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A Brief History of ‘God Bless America’

In 1918, Jewish immigrant Irving Berlin was serving the U.S. Army at Camp Upton in Yaphank, New York when he started composing a Ziegfeld Follies-style revue for the soldiers. For its finale, he penned a little diddy called “God Bless America.”

Berlin didn’t end up using tune, and didn’t think of it much again until about two decades later. With World War II looming, the songwriter wanted to pen an anthem rallying for harmony. “I’d like to write a great peace song,” he said, “but it’s hard to do, because you have trouble dramatizing peace.”

He dug up his discarded musical number from the WWI revue, and Kate Smith ultimately debuted the revised version on her radio show on Armistice Day in 1938. She reportedly said: “As I stand before the microphone and sing it with all my heart, I’ll be thinking of our veterans and I’ll be praying with every breath I draw that we shall never have another war.”

The new song had a few modifications. Among other things, to avoid any confusion regarding politics, Berlin changed the phrase “to the right” to “through the light” by the time the sheet music was published. The song was a fast sensation. It was featured a few years later in 1943’s This is the Army (appropriately starring Ronald Reagan), which is where the above clip comes from.

Smith and Berlin would later squabble over proprietorship, foreshadowing a bit of the kind of contention the song would continue to engender for many years to come. It’s seen a complicated history, and the phrase itself occupies a strange place in the American zeitgeist. And while those in the political landscape argue over its meaning and ownership, it’s technically the property of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of New York City. Berlin established the God Bless America Fund in 1940, and its royalties go directly to the young adult organizations. An estimated $10 million in profits have gone to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in the decades since.

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26 Facts About LEGO Bricks

Since it first added plastic, interlocking bricks to its lineup, the Danish toy company LEGO (from the words Leg Godt for “play well”) has inspired builders of all ages to bring their most imaginative designs to life. Sets have ranged in size from scenes that can be assembled in a few minutes to 5000-piece behemoths depicting famous landmarks. And tinkerers aren’t limited to the sets they find in stores. One of the largest LEGO creations was a life-sized home in the UK that required 3.2 million tiny bricks to construct.

In this episode of the List Show, John Green lays out 26 playful facts about one of the world’s most beloved toy brands. To hear about the LEGO black market, the vault containing every LEGO set ever released, and more, check out the video above then subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay up-to-date with the latest flossy content.

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Of Buckeyes and Butternuts: 29 States With Weird Nicknames for Their Residents
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Tracing a word’s origin and evolution can yield fascinating historical insights—and the weird nicknames used in some states to describe their residents are no exception. In the Mental Floss video above, host John Green explains the probable etymologies of 29 monikers that describe inhabitants of certain states across the country.

Some of these nicknames, like “Hoosiers” and “Arkies” (which denote residents of Indiana and Arkansas, respectively) may have slightly offensive connotations, while others—including "Buckeyes," "Jayhawks," "Butternuts," and "Tar Heels"—evoke the military histories of Ohio, Kansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. And a few, like “Muskrats” and “Sourdoughs,” are even inspired by early foods eaten in Delaware and Alaska. ("Goober-grabber" sounds goofier, but it at least refers to peanuts, which are a common crop in Georgia, as well as North Carolina and Arkansas.)

Learn more fascinating facts about states' nicknames for their residents by watching the video above.

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