TIME Culture

The Dark Origins of 11 Classic Nursery Rhymes

The origins of 'Jack and Jill' aren’t as clean-cut as you imagined

In the canon of great horror writing, Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Bram Stoker, and Mary Shelley tend to dominate the craft. But Mother Goose isn’t too far behind. Yes, that fictional grande dame of kiddie poems has got a bit of a dark streak, as evidenced by the unexpectedly sinister theories surrounding the origins of these 11 well-known nursery rhymes.

  • 1. Baa, Baa, Black Sheep (1731)

    Though most scholars agree that “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” is about the Great Custom, a tax on wool that was introduced in 1275, its use of the color black and the word “master” led some to wonder whether there was a racial message at its center. Its political correctness was called into question yet again in the latter part of the 20th century, with some schools banning it from being repeated in classrooms, and others simply switching out the word “black” for something deemed less offensive. In 2011, news.com.au reported on the proliferation of “Baa, Baa Rainbow Sheep” as an alternative.

  • 2. Goosey Goosey Gander (1784)

    It’s hard to imagine that any rhyme with the phrase “goosey goosey” in its title could be described as anything but feel good. But it’s actually a tale of religious persecution, during the days when Catholic priests would hide themselves in order to say their Latin-based prayers, a major no-no at the time—not even in the privacy of one’s own home. In the original version, the narrator comes upon an old man “who wouldn’t say his prayers. So I took him by his left leg. And threw him down the stairs.” Ouch!

  • 3. Jack and Jill (1765)

    Admit it, you fooled around with the lyrics to “Jack and Jill” a bit yourself when you were younger, turning what you thought was an innocent poem into something a little bit naughty. But its origins aren’t as clean-cut as you probably imagined. One of the most common theories surrounding the story’s origin is that it’s about France’s Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, who were both found guilty of treason and subsequently beheaded. The only problem is that those events occurred nearly 30 years after “Jack and Jill” was first written. The more likely possibility is that it’s an account of King Charles I’s attempt to reform the tax on liquid measures. When Parliament rejected his suggestion, he instead made sure that the volume was reduced on half- and quarter-pints, known as jacks and gills, respectively.

  • 4. London Bridge Is Falling Down (1744)

    In 2006, Fergie got saucy with some of this classic kid tune’s lyrics. But the original song wasn’t much better. Depending on whom you ask, “London Bridge is Falling Down” could be about a 1014 Viking attack, child sacrifice, or the normal deterioration of an old bridge. But the most popular theory seems to be that first one. More specifically: the alleged destruction of London Bridge at the hands of Olaf II of Norway some time in the early 1000s. (“Alleged” because some historians don’t believe that attack ever took place.) The song’s popularity around the world is often cited as further proof that it was the Vikings who created it, believing that they brought the tune to the many places they traveled. Oh, and that whole child sacrifice thing? That’s an idea that is also often debated (there’s no archaeological evidence to support it), but the theory goes that in order to keep London Bridge upright, its builders believed that it must be built on a foundation of human sacrifice, and that those same humans—mostly children—would help to watch over the bridge and maintain its sturdiness. Which we’re pretty sure isn’t a practice they teach you in architecture school.

  • 5. Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary (1744)

    “Contrary” is one way to describe a murderous psychopath. This popular English nursery rhyme, which reads like a solicitation for gardening advice, is actually a recounting of the homicidal nature of Queen Mary I of England, a.k.a. Bloody Mary. A fierce believer in Catholicism, her reign as queen—from 1553 to 1558—was marked by the execution of hundreds of Protestants. (Silver bells and cockle shells are torture devices, not garden accouterments.)

  • 6. Three Blind Mice (1805)

    “Three Blind Mice” is supposedly yet another ode to Bloody Mary’s reign, with the trio in question believed to be a group of Protestant bishops—Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Radley, and The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer—who (unsuccessfully) conspired to overthrow the queen and were burned at the stake for their heresy. Critics suggest that the blindness in the title refers to their religious beliefs.

  • 7. Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo

    No, there’s nothing particularly inflammatory about the lines “Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo, Catch a tiger by his toe.” But there is when you consider that the word “tiger” is a relatively new development in this counting rhyme, as a replacement for the n-word. Even with the lyrical switch-out, any reference to the poem still has the ability to offend. In 2004, two passengers sued Southwest Airlines was for intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress, following an incident where a flight attendant used the rhyme in a humorous fashion during takeoff when she told passengers: “Eeny meeny miny mo, Please sit down it’s time to go.” (The court sided with the airline.)

  • 8. Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1840)

    “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush” is often sung as part of a children’s game. According to historian R. S. Duncan, a former governor of England’s Wakefield Prison, the song originated with that 420-year-old institution’s female prisoners, who were exercised around a mulberry tree. Which is probably not the connotation your six-year-old self had in mind.

  • 9. Rock-a-Bye Baby (1765)

    One interpretation of this famous lullaby is that it is about the son of King James II of England and Mary of Modena. It is widely believed that the boy was not their son at all, but a child who was brought into the birthing room and passed off as their own in order to ensure a Roman Catholic heir to the throne.

  • 10. Ring Around the Rosie (1881)

    Considering that some of today’s classic nursery rhymes are more than two centuries old, there are often several theories surrounding their origins—and not a lot of sound proof about which argument is correct. But of all the alleged nursery rhyme backstories, “Ring Around the Rosie” is probably the most infamous. Though its lyrics and even its title have gone through some changes over the years, the most popular contention is that the sing-songy verse refers to the 1665 Great Plague of London.“The rosie” is the rash that covered the afflicted, the smell from which they attempted to cover up with “a pocket full of posies.” The plague killed nearly 15 percent of the country’s population, which makes the final verse—“Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down”—rather self-explanatory.

