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International Internet Memes

Memes are ideas that gain life as they race around the internet. Anything observed, done, or created that makes people laugh or pay attention can be a meme, especially if they want to share it and build upon the idea. We've covered plenty of memes here at mental_floss, but that's only scratching the surface of the memes that pop up, proliferate, and die under our English-speaking radar. Yes, the same things happen in different forms in different languages, and luckily there are enough multilingual web publishers to give us a glimpse into those non-English memes, even if they don't catch on in the English-speaking world. Let's take a look at some of them, both old and new.

China: Dogs Wearing Pantyhose

You had to have laughed when you saw Dogs Wearing Pantyhose last week. The Chinese meme took off like wildfire after Weibo user Ulatang uploaded this picture of his dogs dressed in pantyhose. The sight was so ridiculous that others had to try it immediately, and uploaded more and more pictures. Dogs don't seem to mind, as the hose are not all that tight, and fluffy fur fills them out to a "womanly" shape. You can see more pictures here.  

Germany: The Bielefeld Conspiracy

German internet users started the Bielefeld Conspiracy (Die Bielefeld Verschwörung) in 1994 as a satire of conspiracy theorists. The idea is that the German town of Bielefeld does not really exist -as other towns do- but is an illusion cooked up by a secret government agency to cover up something nefarious. The original story was conceived by University of Kiel student Achim Held and a friend. The reasoning normally goes like this

Do you know anybody from Bielefeld?
Have you ever been to Bielefeld?
Do you know anybody who has ever been to Bielefeld?

Most answer no, but if someone answers yes to any of the questions, he is immediately suspected of being part of the conspiracy. The truth is, Bielefeld is a perfectly normal town of 300,000 people. The conspiracy was so bothersome to Bielefeld's city officials that they sent a rebuttal to the national press in 1999 insisting that Bielefeld is real. Unfortunately, it was published on April first, leading many to disbelieve it. In 2010, a group of students made a film based on the conspiracy. When the conspiracy theory is shared with forums that are unfamiliar with it, the reactions range from "Ha ha" to "It's a joke? That's what they WANT you think…" 

Kenya: Makmende

Not too long before the internet went global, the word "Makmende" became a slang term in Kenya that loosely translates to "badass." The word originated from the 1983 Dirty Harry movie Sudden Impact, in which Harry Callahan says the iconic line. "Go ahead, make my day." The name came to mean the toughest hero ever, even if he didn't exist, sort of like the mythic internet Chuck Norris, who has little relation to the actor or his roles. A sample of the jokes:

“After platinum, albums go Makmende”

“They once made a makmende toilet paper, but there was a problem: It wouldn’t take sh%t from anybody!!!”

“Makmende hangs his clothes on a safaricom line and when they dry he stores them in a flashdisk!”

Then in 2009, the character was given a face in a music video for the song “Ha-He” by Just A Band. The meme went wildly viral in Kenya, spawning multiple websites and image memes, such as this 10,000 shilling note.

Just A Band talks about their viral success in a video at CNN. And Makmende eventually got a page on English Wikipedia.

Russia: Preved Medved

Image by DeviantART member AlphaPrimeDX.

Preved Medved (ПРЕВЕД МЕДВЕД) translates to "hello bear," although the image is usually called "surprise bear" in English. The image meme (NSFW) was derived from the John Lurie watercolor titled Bear Surprise (NSFW), in which a bear surprises a couple having sex in the great outdoors. In 2006, Russians adopted the image for a variety of comic uses on the internet. Any situation can be improved with a surprise bear! In the 2008 Russian elections, the bear was doodled on many ballots, as a play on words because Dmitry Medvedev ran (and was elected) president. One of my favorite iterations is this crocheted Preved Medved.

Russia: Hardcore Chelyabinsk

A long-running joke in Russia is that the men of Chelyabinsk are hardcore: tough and cool under pressure, because life is hard in that industrial city. This came to light for the rest of us after the recent meteor in Chelyabinsk was recorded by numerous dashcams. We saw videos of an unknown flying object and a huge explosion, while the drivers sat in silence or muttered something in a calm manner. Just an everyday event? No, it was the famous Chelyabinsk demeanor. Watch a video example of men in Chelyabinsk having fun. Some Russian image macros give us the idea that Chelyabinsk women and even animals are pretty hardcore, too.

Japan: Mr. Baby

Sometimes memes cross international lines before they blow up into something big years later. In 2000, Allen Rout posted a picture of his baby son Stephen on his personal blog. Then sometime in 2004, the photo was used as the basis of an image meme on a forum in Japan. "Mr. Baby" (Aka-san) was Photoshopped and remixed into every conceivable setting, comic, and scenario. Stephen Rout turns 13 this year, and bears little resemblance to the image macros of his baby face that still circulate occasionally in Japan. The family, who discovered the meme in 2010, isn't bothered by it, as the jokes were all in fun.     

Japan: Mid-air Images

More recently, images from Japan have been circulating featuring two new memes that both take advantage of high-speed camera shots of participants jumping. Dragon Ball attack photos recreate battles from the Dragon Ball manga series, seemingly preferred by groups of girls. See more pictures here.

