10 Facts About Pittsburgh (or is it Pittsburg?)

iStock / Joecho-16
iStock / Joecho-16

As I mentioned last week, the actual Super Bowl game isn't really my thing. If you're in the same boat as I am, but still want to compete when people are spouting off obscure stats and trivia, try tossing in a little, "Yeah, Roethlisberger is great. Did you know the smiley face emoticon was invented in Pittsburgh?"

1. Pittsburg, Pittsburgh or Pittsbourgh? The town was named in 1758 by Scotsman John Forbes, who was honoring William Pitt the Elder. Forbes sent a letter to Pitt the same year to let him know that the city had been named for him, and in the letter he spelled it "Pittsbourgh." Most experts agree that as a Scotsman, Forbes probably pronounced it the same way we pronounce Edinburgh. It wasn't until 1769 that the "Pittsburgh" spelling first turned up on a surveying document, but the real controversy came with the 1891 United States Board on Geographic Names ruling that all towns with the spelling "burgh" needed to drop the "h." Many people were outraged at the decision and refused to follow the rules, even the Pittsburgh Gazette, the University of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Stock Exchange. In 1911, the Geographic Board gave in and officially restored the "h" that was never really missing for most people anyway.

2. San Francisco may be own for its hills, but Pittsburgh has it beat when it comes to verticality. In fact, Pittsburgh has more vertical feet than San Fran, Cincinnati and Portland, Oregon, combined. There are more than 700 sets of stairs in the city.

3. Pittsburgh dialect is so distinct, some locals who speak Pittsburghese have their own name: Yinzers. From what I understand, "Yinz" is kind of like "ya'll." Some examples of Pittsburghese:

City Chicken = pork or veal cubes on a wooden skewer.
Crudded milk = cottage cheese
Gum band = rubber band
Red up = clean up or tidy up

Any others we should know about?

4. You might not know WQED, the PBS station in the 'Burgh… but you definitely know a couple of the shows it has produced. It's where Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego were both born. Michael Keaton (then Michael Douglas) was working as a cameraman for WQED when he got to appear on screen in a couple of shows, including as a "Flying Zucchini Brother" on Mister Rogers.

5. You know this guy - :-) Love him or hate him, the Pittsburgh-originated smiley emoticon has been invading your computer screen since the early '80s, when Carnegie Mellon computer scientist Scott Fahlman came up with him. This was his original post on the Carnegie Mellon message board:

19-Sep-82 11:44 Scott E Fahlman :-)
From: Scott E Fahlman

I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers:

:-)

Read it sideways. Actually, it is probably more economical to mark
things that are NOT jokes, given current trends. For this, use :-(

6. Many filmmakers feel a certain tie to the Pittsburgh area, but perhaps none as much as George Romero, "Grandfather of the Zombie." Romero has filmed the majority of his Living Dead movies in Pittsburgh or the area. Much of Night of the Living Dead was filmed in or near Evans City, Pennsylvania, just 30 miles north of the Steel City. Dawn of the Dead was shot in Pittsburgh and Monroeville, a suburb. The city takes pride in its association with the undead, hyping it up with Zombie Walks (they held the Guinness World Record for a while), Zombie Fest and a local horror T.V. show called The It's Alive Show.

7. Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun. That jingle never would have existed if it wasn't for 'Burgh area-resident Jim Delligatti. He operated several McDs in the area; when the Big Mac was a big smash at his Unionville location, it was tested at three Pittsburgh locations before it went national in 1967.

8. Actress Sienna Miller outraged the fine residents when she called their city "Shitsburgh" after spending time filming 2008's The Mysteries of Pittsburgh there. She later backtracked and explained that she wasn't happy about the all-night filming schedule, even though her comments to Rolling Stone seemed pretty clear: “Can you believe this is my life? Will you pity me when you’re back in your funky New York apartment and I’m still in Pittsburgh? I need to get more glamorous films and stop with my indie year." The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette put it this way in a headline: "Semi-famous actress dumps on the 'Burgh."

9. Pittsburgh may have a reputation as a polluted, industrial town, but much has changed since that reputation was earned in the early-to-mid 1900s. In fact, the city has the most certified "green" buildings in the U.S.

10. You can get all the way from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. - that's 245 miles - via a bike and running trail called the Great Allegheny Passage and Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath trail. Should you feel compelled to try it, you'll pass landmarks like Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, one of two surviving cast-iron truss bridges in all of North America, an abandoned railway tunnel called the Big Savage Tunnel, Antietam Battlefield, Harpers Ferry, and Georgetown University. Sounds like a pretty sweet trip to me.

