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?).

10 Fascinating Facts About the Thesaurus for National Thesaurus Day

iStock.com/LeitnerR
iStock.com/LeitnerR

Writers often turn to a thesaurus to diversify their vocabulary and add nuance to their prose. But looking up synonyms and antonyms in a thesaurus can help anyone—writer or not—find the most vivid, incisive words to communicate thoughts and ideas. Since January 18 is Thesaurus Day, we’re celebrating with these 10 fascinating facts about your thesaurus.

1. Thesaurus comes from the Greek word for treasure.

Greek lettering.
iStock

Most logophiles consider the thesaurus to be a treasure trove of diction, but the word thesaurus really does mean "treasure." It derives from the Greek word thésauros, which means a storehouse of precious items, or a treasure.

2. The plural of thesaurus is thesauruses or thesauri.

Row of old books lined up.
iStock

How do you refer to more than one octopus? People say everything from octopuses to octopi to octopodes. Similarly, many people have trouble figuring out the correct plural form of the word thesaurus. Though thesauri is technically correct—it attaches a Latin suffix to the Latin word thēsaurus—both thesauri and thesauruses are commonly used and accepted today.

3. Early thesauruses were really dictionaries.

Close-up of the term 'ideal' in a thesaurus.
iStock

Ask a French scholar in the 16th century to see his thesaurus, and he'd gladly give you a copy of his dictionary. In the early 1530s, a French printer named Robert Estienne published Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, a comprehensive Latin dictionary listing words that appeared in Latin texts throughout an enormous span of history. And in 1572, Estienne's son Henri published Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, a dictionary of Greek words. Although the Estiennes's books were called thesauruses, they were really dictionaries comprised of alphabetical listings of words with their definitions.

4. A Greek historian wrote the first book of synonyms.

Stacks of books surrounding an open book and a pair of glasses.
iStock

Philo of Byblos, a Greek historian and grammarian, wrote On Synonyms, a dictionary of synonyms that scholars consider to be the first ancient thesaurus. Dating to the late 1st century or early 2nd century CE, the book lists Greek words that are similar in meaning to each another. Sadly, we don’t know much more about On Synonyms because copies of the work haven’t survived over the centuries.

5. An early Sanskrit thesaurus was written in the form of a poem.

Sanskrit lettering.
iStock

In the 4th century CE, an Indian poet and grammarian named Amara Sinha wrote The Amarakosha, a thesaurus of Sanskrit words. Rather than compile a boring list of similar words, Amara Sinha turned his thesaurus into a long poem. Divided into three sections—words relating to the divine, the earth, and everyday life—The Amarakosha contains verses so readers could memorize words easily. This thesaurus is the oldest book of its kind that still exists.

6. A British doctor wrote the first modern thesaurus.

Portrait of Peter Mark Roget.
Thomas Pettigrew, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Peter Mark Roget is the British doctor credited with authoring the first modern thesaurus. In 1805, he began compiling a list of words, arranged by their meaning and grouped according to theme. After retiring from his work as a physician in 1852, Roget published his Thesaurus of English words and phrases; so classified and arranged as to facilitate the expression of ideas and assist in literary composition. Today, Roget’s Thesaurus is still commercially successful and widely used. In fact, we celebrate Thesaurus Day on January 18 because Roget was born on this day in 1779.

7. The thesaurus has a surprising link to a mathematical tool.

Image of a vintage log log slide rule.
Joe Haupt, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The division between "words people" and "numbers people" is deep-seated. Many mathematicians may try to steer clear of thesauruses, and bibliophiles may avoid calculators, but the thesaurus is actually linked to a mathematical tool. Around 1815, Roget invented the log-log slide rule, a ruler-like device that allows users to easily calculate the roots and exponents of numbers. So while the inventor of the thesaurus was compiling words for his tome, he was also hard at work on the log-log slide rule. A true jack-of-all-trades.

8. The Oxford English Dictionary has its own historical thesaurus.

Synonyms for
iStock

In 1965, a professor of English Language at Glasgow University suggested that scholars should create a historical thesaurus based on entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. The project was a massive undertaking, as people from multiple countries worked for 44 years to compile and classify words. Published in 2009, the Historical Thesaurus to the Oxford English Dictionary contains 800,000 words organized by theme and date. The thesaurus covers words and synonyms from Old English to the present day and lets readers discover when certain words were coined and how long they were commonly used.

9. One artist turned his love of words into a series of thesaurus paintings.

Mel Bochner,
Mel Bochner, "Crazy," 2004. Francesca Castelli, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 2014, the Jewish Museum in New York showed a survey of conceptual artist Mel Bochner’s art. Bochner had incorporated words and synonyms in his paintings for years—which were collectively referred to as the thesaurus paintings—featuring word paintings and lists of synonyms on canvas. The brightly colored paintings feature different groups of English and Yiddish synonyms. According to Bochner, Vietnam and Iraq war veterans cried after seeing his thesaurus painting Die, which features words and phrases such as expire, perish, succumb, drop dead, croak, go belly up, pull the plug, and kick the bucket.