    But Snopes labels this reading false, and quotes folklorist Philip Hiscock with a more likely suggestion: That the nursery rhyme probably has its origins “in the religious ban on dancing among many Protestants in the nineteenth century, in Britain as well as here in North America. Adolescents found a way around the dancing ban with what was called in the United States the ‘play-party.’ Play-parties consisted of ring games which differed from square dances only in their name and their lack of musical accompaniment. They were hugely popular, and younger children got into the act, too.”

  • 11. Old Mother Hubbard (1805)

    To many, “Old Mother Hubbard” is not a mother at all—nor a woman. The poem is speculated to have been written as a mockery of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, whose refusal to grant an annulment to King Henry VIII, so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, led to his political downfall.

    This article originally appeared on Mental Floss.

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TIME Books

30 of the Best Parents in Literature

Atticus Finch ranks at the top as one of the great heroes and parents of American literature

It’s hard to find good parents in fiction. A lot of books deal either with the lack of a parent or a parent’s complete unsuitability for the role. But there are a few good ones out there, parents who make you think, “Gee, I wish my parents were like that.” Behold: Parents (or parental types) we wish were ours—or that we wish we could be.

  • 1. Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird

    to-kill-a-mockingbird-cover
    HarperLuxe 'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee

    The widowed father of Jem and Scout, Atticus Finch is one of the great heroes of American literature. Steering his young children along the path of moral rectitude is hard in the Jim Crow South, and when Atticus, a lawyer, unsuccessfully defends an innocent black man from charges that he raped a white woman, it becomes even more difficult. But his own belief in rightness, morality, and good, even in the face of an unfair world, is communicated to his kids—and to the world. His impact on the legal profession, especially in the South, was also profound: The Atticus Finch Society, part of the Alabama Law Foundation, was founded to serve the legal needs of the poor and named after a fictional lawyer who “epitomizes the type of professional, and person, lawyers strive to be.”

  • 2. and 3. Alex and Kate Murry from A Wrinkle in Time

    a-wrinkle-in-time-cover
    Time Quintet 'A Wrinkle in Time' by Madeleine L'Engle

    Tesseracts are real, and Meg and Charles Murry’s scientist father has disappeared into one—and it’s up to these two brilliant but socially awkward children to save him. When it was published in 1962, A Wrinkle in Time was a sci-fi gift to all those nerdy kids out there for whom Star Trek hadn’t yet been invented. And the Murry parents—beautiful and smart microbiologist Kate and tesseract physicist Alex—made being scientists seem so cool. Who wouldn’t want parents like that?

  • 4. and 5. The Weasleys from Harry Potter Series

    harry-potter-last-book-cover
    Scholastic 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' by J.K. Rowling

    Harry Potter wanted them to adopt him—and we wouldn’t mind either. Though Harry was already remarkably well-adjusted for a child who’d been forced to sleep in a spider-filled cupboard under the stairs, his friendship with the Weasleys showed him what a loving family really looked like. Mom Molly was kind, fiercely protective of her children—her battle with Bellatrix Lestrange in the final book was immensely satisfying—and knitted a mean jumper. Dad Arthur was slightly bumbling, loved Muggle stuff, and was still a kid at heart. Best of all, they loved each other as much as they loved their children.

  • 6. Marmee from Little Women

    little-women-cover
    Penguin Books Australia 'Little Women' by Louisa May Alcott

    Marmee is the glue that holds the Little Women together through the Civil War and their father’s long absence. Kind and charitable, she’s their moral compass, their comfort in troubled times. Without her, the four girls—Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth—are lost.

  • 7. and 8. Mr. and Mrs. Little from Stuart Little

    stuart-little-book-cover
    Harper & Row 'Stuart Little' by E.B. White

    Interspecies procreation is typically cause for concern, but not for Mr. and Mrs. Little. When their son, Stuart, was born a mouse, the kind (though perhaps a bit dense) Littles treated him just like any other member of the family. A member of the family who had a long tail, whiskers, slept in a cigarette box and could climb up lamp cords.

  • 9. and 10. Ma and Pa Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie

    little-house-prairie-cover
    HarperCollins 'Little House on the Prairie' by Laura Ingalls Wilder

    Though Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories of growing up in the Indian Territory, now Kansas, in the mid- to late-19th century are actually autobiographical, the books tend to be found in the children’s fiction part of the bookstore, so they make the list. Pa was a true pioneer with a serious case of wanderlust: He could build a house by hand and skin a rabbit, but still remained a gentleman, kind, courteous and upstanding. Ma Ingalls, a true pioneer wife, instructed her children to treat others with care.

  • 11. and 12. Mr. and Mrs. Quimby from Ramona Series

    ramona-collection-cover
    HarperCollins 'The Complete Ramona Collection' by Beverly Cleary

    Ramona Quimby, age 8, is a bit of a handful. Her imagination—and she’s got lots of it—often gets her into situations, like the time she went to school with her pajamas under her clothes because she was pretending to be a fireman. Or the time she put her doll in the oven. Or the time she squeezed an entire tube of toothpaste into the sink.

    Her parents, Bob and Dorothy, meanwhile, are real parents, who have to deal with real things like quitting smoking, having children young, getting laid off, and 8-year-olds who accidentally dye themselves blue. And they even get in fights, like real parents do. But throughout it all, they manage to remain patient and affectionate with their children; they’re not perfect, but they’re pretty good.

  • 13. – 16. Baloo the Bear, Bagheera the Black Panther, and the Wolves from The Jungle Book

    jungle-book-cover
    Dover Publications 'The Jungle Book' by Rudyard Kipling

    After they save him from becoming tiger Shere Khan’s meal, Father Wolf and Mother Wolf raise the hairless man-cub Mowgli as one of their own. But it’s up to Baloo the sleepy bear and Bagheera the panther to teach the boy the Law of the Jungle—thereby becoming the coolest godparents in the world.

