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

iStock.com/yanishka
iStock.com/yanishka

The Indian Army resurrected an old debate when it tweeted pictures of an alleged Yeti footprint from its official Twitter account on April 29, 2019. Despite scientific evidence showing that most traces of "Yetis" actually come from Himalayan bears, many people are still convinced of the existence of the cryptid. For others, claims of sightings like this one prompt a simpler question: What's the difference between the Yeti, the Abominable Snowman, and Bigfoot?

Whether they're said to trod through snow or skulk in swamps, stories of mysterious ape men are a common theme throughout the world. The Yeti is 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 last 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.

Thus, "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.

This story was updated and republished in 2019.

Is There An International Standard Governing Scientific Naming Conventions?

iStock/Grafissimo
iStock/Grafissimo

Jelle Zijlstra:

There are lots of different systems of scientific names with different conventions or rules governing them: chemicals, genes, stars, archeological cultures, and so on. But the one I'm familiar with is the naming system for animals.

The modern naming system for animals derives from the works of the 18th-century Swedish naturalist Carl von Linné (Latinized to Carolus Linnaeus). Linnaeus introduced the system of binominal nomenclature, where animals have names composed of two parts, like Homo sapiens. Linnaeus wrote in Latin and most his names were of Latin origin, although a few were derived from Greek, like Rhinoceros for rhinos, or from other languages, like Sus babyrussa for the babirusa (from Malay).

Other people also started using Linnaeus's system, and a system of rules was developed and eventually codified into what is now called the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). In this case, therefore, there is indeed an international standard governing naming conventions. However, it does not put very strict requirements on the derivation of names: they are merely required to be in the Latin alphabet.

In practice a lot of well-known scientific names are derived from Greek. This is especially true for genus names: Tyrannosaurus, Macropus (kangaroos), Drosophila (fruit flies), Caenorhabditis (nematode worms), Peromyscus (deermice), and so on. Species names are more likely to be derived from Latin (e.g., T. rex, C. elegans, P. maniculatus, but Drosophila melanogaster is Greek again).

One interesting pattern I've noticed in mammals is that even when Linnaeus named the first genus in a group by a Latin name, usually most later names for related genera use Greek roots instead. For example, Linnaeus gave the name Mus to mice, and that is still the genus name for the house mouse, but most related genera use compounds of the Greek-derived root -mys (from μῦς), which also means "mouse." Similarly, bats for Linnaeus were Vespertilio, but there are many more compounds of the Greek root -nycteris (νυκτερίς); pigs are Sus, but compounds usually use Greek -choerus (χοῖρος) or -hys/-hyus (ὗς); weasels are Mustela but compounds usually use -gale or -galea (γαλέη); horses are Equus but compounds use -hippus (ἵππος).

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

Can Soap Get Dirty?

iStock/vintagerobot
iStock/vintagerobot

When you see lovely little bars of lemon-thyme or lavender hand soaps on the rim of a sink, you know they are there to make you feel as fresh as a gardenia-scented daisy. We all know washing our hands is important, but, like washcloths and towels, can the bars of hand soap we use to clean ourselves become dirty as well?

Soaps are simply mixtures of sodium or potassium salts derived from fatty acids and alkali solutions during a process called saponification. Each soap molecule is made of a long, non-polar, hydrophobic (repelled by water) hydrocarbon chain (the "tail") capped by a polar, hydrophilic (water-soluble) "salt" head. Because soap molecules have both polar and non-polar properties, they're great emulsifiers, which means they can disperse one liquid into another.

When you wash your dirty hands with soap and water, the tails of the soap molecules are repelled by water and attracted to oils, which attract dirt. The tails cluster together and form structures called micelles, trapping the dirt and oils. The micelles are negatively charged and soluble in water, so they repel each other and remain dispersed in water—and can easily be washed away.

So, yes, soap does indeed get dirty. That's sort of how it gets your hands clean: by latching onto grease, dirt and oil more strongly than your skin does. Of course, when you're using soap, you're washing all those loose, dirt-trapping, dirty soap molecules away, but a bar of soap sitting on the bathroom counter or liquid soap in a bottle can also be contaminated with microorganisms.

This doesn't seem to be much of a problem, though. In the few studies that have been done on the matter, test subjects were given bars of soap laden with E. coli and other bacteria and instructed to wash up. None of the studies found any evidence of bacteria transfer from the soap to the subjects' hands. (It should be noted that two of these studies were conducted by Procter & Gamble and the Dial Corp., though no contradictory evidence has been found.)

Dirty soap can't clean itself, though. A contaminated bar of soap gets cleaned via the same mechanical action that helps clean you up when you wash your hands: good ol' fashioned scrubbing. The friction from rubbing your hands against the soap, as well as the flushing action of running water, removes any harmful microorganisms from both your hands and the soap and sends them down the drain.

This story was updated in 2019.

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