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Interesting Facts About 10 National Anthems

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Wikimedia Commons

If you listen to a bunch of national anthems one after the other, they all start to sound pretty much alike. The typical anthem is in the musical style of a march or a hymn and the lyrics have to do with struggles for freedom and independence, beautiful landscapes, and symbols of unity and pride. But every anthem has a story—not just of its nation's history, but of itself and how it came to be. The fascinatingly comprehensive site nationalanthems.info has the full background, lyrics, and music on "over 400 anthems, past and present." Here are some interesting facts about 10 of them.

1. Malaysia: an on-the-spot decision

The national anthem of Malaysia originated in a moment of panic for an aide to the Sultan of Perak. When the Sultan arrived in London at the invitation of Queen Victoria in 1888, the aide was asked for the music to the anthem so that it could be played during the welcome ceremony. He thought it would look bad to admit they had no anthem, so he hummed the melody of a popular tune from the Seychelles. He then told the Sultan what he had done, and reminded him to stand when the tune was played. It remained the official anthem of the state of Perak, and when Malaysia became an independent nation in 1957, it was chosen as the national anthem and new lyrics were written for it. 

2. Mexico: written under duress

In 1853, Mexico held a contest to see who could write the most inspiring poem to serve as the lyrics of an official national anthem. The girlfriend of the poet Francicso González Bocanegra tried to convince him to write something, but he wasn't interested, so she locked in him a room in her parents' house filled with pictures of scenes from Mexican history until he came up with something. She let him out after he slipped a ten verse poem under the door. The poem went on to become the national anthem, and the girlfriend went on to become the poet's wife.

3. St. Helena: never been there but it sounds nice

The tiny South Atlantic island of St. Helena is under British rule, but they have an anthem that is played when the RMS St. Helena (above) leaves port. It was written by an American named David Mitchell who had never been to St. Helena. He was working on the nearby island of Ascension (only 800 miles away) when a friend who had been to St. Helena suggested he write an anthem. Inspired by looking at some postcards of the island, he came up with "My St. Helena Island," the only country-western style national anthem in the world.

4. Netherlands: fun with word games

The anthem of the Netherlands did not become official until 1932, but the song had been around for at least 300 years before that. The lyrics consist of 15 verses and makes up an acrostic for Willem van Nassov, a hero of the Dutch revolt against Spain. Taken together, the first letter of each verse spells out his name (though in modern orthography it comes out as "Willem of Nazzov").

5. Andorra: a first-person narrator

Many national anthems tell a story about the nation's founding or history. Only Andorra's anthem tells its story in the first person, with the nation referred to as "I." The "I" of Andorra is imagined as a princess being protected by her princes (the people):

The great Charlemagne, my Father, liberated me from the Saracens,
And from heaven he gave me life of Meritxell the great Mother.
I was born a Princess, a Maiden neutral between two nations.
I am the only remaining daughter of the Carolingian empire 

6. Cook Islands: making beautiful music together

The national anthem of the Cook Islands, officially adopted in the early 1980s, was written by a husband and wife team. The music was composed by Sir Thomas Davis, the Prime Minister at the time, and the lyrics, in Maori, were written by his wife, Pa Tepaeru Terito Ariki, a tribal high chief.

7. Czech Republic and Slovakia: a 50-50 divorce

When Czechoslovakia was formed in 1918, it created an anthem by combining one verse from a Czech opera (Fidlovačka) and one from a Slovak folk song ("Kopala studienku"). When Czechoslovakia split up in 1993, the anthem was simply split up too, with the first verse going to the Czech Republic (above) and the second going to Slovakia (below).

8. France: parental discretion advised

Lots of national anthems are about the violent battles that gave rise to nationhood or liberation, but they usually focus on the glory more than the blood. France's anthem, "La Marseillaise," doesn't sugar-coat, keeping things incredibly gory, especially in its full version, which refers to blood-soaked flags, soldiers slitting throats, fields being fertilized with the blood of enemies, and metaphorical tigers tearing apart the breasts of their mothers.

9. South Africa: bringing it all together

Until the end of apartheid in South Africa, the official national anthem was the Afrikaans "Die Stem van Suid-Afrika," but a different song, "Nikosi Sikolei' iAfrika," served as the anthem for the African National Congress and the anti-apartheid movement. In 1997, both melodies were united (resulting in an anthem that begins and ends in different keys) and new lyrics were written, incorporating five languages. The song begins with two lines of Xhosa, followed by Zulu, Sethotho, Afrikaans, and English.

10. United States: not declared until 1931

"The Star Spangled Banner" was a popular choice for official state occasions in the 19th century, but it wasn't the only one. "Hail, Columbia" and "My Country 'Tis of Thee," among others, also served as anthems until 1931, when congress declared "The Star Spangled Banner" official. The tradition of playing it before every baseball game didn't start until WWII.

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James Cameron is Making a Documentary to Reassess the Accuracy of Titanic
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20th Century Fox

While making the 1997 blockbuster Titanic, James Cameron was a stickler for the details. The writer-director wanted his homage to the tragic ocean liner to be as historically accurate as possible, so he organized dives to the site, solicited experts to analyze his script, and modeled the set off photographs and plans from the Titanic's builders. He even recreated the ocean liner’s original furnishings, right down to the light fixtures. Now, 20 years after the film’s release, E! News reports that Cameron will scrutinize the film’s authenticity in an upcoming National Geographic documentary.

Titanic: 20th Anniversary is slated to air in December 2017. It will feature Cameron and a team of experts who, together, will evaluate the film's accuracy using new historical and scientific insights about the ship's fateful sinking on April 15, 1912.

"When I wrote the film, and when I set out to direct it, I wanted every detail to be as accurate as I could make it, and every harrowing moment of the ship's final hours accounted for," Cameron said in a statement. "I was creating a living history; I had to get it right out of respect for the many who died and for their legacy. But did I really get it right? Now, with National Geographic and with the latest research, science, and technology, I'm going to reassess."

It's not the first time Cameron has revisited his Oscar-winning epic; in 2012, the director made some tweaks to the film for its 3-D re-release after receiving some criticism from renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

“Neil deGrasse Tyson sent me quite a snarky email saying that, at that time of year, in that position in the Atlantic in 1912, when Rose is lying on the piece of driftwood and staring up at the stars, that is not the star field she would have seen," Cameron explained. “And with my reputation as a perfectionist, I should have known that and I should have put the right star field in." So he changed it.

In the case of Titanic: 20th Anniversary, Cameron and his team will give viewers an updated interpretation of the Titanic’s sinking, and reexamine the wreck using new underwater footage, computer-generated simulation, and research. They’ll also scrutinize some of the film’s most famous scenes, and provide biographical context about the filming process.

We’re sure fans, historians, and, of course, Kate and Leo, will approve.

[h/t Mashable]

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6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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