50 Common Myths, Busted
It's time to check our beliefs for a few happy falsehoods. In other words: get ready to be the most popular person at the party when you correct everyone for claiming that dogs can't look up.
Here are 50 myths we're busting.
1. Most vikings never wore horns on their helmets.
Some warriors may have had horns affixed to their gear, but they mostly had normal metal helmets. Wagner's 1876 opera The Ring of Nibelung inserted the false, mythic image into our minds. (You may remember it from when Elmer Fudd sang it.)
2. Iron maidens weren't used to torture people.
We've imagined them for thousands of years, but the idea that they were in use in Medieval Europe was essentially 18th century slander against a time thought as barbaric.
3. Marie Antoinette never said "let them eat cake."
Firstly, the original claim was that she said the peasants should eat brioche. Secondly, there's zero evidence that she ever said it or something like it, but there are examples from earlier folklore where oblivious aristocrats show their ignorance by telling the starving poor to simply eat rich luxurious cake.
4. Anne Boleyn probably did not have 11 fingers.
While we're on the topic of French royal women who were forcibly separated from their heads: Anne Boleyn did not have 11 fingers. That description comes from Catholic writer Nicholas Sander. One problem: He never saw her in person. Oh, and he hated her family.
5. The American Declaration Of Independence was not signed on July 4th.
Congress approved the Declaration of Independence language on the 4th, but the document wasn't signed until August 2, 1776.
6. The United States Constitution was not written on hemp paper.
Also, not to harsh on your buzz, but the U.S. Constitution was not written on hemp paper. Tons of documents were, but the Constitution was written on parchment.
7. Napoleon didn't have a Napoleon complex.
Napoleon was 5'7", which was actually slightly above average height for people of his time. His nickname was "The Little Corporal," and his enemies spread propaganda saying he was tiny.
8. Albert Einstein did not fail math at school.
This has spread as a lesson in perseverance, but it's not true. Einstein was obviously fantastically intelligent, reading college-level physics books at age 11. He did, however, fail an entrance exam to Zurich Polytechnic ... but that was only because it was in French, which he didn't speak.
9. John F. Kennedy wasn't saying he was a donut.
The confusion, as with so many things, stems from German grammar. Although "eine Berliner" is a type of donut, when JFK said "Ich bin eine Berliner" at the climax of his immortal anti-communist speech in West Berlin, he was saying the phrase correctly. You only say "Ich bin Berliner" to mean "I'm a Berliner," if you were born in Berlin. Plus, no one there was confused (and JFK thoroughly checked the speech with a translator).
10. Sushi does not mean "raw fish."
It means "sour rice."
11. Placing metal in a microwave doesn't ruin the microwave.
I mean, it's a bad idea. You shouldn't do it. But the microwave itself will survive.
12. The word crap doesn't come from where you think it does.
The word crap is not derived from the great Thomas Crapper, who innovated the field of indoor plumbing. Crap just comes from Latin, like every other word.
13. 420 is not the Los Angeles police code for marijuana possession.
The slang term beloved by marijuana enthusiasts got started by high school smokers in San Rafael, California when they'd meet at 4:20 p.m. to get high at a statue of Louis Pasteur.
14. The Great Wall Of China is not the only man-made object that's visible from space.
For one thing, many man-made objects are visible from space. For another thing, the Great Wall of China is not one of them.
15. There's no such thing as an elephant graveyard.
When elephants want to die, they just lie down and do it. The idea that there's a place where older elephants go to die isn't so much a sweet sentiment about our pachyderm friends, but an El Dorado-like story about a massive pile of valuable ivory just lying around for the taking.
16. Sharks can get cancer.
The 1992 book Sharks Don't Get Cancer led to a huge increase in people using ground-up shark cartilage to treat cancer. That doesn't work. Also, sharks get cancer.
17. Chameleons changing color isn't really about camouflage.
It helps them regulate their temperature, and also it's a way of communicating. They're like, "Hey there, you're pretty attractive, but I don't know how to talk, so I'm just going to turn red." Chameleons are super fast, so they're more likely to run if a predator is around.
18. Throwing rice at weddings doesn't make birds explode.
Birds eating your symbolically-tossed rice only to have it expand in their stomachs and blow up? It's just not a thing. And it's even been tested scientifically. Plus, birds eat rice all the time in the wild.
19. An earthworm does not become two earthworms when you cut it in half.
Worms don't work like that, people! If it's lucky, the part with the mouth survives, and you're left with one smaller earthworm; but in all likelihood, you're left with one dead earthworm in two pieces.
20. Humans have more than five senses.
That includes a sense of time, acceleration, limb position ... the five senses were made up by Aristotle. We probably have between 14 and 20.
