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All the Colors in That Dress Go Back to the Same Etymological Source

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Last night a picture of a dress launched a thousand arguments. Is it black and blue, or white and gold? Some people are completely convinced it’s one or the other. Others experience a flip back and forth between the two perceptions, seemingly at random. Vision scientists, and computer graphics programs have weighed in on the controversy, but what, you ask (as you always should), do linguists have to say? Well, as it turns out, something important. Something that may unite us all. You see, all the colors in that dress go back to the same Proto-Indo-European root, *bhel-.

Yes, *bhel-, which had the sense of “bright, shining” gave rise to various words for white. Blanche, blanco, and bianco in the Romance languages, belyi, bjal, and bialy in Slavic languages, blank, bleach, and pale in English.

What else is bright and shining? Fire. Blaze and flame also go back to *bhel-, and what color are things have been through a blazing flame? Black. Black also goes back to *bhel-.

Through the concept of brightness, *bhel- also went down various paths to emerge as blond and the Latin flavus, meaning golden yellow.

And finally, blue was handed down from Old French bleu which went way back to the *bhel- of whiteness and also meant pale, wan, or bruised. If skin is pale and bruised, what color is it? Blue.

So there you have it. The dress is not only an accidental exercise in the relativity of color perception, but a split mirror reflecting back to us 6000 years of language history. Black, blue? White, gold? As a matter of human cultural concept-making they are, when viewed at very long range (okay, very, very, very long range), one and the same. No need to fight about it. The dress is *bhel-.

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You Can Now Order Food Through Facebook
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After a bit of controversy over its way of aggregating news feeds and some questionable content censoring policies, it’s nice to have Facebook roll out a feature everyone can agree on: allowing you to order food without leaving the social media site.

According to a press release, Facebook says that the company decided to begin offering food delivery options after realizing that many of its users come to the social media hub to rate and discuss local eateries. Rather than hop from Facebook to the restaurant or a delivery service, you’ll be able to stay within the app and select from a menu of food choices. Just click “Order Food” from the Explore menu on a desktop interface or under the “More” option on Android or iOS devices. There, you’ll be presented with options that will accept takeout or delivery orders, as well as businesses participating with services like Delivery.com or EatStreet.

If you need to sign up and create an account with Delivery.com or Jimmy John’s, for example, you can do that without leaving Facebook. The feature is expected to be available nationally, effective immediately.

[h/t Forbes]

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The Seemingly Simple ‘Math’ Problem That Stumped the Internet
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If you’re a regular Mental Floss reader, you know that we love a good brain teaser. And the one below, which originated on Facebook and has been shared more than 150,000 times, is a great one to test just how sharp you are on a Friday evening at the end of a long workweek.

It’s a seemingly simple enough task: spot the error. Your time starts now…

We’ll give you a minute …

And a little space for you to scroll down to find the answer …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did you figure it out?

The “mistake” is that the word “mistake” is misspelled on the instruction sheet on the left. If you missed that completely, you’re not alone: the grid of numbers is what immediately grabs your attention.

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