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What Did the Original Colonists Sound Like?

Don't miss an episode—subscribe here! (Images and footage provided by our friends at Shutterstock. This transcript comes courtesy of Nerdfighteria Wiki.

Hi, I'm Craig, and I'm an OC—Original Colonist—and this is mental_floss on YouTube. Today I'm going to answer Jacob Mitchell's big question: What did the original colonists sound like? Did they have a modern British accent? Let's get started!

Every time I attempt a British accent the commenters get angry. Don't get angry. So, it turns out that accents are pretty complicated things. Like when Jacob says, "modern British accent," he probably means what linguists call the Received Pronunciation, or R.P., or rp.

There are a ton of different accents in the UK, but the Oxford English Dictionary defines the R.P. as "the standard accent of English as spoken in the south of England." And that's what Americans typically mean when they say "British accent" (but let's be honest, Americans never talk about other countries at all). There's a flip side to that too: Americans have tons of different accents, but the general "American" accent is what a British person would call an "American accent." They might not do [air quotes] though.

At that time both accents were rhotic, like an American acent. Rhoticism means the letter R is pronounced in words like hard and park. In Received Pronunciation, that R sound isn't pronounced. Should it be "Eceived Ponunciation," then? Of course there aren't any recordings from the seventeenth century, so we can't know for sure what British and American people sounded like, but linguists are pretty sure both are rhotic because the R exists in those words, so it's probably supposed to be ponounced

Experts have also observed that it wasn't until the late eighteenth century that British people started to write words like hard or park while omitting the R for time in shorthand notes. It takes time to write that R with all those curves. 

So, where did the modern British accent come from? According to the Cambridge History of the English Language, the Received Pronunciation emerged in southern England during the Industrial Revolution. People were born into lower classes and then became wealthy developed a way of speaking so they could set themselves apart from the social class they had surpassed. The book states "London pronunciation became the prerogative of a new breed of specialists—orthoepists and teachers of elocution. The orthoepists decided upon correct pronunciations, compiled pronouncing dictionaries and, in private and expensive tutoring sessions, drilled enterprising citizens in fashionable articulation."

So, if you ever see a movie or play that takes place in Britain before the eighteenth century, those characters should be speaking in American accents. Mind blown!

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Big Questions
What Are Curlers Yelling About?
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WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images

Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Why You Should Never Take Your Shoes Off On an Airplane
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What should be worn during takeoff?

Tony Luna:

If you are a frequent flyer, you may often notice that some passengers like to kick off their shoes the moment they've settled down into their seats.

As an ex-flight attendant, I'm here to tell you that it is a dangerous thing to do. Why?

Besides stinking up the whole cabin, footwear is essential during an airplane emergency, even though it is not part of the flight safety information.

During an emergency, all sorts of debris and unpleasant ground surfaces will block your way toward the exit, as well as outside the aircraft. If your feet aren't properly covered, you'll have a hard time making your way to safety.

Imagine destroying your bare feet as you run down the aisle covered with broken glass, fires, and metal shards. Kind of like John McClane in Die Hard, but worse. Ouch!

Bruce Willis stars in 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

A mere couple of seconds delay during an emergency evacuation can be a matter of life and death, especially in an enclosed environment. Not to mention the entire aircraft will likely be engulfed in panic and chaos.

So, the next time you go on a plane trip, please keep your shoes on during takeoff, even if it is uncomfortable.

You can slip on a pair of bathroom slippers if you really need to let your toes breathe. They're pretty useless in a real emergency evacuation, but at least they're better than going barefoot.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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