk-rock records at secret Fat Wreck Chords parties.
But his latest gig is the one getting him the most attention: Camping out for five days in front of the Apple store in San Francisco's Union Square.
Someone hired him on TaskRabbit to be first in line for the new iPhone 5 that goes on sale Friday morning. He’s getting paid $1,500, which seems like a decent wage for a week’s work, if not for the working conditions: drunk people singing Weezer songs outside his tent at night, the bone-jarring sounds of street construction that kick into high gear at 7 a.m. and, the worst yet, his iPhone 4 being stolen while he was making a run to the 24-hour Denny’s.
"I don't think I would do it for less," said Hufnagel, an unemployed digital-media specialist who lives in San Francisco’s Mission district. "I have some dignity."
For now he's the only one in line. His companions are the endless stream of shoppers heading in and out of the Apple store and the construction workers digging up the streets right next to his green REI tent.
He also gets regular visits from TaskRabbit, which has given him a small budget for food deliveries through Deliver Now (mostly burritos from Chipotle) in exchange for wearing company swag and putting up signs promoting that you can hire a TaskRabbit to stand in line for your iPhone 5 on Friday morning.
Hufnagel came prepared. Inside his cramped, disheveled tent, he has a portable lantern, a stack of books (and a Kindle but he doesn’t feel right using it outside the Apple store) and ample food supplies: ramen (that he boils on a Sterno grill), apple sauce, canned pineapple, a big sack of granola from Rainbow Grocery, a box of cool mint chocolate Clif Bars (with caffeine), one mason jar filled with water and another filled with tea and nutritional yeast flakes to sprinkle on his food for added protein.
He charges his laptop and phone (before it was stolen) in the Apple store, and also uses the bathroom there, or hikes over to one of two nearby Starbucks or the aforementioned Denny’s.
During the day, he sets up a small chair and table in front of the Apple store that he mans with his MacBook. At night, he puts on earplugs and leans the chair and table against the inside of the tent so he'll wake up if someone unzips it.
Passersby gawk and stop to snap pictures of him and his tent, making him feel a bit like a zoo animal, he said. Every person asks the same question: How long have you been here? (That may be because he has a sign that encourages people to ask him).
"The hours are weird but I get to meet a lot of interesting people and I am getting paid to do it," Hufnagel said.
Hufnagel won't be alone for long. Soon he will be joined by hordes of iPhone 5 groupies — and all the other working stiffs hired to stand in line through services such as TaskRabbit and Exec.
Hufnagel says he had been thinking about buying and then selling the iPhone 5 to make some extra cash. Now he’s thinking about keeping it to replace his iPhone 4 if the cops don’t track it down. After all, the screen was already cracked.
"It seems pretty snazzy, and if it turns out I need a new phone, I would definitely upgrade," he said. "If by some miracle I get my iPhone 4 back, I may stick with that for now."
[Via LA Times]

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fewer Americans Commuting Solo

The dismal economy and skyrocketing gas prices may have accomplished what years of advocacy failed to: getting more people to stop driving solo. The share of workers driving to work alone dropped slightly from 2010 to 2011 while commutes on public transportation rose nationally and in some of the largest metropolitan areas.

Group commuting — riding buses, trains, subways or sharing cars or vans — rose from 2005 to 2011 in more than a third of 342 metropolitan areas for which data exist.

About two-thirds saw jumps in residents using public transit. The share driving to work alone dropped in about two-thirds or more than 200 metros.

New York, by far the national leader in mass transit use, saw a two-percentage-point jump. Now, almost a third of residents in the New York metro area use public transportation.

Ride-sharing "a lot of times is a response to higher gas prices," says Eddie Caine, who heads the van pool program for Valley Metro, Phoenix's regional transportation agency. "But once people try van pooling, they tend to enjoy not having the stress, saving money and they make friends."

The national average price for regular gasoline is $3.85 a gallon, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. That's up from $3.72 a month ago and $3.59 a year ago. The record is $4.11 set in July 2008.

The Phoenix agency just added bike racks to its vans for people who don't want to drive to their pick-up points.

This week, the American Public Transportation Association reported the sixth consecutive quarterly increase in ridership -- up 1.6% in the second quarter. Rail showed the biggest jump. Several public transit systems in small and large cities (Ann Arbor, Mich., Boston, Oklahoma City) reported record ridership.

Almost 60% of trips on mass transit are work commutes. The surge in group commutes is showing up in some areas where van pools shuttle employees from train stations or suburbs to job centers. Overall, the percentage of workers carpooling held steady at 9.7% but is still slightly below pre-recession levels -- a likely effect of high unemployment in sectors such as construction and manufacturing.