  • 17. and 18. The Gilbreths from Cheaper by the Dozen

    cheaper-by-the-dozen-cover
    Crowell Co 'Cheaper By the Dozen' by Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

    So, the Gilbreths were actual people, not fiction, and this charming book, published in 1948, is a biography written by their children. But—and we mean this as a compliment—the parents are so lovely as to almost seem made up. Frank Gilbreth and his wife, Lillian, are world-famous efficiency experts whose studies in time and motion changed the way people worked. If Frank had his way, they would have also changed the way people raised children, especially after their incredible fecundity produced 12 kids. Having an even dozen children meant that the Gilbreths could apply some of their expertise in their Montclair, New Jersey, home. Hilarity ensues, as does an overwhelming sense of warmth and happiness.

    The two children wrote a follow up book, Belles on Their Toes, recounting what happened after Frank’s death in 1924, which left Lillian with a house full of children, the youngest just 2 years old, and a business to run. Mother Lillian managed to keep it all together, with good humor and warmth, and the book manages to stay away from the maudlin.

  • 19. and 20. The Cuthberts from Anne of Green Gables

    anne-green-gables-cover
    Random House Children's Books 'Anne of Green Gables' by L.M. Montgomery

    In L.M. Montgomery’s series about the red-haired orphan Anne Shirley, the Cuthberts are a brother and sister who, living together alone on their Prince Edward Island farm with no prospective children, decide they need to take in an orphan to help out with the work. They’d wanted a boy; they got Anne—spirited, imaginative, dramatic Anne. The two grow to love and care for her deeply in different ways: Where Matthew quietly encourages Anne’s flights of fancy and frivolity, Marilla offers a steely structure and hidden warmth. Matthew’s death from a heart attack at the end of Anne of Green Gables, the first book in the series, is eye-wateringly tragic, but Anne’s devotion to stern Marilla is a testament to the strength of their relationship.

  • 21. and 22. Caractacus and Mimsie Pott from Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car

    chitty-chitty-bang-bang-cover
    Candlewick 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' by Ian Fleming

    To be clear: this is not the Disney film Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang featuring Dick Van Dyke (although having most any character Dick Van Dyke has ever played as a father would be pretty great, from Rob Petrie to Bert to Mark Sloan). In Ian Fleming’s 1964 children’s book, Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang: The Magical Car, there are two Potts, mother Mimsie and father Caractacus, a Royal Navy Commander and crack-pot inventor who comes across the magnificent car with a rich inner life of its own. Potts is a fun dad, one who tells his children, “Never say ‘no’ to adventures. Always say ‘yes,’ otherwise you’ll lead a very dull life.” When their twin 8-year-old boy and girl are kidnapped by gangsters with a dastardly plan to rob a Parisian chocolate shop, the Potts and their loyal car set off to rescue them. International intrigue and gadgetized cars are pure vintage Fleming, but the love between an adventurous father and his children speaks to the Bond author’s softer side—he wrote the book for his own son, Caspar, but died before seeing it in print.

  • 23. Carson Drew from The Nancy Drew Mystery Series

    nancy-drew-mystery
    Grosset & Dunlap 'The Secret of the Old Clock' by Carolyn Keene

    Nancy Drew, the great girl detective, wouldn’t have been quite so successful if it hadn’t been for both the encouragement and neglect of her father, important River Heights lawyer Carson Drew. The elder Drew’s attitude towards his daughter changed as the book series continued, possibly due in part to changing parental attitudes—leaving your 16-year-old daughter to her own devices while you’re away on business is the kind of thing that seemed like a good idea before Facebook and hashtag parties. But throughout, he remained a supporter of his sleuth daughter, encouraging her exploits, helping her figure out clues, and even relying on her when he needed help himself.

  • 24. and 25. Ben Moore and Cillian Boyd from The Knife of Never Letting Go, Chaos Walking Series

    the-knife-of-never-letting-go-cover
    Candlewick 'The Knife of Never Letting Go' by Patrick Ness

    Raising a child right is hard enough; raising him right when everything around you is so incredibly wrong is even more difficult. In Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first in the masterful Chaos Walking trilogy, Todd Hewitt, nearly 13, is the last boy in Prentisstown, a damned settlement on a new world where the women and half the men were killed nearly a decade before. The remaining men are afflicted with “the Noise”—the constant cacophony of the thoughts of almost every living thing around. Ben Moore and Cillian Boyd are Todd’s adoptive parents, who took him in when his own were killed. But since then, while they’ve raised him, loved him, literally listened to every thought in his head, and instilled in him a sense of morality, they’ve been secretly plotting his escape … even though it almost surely means their own deaths.

  • 26. Sam Gribley’s Dad from My Side of the Mountain

    my-side-mountain-cover
    Puffin Books 'My Side of the Mountain' by Jean Craighead George

    Talk about free-range parenting. When Sam Gribley gets tired of living in his large family’s overcrowded New York apartment, he does what any self-sufficient 12-year-old would do: Teaches himself wilderness survival from a book he found in the public library and sells magazine subscriptions until he can afford a bus ticket to the Catskills, where he plans to live off the land at his family’s abandoned farm. And his dad lets him. No, really. But what could have become a tale of terrible parental irresponsibility is, in fact, a story of one boy’s self-reliance and passion for nature and the parent who trusted him enough to let him dive off the grid. In the end, Dad Gribley, inspired by Sam, decides that living in the city is no place for a family and moves the entire brood up to the abandoned farm. Fresh air for all!