10. There's an urban thesaurus for all your slang synonym needs.

Copy of an Urban Dictionary book.
Effie Yang, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Urban Dictionary helps people decipher the latest slang terms, but where should you go when you need a thesaurus of slang? Urban Thesaurus, of course. The site, which is not affiliated with Urban Dictionary, indexes millions of slang terms culled from slang dictionaries, then calculates usage correlations between the terms. Typing in the word money, for example, gives you an eclectic list of synonyms including scrilla, cheddar, mulah, coin, and bling.

7 Weird Super Bowl Halftime Acts

Al Bello, Getty Images
Al Bello, Getty Images

Shakira and Jennifer Lopez seem like natural choices to perform the halftime show at this year’s Super Bowl, but the event didn’t always feature musical acts from major pop stars. Michael Jackson kicked off the trend at Super Bowl XXVII in 1993, but prior to that, halftime shows weren’t a platform for the hottest celebrities of the time. They centered around themes instead, and may have featured appearances from Peanuts characters, Jazzercisers, or a magician dressed like Elvis. In honor of Super Bowl LIV on February 2, we’ve rounded up some of the weirdest acts in halftime show history.

1. Return of the Mickey Mouse Club

The era of Super Bowl halftimes before wardrobe malfunctions, illuminati conspiracy theories, and Left Shark was a more innocent time. For 1977’s event, the Walt Disney Company produced a show that doubled as a squeaky-clean promotion of its brand. Themed “Peace, Joy, and Love,” the Super Bowl XI halftime show opened with a 250-piece band rendition of “It’s a Small World (After All).” Disney also used the platform to showcase its recently revamped Mickey Mouse Club.

2. 88 Grand Pianos and 300 Jazzercisers

The theme of the halftime show at Super Bowl XXII in 1988 was “Something Grand.” Naturally, it featured 88 tuxedoed pianists playing 88 grand pianos. Rounding out the program were 400 swing band performers, 300 Jazzercisers, 44 Rockettes, two marching bands, and Chubby Checker telling everyone to “Twist Again."

3. Elvis Impersonator Performs the World’s Largest Card Trick

Many of the music industry's most successful pop stars—like Prince, Madonna, and, uh, Milli Vanilli—were at the height of their fame in 1989, but none of them appeared at Super Bowl XXIII. Instead, the NFL hired an Elvis Presley-impersonating magician to perform. The show, titled “BeBop Bamboozled,” was a tribute to the 1950s, and it featured Elvis Presto performing “the world’s largest card trick.” It also may have included the world's largest eye exam: The show boasted 3D effects, and viewers were urged to pick up special glasses before the game. If the visuals didn't pop like they were supposed to, people were told to see an eye doctor.

4. The Peanuts Salute New Orleans

Super Bowl XXIV featured one of the last halftime acts that was completely devoid of any musical megastars. The biggest celebrity at the 1990 halftime show was Snoopy. Part of the show’s theme was the “40th Anniversary of 'Peanuts,'” and to celebrate the milestone, performers dressed as Peanuts characters and danced on stage. The other half of the theme was “Salute to New Orleans”—not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the comic strip.

5. A Tribute to the Winter Olympics

Super Bowl XXVI preceded the 1992 Winter Olympics—a fact that was made very clear by the event’s halftime. The show was titled “Winter Magic” and it paid tribute to the winter games with ice skaters, snowmobiles, and a cameo from the 1980 U.S. hockey team. Other acts, like a group of parachute-pants-wearing children performing the “Frosty the Snowman Rap,” were more generally winter-themed than specific to the Olympics. About 22 million viewers changed the channel during halftime to watch In Living Color’s Super Bowl special, which may have convinced the NFL to hire Michael Jackson the following year.

6. Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye

“Peace, Joy, and Love” wasn’t the only Disney-helmed Super Bowl halftime. In 1995, Disney produced a halftime show called “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye” to tease the new Disneyland ride of the same name. It centered around a skit in which actors playing Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood stole the Vince Lombardi Trophy from an exotic temple, and it included choreographed stunts, fiery special effects, and a snake. Patti LaBelle and Tony Bennett were also there.

7. The Blues Brothers, Minus John Belushi

The 1990s marked an odd period for halftime shows as they moved from schlocky themed variety shows to major music events. Super Bowl XXXI in 1997 perfectly encapsulates this transition period. James Brown and ZZ Top performed, but the headliners were the Blues Brothers. John Belushi had been dead for more than a decade by that point, so Jim Belushi took his place beside Dan Aykroyd. John Goodman was also there to promote the upcoming movie Blues Brother 2000. The flashy advertisement didn’t have the impact they had hoped for and the film was a massive flop when it premiered.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER