What could you learn today?

Reddit's Today I Learned is a hidden powerhouse of social learning.


Kevin Morris


Published Aug 4, 2011   Updated Jun 3, 2021, 3:36 am CDT

No label fits Reddit. At the Daily Dot, we’ve taken to calling it a social news site. But you could just as easily call it a link aggregator. Or, for simplicity’s sake, a Web forum.

Or how about this: a social-learning site, where friends and strangers alike can introduce you to new facts.

Take r/todayilearned (“Today I Learned,” or TIL for short), one of the most popular sections on the site. Here, redditors highlight rare knowledge they’ve stumbled across in their Internet wanderings.

It’s one of just many such sections, one of which, r/youshouldknow (“You Should Know”) we profiled last month. But TIL is by far the most popular, with posts that often make it to Reddit’s front page.

So for anyone unfamiliar with the kind of knowledge popping up on Reddit everyday, we’ve compiled nine of the sections most fascinating discoveries.

Oh, and be sure to click through to read the comments. That’s where the real social learning comes in, after all.

1. TIL that there is a liquid which allows you to breathe normally and safely even when you are submerged in it

*Fan’s of the 1989 James Cameron movie The Abyss will no doubt remember a scene in which a rat gets dunked in a some kind of pinkish, gooey liquid. The mouse doesn’t drown; it convulses, relaxes, and breaths. Many probably assumed it’s just science fiction but, as redditor bonedriven discovered, it’s very much real.  The liquid is called perfluorohexane, and the mouse really was submerged in it, and it really did survive.

2. TIL that a 17-year-old girl fell 2 miles after the airplane she was in exploded due to a lightning strike. She managed to walk for 10 days until she was found by lumberjacks.

That girl’s name is Juliane Köpcke. She’s been the feature of two documentary films. This is what she told a CNN reporter in 2009 about her extraordinary free-fall from two miles up: “Suddenly there was this amazing silence. The plane was gone. I must have been unconscious and then came to in midair. I was flying, spinning through the air and I could see the forest spinning beneath me.” She was the only one of 91 passengers to survive — both her parents perished in the accident.

3.TIL: the New York Times had the Elizabeth Taylor obituary ready for so long that the WRITER of the piece died 6 years ago.

Newspapers often write obituaries of the rich and famous well in advance of their death (what else are you supposed to do on a slow news day?) The practice is a little creepy but, without the benefit of a crystal ball, also quite necessary. The author of the New York Times obituary in question was named Mel Gussow. He was born in 1933, a year later than Elizabeth Taylor, and died in 2005, six years before the famous actress passed away.

4. TIL that a full McBain movie is hidden across multiple Simpsons episodes.

McBain is a kind of amalgamation of ‘90s action heros, who pops up from time to time in the never-say-die animated series, usually in clips from his movies. Apparently, all those clips added up into a real movie.

If there was a prize for meta the Simpsons would win it. In an episode of the Simpsons.

5. TIL an early edition of ‘Playboy’ contained a short story about straight men being persecuted in a world where homosexuality was the norm. After receiving angry letters, Hefner wrote in response, “If it was wrong to persecute heterosexuals in a homosexual society then the reverse was wrong, too.”

The story, by Charles Beaumont, was originally turned down by Esquire. But Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner wasn’t scared of the controversy — even in 1955. For that, The Advocate declared Hugh Hefner a “gay-rights pioneer.”

6. TIL Sea Otters hold hands while sleeping so they don’t float apart.

Is it as cute to them as it is to us? Do sea otters even understand the concept of cute? Who knows. But here’s a video for cuteness overload.


7. TIL that “reddit” is the Latin word for render, which among other things means “to submit for consideration or approval”

Reddit is built around user submissions, which are given approval or disapproval in the form of vote. So were Reddit cofounders Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian Latin-philes? Nope. It’s just a coincidence. As the site’s official FAQ says: “It’s (sort of) a play on words — i.e., ‘I read it on reddit.’”

8. TIL Charlie Chaplin had an extremely amazing/strong voice. WOW. This literally gave me goosebumps.

The silent film star didn’t fade away with the advent of “talkies” — he mocked them for alittle while, and then embraced them. His 1940 skewering of Adolf Hitler, The Great Dictator, was made at the height of the Nazi leader’s power, and is considered by some to be a forgotten classic.

9. TIL that the Space Jam website is still up, and hasn’t been updated since 1996. It’s beautiful!

In truth, there are many words that could describe the original website for the 1996 Warner Bros. film Space Jam. “Beautiful” is certainly not one of them, nor is “attractive,” “pleasing,” or “non-eye-burning.” It is a fun nostalgia trip back to the Jurassic period of the Web, however.

But redditors quickly discovered that the site isn’t just a museum of 1996 Web design, the site’s source code is full of Easter eggs left behind by its programmer, Jennifer Braun. “I programmed my home computer to beam myself into the future,” Braun wrote in one of the hidden messages. Based on her old site’s success on Reddit, she may have been right.

Illustration by Jason Reed

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*First Published: Aug 4, 2011, 2:32 pm CDT