Quidditch photos are made by groups of boys recreating the game from the Harry Potter series, riding brooms through the air.

This is just a brief overview. If you have a favorite meme from a non-English speaking country, old or new, please let us know about it in the comments.

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The Great Yanny vs. Laurel Aural War of 2018, Explained
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It's rare for people to disagree on the internet, but no amount of civility could be spared when a "social media influencer" named Cloe Feldman posted a four-second sound clip on Twitter on May 15, 2018 and asked followers whether they heard a voice say "Yanny" or "Laurel."

Maybe you hear "Yanny." Maybe "Laurel." Proponents of either one recognize a very distinct word, which seems like some kind of aural magic trick. 

Popular Science asked several audiologists to help explain what’s going on. Brad Story, a professor of speech, language, and hearing sciences at the University of Arizona, performed a waveform analysis, which is already more effort directed at this than at the ransom calls for the Lindbergh baby. Story observed that the recording's waveform displays the acoustic features of the "l" and "r" sounds, offering reasonable proof that the voice is saying "Laurel." Whoever engineered the track seems to have layered a second, higher-frequency artifact over it—a frequency that sounds like "Yanny" to some people.

But why do listeners hear one name versus the other? We listen with our brains, and our brains tend to prioritize certain sounds over others. You might be focused on hearing your child talk, for example, over the din of a television. Because "Laurel" and "Yanny" are on different frequencies, some listeners are subconsciously favoring one over the other.

Audiologist Doug Johnson of Doug Johnson Productions provided further proof in his YouTube video analyzing the recording. By isolating each track, it's clear listeners can hear both "Yanny" and "Laurel."

A bigger mystery remains: Who conceived of this recording? It wasn't Feldman, who said she picked it up from a Reddit conversation. According to Wired, the answer is likely Georgia-based high school freshman Katie Hazel, who was looking up the word "laurel" on Vocabulary.com, had the site play it back, and was confused when she heard "Yanny" instead. She shared the discrepancy on Instagram, which was picked up by school senior Fernando Castro. From Castro's Instagram, it landed on Reddit. The original recording was performed for Vocabulary.com in 2007 by an unnamed opera singer and former cast member of the Broadway musical CATS.

Vocabulary.com isn't sure if the singer will come forward to claim their role in this fleeting internet sensation. In the meantime, the "Yanny" and "Laurel" camps continue to feud, mystified by the inability to hear what the other can. Musician Yanni is in the former group.

[h/t Popular Science]

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Why Browsing in Incognito Mode Isn’t as Private as You Think
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There are plenty of reasons to try to shield your web activity from prying eyes. You might not want your internet provider to know you’re illegally downloading Game of Thrones. You might not want your employer to see that you’re looking at job boards. Unfortunately, private browsing mode won't help you there, contrary to what many internet users think. Although what you do in private mode doesn’t save in your browser history, it isn't entirely hidden, either, and your activity can still be tracked, according to The Independent’s Indy100.

The site highlights research recently presented at a web privacy conference in Lyon, France, which shows that many people have significant misconceptions about what private browsing really means and how it can shield your information. The survey of 460 people, conducted by researchers from the University of Chicago and Germany’s Leibniz Universität Hannover, found that even when browsers warn users that all their data won’t be hidden when using private browsing mode, most people still come away with major misunderstandings about what will and won’t be hidden about their activity. According to the paper [PDF]:

"These misconceptions included beliefs that private browsing mode would prevent geolocation, advertisements, viruses, and tracking by both the websites visited and the network provider. Furthermore, participants who saw certain disclosures were more likely to have misconceptions about private browsing’s impact on targeted advertising, the persistence of lists of downloaded files and bookmarks, and tracking by ISPs, employers, and governments."

While incognito mode doesn’t store your browsing history, temporary files, or cookies from session to session, it can’t shield you from everything. Your internet service provider (ISP) can see your activity. If you’re logged into your company or school’s Wi-Fi, your boss or school administrators can still see what you’re doing on that network. And if you’re on a site that isn’t secure, incognito mode won’t keep other users on your network from tracking you, either.

According to Chrome developer Darin Fisher, Google tried to make this fairly clear from the outset with incognito mode. In 2017, Fisher told Thrillist that the Chrome team intentionally decided to steer clear of the word “private” so that people would understand that their activity wasn’t totally invisible to others.

Using a VPN along with incognito mode can help anonymize your browsing, but your ISP will still be able to tell when you connect and disconnect, and the VPN company may log some information on your activity, depending on its terms. Overall, it’s just very hard to hide your online activity completely.

Private browsing is useful if you’re using someone else’s computer and don’t want to deal with logging out of their email or social media accounts. It can help you shield your significant other from seeing all the engagement rings you’ve been browsing online. And yeah, sometimes—though we don’t condone this!—you can use it to get around a site’s paywall. But it’s never going to completely hide what you do online.

[h/t Indy100]

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