Why Are So Many Blackboards Green?

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Though the term blackboard has a color right there in its name, most of them aren’t actually black. While we still use the term more or less interchangeably with chalkboards, blackboards tend to be green. Why the difference? Why call a surface a blackboard if it's green?

Because 200 years ago, blackboards were black. According to author Lewis Buzbee’s Blackboard: A Personal History of the Classroom, large boards of connected slates that teachers could write on for the whole class to see didn’t come around until the early 1800s, and the name blackboard wasn’t used until 1815. They were made with slate, or in rural areas, they were often just wooden boards painted dark with egg whites mixed with the remains of charred potatoes. Later, they were also made of wood darkened with a commercially made porcelain-based ink. They were, true to their name, black.

And the relatively affordable, ubiquitous technology was a huge success, changing education forever. By the mid-19th century, even the most rural schools had a blackboard.

As an 1841 teaching manual, The Blackboard in the Primary School, put it: “The inventor or introducer of the black-board system deserves to be ranked among the best contributors to learning and science, if not among the greatest benefactors of mankind.”

In the 20th century, blackboards began to look a little different, though the idea was the same. In the 1930s, manufacturers began to make chalkboards using a green, porcelain enameled paint on a steel base. By the 1960s, the green chalkboard trend was in full swing. Teachers had discovered that a different colored paint was a lot more comfortable to stare at all day, because green porcelain paint cut down on glare. By and large, many blackboards were slowly replaced by their green brethren. (Apparently, greenboards wasn’t quite as catchy of a name, though, so the term blackboard stuck.)

But today, many school children might not be familiar with either blackboards or "greenboards." In the 1990s, schools began converting their classrooms to whiteboards, which produce less dust (and eliminate that terrible screeching noise). According to The Atlantic, at the turn of the millennium, whiteboards were outselling chalkboards by a 4-to-1 ratio.

You can still find the occasional blackboard in a classroom, though—even if it’s just decorative. And some schools are rediscovering blackboards, literally. In the summer of 2015, construction workers renovating an Oklahoma school for smart whiteboards found two historic slate blackboards that still bore drawings from almost 100 years ago.

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What's the Difference Between Pigeons and Doves?

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To the layman, the difference between pigeons and doves has something to with color, maybe. Or location. Or general appeal (doves usually get much better press than pigeons do). But what’s the actual, scientific difference between doves and pigeons?

As it turns out, there isn’t one. Paul Sweet, the collection manager for the department of ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History, says the difference is more linguistic than taxonomic.

“The word dove is a word that came into English from the more Nordic languages, whereas pigeon came into English from French,” Sweet tells Mental Floss.

Both dove and pigeon refer to the 308 species of birds from the Columbidae family, Sweet says. There’s no difference between a pigeon and a dove in scientific nomenclature, but colloquial English tends to categorize them by size. Something called a dove is generally smaller than something called a pigeon, but that’s not always the case. A common pigeon, for example, is called both a rock dove and a rock pigeon.

“People just have their own classification for what makes them different,” Sweet says. “So in the Pacific, for example, the big ones might get called pigeons and the smaller ones might be called doves, but they’re actually more closely related to each other than they are to other things in, say, South America, that are called pigeons and doves.”

The difference boils down to linguistic traditions, so feel free to tell people you’re releasing pigeons at your wedding or that you’re feeding doves in the park. Scientifically speaking, you’ll be correct either way.

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What Is the Wilhelm Scream?

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What do Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Toy Story, Reservoir Dogs, Titanic, Anchorman, 22 Jump Street, and more than 200 other films and TV shows have in common? Not much besides the one and only Wilhelm Scream.

The Wilhelm Scream is the holy grail of movie geek sound effects—a throwaway sound bite with inauspicious beginnings that was turned into the best movie in-joke ever when it was revived in the 1970s.

Just what is it? Chances are you’ve heard it before but never really noticed it. The Wilhelm Scream is a stock sound effect that has been used in both the biggest blockbusters and the lowest low-budget movies and television shows for over 60 years, and is usually heard when someone onscreen is shot or falls from a great height.

First used in the 1951 Gary Cooper western Distant Drums, the distinctive yelp began in a scene in which a group of soldiers wade through a swamp, and one of them lets out a piercing scream as an alligator drags him underwater.

As is the case with many movie sound effects, the scream was recorded later in a sound booth with the simple direction to make it sound like “a man getting bit by an alligator, and he screams.” Six screams were performed in one take, and the fifth scream on the recording became the iconic Wilhelm (the others were used for additional screams in other parts of the movie).

Following its debut in 1951, the effect became a regular part of the Warner Bros. sound library and was continually used by the studio’s filmmakers in their movies. Eventually, in the early 1970s, a group of budding sound designers at USC’s film school—including future Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt—recognized that the unique scream kept popping up in numerous films they were watching. They nicknamed it the “Wilhelm Scream” after a character in the first movie they all recognized it from, a 1963 western called The Charge at Feather River, in which a character named Private Wilhelm lets out the pained scream after being shot in the leg by an arrow.

As a joke, the students began slipping the effect into the student films they were working on at the time. After he graduated, Burtt was tapped by fellow USC alum George Lucas to do the sound design on a little film he was making called Star Wars. As a nod to his friends, Burtt put the original sound effect from the Warner Bros. library into the movie, most noticeably when a Stormtrooper is shot by Luke Skywalker and falls into a chasm on the Death Star. Burtt would go on to use the Wilhelm Scream in various scenes in every Star Wars and Indiana Jones movie, causing fans and filmmakers to take notice.

Directors like Peter Jackson and Quentin Tarantino, as well as countless other sound designers, sought out the sound and put it in their movies as a humorous nod to Burtt. They wanted to be in on the joke too, and the Wilhelm Scream began showing up everywhere, making it an unofficial badge of honor. It's become bigger than just a sound effect, and the name “Wilhelm Scream” has been used for everything from a band name, to a beer, to a song title, and more.

But whose voice does the scream itself belong to? Burtt himself did copious amounts of research, as the identity of the screamer was unknown for decades. He eventually found a Warner Bros. call sheet from Distant Drums that listed actors who were scheduled to record additional dialogue after the film was completed. One of the names, and the most likely candidate as the Wilhelm screamer, was an actor and musician named Sheb Wooley, who appeared in classics like High Noon, Giant, and the TV show Rawhide. You may also know him as the musician who sang the popular 1958 novelty song “Purple People Eater.”

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