  • 27. Mame Dennis from Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade

    auntie_mame
    Broadway Books 'Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade' by Patrick Dennis

    The flamboyant, eccentric, wonderful Auntie Mame of the 1955 book of the same title is absolutely the kind of accidental parent we’d love to have. In 1928, 10-year-old Patrick Dennis becomes the ward of his father’s unflappable flapper sister, Mame Dennis, after his parents’ deaths. Hers is a boozy, glamorous world populated by artists, poets, and bohemians that, to conventional types at least, would hardly seem suitable for a little boy. Yet Mame carves out a place for Patrick—involving a truly avant garde nude elementary school, among other things—and their tender relationship endures Mame’s scandalous society and wild whims, her rich husband who fell off the Matterhorn, and even Patrick’s atrocious fiancé.

    The book was a sort of quasi-fictional memoir and “Patrick Dennis” was the pseudonym of the enormously witty Edward Everett Tanner III, who based Mame on his own aunt, the self-described “ultimate Greenwich Village eccentric” Marion Tanner. Tanner’s own life was no less a study in eccentricity: He was an ambulance driver in World War II, wrote numerous best-selling books under pseudonyms, led, as his Random House biography says, “a double life as a bisexual man and a conventional husband and father,” and was a character of some renown in New York’s bohemian scene until financial ruin led him to spend the last years of his life as a butler in Palm Beach.

  • 28. Katie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

    a-tree-grows-in-brooklyn-cover
    Harper 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' by Betty Smith

    In Betty Smith’s 1943 coming of age novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, protagonist Francie’s favorite parent, the parent who seems to get her, isn’t her mother, Katie; it’s her creative, sentimental father, Johnny. But after Johnny’s alcoholism consumes him, making it virtually impossible for him to hold a job, it’s Katie who keeps the family afloat. Katie’s grit and determination that her children should have a better life than she had is the kind of tough love that gives Francie the tools she’ll need to survive.

  • 29. Mrs. Frisby from Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh

    mrs-frisby-rats-nimh-cover
    Aladdin 'Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh' by Robert C. O'Brien

    Sometimes being a parent is about doing things that absolutely terrify you for the good of your children. Mrs. Frisby, heroine of Robert O’Brien’s 1971 children’s book about the wonder and horror of scientific experimentation, is kind, sweet, and, when it comes down to it, tough as nails. Though the titular “rats of NIMH” had the benefit of laboratory experimentation that made them super smart and super strong (although possessing a somewhat questionable moral compass), Mrs. Frisby is just a regular field mouse. Still, it’s her bravery – drugging a cat! – and selflessness that saves her family and the rats themselves. Hats off to you, Mrs. F.!

  • 30. The Man from The Road

    the-road-cover
    Vintage Books 'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy

    Like much of his work, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is grim. Really, really grim. But the post-apocalyptic travelogue is also a testament to the love between a father, the unnamed man, and his son. The Man is the kind of parent we’d like to have in the aftermath of some cataclysmic world event. We just desperately hope we wouldn’t ever need him.

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    This article originally appeared on Mental Floss.

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TIME Humor

9 Sounds That No One Can Explain

Have you heard these sounds before?

Everyone has a favorite Wikipedia rabbit hole. Mine is “List of Unexplained Sounds.” I can’t remember how I first made my way to the page, but its array of sonic mysteries has shown me that while space is incredible, our planet is its own frontier of intrigue and unexplainable phenomena.

  • 1. Upsweep

    Upsweep is an unidentified sound that’s existed at least since the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory began recording SOSUS—an underwater sound surveillance system with listening stations around the world—in 1991. The sound “consists of a long train of narrow-band upsweeping sounds of several seconds duration each.” The source location is difficult to identify, but it’s in the Pacific, around the halfway point between Australia and South America. Upsweep changes with the seasons, becoming loudest in spring and autumn, though it isn’t clear why. The leading theory is that it’s related to volcanic activity.

  • 2. The Whistle

    The Whistle was recorded on July 7, 1997, and only one hydrophone—the underwater microphones used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—picked it up. The location is unknown and limited information has made it difficult to speculate on the source.

  • 3. Bloop

    Bloop is the big kahuna in unexplained sounds. In 1997 (a big year for auditory ocean mysteries), an extremely powerful, ultra-low-frequency sound was detected at various listening stations thousands of miles apart and traced to somewhere west of the southern tip of South America. The sound only lasted about a minute and and was heard repeatedly over the summer, but not since. Bloop is generally believed to be the sound of a massive icequake, but scientists haven’t totally ruled out the possibility that the sound originated from something “organic.”

    That’s where things get eerie. If an animal was the source of Bloop, it would have to be larger than a blue whale. The most fanciful of all theories stems from the fact that Bloop’s location is somewhat close to author H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional sunken city of R’lyeh, where the creature known as Cthulhu lies “dead but dreaming.” Cthulhu can best be described as part man, dragon, and octopus, which seems as likely a source as any for the ocean’s greatest aural anomaly.

  • 4. Julia

    Julia was recorded on March 1, 1999, lasted for roughly 15 seconds, and was loud enough to be heard by the entire Equatorial Pacific Ocean hydrophone array. An Antarctic iceberg run aground is the leading suspect for its source.

  • 5. Slow Down

    Slow Down was first recorded on May 19, 1997 and is also credited to an iceberg running aground, though some people insist it might be a giant squid. The sound, lasting about 7 minutes, gradually decreases in frequency, hence the name “slow down.” Like Upsweep, the sound has been heard periodically since it was initially detected.

  • 6. The Hum

    The Hum has been recorded on several occasions, mostly during the last 50 years or so. In these cases, there have been reports of a relentless and troubling low-frequency humming noise that can only heard by a certain portion of the population. It’s difficult to pinpoint when instances of the Hum began, but it’s been well-documented since the 1970s, and since then, cases have popped up all over the world—from Ontario, Canada to Taos, New Mexico to Bristol, England to Largs, Scotland and Auckland, New Zealand.

