The Quick 10: 10 Facts About Pittsburgh (or is it Pittsburg?)

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?).

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Apeel
New Plant-Based Coating Can Keep Your Avocados Fresh for Twice as Long
Apeel
Apeel

Thanks to a food technology startup called Apeel Sciences, eating fresh avocados will soon be a lot easier. The Bill Gates–backed company has developed a coating designed to keep avocados fresh for up to twice as long as traditional fruit, Bloomberg reports, and these long-lasting avocados will soon be available at 100 grocery stores across the Midwestern U.S. Thirty or so of the grocery stores involved in the limited rollout of the Apeel avocado will be Costcos, so feel free to buy in bulk.

Getting an avocado to a U.S. grocery store is more complicated than it sounds; the majority of avocados sold in the U.S. come from California or Mexico, making it tricky to get fruit to the Midwest or New England at just the right moment in an avocado’s life cycle.

Apeel’s coating is made of plant material—lipids and glycerolipids derived from peels, seeds, and pulp—that acts as an extra layer of protective peel on the fruit, keeping water in and oxygen out, and thus reducing spoilage. (Oxidation is the reason that your sliced avocados and apples brown after they’ve been exposed to the air for a while.) The tasteless coating comes in a powder that fruit producers mix with water and then dip their fruit into.

A side-by-side comparison of a coated and uncoated avocado after 30 days, with the uncoated avocado looking spoiled and the coated one looking fresh
Apeel

According to Apeel, coating a piece of produce in this way can keep it fresh for two to three times longer than normal without any sort of refrigeration of preservatives. This not only allows consumers a few more days to make use of their produce before it goes bad, reducing food waste, but can allow producers to ship their goods to farther-away markets without refrigeration.

Avocados are the first of Apeel's fruits to make it to market, but there are plans to debut other Apeel-coated produce varieties in the future. The company has tested its technology on apples, artichokes, mangos, and several other fruits and vegetables.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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iStock
The Curious Origins of 16 Common Phrases
iStock
iStock

Our favorite basketball writer is ESPN's Zach Lowe. On his podcast, the conversation often takes detours into the origins of certain phrases. We compiled a list from Zach and added a few of our own, then sent them to language expert Arika Okrent. Where do these expressions come from anyway?

1. BY THE SAME TOKEN

Bus token? Game token? What kind of token is involved here? Token is a very old word, referring to something that’s a symbol or sign of something else. It could be a pat on the back as a token, or sign, of friendship, or a marked piece of lead that could be exchanged for money. It came to mean a fact or piece of evidence that could be used as proof. “By the same token” first meant, basically “those things you used to prove that can also be used to prove this.” It was later weakened into the expression that just says “these two things are somehow associated.”

2. GET ON A SOAPBOX

1944: A woman standing on a soapbox speaking into a mic
Express/Express/Getty Images

The soapbox that people mount when they “get on a soapbox” is actually a soap box, or rather, one of the big crates that used to hold shipments of soap in the late 1800s. Would-be motivators of crowds would use them to stand on as makeshift podiums to make proclamations, speeches, or sales pitches. The soap box then became a metaphor for spontaneous speech making or getting on a roll about a favorite topic.

3. TOMFOOLERY

The notion of Tom fool goes a long way. It was the term for a foolish person as long ago as the Middle Ages (Thomas fatuus in Latin). Much in the way the names in the expression Tom, Dick, and Harry are used to mean “some generic guys,” Tom fool was the generic fool, with the added implication that he was a particularly absurd one. So the word tomfoolery suggested an incidence of foolishness that went a bit beyond mere foolery.

4. GO BANANAS

chimp eating banana
iStock

The expression “go bananas” is slang, and the origin is a bit harder to pin down. It became popular in the 1950s, around the same time as “go ape,” so there may have been some association between apes, bananas, and crazy behavior. Also, banana is just a funny-sounding word. In the 1920s people said “banana oil!” to mean “nonsense!”

