11 Things You Might Not Know About the Grand Canyon on Its 100th Birthday

iStock.com/SumikoPhoto
iStock.com/SumikoPhoto

Whether you’ve made the trek yourself or seen it on a postcard, the Grand Canyon is one of the most instantly recognizable sights in the United States. But how well do you really know the Colorado River’s most famous handiwork? Here are 11 facts about the Grand Canyon, which Congress declared a U.S. National Park on February 26, 1919.

1. The Grand Canyon is not the world's deepest canyon.

Let’s clear up this misconception right off the bat. The Arizona landmark may well be the world’s grandest canyon, but it’s not the deepest. Agreeing on how to measure the depth of gorges is a surprisingly difficult task, but depending on who you ask, that distinction goes to Peru’s Cotahuasi Canyon, which is over 11,000 feet deep, or Nepal’s Kali Gandaki Gorge. The Grand Canyon, on the other hand, is just one mile deep.

2. It isn't the deepest canyon in the U.S., either

A view of the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon
iStock.com/TraceRouda

The Grand Canyon can’t claim the domestic championship: Hells Canyon has been carved by the Snake River along the border of Oregon and Idaho and drops a half a mile deeper than the Grand Canyon.

3. The Grand Canyon's age is tough to pin down.

The Grand Canyon
iStock.com/Meinzahn

Like measuring depth, figuring out a canyon’s age is not as easy as you might think. Until recently, estimates pegged the Grand Canyon’s age at 6 million years. It turns out that the answer may not be that straightforward, though. In the last decade, controversy has erupted in scientific circles over just how many candles should be on the geologic marvel’s birthday cake. Attempts to analyze the minerals within the canyon led to the conclusion that the canyon may be more like 70 million years old.

What makes answering what seems like a simple question so difficult? The Grand Canyon may not have been carved in one fell swoop by the Colorado River. Instead, one hypothesis posits that the canyon may have formed in pieces over time, with parts of it dating back as many as 70 million years, but with the connected canyon we know and love today only emerging in the last 6 million years.

4. The Hopi consider the Grand Canyon to be a gateway to the afterlife.

A view from the rim of the Grand Canyon
iStock.com/CraigZerbe

Referred to as Öngtupqa in the Hopi language, the Grand Canyon carries great spiritual significance for the Native American tribe that has long inhabited the region. Upon death, a Hopi is believed to pass westward through the sipapuni, or “place of emergence”—a dome of mineral deposits that sits upstream from the union of the Colorado River and the Little Colorado River inside the canyon—on his or her journey into the afterlife.

5. Temperatures vary greatly between the top and bottom of the Grand Canyon.

The sun sets over the Grand Canyon at Bright Angel Point.
iStock.com/jamesvancouver

A trek from the peak of the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, which stands about 8000 feet above sea level, to its bottom a mile down may see a traveler experience temperature swings of more than 25ºF. Summer highs in the depths of the gorge can exceed 100ºF, and winter lows at the crest can dip to 0ºF.

6. The first Europeans saw the Grand Canyon in 1540.

Ribbon Falls in the Grand Canyon
iStock.com/fotoVoyager

After thousands of years of inhabitation by Native American groups, the Grand Canyon welcomed its first European visitor in the 16th century. Aided by Hopi locals, Spanish conquistador García López de Cárdenas led an exploration of the grounds in 1540, even sending three soldiers down to explore the canyon’s depths. The trek didn’t last very long: The soldiers were overcome by thirst, possibly because the Hopi intentionally safeguarded their valued Colorado River from the travelers’ reach.

7. Subsequent European visitors took their time returning to the Grand Canyon.

The Colorado River snakes through the Grand Canyon.
iStock.com/kojihirano

After this initial contact didn’t reveal any great riches in the area, there was little urgency to return on the part of the Spanish. Europeans didn’t make their second visit until 1776, when Spanish priests Francisco Atanasio Domínguez and Silvestre Vélez de Escalante happened upon the canyon while attempting to find a route from Santa Fe to their Catholic mission in Monterey, California. In the very same year, another Spanish missionary, Francisco Garcés, took in the canyon during a largely unsuccessful attempt to convert the local Havasupai to Christianity.