    In most instances, the affected group only makes up around two percent of the population, but for those individuals, the Hum is largely inescapable and impossible to track. Those affected report never having heard noises before, and say the Hum is generally heard indoors and becomes louder at night. It’s also most common in rural and suburban areas and among people between age 55 and 70.

    Scientists have long investigated the cause of the drone, occasionally tracing it to industrial equipment emitting particular frequencies. For the most part, though, the sound has left the world completely puzzled. The list of other possible culprits is long and wide-ranging—wireless communication devices, power or gas lines, electromagnetic radiation, radio waves, or earth tremors are all suspects. Because the Hum appears and disappears and because the cause may vary from case to case, the phenomenon still baffles researchers. At this point, a few things are clear: The Hum is real and likely a byproduct of 21st-century living.

  • 7. Skyquakes

    Skyquakes, or unexplained sonic booms, have been heard around the world for the last 200 years or so, usually near bodies of water. These headscratchers have been reported on the Ganges in India, the East Coast and inland Finger Lakes of the U.S., near the North Sea, as well as in Australia, Japan, and Italy. The sound—which has been described as mimicking massive thunder or cannon fire—has been chalked up to everything from meteors entering the atmosphere to gas escaping from vents in the Earth’s surface (or the gas exploding after being trapped underwater as a result of biological decay) to earthquakes, military aircraft, underwater caves collapsing, and even a possible byproduct of solar and/or earth magnetic activity.

  • 8. UVB-76

    UVB-76, also known as “The Buzzer,” has been showing up on shortwave radios for decades. It broadcasts at 4625 kHz and after repeated buzzing noises, a voice occasionally reads numbers and names in Russian. The source and purpose has never been determined.

  • 9. 52-Hertz Whale

    This animal, also known as the loneliest whale in the world, calls at a highly unusual 52-hertz, well above the normal frequency. Scientists have been listening to 52-Hertz for decades, and recently, filmmakers raised $400,000 on Kickstarter to seek the mammal out. It should be noted that the fundraiser reached its goal through the help of Leonardo DiCaprio, another mysterious beast.

    This article originally appeared on Mental Floss.

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11 Smells That Are Slowly Disappearing

Remember how those magic markers smelled?

Nothing can trigger a memory so unexpectedly as an aroma. Clove oil immediately transports you to the dentist’s office. Crayola crayons take you back to elementary school. But some fragrances are being phased out of existence thanks to technology and safety regulations. How many of these do you miss?

  • 1. Spirit Duplicators

    In 1960s and ’70s-era classrooms, it was an olfactory treat whenever the teacher passed out fresh-off-the-machine purple print “ditto” sheets to the class. Virtually every student immediately held the page to his face and inhaled deeply. There was something so pleasing about the aroma that emanated from the printing fluid—a 50/50 mix of methanol and isopropanol. The sole company that still manufactures ditto fluid in the U.S. only sells a few thousand gallons per year these days, as opposed to the over 100,000 gallons they delivered during the 1970s.

  • 2. Burning Leaves

    A common indicator that autumn was winding down and winter would soon be here was the crisp air filled with the smell of burning leaves. The breeze had a bite to it by the time October rolled around and the ground was sometimes coated with a fine layer of frost, but the smoke from the pile of leaves everyone on the block seemed to burn somehow smelled warm and comforting.

    Pollution concerns caused municipalities in the U.S. to enact open burning bans beginning in the 1980s, and today residents are encouraged to either rake and bag their leaves or use them for mulch. Of course, compost piles do have their own aroma, but it’s not particularly enticing.

  • 3. Diesel Exhaust

    City buses and semi-trucks don’t smell quite like they used to when they accelerate on a cold morning. There are a lot of folks that actually enjoyed the old school smell of the black exhaust these vehicles used to belch. But reductions in the sulfur content of diesel fuel along with selective catalytic reduction gives today’s diesel burners more of a cat urine-y type of aroma.

  • 4. Freshly-Opened Polaroid Film

    Polaroid ceased production of their instant film in 2008. The foil packs used to produce a sweetish chemical-y odor when they were first torn open. It was, in fact, the official “smell” of photography for a lot of kids whose first camera was a Polaroid Swinger.

  • 5. Magic Markers

    The classic glass bottle-bodied Magic Marker was first marketed in 1952, and until the early 1990s, the ink formula included a mixture of Toluene and Xylene, two solvents which not only had a distinctive and not unpleasant odor, but which also contained intoxicating properties when inhaled. Today’s permanent markers get their color from less fragrant alcohol-based inks.

  • 6. Bubble Gum Cards

    Topps stopped including a stick of stiff, hard-to-chew bubble gum in their trading cards several years ago when more collectors than kids were buying the product and complaining about the gum sticking to and ruining the bottom card in the pack. So kids today are getting mint-condition cards for their money, but they’re missing out on that distinctive bubble gum smell that wafted from the package when it was opened (and from the cards when they were brand new).

  • 7. Cap Guns

    Even if you didn’t have a toy gun handy, it was easy enough to “shoot off” caps by striking them with a hammer or even a rock. The gunpowder/sulfur smell of an exploded cap is another aroma that immediately propels many minds to summer days spent playing cops and robbers.

  • 8. (Old) New Car Smell

    That aroma we smell today upon delivery of a brand new set of wheels is very different from the new car smell of 30 or so years ago. A lot of that smell comes from off-gassing synthetic materials, plastics and chemical additives that are used in modern vehicles. In 1960, the average American-made car contained 22 pounds of plastics; in 2012, that quantity had increased to 250 pounds. And there’s also matter of the flame retardants and antimicrobials that are now added to the carpeting and upholstery for additional “safety” (even though some of the fumes have been proven toxic).

