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.

Why Do We Wear Costumes on Halloween?

nito100/iStock via Getty Images
nito100/iStock via Getty Images

There’s no one explanation for how Halloween costumes originated. Much like the holiday itself, the practice of dressing up is the result of a hodgepodge of traditions from around the world.

Many historians suspect that the tradition has some basis in the Celtic festival of Samhain (also called Calan Gaeaf in Wales). Celebrated between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, Samhain marks the official start of winter—known to the Celts as the “dark season.” During Samhain, “the world of the gods was believed to be made visible to humankind,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

That wasn’t a comfort to the ancient Celts, who believed their deities were prone to playing tricks on human worshippers. Many festival participants disguised themselves as animals or beasts, hoping to hide from malevolent spirits who might bring them misfortune.

Move forward a few centuries and the modern-day practice of dressing up and trick-or-treating has its roots in the European custom of “mumming and guising.” Mummers would dress up in costumes, often woven from straw, and perform plays and songs for neighbors in exchange for food. Scottish and Irish immigrants brought that tradition to North America, where it later morphed into what we now know as trick-or-treating.

Halloween costumes didn’t experience their true heyday until the mid-1900s, though. For that, you can thank New York City entrepreneurs Ben and Nat Cooper, who started a company producing pop culture-themed costumes at a low cost. Ben Cooper, Inc., found a niche in helping kids become the characters they admired from television and comic books, often purchasing merchandising rights before said characters ever became popular. Due in no small part to the Cooper family’s innovation, Halloween costumes became an accessible and even necessary part of holiday festivities.

Today, Halloween costumes are big business. The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend about $3.2 billion on costumes this year (of that, about half a billion will go to costuming pets). You have to wonder what the ancient Celts would have thought about today’s Halloween costumes.

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What's the Difference Between a College and a University?

Chinnapong/iStock via Getty Images
Chinnapong/iStock via Getty Images

Going off to college is a milestone in any young adult’s life. The phrase itself conjures up images of newfound independence, exposure to new perspectives, knowledge, and possibly even one or more sips of alcohol.

In America, however, few people use the phrase “going off to university,” or “headed to university,” even if they are indeed about to set off for, say, Harvard University. Why did college become the predominant term for postsecondary education? And is there any difference between the two institutions?

While university appears to be the older of the two terms, dating as far back as the 13th century, schools and students in North America have embraced college to describe most places of higher learning. There is no rigid definition of the words, but there are some general attributes for each. A college is typically a four-year school that offers undergraduate degrees like an associate or a bachelor’s. (Community colleges are often two-year schools.) They don’t typically offer master’s or doctorates, and the size of their student body is typically the smaller of the two.

Universities, on the other hand, tend to offer both undergraduate and graduate programs leading to advanced degrees for a larger group of students. They can also be comprised of several schools—referred to as colleges—under their umbrella. A university could offer both a school of arts and sciences and a school of business. The University of Michigan has a College of Engineering, for example.

While many of these traits are common, they’re not guaranteed. Some colleges can be bigger than universities, some might offer master’s degrees, and so on. To complicate matters further, an institution that fits the criteria of a university might choose to call itself a college. Both Dartmouth College and Boston College qualify as universities but use the college label owing to tradition. Schools may begin as colleges, grow into universities, but retain the original name.

People tend to think of a university as being more prestigious or harder to get into, but there are too many variables to make that determination at a glance. Some colleges might ask more of applicants than universities. Some universities might be smaller than certain colleges. Either one can be public or private.

Things get a little more convoluted abroad. In the UK, students go off to university (or uni) instead of college. The British version of college is typically a two-year program where students either focus on learning one particular skill set (much like a vocational school) or use the time to prepare for exams so that they can advance to university. Language matters, too; in Spanish, colegio usually refers to high school.

While the terms aren’t strictly interchangeable, there is enough of a difference between the two to try and make the distinction. Keep in mind that some states, like New Jersey, have rules about how institutions label themselves. There, a university has to have at least three fields of graduate study leading to advanced degrees.

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