8. Explorers of European descent didn’t navigate to the bottom of the Grand Canyon until 1869.

A vintage map of Grand Canyon National Park
iStock.com/Pontuse

In 1869, seven years after losing his right arm during the Battle of Shiloh in the American Civil War, John Wesley Powell led nine men—including a printer for the Rocky Mountain News, an 18-year-old mule driver and bullwhacker, and Powell’s own brother—on a thousand-mile mission down the Colorado River and its tributaries and through the Grand Canyon. Only six members of the team would complete the expedition, but Powell returned in 1871 with congressional backing and an 11-man team that included scientists. That trip produced the first maps of the Colorado River.

9. Teddy Roosevelt used a loophole to protect the Grand Canyon.

Tourists stand at Mather Point
iStock.com/gdelissen

Roosevelt needed just one visit to the Grand Canyon in 1903 before he decided that the marvel should be protected. Unfortunately, it was beyond his authority to designate an area as a national park without congressional approval. To sidestep what he predicted would be an uncooperative Congress, Roosevelt took the long way around. In 1893, President Benjamin Harrison had established a forest preserve in the area, and so Roosevelt was able to add considerably more protection in 1906 by using a presidential proclamation to designate the area as the Grand Canyon Game Preserve. Two years later, he declared the area a national monument. The area was safe, but even then, Roosevelt couldn’t get the green light to create the Grand Canyon National Park—formal approval didn’t come until 1919.

10. The Grand Canyon was home to an early "instant photo" business.

The Grand Canyon at sunset
iStock.com/anharris

Brothers Emery and Ellsworth Kolb devoted their lives to photographing natural beauty, and in setting up a studio on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in 1906, they found a savvy business opportunity as well. From their studio at the head of the Bright Angel Trail, the brothers would snap photographs of tourists as they departed for the canyon’s bottom on mules. When the tourists made their way back up to the rim that evening, the brothers would be ready to sell them developed prints documenting their journey.

11. The Grand Canyon was the site of a grand hoax in 1909.

The Grand Canyon at sunset
iStock.com/IvanKuzmin

On April 5, 1909, the Arizona Gazette detailed the findings of two archaeologists who claimed to have discovered traces of either an ancient Tibetan or Ancient Egyptian civilization in an underground tunnel network within the Grand Canyon. The story of ancient artifacts like copper and gold urns and mummified bodies discovered by two affiliates of the Smithsonian caused quite a stir, but it unraveled quickly. The Smithsonian denied any knowledge of the pair of scientists, and subsequent searches failed to uncover the “nearly inaccessible” cavern the (possibly fictitious) duo claimed to have found. Despite this lack of evidence, the belief that the Smithsonian actually found and covered up this cave of wonder remains persistent among conspiracy theorists.

11 Dothraki Words and Phrases Every Game of Thrones Fan Should Know

Helen Sloan, HBO
Helen Sloan, HBO

You know the words khal and khaleesi, but consider working these other words and phrases from the Dothraki language—which was created by linguist David J. Peterson, and featured in Living Language Dothraki—into your vocabulary before the final season of Game of Thrones premieres on April 14, 2019.

1. M’athchomaroon!

The Dothraki way of saying hi, this word—which can also be shortened to M’ach! or M’ath!—translates to “With respect.” To say hello to a group of non-Dothrakis, you would use the phrase Athchomar chomakea, which literally translates to “Respect to those that are respectful.” Fonas chek, which translates to "hunt well," is one way to say goodbye.

2. San athchomari yeraan!

Peterson writes that the Dothraki have no word for “thank you.” Instead, use this phrase, which literally translates to “a lot of honor to you!” but basically means “much respect!”

3. Fichas jahakes moon!

These are Dothraki fighting words, meant to encourage the warriors in their khalasar (or Dothraki group). This phrase means “get him!” but literally translates to “Take his braid”—which makes sense, since Dothrakis cut off their braids after a defeat. A Dothraki who wins a lot of battles is a lajak haj, or “strong warrior.”