  • 9. Vacuum Tube Electronics

    Old TVs and radios that were filled with tubes instead of transistors emitted a “warm” or hot engine smell as they heated up. If you weren’t particularly fastidious with the feather duster, a fine layer of dust would accumulate on the equipment inside and add a slight burning aroma to the mix. The old movie and film projectors used in schools had a similar smell once the light bulb inside had been burning for a while.

  • 10. Telephone Book

    Thanks to Google, very few people let their fingers walk through the Yellow Pages anymore when they’re searching for a telephone number or address. Years ago, almost every home and office had a small stack of thick telephone directories (for example, in the Metro Detroit area there were separate books for Detroit, East Area, North Oakland County, and Downriver) that were referred to regularly once Ma Bell started charging for Directory Assistance calls. The inexpensive pulp paper plus the ink and glue in the binding gave the giant tomes a much mustier, paper-y odor than a standard paperback novel.

  • 11. Chalk Dust

    Much like cafeteria food and library paste, chalk dust simply smelled like school. With so many classrooms using whiteboards, chalkboard ledges with piles of white powder on them are becoming extinct.

    This article originally appeared on Mental Floss.

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TIME Humor

Obituary: The Death of Hope for a Female Late-Night Host

Nell Scovell is writing the 'Lean In' movie for Sony Pictures, based on the book she co-wrote with Sheryl Sandberg.

DEATH NOTICE

Hope for a female late-night talk show host on a major network passed away peacefully on Monday, March 30th, 2015, surrounded by stand-ups, bloggers and assorted sidekicks. Hope was born on October 9, 1986, when The Late Show with Joan Rivers premiered on FOX. Promising but brief engagements to Wanda Sykes and Whitney Cummings ended awkwardly. A loving relationship with Chelsea Handler lasted seven years.

Hope struggled during her short life, gaining a foothold in sketch comedy and sitcoms, but fell to her death while trying to make the leap to late night, comically bouncing off an awning before landing in the street, where she was run over by a Duesenberg driven by a man racing to a denim shirt sale. Hope was an avid observer of everyday life and looked forward to reflecting the experiences of the entire population.

Funeral services will take place in the hearts of aspiring female comedy performers and writers on April Fools’ Day. Internment will last twenty years, or another generation of turnover. Special thanks to the caring staff of UCB and Apatow Productions. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Survivors include several brothers named Jimmy, and two sisters, Hope for a female President and Hope for equal pay.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Religion

Lena Dunham’s Not an Anti-Semite, She’s Just Clueless

Lena Dunham
JB Lacroix—WireImage/Getty Images Lena Dunham at the Dolby Theatre on March 8, 2015 in Hollywood.

Mark Oppenheimer writes the biweekly “Beliefs” column for The New York Times and is editor-at-large for Tablet. He also reports for The Atlantic, The Nation, This American Life, and elsewhere.

Lena Dunham's portrayals of Jews, in her show and in her New Yorker piece, trade in the stalest of stereotypes

Lena Dunham suddenly finds herself an enemy of her people. This week, the creator and star of HBO’s Girls, who is Jewish, wrote a humor piece in The New Yorker called “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz.” It begins: “Do the following statements refer to (a) my dog or (b) my Jewish boyfriend?” and offers, to test one’s dog-or-Jew acumen, statements like, “doesn’t tip,” “has hair all over his body, like most males who share his background,” and “comes from a culture in which mothers focus every ounce of their attention on their offspring.”

Cheap? Hairy? Over-mothered? Is it a dog, or is it a Jew?

The Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish anti-bigotry watchdog group, said in a statement Friday that the “piece is particularly troubling because it evokes memories of the ‘No Jews or Dogs Allowed’ signs from our own early history in this country, and also because, in a much more sinister way, many in the Muslim world today hatefully refer to Jews as ‘dogs.’”

Now, I am not as sensitive as the Anti-Defamation League, to put it mildly. Not only do I not usually complain about Jews making Jews look bad, I’m often the one being so accused. Just last year, I wrote a magazine piece about Jews who travel all the way from Jerusalem to the Jersey shore just to knock on doors begging for money. A few months earlier, I’d narrated a This American Life story about a rabbi accused of kidnapping husbands who refuse to give their wives divorces. If you have dirty Jewish laundry, I’ll air it.

So I am inclined to stand in solidarity with any fellow MOT (member of the tribe) who comes under fire for being bad for the Jews. But I confess that, in this case, I find myself aligned with the censors, the stuffed shirts, the killjoys. I think that Dunham’s piece fails, for a number of reasons.

To begin, it’s just not very funny. Of course, no harm in that. What makes the unfunniness of “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz” seem extra tasteless is how dated its humor is. It relies on stereotypes — the cheap Jew, the smothering Jewish mother — that were current almost half a century ago, back when Jews faced much more anti-Semitism. Dunham may be a hip auteur in her 20s, but in this humor piece she’s working with material from the era when some country clubs were still restricted.

It was also, of course, the material of the great Jewish writer Philip Roth, who gave us the castrating Jewish mother and eager-to-please son in 1969’s Portnoy’s Complaint, for which many feminists still haven’t forgiven him. But Roth is a genius, and genius buys you a lot of leeway with stereotypes. And Dunham’s less inspired humor recycles not only Roth’s caricature of women but also his equally damning portrayal of Jewish men. Other items on Dunham’s quiz include “he has asthma,” he “expects to be waited on hand and foot by the women in his life,” and he “has a sensitive stomach and has to take two Dramamine before entering any moving vehicle.” In other words, he’s weak and effete, with a poor constitution. That’s part Portnoy and part his constipated father, who was forever sitting on the toilet trying to squeeze something out.