[Via Usa Today]

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Women Spend 17 Years of Their Lives Dieting

Women on an average spend a staggering 17 years of their lives dieting while 90 per cent of them have been on some form of diet in their lifetime, according to a new UK survey.
Researchers found that the average British woman diets twice a year, losing 4.9 kilogrammes each time.
Life expectancy data in the UK showed that the average woman lives until 82 and weighs on average 69 kilogrammes, so if she begins dieting at the age of 18, she will lose her body weight 9.1 times and if she spends seven weeks on a diet twice a year she will spend 17.2 years dieting.
"Deciding to lose weight can be an easy one to make when we know we have a special occasion coming up or aren't feeling confident in our appearance, however as we can see actually embarking on a diet and losing the extra pounds is more difficult and takes real commitment," Kevin Dorren, Founder & Head Chef of Diet Chef, who carried out the research, said.
Not fitting into any of their clothes was the top reason for 52 per cent women to lose weight.
The same percentage of women said that developing a muffin top was the first sign that they had piled on the pounds.
Ultimately it is a general love of food (35 per cent) and lack of willpower (33 per cent) that keeps would-be dieters from achieving their dream body with over a third saying they were their main reasons for struggling with managing their weight loss.
Although a fifth of women said they found it too expensive to buy healthy food.
One in three women splurged on comfort purchases when feeling down about their diet, with shoes being the top thing to buy (37 per cent).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

7,000 Millionaires Paid No Income Taxes in 2011

The White House's new campaign banner/economic principle is the so-called "Buffett Rule," which holds that no millionaire should pay a lower effective tax rate than a typical middle class family. Sound sensible, yes? Of course it does. The tax code is progressive and purposefully so. Marginal income tax rates increase with income. The more you make, the greater share of income you pay. Disagreeing with this general principle puts you to the right of a typical Republican.  

But the Buffett Rule wasn't meant to hold up to strict constructionism. To understand why, consider the 76 million people who don't legally owe individual income taxes in 2011. The vast majority of this group was poor. They didn't owe individual income taxes because they didn't owe a lot of money to start, and various exemptions, like the earned income tax credit, wiped out the rest.

But among families making more than $100,000, there were also half a million tax units -- enough to replace the population of Tucson, Arizona -- that also paid no income tax. Even more surprising, 7,000 millionaires also paid no individual income tax.

Let's focus on these 7,000 tax payers. They help to show why, even if the Buffett Rule is a sensible principle, it wouldn't be a commonsense law.

There are three buckets of factors that can bring taxable income down from $1 million to zero. One is tax tricks. The IRS should crack down more. Two is relying heavily on investments. The administration can try to level taxes for earned income and investment income. Third is great misfortunes. When investments lose significant income, a house or business is destroyed, or a family member gets sick and incurs high medical costs for the self-insured, all these things chop away at taxable income and eventually bring a millionaire's income taxes to zero.

The fact that 7,000 millionaires didn't pay income tax in 2011 is a Rorschach test for the Buffett Rule. Are you outraged by the figure? Then you probably think the rule should be enshrined into law. But if you see the figure as an artifact of a complicated tax code doing its best to account for a varied and complicated country of 150 million tax units, you might not be so outraged. We can, and we should, raise taxes on millions of more Americans, and we should start with the rich, because they can afford to pay sooner. But it's best to see the Buffett Rule as a political tool designed to drive a wedge between the White House and Republicans who have written off tax increases forever.

[Via The Atlantic]

Monday, September 17, 2012

7 Things Neuroscientists Know But Most People Don't

1. Body image is dynamic and flexible
Our brain can be fooled into thinking a rubber arm or a virtual reality hand is actually a part of our body. In one syndrome, people believe one of their limbs does not belong to them. One man thought a cadaver limb had been sewn onto his body as a practical joke by doctors.

2. Perceptual reality is entirely generated by our brain
We hear voices and meaning from air pressure waves. We see colors and objects, yet our brain only receives signals about reflected photons. The objects we perceive are a construct of the brain, which is why optical illusions can fool the brain.

3. We see the world in narrow disjoint fragments
We think we see the whole world, but we are looking through a narrow visual portal onto a small region of space. You have to move your eyes when you read because most of the page is blurry. We don't see this, because as soon as we become curious about part of the world, our eyes move there to fill in the detail before we see it was missing. While our eyes are in motion, we should see a blank blur, but our brain edits this out.

4. Our behavior is mostly automatic, even though we think we are controlling it. 
The fact that we can operate a vehicle at 60 mph on the highway while lost in thought shows just how much behavior the brain can take care of on its own. Addiction is possible because so much of what we do is already automatic, including directing our goals and desires. In utilization behavior, people might grab and start using a comb presented to them without having any idea why they are doing it. In impulsivity, people act even though they know they shouldn't.

5. Our brain can fool itself in really strange ways
In Capgras syndrome, familiar objects seem foreign (the opposite of deja vu). One elderly woman who lived alone befriended a woman who appeared to her whenever she looked in a mirror. She thought this other woman looked nothing like herself, except that they seemed to have similar style and tended to wear identical outfits. Another woman was being followed by a tormenter who appeared to her in mirrors but looked nothing like herself. She was fine otherwise.

6. Neurons are really slow
Our thinking feels fast and we are more intelligent than computers, and yet neurons signal only a few times per second and the brain's beta wave cycles at 14-30 times per second. In comparison, computers cycle at 1 billion operations per second, and transistors switch over 10 billion times per second. How can neurons be so slow and yet we are so smart?

7. Consciousness can be subdivided
In split-brain patients, each side of the brain is individually conscious but mostly separate from the other. In post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), memories of a traumatic event can become a compartmentalized inaccessible island. In schizophrenia patients hear voices that can seem separate from themselves and which criticize them or issue commands. In hypnosis, post-hypnotic suggestions can direct behavior without the individual's conscious awareness.

[Via Quora]