21. Shaving does not make hair grow back thicker or coarser.
No matter what part of your body you're shaving.
22. Your fingernails don't keep growing after you die.
They appear to keep growing because your skin recedes. You stop making glucose, you stop growing fingernails.
23. Gum doesn't take seven years to digest.
If you swallow your gum, it will not stick in your stomach for seven years. It goes through your body just the same as anything else that you eat, except batteries. If you take one thing away from this article: DON'T EAT BATTERIES.
24. People use more than 10 percent of their brains.
A misquote of William James seems to have coined this one. We don't have 90 percent spare capacity lying around waiting to be used on kung fu.
25. You can't catch warts from toads.
But you can catch warts from other people. Which is why we always say: only socialize with toads.
26. A penny dropped from the Empire State Building will not kill someone if it lands on their head.
The terminal velocity of a penny is between 30 and 50 miles per hour, which is not fast enough to kill anyone—especially with the wind slowing it down. Also, if you drop a penny from the top of the Empire State Building, it will probably land three stories below you, because of the building's shape.
27. Abner Doubleday did not invent baseball.
Abner Doubleday never even claimed to have invented baseball. The game was evolving from cricket and rounders long before the Civil War hero was born.
28. The Caesar salad is not named for Julius Caesar.
The exact origin is slightly fuzzy, but it was named after Caesar Cardini, who invented the salad in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1924.
29. Puff The Magic Dragon is not about marijuana.
The poem's author, Leonard Lipton, does not think writing a children's poem about smoking marijuana would be a good idea. He credits a New York newspaper columnist with inventing the myth, but thinks if she hadn't done it, someone else would have.
30. Sherlock Holmes never said, "Elementary, my dear Watson" in the books.
Basil Rathbone said it in 1929's The Return of Sherlock Holmes, but the myth that it was a catchphrase from the books was already pervasive then.
31. No one says, "Play it again, Sam" in Casablanca.
Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) says, "Play it once, Sam, for old times' sake," when asking the piano man to play As Time Goes By.
32. Sarah Palin never said, "I can see Russia from my house."
It was part of the Tina Fey SNL sketch. But it did get entered into the Congressional record when a representative read the script for it on the House floor.
33. Al Gore never said, "I invented the internet."
He never said it, and he should get a little credit for the internet's existence.
34. Danishes are not from Denmark.
35. Humans didn't evolve from chimps.
We share a common ancestor (from 6 to 7 million years ago). We did evolve, though!
36. You pronounce Don Juan correctly, but Lord Byron didn't.
The Italian libertine is Don Juan, but in Byron's epic poem, "Don Juan" [jew-an] rhymes with "true one."
37. You would not explode in the vacuum of space.
But you would almost definitely die. Just to be safe, the first thing you should do is exhale (or the air in your lungs would expand in a way that you will not appreciate).
38. No one was burned at the stake during the Salem Witch Trials.
People were hanged, and one was crushed with stones, but no burning!
39. Fortune cookies are not Chinese.
40. Redheads are not about to go extinct.
They're rare, but the MC1R gene mutation isn't going anywhere.
41. Blondes aren't going extinct either.
Even though claims that they are have popped up from time to time since the 19th century.
42. No one died during the chariot race in Ben-Hur.
Since no one died, they definitely didn't include the death in the final cut of the film as the double dose myth suggests. Stuntperson Joe Canutt flipped off a chariot, and everyone (including his father Yak, who was directing the stunt sequence) thought he'd died, but he'd only cut himself. That scene was left in.
43. Mussolini did not make the trains run on time.
So really no good qualities then.
44. Storing batteries in the freezer does not improve their performance.
Room temperature is best. Extremes in cold or heat aren't good for batteries. And, seriously, don't eat them.
45. You don't need to refrigerate peanut butter.
And speaking of unnecessary cooling: there is never a need to refrigerate peanut butter.
46. Walt Disney is not cryogenically frozen.
He is also not peanut butter.
47. Walt Disney's will does not demand that all the studio's movies be remade every 10 years.
It just feels that way. Turns out the remakes are largely popular, and the studio likes making money. It's true, however, that a man once got stuck on the It's a Small World ride and had to listen to the song for half an hour.
48. There are more than three states of matter.
If you think everything is just solids, liquids, and gasses, you're forgetting about plasma and the scientist-made Bose-Einstein condensate.
49. Fidel Castro wasn't almost a New York Yankee.
It's possible that he went to an open tryout with the Washington Senators, but he was never scouted by any team.
50. Toilets flush in both directions in both hemispheres.
Sorry. Really. So, so sorry. Toilets and tornadoes tend to have a preference depending on which side of the equator they're spinning, but they can go either way.
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