What’s interesting, and a bit sad, is that Dunham seems not to know that these aren’t really live stereotypes anymore. I suppose there are still some people who think of Jews as cheap, but pampered and neurotic? How many in the Girls demographic, Jew or Gentile, really live with those cultural tropes? Jews have largely dropped those particular items of baggage: Who’s shocked to see a Jew shooting hoops on the playgrounds of Brooklyn? The one element of that old Jewish portraiture that still seems relevant is the smothering parenting, but now it’s all parents who do that.

Dunham seems to expect some latitude with this humor piece because she is, after all, a Jewish writer. David Remnick, The New Yorker’s editor, said as much in a statement defending Dunham: “The Jewish-comic tradition is rich with the mockery of, and playing with, stereotypes,” he wrote. “Has Mr. Foxman” — head of the Anti-Defamation League — “never heard Lenny Bruce or Larry David or Sarah Silverman or read Portnoy’s Complaint? Lena Dunham is a comic voice working in that vein.”

Except that Dunham is not working in that vein. Those are all comics who identified as obvious Jews and had built much of their humor around their Judaism. Dunham’s mother is Jewish, which makes her as Jewish as Moses, according to Jewish law. But she has never worked well with Judaism in her humor. The character she plays on Girls is a WASP from the Midwest. In fact, the only regular Jewish character on the show Dunham created is Shoshanna, a shallow, coddled materialist who fits snugly into a Jewish American Princess stereotype that I thought had been blessedly retired. The great actor Zosia Mamet imbues Shoshanna with as much humanity as she can, but it’s hard not to wonder why the only reasonably ethnic character on Girls — in contemporary Brooklyn, no less — is the Jewish girl from a 1970s-era JAP joke.

As it happens, the Girls season finale, last Sunday, featured two other Jewish men: an Orthodox man with a newborn baby, who walks through one of the last shots of the episode — a distant, Orientalized other — and Laird, father to the baby about to be born to Hannah’s ex’s sister. As Laird’s laboring girlfriend, committed to a home birth, looks as if she might need to go to the hospital, Laird panics and melts down. Hannah’s friend Jessa, improvising the role of doula, tells Laird sternly, “I need you, and she needs you, to be a man right now.” Laird starts to cry and wails, “But I’m not a man! I’m a Jewish recovering junkie and I weigh 135 pounds!”

That’s Jewish humor in Lena Dunham’s world.

Contrast that with Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, who in their shows presented a wide range of Jewish types — religious and not, lovable or loathsome. Or with Sarah Silverman, who like Dunham also jokes about hirsuteness, in interviews and in one concert movie, but turns the joke on her own Jewish body, not on an outdated stock character of a boyfriend who also happens to be cheap and asthmatic.

Is Dunham an anti-Semite? Of course not. She is just a young artist with shaky judgment and no real feel for the tradition of Jewish humor in which her editor, presiding over America’s most storied magazine, suggests she is working. And this whole episode has the salutary effect, I like to think, of folding Dunham more closely into the tradition of Jewish writers: sooner or later, if we’re doing our job, we all get called bad for the Jews.

Read next: Jewish Group Objects to Lena Dunham’s ‘Dog or Jewish Boyfriend’ Story

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Parenting

How to Parent Like a Reporter

mother son talking
Getty Images

Ask open-ended questions that get the source (your child) talking

Parenting articles are popping up everywhere. Everyone, it seems, has something to say about parenting.

On March 5, TIME.com published How to Parent Like an FBI Agent, but well before that there were stories describing helicopter parents, tiger moms, free-range parenting and so on.

Folks love to put labels on things–but parenting is a task many of us figure out as we go. One day I may be hovering over my kids, and the next I might be doing the opposite, so I can’t imagine that any parent is any one type all of the time. The nature of the job simply doesn’t lend itself to that level of certainty.

Just last week the child who had been giving my husband and me a hard time for the past few weeks suddenly became the easier one, while the other – who had given us no reason for concern for weeks – switched into high-maintenance mode again.

So in the spirit of these parenting “styles,” I present my own method: “How to parent like a reporter.” Loosely based on principles learned in Journalism 101, this is mostly for fun – but with practice and a little luck, these guidelines could lead you a better understanding of your child.

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Ask open-ended questions that get the source (your child) talking. Instead of questions like “How was school today?” – that can be answered with a simple yes, no, or O.K.– some better prompts might be, “What’s going on at the playground during recess?” or “What sort of things are kids fighting over in class?” Determine in advance what information you want to obtain, and craft a line of questioning that will get you there.

Ask follow-up questions. Who, what, when, where, how and why are particularly helpful to get more details or to get the subject to consider the matter more closely themselves.

Monitor social media accounts for tips and trends related to your source. For instance, search Instagram and Twitter with tags the kids and their friends may be using. I guarantee you will be both enlightened and shocked. If you aren’t sure what tags they use, ask them to tag something as a joke, and you’ll get a grasp of the pattern. They may not use the ones you think they are using, so try different combinations.

Observe interactions between the source and others to gain contextual information for follow-up questions or background. Listen closely when your child expresses concerns over trivial matters as well as large issues. Tune your ears to absorb the information as if you had to write down and explain the conversation to others. This technique will curb your daydreaming and the tendency to begin crafting your response in advance.

Be objective. Don’t throw your emotions into the conversation if it is unwarranted.

Don’t assume any details are correct. Confirm locations and chaperone details with an independent source.

Take lots of photos to document this moment in time. You never know when that one photo will tell the story better than written words.

Respect “off the record” details as confidential. Don’t share your source’s (child’s) private thoughts as fodder in conversations with friends, or you’ll lose that rapport.

Be prepared for the unpredictable. Parenting, just like covering breaking news, is a lot about reacting. Just as a reporter was not expecting a fire to ignite at that factory downtown, you may not be ready for your child to launch into questions about the birds and the bees on a Saturday morning. Take a breath, rely on what you know to be true, and figure out what you still need to know to properly inform and guide them.

Laura Stetser is a full-time reporter and mother of two school-age children. Get more parenting news by connecting with her on Facebook and Twitter @TheMomsBeat or via email at laura.stetser@catamaranmedia.com.

This article originally appeared on Shore News Today.

TIME Humor

Right Before the End of the Roman Empire the Citizens of Rome Had a Lengthy Debate Over the Color of a Toga

Gold White Toga
Getty Images

When a fellow American Photoshops not one but two llamas into a different color it means a conversation has ended. (One llama means things are winding down.)

If you are talking or thinking or anythinging about that dress, stop it now. Because all the scientists who have been busy for the last 36 hours telling us about color theory and the size of the lens and how it gets bigger when you get older and blue lights and how one day someone shined a light on some scientist’s Volkswagen and he could have sworn it was actually the Battleship Potemkin are today busy coming up with a new theory about #thedress. This theory is that arguing about what color a dress is will make your brain atrophy.

It will also cause you to be so overstimulated that you will drink three martinis tonight instead of two and black out, and the last thing you will remember is showing someone a picture of the blue and black and the white and gold llamas, which is, incidentally, the last comment that should have been made about that dress. For future reference, when a fellow American Photoshops not one but two llamas into a different color it means a conversation has ended. (One llama means things are winding down.)

I have been annoyed before by technology naysayers who have bravely stepped forward and declared that Twitter is bad and does not constitute real engagement and that we should all be sitting around drinking Nescafe and talking about Norman Rush. But the dress to me actually seems like something that might give those kinds of people ammunition, or, put more simply, it may be a new frontier in stupid.

Would I be elitist in assuming that at least most of us attended 6th grade? And we do remember discussing things like color blindness and perception and how different people saw different things? Yes, I am aware some of the theories that were offered up yesterday were slightly different, but they were variations on that theme. And while that was one of the more interesting days of 6th grade, I don’t know that I could maintain that fascination for a lifetime. #Dressgate proves that I am alone there.

Millions and millions of people, who I am pretty sure have at some point had some conversation about how different people see different things differently, seemed like they were learning this for the very first time. And since they presumably weren’t, well, it kind of made me sad.

I got sad in three stages.

The first came when I got the sense that people had filled up their brains with so much stupid internet stuff (prior to the dresses, prior even to the llamas) that they’d forgotten all the simple things they learned in elementary school.

And then, the sadness intensified when it dawned on me that some people truly had never actually learned this stuff in elementary school because they were from a generation that doesn’t learn anything in school anymore because when their teachers tell their parents that they don’t pay attention their parents tell the teachers to shut up or they’ll get them fired.

And the sadness really solidified when I realized that the people who probably did understand why the dresses appeared to be different colors were only freaking out about it because they’d been triggered—“have a sense of wonder about this now!”—or because they thought appearing to have no conception of basic science might make them feel younger or more attractive.

I’m not going to sit here and judge you because yesterday ISIS destroyed priceless art and you were sitting around screaming “BLUE BLACK!” or “WHITE GOLD!” In everyone’s defense, perhaps this debate was leapt into with such eagerness because it was less emotionally charged than the one about whether ISIS is killing lots of people because they’re Muslim or just because they love killing people or both, or whether Patricia Arquette is a terrible person because she didn’t have a P.R. firm write her Oscar speech. That said, if you’re composing a tweet or a Facebook update about #dressgate maybe you should pick up a basic science text because next week everyone on Twitter might “discover” that the dinosaurs are extinct and you might want to prepare to be a voice of reason.

If you are, however, composing a meme about #dressgate that you think may actually turn out to be funny, could please mail it to me? I’m staying off social media until the #dressgate smoke clears, but I never like to miss the really quality memes.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Art

Watch a Video of British Artist Banksy in Gaza

Several of Banksy's latest graffiti pieces are highlighted

British graffiti artist Banksy, known for his subversive street art, released a two-minute video from war-torn Gaza on his website Wednesday.

“Make this the year you discover a new destination,” it wryly says, in the style of a tourism video. But instead of sandy beaches, it offers viewers a glimpse of what a Gazan sees “well away from the tourist track”: tunnels, rubble and children gazing at some of the 18,000 homes destroyed last July in Israel’s Operation Protective Edge.

The video also spotlights several of Banksy’s latest graffiti pieces, including images of children swinging from a surveillance tower, a parent grieving over a child in a bombed-out setting, and a kitten donning a pink bow.

“A local man came up and said ‘Please — what does this mean?’ I explained I wanted to highlight the destruction in Gaza by posting photos on my website — but on the internet people only look at pictures of kittens,” Banksy writes.

“The cat found something to play with,” a Palestinian man says during the video. “What about our children?”

TIME Internet

Watch This Man Roast a Marshmallow Over a Volcano

Definitely don’t try this at home

The season for roasting chestnuts on an open fire is over, so how about this for an alternative: roasting marshmallows on an open volcano?

Filed in the “definitely don’t try this at home” category is this new video from Caters TV showing, as they call it, a “daredevil” heating up a marshmallow by using a tent peg to dangle it over a lava lake inside Marcum Crater on the island of Ambrym in Vanuatu—which is either the name of one of the seven gates of hell or a small island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean, east of Australia.

That daredevil is Simon Turner, though the even braver man is probably Bradley Ambrose, the one behind the camera—especially when taking into account that, as Grub Street claims, he had “to watch out for stuff like shooting fireballs that, for instance, claimed the group’s previous camera equipment.” Here’s hoping they had rental insurance.

According to the video’s description, the pair’s descent to the lava lake was nearly a quarter of a mile, with temperatures reaching up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. In a situation like that, I bet the cold beer was far more enjoyable than the hot marshmallow, no matter how much more work it was for the latter.

This article originally appeared on FWx.

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