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I read in a couple places that there’s a place in the Pacific Ocean like the Bermuda Triangle, and that’s what happened to the missing Malaysian airplane. Is there really such a place? Could the plane have crashed there?


Dear Tricky Triangles, 

There is indeed patch of sea off the eastern coast of China that, like the Bermuda Triangle in the Atlantic Ocean, has gained a reputation for strange disappearances. The location and dimensions of the Dragon’s Triangle or Devil’s Sea, as it is known – to some – vary depending on who is telling its tales, although most writers place it somewhere east of China and south of Japan in the Philippine Sea. Legends tell of rough weather and ships lost without a trace, with explanations ranging from UFOs to undersea kingdoms to magnetic anomalies. (Japan's Dragon's Triangle, 2003)

Larry Kusche, a librarian at Arizona State University, investigated the legend with a skeptical eye, corresponding with the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Japan’s Maritime Safety Agency, and a pair of Japanese newspapers to learn what they knew of the Devil’s Sea/Dragon’s Triangle. As it turned out, only one of the four had even heard of the place. The picture that emerged was of a geographic area considered dangerous by some, but no more so than several other nautical locations around Japan. Kusche also learned that the Kaiyo Maru – a research vessel that is perhaps the Triangle’s most noted “victim” – was in the area to study an undersea volcano, and is believed to have been sunk by either an eruption or a tidal wave; and that many other lost vessels were small fishing boats presumed to have succumbed to rough seas. (Kusche, 1995)

As for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which vanished March 8 en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, the last known location of the plane, derived from satellite data, was over the southern Indian Ocean (Branigan, 2014), where searchers in early April detected signals possibly consistent with those emitted by airplane flight recorders. ("Missing Malaysia plane: Search 'regains recorder signal,'" 2014) This location is hundreds of miles from the so-called Dragon’s Triangle, making increasingly unlikely that the plane was lost there, mystical properties or no. 


Branigan, T. (2014, March 24). " Missing flight MH370 lost in Southern Indian Ocean, says Malaysian PM." The Guardian. Retrieved from

Japan's Dragon's Triangle. (2003). In The Gale Encyclopedia of the Unusual and Unexplained. Retrieved from

Kusche, L. (1995). The Bermuda Triangle Mystery Solved. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

"Missing Malaysia plane: Search 'regains recorder signal.'" (2014, April 9). Retrieved from

Answered on 2014-05-06 13:29:02


Why do most modern languages that stem from latin, particularly Spanish, have irregular verbs? Why do they not follow the rules of verb conjugation? How did they become common?

Sources are greatly appreciated!


Dear Vexed by Verbs,

When an assignment is due, you give your professor you work. He or she grades the work you gave. If you forget to turn in the assignment, you must explain why you forgot. You might go after class to have lunch, and later tell a friend what you had when you went. These are irregular verbs, cantankerous action words that refuse to follow patterns, and they exist in many languages. It might seem otherwise, but irregular verbs are not an ancient practical joke designed to infuriate foreign language students. Rather, they arose organically over centuries and some of them aren’t even very old.

Linguist Steven Pinker, author of Words and rules: The ingredients of language, wrote that words and grammar change as time passes, and irregular verbs can arise from these changes. Some resulted from good old corner-cutting, such as the elimination of repeated sounds within words, or the avoidance of creating repetition by adding a suffix. At other times, through a process known as “suppletion,” two verbs merged into one. An example is the English verb “go” and its past tense form, “went.” (Pinker, 1999)

Still other irregulars are vestiges of long-forgotten rules for conjugating verbs. Proto-Indo-European – an ancient language from which hundreds of others descended, including the Romance languages – had rules for forming past tense verbs by changing the words’ vowels. As speakers of the language spread throughout Europe and Asia and their descendants developed new languages, the rules did not survive. Eventually, children acquiring these languages likely stopped trying to understand why the verbs conjugated the way did, and just started memorizing the forms as a list. (Pinker, 1999) Much like foreign language students today!

Ye olde speakers of yore are not solely to blame for irregular verbs, mind you. Pinker notes some irregulars are fairly new, and until recently were nice, predictable regular verbs. It was only in the past few centuries that caught replaced catched and quit shoved aside quitted; and only about a hundred years ago snuck launched its ouster of sneaked. (1999)

The Seeker finds it plausible that some regular verbs are turning traitor as we speak, joining the unruly irregulars. As users of language, we are perhaps complicit. So bear in mind that centuries from now, students confounded by conjugations might point their fingers at .


Pinker, S. (1999). Words and rules: The ingredients of language. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Answered on 2014-03-06 15:04:24


Do snakes sneeze?


Dear Snake Charmer,

Snakes have long held a prominent place in legend, religion, and art, through which humans have ascribed to them a number of mostly unflattering qualities - cunning, deceit, and cruelty, to name a few. Feeling under the weather, however, is a characteristic not commonly associated with snakes. Nonetheless, illness and sneezing are parts of the serpentine experience.

The University Libraries have a few guidebooks on keeping snakes as pets. According to Snakes of the United States and Canada: Keeping Them Healthy in Captivity, a sneezy snake could have a respiratory infection, be experiencing an allergic reaction, or be reacting to cigarette smoke. (Rossi & Rossi, 1995) Mattison adds, in Keeping and Breeding Snakes, that sneezing could be a sign of pneumonia. (1989)

Other reptiles sneeze too. In fact, one group of researchers observed that crocodiles exhibit a “sneezing-like behavior” shortly before throwing up. (The crocodiles, not the researchers.) The writers described the sneezes as “brief but clearly identifiable sound(s) made with the mouth partially open followed by an inspiration.” (Andrews, Axelsson, Franklin, & Holmgren, 2000)

So if you spot a sneezing snake, it would be sensible to increase the temperature in his enclosure or aquarium. Consider cleaning and rinsing his home, but don’t hesitate to seek the council of a serpent-specialized vet. And remember to extinguish any smoking cigarettes in the presence of your slithery pet. (Rossi & Rossi, 1995)


Andrews, P.R., Axelsson, M., Franklin, C., & Holmgren, S. (2000). The emetic reflex in a reptile (Crocodylus porosus). Journal of Experimental Biology, 203, 1625-1632. Retrieved from

Mattison, C. (1989). Keeping and breeding snakes. London, England: Blandford.

Rossi, J.V., & Rossi, R. (1995). Snakes of the United States and Canada: Keeping them healthy in captivity. Malabar, FL: Krieger.

Answered on 2014-02-12 17:05:51

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