Pittsburgers, help us out - what other fabulous facts do we need to know about your town? And Green Bay residents, don't worry - I've got facts up my sleeve for your town later this week.

I'm on Twitter if you have Q10 requests or care to discuss what the proper name for Green Bay residents is (Green Bayans? Green Bayonets? Just plain Cheeseheads?).

Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More

Apple
Apple

During this weekend's three-day sale on the Mental Floss Shop, you'll find deep discounts on products like AirPods, Martha Stewart’s bestselling pressure cooker, and more. Check out the best deals below.

1. Apple AirPods Pro; $219

Apple

You may not know it by looking at them, but these tiny earbuds by Apple offer HDR sound, 30 hours of noise cancellation, and powerful bass, all through Bluetooth connectivity. These trendy, sleek AirPods will even read your messages and allow you to share your audio with another set of AirPods nearby.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

2. Sony Zx220bt Wireless On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones (Open Box - Like New); $35

Sony

For the listener who likes a traditional over-the-ear headphone, this set by Sony will give you all the same hands-free calling, extended battery power, and Bluetooth connectivity as their tiny earbud counterparts. They have a swivel folding design to make stashing them easy, a built-in microphone for voice commands and calls, and quality 1.18-inch dome drivers for dynamic sound quality.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

3. Sony Xb650bt Wireless On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones; $46

Sony

This Sony headphone model stands out for its extra bass and the 30 hours of battery life you get with each charge. And in between your favorite tracks, you can take hands-free calls and go seamlessly back into the music.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

4. Martha Stewart 8-quart Stainless-Steel Pressure Cooker; $65

Martha Stewart

If you’re thinking of taking the plunge and buying a new pressure cooker, this 8-quart model from Martha Stewart comes with 14 presets, a wire rack, a spoon, and a rice measuring cup to make delicious dinners using just one appliance.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

5. Jashen V18 350w Cordless Vacuum Cleaner; $180

Jashen

If you're obsessive about cleanliness, it's time to lose the vacuum cord and opt for this untethered model from JASHEN. Touting a 4.3-star rating from Amazon, the JASHEN cordless vacuum features a brushless motor with strong suction, noise optimization, and a convenient wall mount for charging and storage.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

6. Evachill Ev-500 Personal Air Conditioner; $65

Evachill

This EvaChill personal air conditioner is an eco-friendly way to cool yourself down in any room of the house. You can set it up at your work desk at home, and in just a few minutes, this portable cooling unit can drop the temperature by 59º. All you need to do is fill the water tank and plug in the USB cord.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

7. Gourmia Gcm7800 Brewdini 5-Cup Cold Brew Coffee Maker; $120

Gourmia

The perfect cup of cold brew can take up to 12 hours to prepare, but this Gourmia Cold Brew Coffee Maker can do the job in just a couple of minutes. It has a strong suction that speeds up brew time while preserving flavor in up to five cups of delicious cold brew at a time.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

8. Townew: The World's First Self-Sealing Trash Can; $90

Townew

Never deal with handling gross garbage again when you have this smart bin helping you in the kitchen. With one touch, the Townew will seal the full bag for easy removal. Once you grab the neatly sealed bag, the Townew will load in a new clean one on its own.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

9. Light Smart Solar Powered Parking Sensor (Two-Pack); $155

FenSens

Parking sensors are amazing, but a lot of cars require a high trim to access them. You can easily upgrade your car—and parking skills—with this solar-powered parking sensor. It will give you audio and visual alerts through your phone for the perfect parking job every time.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

10. Liz: The Smart Self-Cleaning Bottle With UV Sterilization; $46

Noerden

Reusable water bottles are convenient and eco-friendly, but they’re super inconvenient to get inside to clean. This smart water bottle will clean itself with UV sterilization to eliminate 99.9 percent of viruses and bacteria. That’s what makes it clean, but the single-tap lid for temperature, hydration reminders, and an anti-leak functionality are what make it smart.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

Prices subject to change.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.

14 Facts About International Talk Like A Pirate Day

iStock
iStock

Ahoy, me hearties! As many of you know, September 19 is International Talk Like A Pirate Day, an annual phenomenon that’s taken the world by storm, having been observed by every continent, the International Space Station, and even the Oval Office since it first made headlines back in 2002. So let’s hoist the Jolly Roger, break out the rum, and take a look back at the holiday’s timber-shivering history.

1. Talk Like a Pirate Day was originally conceived of on D-Day.

Talk Like a Pirate Day creators John Baur and Mark Summer (who’ve since acquired the nicknames “Ol’ Chumbucket” and “Cap’n Slappy,” respectively) created the holiday while playing racquetball on June 6, 1995—the 51st anniversary of the invasion of Normandy. Out of respect to the battle’s veterans, a new observance date was quickly sought.

2. September 19th also happens to be the birthday of the ex-wife of the holiday's co-creator.

“[September 19th was] the only date we could readily recall that wasn’t already taken up with Christmas or the Super Bowl or something,” the pair later claimed. Summers claims to harbor no ill will toward his former spouse, who has since stated, “I’ve never been prouder to be his ex-wife!

3. Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry is largely responsible for popularizing the holiday.

Dave Barry was so smitten with the holiday after having been introduced to it via email in early 2002 that he dedicated an entire column to its publicity that September, turning an inside joke into a global sensation. He later went on to make a cameo appearance in one of Baur and Summers’s buccaneer-themed music videos in 2011 (look for him in the video above at the 3:25 mark).

4. Real pirates spoke in a wide variety of dialects.

Despite some extensive “English-to-Pirate” dictionaries that have cropped up all over the Internet the idea that all pirates shared a common accent regardless of national origin is historically absurd, as National Geographic pointed out in 2011.

5. Actor Robert Newton is hailed as the "patron saint" of Talk Like a Pirate Day.

So where did the modern “pirate dialect” come from? Summers and Baur credit actor Robert Newton's performance in Treasure Island (1950) and have accordingly dubbed him the “patron saint” of their holiday. Tasked with breathing life into the scheming buccaneer, Newton simply exaggerated his native West Country accent and the rest is history.

6. John Baur's family was featured on a pirate-themed episode of Wife Swap.

The reality show’s highly-anticipated 2006 season premiere pitted the Baurs (in full pillaging regalia) against a family which, according to John’s wife Tori (a.k.a. “Mad Sally”), “behaved as though ‘fun’ was something that had to be pre-packaged for their protection.”

7. John Baur was also on Jeopardy!

Baur was described to the audience as “a writer and pirate from Oregon” in his 2008 appearance. “I didn’t win,” Baur said, “but the introduction made Alex blink.”

8. International Talk Like a Pirate Day has become a cornerstone of the Pastafarian movement.

Bobby Henderson, founder of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, cited Earth’s dwindling pirate population as the clear source of global warming in his 2005 open letter to the Kansas school board which established the religion. Since then, Talk Like A Pirate Day has been observed by devout Pastafarians worldwide. 

9. A Florida mayor once ignited a local controversy for making an official Talk Like a Pirate Day proclamation.

In 2012, Lake Worth, Florida Mayor Pam Triolo lightheartedly urged her constituents to embrace the holiday last year, writing, “The City … is known to possess a spirit of independence, high spirits, and swashbuckling, all traits of a good pirate.” Her actions were criticized by the city’s former commissioner, Jo-Ann Golden, who took offense to the association with murderous seamen.

10. Day of the Ninja was created in response to Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Not to be outdone by their hated rivals, the pro-ninja community was quick to execute the first annual Day of the Ninja on December 5, 2002. For Summers and Baur’s take on the warring factions, see the clip above.

11. Astronauts once celebrated Talk Like a Pirate Day aboard the International Space Station.

In a 2012 interview, Summers recalled being “informed that the astronauts on the International Space Station were awakened to ‘A Pirate’s Life For Me' and joined in the pirate talk from space.”

12. President Obama once celebrated with a costumed buccaneer in the Oval Office.

In 2012, Barack Obama tweeted this image on Talk Like a Pirate Day with the caption “Arr you in?”

13. A congressman later used the holiday to slam President Obama's tax plan.

In 2011, Florida’s 12th congressional district representative Dennis Ross used the festivity as a political punchline after Obama made a speech detailing his tax plan, tweeting, “It is TALK like a pirate day … not ACT like one. Watch ye purses and bury yr loot, the taxman cometh.”

14. It's an official holiday in the state of Michigan.

On June 4, 2013, state senator Roger Kahn’s proposal to grant International Talk Like A Pirate Day official acknowledgement from the Michigan government was formally adopted, to the chagrin of some dissenting landlubbers. 

This story originally ran in 2013.