Perhaps as a child you — target audience — read or pored over the pictures in a series of books about a family of Bears who live in a treehouse together and learn important, Family Circus-esque lessons. These books were part of a franchise that has been around and ubiquitous since the ‘60s and was carried on into the 2000s. It spawned a TV show and plenty of merchandise.

It’s not often that you think about the series nowadays, I imagine, and I’m not sure if young parents are even still investing in the books for their kids. But I bet if I asked you, reader, how you would spell the name of that series’ charming, if #basic, family of Bears, you would, unblinkingly, fire off “B-e-r-e-n-s-t-e-i-n” (in collecting a small pool of data, I also got one “B-e-a-r-e-n-s-t-e-i-n”).

Now, try to search for that name on Wikipedia, and you will be redirected to search results for…

…“The Berenstain Bears”

-STAIN.

Google Image search to confirm, and:

Look at that goddamn cover.

I don’t even have to ask to know this comes as a shock to you. If you scour the Internet or even your friends group, you’ll discover that it also has been a shock to innumerable others. Recently, the topic has bubbled up again; New York rapper/producer and Run the Jewels member El-P, has been Tweeting about the subject all week, and was recently interviewed on the subject for Mass Appeal.

Of course, El is not the first to have remarked on this phenomenon. He uncovered some links to conspiracy theory sites, and indeed there is a subculture of “Bernst#in Bears” obsessives, who believe that our collective misremembering of the spelling of the series reveals that our world has entered an alternate reality.

(Pseudo-)physics obsessive and blogger “Reece” keeps up a blog appropriately titled “The Wood Between the Worlds,” on which he has been covering, among other scientific anomales, the possibility that we have all passed into what he likes to call the “stAin hexadecant” or “Universe A” — yes, a parallel reality— sometime in the “last 10 years or so.” Those of you whose have jaws are still hanging open might be inclined, at the moment, to believe that this is the only possible explanation.

What the fuck is going on?

The other explanation is that this is a singular aberration in our same universe — that we never really changed dimensions. Of course, this would have had to be the work of a bumbling time traveler, who mistakenly left a trace of him or herself — in this case, a typo — that altered the course of history. Yes, there is a name for this — the Butterfly Effect. The blog Communist Dance Party has volunteered this theory, and forums from Yahoo! Answers to the now-defunct dreadlocktruth.com (sorry, that’ll bring up a 404 error, wish I could link) have brainstormed further. User “Malachi Tate” on CDP sees no other option than that this is an unintended side effect of the work of the forum-infamous “John Titor,” a time traveler/soldier from 2036 who saved us all from the Y2K bug by retrieving a computer from 1975. Without getting too in-depth, I’ll let the gawd Malachi break it down for you:

“When John Titor traveled back to 1975 to obtain the IBM 5100, he caused some kind of Divergence. We were -supposed- to have Endured a Catastrophe in the form of the “Y2K Bug” (remember how it was a forgone conclusion?) … But he went off-mission, Changed something, and we Avoided It.

Instead of a Grass-roots Renewal of coming back to The Land, our Technology continued to Grow, and we’ve become the Decadent, Disconnected, Obese, Pornographic Culture you see around you.

To me, this BerenstEin (which it WAS, and was supposed to have remained) Phenomenon is an Echo of Proof that OUR World-line was Affected by the Time/Dimensional Traveler, John Titor. Maybe he wasn’t in Our Specific World-line in 1975, but whatever he did There (or Then) caused Ours to be Created as a Branch-off from that point. But he was CERTAINLY in Ours in 2000-2001, as we have the Posts to prove it.”

There you have it. Even “Reece,” in one of his numerous posts on the subject, began to distrust his own theories, after coming across some forum-goers who claim to have always used the “a” spelling. But as he notes, it’s not impossible that these could be visitors from that “stAin” hexawhatsis — maybe even sent to brainwash us. If this is starting to sound like a Madeline L’Engle book, that’s because it basically is. Most of our lives have been a lie — and, however sure we think we are about who we are, it’s just a construction.