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Why is Canada Called Canada?

Before Europeans arrived, the land in North America that would come to make up what is today the second-largest country in the world had many names. Of course it did: it had many different peoples. These peoples lived from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic, and many of them didn’t have any practical way to interact with each other. When Jacques Cartier started exploring what would become Quebec in 1535, looking for a sea passage to China, there was no reason to think the land that got in his way had the potential to be one cohesive nation. In a few centuries it would become one, but it took some time. It took a village. Specifically it took the village of Hochelaga to start the newcomers from Europe down the path to coming up with a name for the place. Hochelaga was a fortified Iroquois village that Cartier encountered on the St. Lawrence River. He and his party were greeted warmly by the Iroquois. Cartier named the nearby mountain Mount Royal, or Mont Réal. In late…

What's With Those 555 Exchanges?

Remember Tommy Tutone’s 1981 hit single “Jenny (867-5309)”?  The song was about a guy who found a girl’s phone number on a bathroom stall, and was very excited to call it.  Perhaps this was tasteless, but not too tasteless to climb up the pop charts.  “Jenny” was an unusual song, in that it provided a phone number that was plausibly real (at least in the United States, Canada, most of the Caribbean, and Mexico (until 1991)).  When the song was released, telephone conventions didn’t require you to dial the area code, as long as you weren’t dialing from another area code.  If you lived in a town with an 867 exchange, the temptation to dial that number could get overwhelming, if you were the right kind of troublemaker.  I was that kind of troublemaker, myself.  While at Penn State, nearly ten years after that song’s debut, I realized that 867 was a local number there.  I resisted for as long as I could, but finally gave in to temptation, feeling embarrassed as I dropped a quarter into a …

Disco Demolition Night

In the 1989 film Dead Poets’ Society, English teacher John Keating, played by Robin Williams, utters the line, “How can you describe poetry like American Bandstand”?  ‘I like Byron.  I give him a 42 but I can’t dance to it.’”  The film was set in 1959, when American Bandstand was where many teenagers of the day tuned in to catch the newest musicians and records.  The “I give him a 42” line referred to the show’s vaunted Rate-a-Record segment, when host Dick Clark would ask two teenagers in the audience to rate two records on a scale of 35 to 98, and to then justify the ratings they gave.  Clark would then average the scores.When the teenagers gave their justifications for the scores, they would try to sum things up neatly for the TV cameras, so there was a tendency to give stock phrases.“It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it” became one of the famous phrases associated with the show.  (It’s likely that no teenager ever said such a thing on American Bandstand, but it sounded lik…