4. And 5. Yer shekh ma shieraki anni and Yer jalan atthirari anni

Jason Momoa and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Both of these phrases—the first said by a male, the second by a female—mean “you are my loved one,” but they literally translate to phrases well-known to Game of Thrones fans: “You are my sun and stars” and “You are the moon of my life.” As Peterson notes, “these expressions come from Dothraki mythology, in which the sun is the husband of the moon.”

6. Anha dothrak adakhataan

Peterson writes that “as a result of the importance of horses to Dothraki culture, there are many idiomatic expressions related to horses and riding.” This phrase is best used before a meal: It means “I’m about to eat,” and literally translates to “I ride to eating.” If you were Dothraki, you’d likely be eating fresh horsemeat (gavat) and drinking mare’s milk (lamekh ohazho, which is often just shortened to lamekh).

7. Hrazef

This is Dothraki for horse, and there are many other words relating to horses in the language. A good one to know is the word for the great stallion, a.k.a., “the deity worshipped by the Dothraki”: vezhof.

8. Addrivat

Joseph Naufahu, Tamer Hassan, Emilia Clarke, Elie Haddad, Darius Dar Khan, and Diogo Sales in Game of Thrones
HBO

If there’s one thing the Dothraki are very good at, it’s killing, and they have multiple words for the deed. This is a verb meaning “to kill,” and literally translates to “to make something dead.” Both Ds are pronounced. It’s used, according to Peterson, “when the killer is a sentient being.” (Drozhat is used when a person is killed by an animal or an inanimate object, "like a fallen rock," Peterson writes.)

9. Asshekhqoyi vezhvena!

The next time your friend or loved one is celebrating another year around the sun, use this Dothraki phrase, which means “happy birthday” but literally translates to “[Have] a great blood-day!”

10. Zhavorsa or Zhavvorsa

Dothraki for dragon. Finne zhavvorsa anni? means “Where are my dragons?” This word might not be super applicable in everyday life, so jano—the Dothraki word for dog or dogs—is probably more appropriate.

11. Vorsa

Dracarys—a.k.a., what Dany says to Drogon to get him to let loose—is the High Valyrian word for dragonfire. It's unclear if the Dothraki have a word for dragonfire, but the word for fire is vorsa. Sondra, meanwhile, is their word for obsedian—or, as it's called on Game of Thrones, dragonglass.

For more information on the Dothraki language and culture, pick up Living Language Dothraki: A Conversational Language Course Created by David J. Peterson Based on the Hit Original HBO Series Game of Thrones at Amazon.

13 Facts About the Oxford English Dictionary

iStock.com/GCShutter
iStock.com/GCShutter

This year marks the 135th birthday of the Oxford English Dictionary (though the eminent reference book is hardly looking its age). As the English language continues to evolve, the dictionary has flourished and regularly added new words such as nothingburger, prepper, idiocracy, and fam. Get to know it better.

1. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was built on volunteer labor.

When the London Philological Society came up with the idea for a new dictionary of the English language in 1857, the editors decided it was necessary to enlist the help of the public and asked avid readers to send examples of sentences that could illuminate the meanings of different words. Every day, volunteers mailed thousands of “quotation slips” from books, newspapers, and magazines. By the time the first edition was published, more than 2000 volunteers had assisted the editors in its completion.

2. It took more than 70 years to complete the first edition of the OED.

Originally, the Philological Society predicted that the dictionary would take about 10 years to complete. Twenty-seven years later, the editors had successfully reached the word ant. Knowing it would be a while until a completed book was ready, they began publishing unbound editions of the work-in-progress in 1884. The first full volume was eventually published in 1928, more than 70 years after the society first came up with the idea.

3. The OED started out messy. Very messy.

Frederick Furnivall, one of the dictionary’s founders, was a visionary—but that vision did not extend to his organizational skills. Under his stewardship as editor, the dictionary was a mess. Quotation slips were stuffed haphazardly into bags and went missing. All of the words starting with “Pa” went AWOL for 12 years and were eventually discovered in Ireland. Slips for the letter “G” were nearly burned with somebody’s trash. All of the entries for the letter “H” somehow turned up in Italy.

