Humans are among only a handful of species that practice monogamy (here’s looking at you, swans) but studies have shown that those tendencies developed over time. Writer and professor Michael Stoddart claims that our sense of smell slowly evolved in order to render human pheromones virtually undetectable. “Over time, humans’ sense of smell evolved to only be based on the nose’s olfactory membrane, and not another structure called the ‘vomeronasal organ’ or VMO. Other mammals use both,” says Stoddart. This evolutionary advantage allows us to live in close proximity and in relative harmony without all-consuming pheromones getting in the way. We do still rely on smell to draw us to our partners, it’s just not quite as intense—aside from the guy behind you at the grocery store who seemingly bathed in cologne.
English etymology is seldom simple, but the case of the name of the season between winter and summer, what you see is what you get. Springtime brings to mind the springing of new life following the sterile stretch of winter—flowers springing up from the earth, little bunnies and lambs springing around, and, in a more modern sense, the clock springing ahead (to the delight of no one). As it turns out, the meaning of spring the season probably isn’t any more arcane than the ancient, seasonal associations of nature in action. Somewhere in the 14th century, “springing time” replaced the Old English “lent” as a more literal and secular brand for the season—not surprising in the midst of Renaissance humanism. “Springing time” soon became just “springing,” then simply “spring.” And let’s just be thankful that the names of the seasons don’t continue to evolve with the times, or we might be enjoying “tax-and-allergy time.”
He might. But if he’s sneezing during a rousing game of “run around the dining room table with your stolen sock,” he’s just having a really great time. Dogs will often sneeze to show they’re ready to play. If you’ve been yearning to get on your furry friend’s level when it comes to communication, give a quick sneeze. His tail will probably start wagging and you’ll both be speaking the same language. What’s more, a dog will sometimes employ the sneeze in order to communicate to a fellow furry playmate. If the play starts to get a little too serious or violent, the dog will sneeze to communicate, “hey buddy, we’re just having fun here. Lets not let this escalate any more.”
No, but their streetlights do. New York’s Central Park takes up roughly 843 acres of land and is larger than the principality of Monaco. That’s a lot of park. Aside from being a beautiful place to picnic, the park is used by many New Yorkers and tourists as a nature-filled respite that can take them across town without having to commute through the hustle and bustle of city streets. But without street signs and without staring at your phone or a map as you fumble past the Bethesda Fountain, how can you know where in the park you are? Look no further than the four simple numbers printed on every lamppost that dots the park. The first two numbers indicate the cross street you would be passing if they ran straight through the park, while the last two numbers let you know if you’re closer to the East Side or West Side—an odd number means west, even means east. So 7103 would put you closest to West 71st Street. What will New York think of next? A croissant and donut hybrid or something?
Many of the world’s religions have stories about the first woman, from whom all of us have descended. Well, now science has its own version of the story—they have calculated the existence of a single, female ancestor shared by all living humans. They did this by looking at mitochondrial DNA, which—unlike regular DNA, which is a combination of genes from both parents—is derived solely from the mother. Because of this consistency from generation to generation, the mutations that naturally occur this DNA over time can be tracked, allowing researchers to create a timeline of the molecule’s history. With this data, and applying a variety of mathematical models, scientists estimate that this mother of us all probably lived 200,000 years ago. However, unlike most origin-of-mankind stories, those scientists aren’t actually suggesting that their Eve was actually the first woman—just that she is the only one whose descendants are still living today.
Text messaging has changed the way we communicate, and somewhere during that time, the lowly period gained a somewhat snarky nuance. Linguistic professors have found that in digital communication, including chat windows and texts, the default is to end your thought just by stopping. Because of this, if one chooses to use a period, the reader is left to wonder why—and the assumption is usually that it’s negative. Why is this? Over time, as the written word began to gain autonomy from the spoken word, punctuation became a way to show the reader what was most important in the text. Only the question mark and exclamation point were ever used to indicate “tone.” Now, however, technology has asked us to apply the written word to real time. In other words, it needs to be more like speech. “People are communicating like they are talking, but encoding that talk in writing,” says author and NYU professor Clay Shirky. This may be why the line break has taken the place of a simple period. It lets people emulate in writing the rhythm of their speech. So in the text world, the period is superfluous—meaning that when you text your boss to them you’ll be a little late, a simple “okay.” in response sends you into a cold sweat.
Most of us would say no. Plants pretty much mind their own business, right? They just sit there, growing and photosynthesizing and stuff. Sure, there may be an outlier or two. Carnivorous plants, like the Venus fly trap. Plants that produce deadly poisons, like the strychnine tree. Or even parasitic plants like the dodder vine, which somehow has developed the ability to smell other plants, carefully reaching out its tendrils to wrap around their stems before stabbing them with its juice-sucking vampire fangs. But, you know, most of us just try not to think about such things. There are some people, however, who are simply not able to ignore the danger and general, dirt-based unpleasantness of foliage. These people suffer from botanophobia—the fear of plants. As you might suspect, they tend to spend most of their time indoors. It sounds like a rather bizarre affliction, and yet it has been observed all the way back to the dawn of modern psychotherapy. As it turns out Sigmund Freud himself was a botanophobe. Not just that, he was of a specific subset of general plant paranoia known as pteridophobia—he had a morbid fear of ferns.
He might not be the only one, but he’s definitely the cutest. Interested in figuring out just how much dogs “get” humans, scientists used brain-imaging technology on our four-legged friends. The most direct example of dogs’ devotion to their humans is their odor processing capabilities. Scientists found that when a pup caught his owner’s aroma, the “reward center” of his brain was sparked. Of all the scents a dog can take in at once, yours is the one that he prioritizes. Even more telling (and the reason your pooch knows just when you need a cuddle), dogs have shown themselves to be physically wired to pick up on our mood changes. A study revealed marked similarities in the way dog and human brains process emotionally laden vocal sounds. So when they hear you whining or crying or just generally stressed, they know that you need nothing more than a tail wag and a furry friend. In conclusion, dogs are the best.