5. RUN OF THE MILL

If something is run of the mill, it’s average, ordinary, nothing special. But what does it have to do with milling? It most likely originally referred to a run from a textile mill. It’s the stuff that’s just been manufactured, before it’s been decorated or embellished. There were related phrases like “run of the mine,” for chunks of coal that hadn’t been sorted by size yet, and “run of the kiln,” for bricks as they came out without being sorted for quality yet.

6. READ THE RIOT ACT

The Law's Delay: Reading The Riot Act 1820
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When you read someone the riot act you give a stern warning, but what is it that you would you have been reading? The Riot Act was a British law passed in 1714 to prevent riots. It went into effect only when read aloud by an official. If too many people were gathering and looking ready for trouble, an officer would let them know that if they didn’t disperse, they would face punishment.

7. HANDS DOWN

Hands down comes from horse racing, where, if you’re way ahead of everyone else, you can relax your grip on the reins and let your hands down. When you win hands down, you win easily.

8. SILVER LINING

The silver lining is the optimistic part of what might otherwise be gloomy. The expression can be traced back directly to a line from Milton about a dark cloud revealing a silver lining, or halo of bright sun behind the gloom. The idea became part of literature and part of the culture, giving us the proverb “every cloud has a silver lining” in the mid-1800s.

9. HAVE YOUR WORK CUT OUT

The expression “you’ve got your work cut out for you” comes from tailoring. To do a big sewing job, all the pieces of fabric are cut out before they get sewn together. It seems like if your work has been cut for you, it should make job easier, but we don’t use the expression that way. The image is more that your task is well defined and ready to be tackled, but all the difficult parts are yours to get to. That big pile of cut-outs isn’t going to sew itself together!

10. THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE

A grapevine is a system of twisty tendrils going from cluster to cluster. The communication grapevine was first mentioned in 1850s, the telegraph era. Where the telegraph was a straight line of communication from one person to another, the “grapevine telegraph” was a message passed from person to person, with some likely twists along the way.

11. THE WHOLE SHEBANG

The earliest uses of shebang were during the Civil War era, referring to a hut, shed, or cluster of bushes where you’re staying. Some officers wrote home about “running the shebang,” meaning the encampment. The origin of the word is obscure, but because it also applied to a tavern or drinking place, it may go back to the Irish word shebeen for a ramshackle drinking establishment.

12. PUSH THE ENVELOPE

Pushing the envelope belongs to the modern era of the airplane. The “flight envelope” is a term from aeronautics meaning the boundary or limit of performance of a flight object. The envelope can be described in terms of mathematical curves based on things like speed, thrust, and atmosphere. You push it as far as you can in order to discover what the limits are. Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff brought the expression into wider use.

13. CAN’T HOLD A CANDLE

We say someone can’t hold a candle to someone else when their skills don’t even come close to being as good. In other words, that person isn’t even good enough to hold up a candle so that a talented person can see what they’re doing in order to work. Holding the candle to light a workspace would have been the job of an assistant, so it’s a way of saying not even fit to be the assistant, much less the artist.

14. THE ACID TEST

Most acids dissolve other metals much more quickly than gold, so using acid on a metallic substance became a way for gold prospectors to see if it contained gold. If you pass the acid test, you didn’t dissolve—you’re the real thing.

15. GO HAYWIRE

What kind of wire is haywire? Just what it says—a wire for baling hay. In addition to tying up bundles, haywire was used to fix and hold things together in a makeshift way, so a dumpy, patched-up place came to be referred to as “a hay-wire outfit.” It then became a term for any kind of malfunctioning thing. The fact that the wire itself got easily tangled when unspooled contributed to the “messed up” sense of the word.

16. CALLED ON THE CARPET

Carpet used to mean a thick cloth that could be placed in a range of places: on the floor, on the bed, on a table. The floor carpet is the one we use most now, so the image most people associate with this phrase is one where a servant or employee is called from plainer, carpetless room to the fancier, carpeted part of the house. But it actually goes back to the tablecloth meaning. When there was an issue up for discussion by some kind of official council it was “on the carpet.”

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