4. OED co-founder Frederick Furnivall was a controversial figure.

After founding a controversy-riddled Shakespeare Society, Furnivall fell into a six-year feud with the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne. Swinburne (whose mastery of the English language earned him six nominations for the Nobel Prize in Literature) mocked Furnivall’s club by calling it “Fartiwell and Co.” and “The Sh*tspeare Society.” Furnivall reached into his bag o' insults and said that Swinburne had, “the ear of a poetaster, hairy, thick and dull.”

5. Dr. James Murray helped the OED clean up its act.

Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Oxford English Dictionary // Public Domain

Dr. James Murray, a philologist, took the helm as the dictionary’s principal editor in 1879 and remained in that position for the rest of his life (he died in 1915). Murray was a linguistic superstar; he was proficient in Italian, French, Catalan, Spanish, Latin, Dutch, German, Flemish, and Danish and also had a solid grasp of Portuguese, Vaudois, Provençal, Celtic, Slavonic, Russian, Persian, Achaemenid Cuneiform, Sanskrit, Hebrew, Syriac, Aramaic Arabic, Coptic, and Phoenician.

6. Murray built a shed for the OED's editors to work in.

In 1885, to better organize the dictionary, Murray constructed a sunken shed made of corrugated iron to house the editors and their precious quotation slips. Called the “Scriptorium,” this linguistic workshop contained 1029 pigeonholes that allowed Murray and his subeditors to arrange, sort, and file more than 1000 quotation slips each day. 

6. Only one word is known to have gone missing.

Only one quotation slip—containing the word bondmaid—is known to have been lost. (It fell down behind some books and the editors never noticed.) Murray was deeply embarrassed by his failure to include the word in the dictionary. “[N]ot one of the 30 people (at least) who saw the work at various stages between MS. and electrotyped pages noticed the omission,” he said. “The phenomenon is absolutely inexplicable.” The word was officially introduced in a 1933 supplement.

7. One of the OED’s most prolific contributors was a murderer confined to an insane asylum.

One volunteer who provided the OED with countless quotation slips was William C. Minor, a schizophrenic who was incarcerated at the Broadmoor Insane Asylum in Berkshire, England, after he fatally shot a man he (erroneously) believed had broken into his room. According to Murray, Minor was the dictionary’s second most prolific contributor, even outdoing members of the full-time staff.

8. J.R.R. Tolkien contributed to the OED, too.

In 1919 and 1920, J.R.R. Tolkien worked for the dictionary, where he studied the etymology of Germanic words beginning with the letter W, composing drafts for words like waggle and wampum. "I learned more in those two years than in any other equal period of my life,” Tolkien later said. (Years later, Tolkien spoofed his editors in a comic fable called Farmer Giles of Ham.)

9. The longest entry in the OED is for a three-letter word.

The most complicated word in the Oxford English Dictionary? Set. In the dictionary’s 1989 edition, the three-letter word contains 430 senses (that is, shades of meaning) and requires a 60,000-word definition. Other short words with endless definitions? Run (396 senses), go (368 senses), and take (343 senses).

10. The most popular edition of the OED was impossible to read with the naked eye.

Originally, the OED had a limited audience. Not only was a set of books expensive, it was also bulky and took up an entire bookshelf. In 1971, the Oxford University Press decided to publish a smaller, complete version that compressed nine pages into one. The text was so tiny that the two-volume book came with a magnifying glass. It quickly became one of the bestselling dictionaries on the market.

11. Digitizing the OED took a lot of work.

In the late 1980s, it took more than 120 typists, 55 proofreaders, and a total of 67 million keystrokes to digitize the entire contents of the Oxford English Dictionary. The process took 18 months.

12. Shakespeare isn’t the OED's most quoted source.

The OED's most quoted source is, in fact, the British daily newspaper The Times, which has 42,840 quotations (nearly 10,000 more than William Shakespeare). Coming in third and fourth are the Scottish novelist Walter Scott and the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, respectively. When it comes to coining and introducing new words, Shakespeare isn’t first in that arena either; that honor belongs to Geoffrey Chaucer.

13. The last word in the OED is totally buggy.

Each year, about 2000 to 5000 new words, senses, and subentries are added to the Oxford English Dictionary. For years, the last word in the book was zynthum, a type of malty beer made in ancient Egypt. But in 2017, zynthum was usurped by zyzzyva, a type of South African weevil.

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