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Who invented the wave? Soccer fans? Baseball nuts? No! Prairie dogs!

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PrairieDogs RichKeen USFWS Flickr.jpg
These guys thought up the wave. Other animal groups - like American football fans - copied them.
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Wanna start a bar room brawl? Ask: "Who invented the wave?"

You know the wave: Pay way too much money to go to a ball game, and at some crucial moment while you're trying to watch the action, you're excommunicated if you don't lift your arms, abruptly stand and immediately sit again, signaling to the guy next to you to do the same so that appendages pulse through the stadium like a human Slinky.

Where did this nonsense originate?

Its full popular name is the "Mexican wave," so did it start somewhere south of the U.S. border? Yes, according to many firm believers who claim that the wave first broke out during a 1986 World Cup soccer game in Mexico City. Pow! Take that University of Washington football fans, who fervently maintain they were the first to undulate, back in 1981. The rock 'em, sock 'em list of claimants goes on, including Boston baseball circa 1984.

If everyone could stop throwing beer bottles for a moment and pay attention, here's the real answer: You all copied your great innovation from nature. 

You see, prarie dogs beat you to it by however long prairie dogs have been performing the wave, which is a huge number of years with way too many zeroes to include here. 

According to a story on the BBC website, the individual "jump-yip" that spreads contagiously throughout a pack of the creatures serves as an "emergency broadcast system."

The explanation is a bit convoluted: One of the rodents will leap up, and will then take note of whether his or her neighbor repeats the springy maneuver. Repetition indicates that the next dog is alert and could respond appropriately (i.e., run)  if a predator arrived. Failure to comply with the wave means that it's time to administer a swift kick to prairie posterior.

For human sports fans, the wave is ostensibly not so much a matter of survival.  However, I cannot guarantee the preservation of life and limb if you dare to dampen the rise and fall next time it swings your way.  

Should you try, someone might just sic the dogs on you.

Photo is from Rich Keen/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Flickr

— By on January 20, 2014, 11:12 AM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure