The Weirdness of English

Part 2 of 2

(March 16, 2017) Last time, we saw how the precursor of English, Proto-Germanic, was an oddball among other languages derived from the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) spoken by nomads in present-day Ukraine around 6,000...

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The Weirdness of English

Part 1 of 2

(March 2, 2017) English is a mutt of a language, the bastard tongue of a bastard tongue, to use popular linguist John McWhorter's phrase. He was addressing the fact that the language you're...

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Sheep Dates

(February 16, 2017) The chronology of sheep, aka sheep dates, starts around the same time as the great change from nomadic hunting and gathering to settled agriculture, around 10,000 years ago. Sheep...

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Dawn Redwoods: Alive and Kicking!

(February 2, 2017) "If a man has to have a memorial or a monument to commemorate his life and his work, nothing could be more fitting than a living Dawn Redwood." — Andrew...

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How Sweet It Ain't

(January 19, 2017) Right about the time the U.S. government issued its first dietary guidelines in 1980, obesity and its evil twin, Type 2 diabetes, took off. In 1950, 12 percent of us...

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Crash Blossoms

(January 5, 2017) Ambiguity often gives a certain piquancy — and humor, per Groucho Marx — to our lives. Cover up the text below this paragraph and let's start off with a puzzle:...

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Grow and Die

(December 22, 2016) Until now, "grow or die" has pretty much summed up capitalism. A company that only maintains its present output and profitability will be outgunned by young, flexible, hungry upstarts. Not...

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We're All Above Average

(December 8, 2016) Most of us consider ourselves better and smarter than average. According to sociologists who study "illusory superiority," 94 percent of U.S. college professors rate themselves superior to their colleagues, while...

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Life: The Long Game

(November 24, 2016) Last time, I made the case that life on Earth started on Mars. Now, 4 billion years later, that life has evolved to the point where we can start thinking...

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Kickstarting Life

(November 10, 2016) How did life start here on Earth? Ever since Darwin, scientists have been struggling with that question. (Before him, there was nothing to explain — God did it.) When Darwin...

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Halloween, Samhain and Jack o' Lantern

(October 27, 2016) The Christian celebration of Halloween (holy evening), like its predecessor, the pagan Celtic festival of Samhain, is that liminal time of year when the boundary between the worlds of the...

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Candelabra Trees

(October 13, 2016) Ten miles south of the Humboldt County line, the insanely steep cliffs of the coastal range mellow into Shady Dell, a half-mile-wide oasis set back from Usal Beach. Unless you're...

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Language: Innate or Invented?

(September 29, 2016) Is language innate to humans? Are we born "pre-wired" to spontaneously speak whichever language we hear in the first months of our lives? That is, are our brains equipped —...

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The Cooking Ape, Part 2

(September 15, 2016) Last week, I discussed how cooking morphed us from ape to human by increasing the amount of energy we obtain from food, according to anthropologist and primatologist Richard Wrangham. Before...

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The Cooking Ape, Part 1

(September 8, 2016) Ape. That's what you'd have thought if you met one of our ancestors two million years ago: short stature, low brow, massive jaw and mouth housing huge teeth, small brain,...

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