Question: Why do clothes wrinkle? (Asked by a curious homemaker in West Virginia.)

Reply: Wrinkles are caused by heat and water. Heat breaks the bonds holding the polymers in place within the fibers of the fabric. Polymers are long, molecular chains and occur in natural materials such as cotton, and synthetic polymers such as polyethylene. The fibers are less rigid and can shift to new positions. As the fabric cools, new bonds form and lock the fibers into new shapes. This is why letting clothes cool in the dryer results in wrinkles.

Water also adds a wrinkle or two, particularly in cotton and linen materials. Absorbent fabrics allow water to penetrate the areas between the polymer chains, permitting the formation of new bonds. The new wrinkle gets locked in as the water evaporates. Combined heat and water are why ironing with a steam iron and cooling on a flat surface gets the wrinkles out.

In the late 1950s, wrinkle-free or permanent-press fabrics were developed. This was done by replacing the bonds between the polymer fibers with water-resistant, cross-linked bonds.

Question: Dr. Wilson, I’m curious. What is the correct way to pronounce “Appalachian?” (Asked by a confused mountain man.)

Reply: I assume you mean whether it’s pronounced “ap-uh-LATCH-ins,” or “ap-uh-LAY-chins.” Well, to tell the truth, the correctness appears to be a matter of preference. It seems that, generally, Northerners favor the “LAY” version, while southerners favor the “LATCH” version. So, the choice is yours. Either way, I’m proud to be an Appalachian American!

There are variations of other word pronunciations, too. For example, the Himalayas can be pronounced “him-uh-LAY-uhs” or “him-MAHL-yuhs.” And Iraq can be pronounced “I-rack” or “I-rock.”

Again, the choice is yours. Or perhaps you prefer to change it up every now and then. Wouldn’t that make you bilingual?

C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): “One of life’s greatest mysteries is how the boy who wasn’t good enough to marry your daughter can be the father of the smartest grandchild in the world.” — Jewish Proverb

Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, College of Science and Mathematics, Lander University, Greenwood, SC 29649, or e-mail Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. For Curiosity Corner background, go to