How Did Spring Break Get Its Start?

Getty Images
Getty Images

Spring comes but once a year, and it comes with a rebirth of flora, warmer weather, and a week (or two) dedicated to enjoying the change—which many college kids take advantage of in mid-March with a little tradition known as Spring Break. Thanks to MTV, we all know what Spring Break is about: Bikinis, debauchery, plenty of alcohol, and collegiates flocking to beaches en mass to work on their tans and run amok. Where did this tradition start?

As far back as history has been recorded, people have celebrated the arrival of Spring—including the ancient Greeks and Romans, who were all about self-indulgence. Of course, those rowdy crowds centered their jamboree on their respect for Dionysus or Bacchus, the Greek and Roman gods of wine. But what we now know as Spring Break really began because of two events: When Fort Lauderdale built Florida's first Olympic-size pool in 1928, and when MGM released Where The Boys Are in 1960.

Fort Lauderdale's pool, considered mammoth at the time, brought the nation's top competitive swimmers to the city during their break from classes, and by the late '30s, more than 1500 student-athletes were flocking to the city's College Coaches' Swim Forum. The first of these forums was hosted in 1938, and droves of college swimmers made Fort Lauderdale their exclusive Spring Break home well into the '60s. By that time, non-student athletes began to take part in what these swimmers had created; Time first mentioned the phenomenon in their 1959 article titled "Beer & the Beach." The bacchanal had gone mainstream.

A year later, MGM released Where The Boys Are, a coming-of-age film that followed four college women during their spring vacation. And just like everything in a postmodern society, reality reflects art. Spring Break became a very real thing for any collegiate male or female who wanted to escape to sand and sun. In 1986, MTV launched its first Spring Break special in Daytona Beach, Florida, and found an annual tradition in showing what really happens on this mid-semester get-away.

By the end of the '80s, the city that first made Spring Break famous—as evidenced by the 370,000 students who invaded in 1985—said it had had enough of the raunchy and unruly guests it had invited all those years ago. The city adopted stricter public drinking laws, and then-mayor Robert Dressler went on Good Morning America to say that Spring Breakers weren't welcome anymore. Of course, by that time, there were plenty of other cities hosting their own annual parties—ensuring that Spring Break is a tradition that won't die out anytime soon.

Why Are Barns Often Painted Red?

iStock/Ron and Patty Thomas
iStock/Ron and Patty Thomas

Beginning with the earliest American settlements and continuing into the 18th century, most barns weren't painted at all. Early American barn builders took sun exposure, temperature, moisture, wind, and water drainage patterns into account when placing and building barns, and they seasoned the wood (that is, they reduced the moisture content) accordingly. The right type of wood in the right environment held up fine without any paint.

Toward the end of the 1700s, these old-school methods of barn planning and building fell by the wayside. People sought a quicker, easier fix for preserving their barns—a way to coat and seal the wood to protect it from sunlight and moisture damage. Farmers began making their own coating from a mix of linseed oil (a tawny oil derived from the flax seeds), milk, and lime. It dried quickly and lasted a long time, but it didn't really protect the wood from mold and wasn't quite like the "barn red"we know today—it was more of a burnt orange, really.

Turning Red

The problem with mold is that it decays wood and, in large quantities, can pose health risks to people and animals. Rust, it turns out, kills mold and other types of fungi, so farmers began adding ferrous oxide (rusted iron) to the linseed oil mix. A little bit of rust went a long way in protecting the wood, and it gave the barn a nice red hue.

By the late 19th century, mass-produced paints made with chemical pigments became available to most people. Red was the least expensive color, so it remained the most popular for use on barns, except for a brief period when whitewash became cheaper and white barns started popping up. (White barns were also common on dairy farms in some parts of Pennsylvania, central Maryland, and the Shenandoah Valley, possibly because of the color's association with cleanliness and purity.)

Throughout Appalachia (a historically poorer region), many barns went unpainted for lack of money. In the tobacco regions of Kentucky and North Carolina, black and brown barns were the norm, since the dark colors helped heat the barn and cure tobacco.

Today, many barns are still painted the color traditionally used in a given region, with red still dominating the Northeast and Midwest.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, send it to bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This story was updated 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.

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