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Siberia: What's in a Name?

I've become increasingly fascinated with Siberia lately, that most evocative and extreme of geographies. It's so embedded in our language that it's become a by-word for other things: a terrible seat in a restaurant might be referred to by waiters as "Siberia." "Siberia" can be a social condition, too, when someone is ostracized. But where did the word itself come from? As Ian Frazier, author of the wonderful (and very long) book Travels in Siberia notes, "Officially, there is no such place as Siberia." It appears on atlases as a region but is unconnected to any specific placename; it's more a state of mind. The word itself in Russian -- Sibir -- seems to connote, with its sibilant ess and a rolled-r brr at the end, a shiver.

The word's origin, like the land itself in summer, is muddy. Etymologists say that it derives from two Turkic words, si, meaning "water," and birr, meaning "wild, unpopulated land." With its giant, long rivers that stretch from north to south, and frequently back up and spill their banks -- which tends to happen when the southern part of a river is running water and the northern half is frozen solid -- it's certainly a watery and unpopulated place, a giant marsh. Geographers point to a sixteenth-century fortress town known as Ibis-Sibir, the name of which may eventually, reapplied to successively larger areas, have come to mean the entire region. In Russian, sebe beri, is translated by writer Valentin Rasputin to mean "take what you can, take it all," which dovetails nicely with his own tales about the plunder of Siberia's abundant natural resources (gas, water, minerals of all kinds). But in the end, Siberia -- both the word and the place -- remain nicely mysterious, and I rather prefer it that way, as a giant blank spot in our collective imagination.

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Bone Broth 101
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Whether you drink it on its own or use it as stock, bone broth is the perfect recipe to master this winter. Special thanks to the Institute of Culinary Education

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Why Can Parrots Talk and Other Birds Can't?
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If you've ever seen a pirate movie (or had the privilege of listening to this avian-fronted metal band), you're aware that parrots have the gift of human-sounding gab. Their brains—not their beaks—might be behind the birds' ability to produce mock-human voices, the Sci Show's latest video explains below.

While parrots do have articulate tongues, they also appear to be hardwired to mimic other species, and to create new vocalizations. The only other birds that are capable of vocal learning are hummingbirds and songbirds. While examining the brains of these avians, researchers noted that their brains contain clusters of neurons, which they've dubbed song nuclei. Since other birds don't possess song nuclei, they think that these structures probably play a key role in vocal learning.

Parrots might be better at mimicry than hummingbirds and songbirds thanks to a variation in these neurons: a special shell layer that surrounds each one. Birds with larger shell regions appear to be better at imitating other creatures, although it's still unclear why.

Learn more about parrot speech below (after you're done jamming out to Hatebeak).

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