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What's the Difference Between the Yeti, the Abominable Snowman, and Bigfoot?

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Whether they're said to trod through snow or skulk in swamps, stories of mysterious ape men are a common theme throughout the world. Hairy humanoid cryptids go by dozens of monikers—many have remained local legends (Skunk Ape, Yowie, Moehau aren’t exactly household names) while others have incited curiosity far beyond their supposed territories. A few mythical creatures that should sound familiar to skeptics and believers alike are the Yeti, Bigfoot, and the Abominable Snowman. While these beasts share plenty of similarities, each has a unique origin story.

Let’s start with the Yeti, the oldest legend of the bunch. Lore of a man-like beast in the Himalayas has its roots in pre-Buddhist religion. The Lepcha people recognized a supernatural “Glacier Being” as one of their hunting gods and the ruler of all the forest’s creatures. It wasn’t until later that an early version of the term “Yeti” emerged. Most experts believe it derives from a Sherpa word, possibly yeh-teh meaning “small, man-like animal” or meti meaning “bear.” The Yeti starred as the antagonist of many cautionary folk tales shared by the Sherpa people. In their legends, the creature was depicted as an apelike man who left large tracks in the snow.

The phrase Abominable Snowman appeared relatively recently, and was born out of a messy mistranslation. In 1921, a contributor to an Indian English-language newspaper interviewed explorers returning from the British Mount Everest Reconnaissance Expedition. They spoke of seeing large footprints on the mountain their guides attributed to Metoh-Kangmi. Kangmi translates to “Snowman” and Metoh to “Man-Bear”— the writer got the half of that equation right but misinterpreted metoh as “filthy.” Instead of writing “Filthy Snowman” he decided he liked the sound of “Abominable” better and the nickname stuck

“Abominable Snowman” and “Yeti” are basically different names for the same legend, but Bigfoot is a different beast altogether. Like the Yeti, Sasquatch, later dubbed “Bigfoot,” is believed to be a large, shaggy primate that walks upright like a man. The main difference between the two mythical animals is their location. While the Yeti belongs to Asia, Bigfoot is thought to be native to North America, specifically the Pacific Northwest. Tales of ape-like wild men inhabiting that region can be traced back to indigenous communities—“Sasquatch” is derived from sésquac, a Halkomelem word meaning “wild man”—but the name “Bigfoot” is a 20th century original invention.

Once again we have a creative journalist to thank for the popular title. In 1958, a man discovered large, unidentifiable footprints left near his bulldozer in Bluff Creek, California. He made a cast of the prints and got himself featured in the local paper. By this time people in the community were referring to the mysterious owner of the massive tracks as “Big Foot.” The writer of the article spelled it “Bigfoot” and the rest was history.

Despite originating thousands of miles apart, some modern-day believers suspect that the creatures belong to one species. One popular theory is that Bigfoot and the Abominable Snowman/Yeti are both Gigantopithecus, a polar bear-sized ape native to southern Asia believed to have gone extinct 300,000 years ago. While chances are slim that the species migrated to North America with its homo sapiens relatives, that hasn’t stopped many cryptozoology enthusiasts from wanting to believe.

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Why Is the American Flag Displayed Backwards on Military Uniforms?
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In 1968, famed activist Abbie Hoffman decided to crash a meeting of the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington by showing up in a shirt depicting the American flag. Hoffman was quickly surrounded by police, who ripped his shirt off and arrested him for desecration of the Red, White, and Blue.

Hoffman’s arrest is notable today because, while it might be unpatriotic to some, wearing the American flag, burning it, or otherwise disrespecting it is not a violation of any federal law. In 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that it would be unconstitutional to prosecute any such action. Still, Americans have very fervent and strict attitudes toward displaying the flag, a longstanding symbol of our country’s freedom. According to the U.S. Flag Code, which was first published in 1923, you shouldn’t let the flag touch the ground or hang it upside-down. While there’s no express prohibition about reversing the image, it’s probably a safe bet you shouldn’t do that, either.

Yet branches of the U.S. military are often spotted with a seeming mirror reflection of the flag on their right shoulder. If you look at a member in profile, the canton—the rectangle with the stars—is on the right. Isn’t that backwards? Shouldn’t it look like the flag on the left shoulder?

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Not really. The flag is actually facing forward, and it’s not an optical illusion.

When a service member marches or walks forward, they assume the position of a flagpole, with the flag sewn on their uniform meant to resemble a flag flapping in the breeze. With the canton on the right, the flag would be fluttering behind them. If it were depicted with the canton on the left, the flag would be flying backward—as though it had been hung by the stripes instead of the stars nearest to the pole. The position of the flag is noted in Army Regulation 670-1, mandating the star field should face forward. The official term for this depiction is “reverse side flag.”

As for Hoffman: His conviction was overturned on appeal. In 1970, while at a flag-themed art show in New York, he was invited to get up and speak. He wore a flag shirt for the occasion.

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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What Causes Sinkholes?
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Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

This week, a sinkhole opened up on the White House lawn—likely the result of excess rainfall on the "legitimate swamp" surrounding the storied building, a geologist told The New York Times. While the event had some suggesting we call for Buffy's help, sinkholes are pretty common. In the past few days alone, cavernous maws in the earth have appeared in Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, and of course Florida, home to more sinkholes than any other state.

Sinkholes have gulped down suburban homes, cars, and entire fields in the past. How does the ground just open up like that?

Sinkholes are a simple matter of cause and effect. Urban sinkholes may be directly traced to underground water main breaks or collapsed sewer pipelines, into which city sidewalks crumple in the absence of any structural support. In more rural areas, such catastrophes might be attributed to abandoned mine shafts or salt caverns that can't take the weight anymore. These types of sinkholes are heavily influenced by human action, but most sinkholes are unpredictable, inevitable natural occurrences.

Florida is so prone to sinkholes because it has the misfortune of being built upon a foundation of limestone—solid rock, but the kind that is easily dissolved by acidic rain or groundwater. The karst process, in which the mildly acidic water wears away at fractures in the limestone, leaves empty space where there used to be stone, and even the residue is washed away. Any loose soil, grass, or—for example—luxury condominiums perched atop the hole in the ground aren't left with much support. Just as a house built on a weak foundation is more likely to collapse, the same is true of the ground itself. Gravity eventually takes its toll, aided by natural erosion, and so the hole begins to sink.

About 10 percent of the world's landscape is composed of karst regions. Despite being common, sinkholes' unforeseeable nature serves as proof that the ground beneath our feet may not be as solid as we think.

A version of this story originally ran in 2014.

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