The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Every once in a while, mails such as the following erupt and circulate widely, spreading disinformation and canards throughout the world. Many people blindly forward it to their friends; some use it in pub quizzes and claim it's all true; very few are bothered to verify. I am as contrary as a trucker, and so here are my findings, debunking this lot of puerility. (But since my sources are on the Internet as well, you might well want to disbelieve me too.)

In the 1400's a law was set forth in England that a man was allowed to beat his wife with a stick no thicker than his thumb. Hence we have 'the rule of thumb'.
Tosh. There was no such law. It is likelier that the expression (which appears first in the 1700s) stems from the observation that the length of the top joint of a man's thumb is about an inch long. No scale? Use your thumb as a rule.

Many years ago in Scotland , a new game was invented. It was ruled 'Gentlemen Only...Ladies Forbidden'....and thus the word GOLF entered into the English language.
Arrant nonsense.

Every day more money is printed for Monopoly than the U.S. Treasury.
I'm not sure if this is true or not. There's an article by Martin Loughlin that makes this claim, but offers no evidence. So I shall hold fire at this moment.

Men can read smaller print than women can; women can hear better.
There are some sex-based differences among humans, it's true, but the variation is so large that you could almost always find a counter-example to claims such as these. The Language Log, as fine a source of solid information as one can hope to find, there's a good analysis of gender differences. Go and read it and the next time you hear that women use 20,000 words while men only grunt, kick whoever said it in the shins.

Coca-Cola was originally green.
Distilled crap, this. The colour of Coke has always been rich brown. It's been bottled in green bottles, but surely that's not a good reason to make this claim?

It is impossible to lick your elbow.
Take a look at this.

Intelligent people have more zinc and copper in their hair.
First of all, define 'intelligent'. Then explain what zinc or copper has to do with that definition of intelligence. Then show me the evidence.

The first novel ever written on a typewriter: Tom Sawyer.
It appears that Mark Twain made this claim in 1904. But it is difficult to prove. Read all about it here. It seems to be accepted that his typewritten submission was the first to be accepted. On the other hand, he confused his timeline, and there's some evidence that 'Life on the Mississippi' was the first typewritten composition. All on a Remington from 1874! I do have to point out, though, that 'Life on the Mississippi' is not a novel. It's a memoir. Dash it all.

The San Francisco Cable cars are the only mobile National Monuments.
In the United States. Only in the United States. What about the streetcars in New Orleans, eh? Eh?

Each king in a deck of playing cards represents a great king from history:
Spades - King David
Hearts - Charlemagne
Clubs - Alexander the Great
Diamonds - Julius Caesar

A subtle one! Not entirely untrue, but not the complete truth either. The naming of the cards is a French tradition dating back a few centuries. Or so says this site. Note, though, that playing cards themselves are not a French invention, so predating them, the kings might have had other names. Even during the French standardisation around 1780, these kings (and other suits) had been given other names, depending entirely on the whim of the engraver.

111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321
Yeah, and so what? Isn't it obvious? It would have been more remarkable (and as arbitrary, and more forgettable) had the factorization been written as 81 x 1369 x 111333666889.

If a statue in the park of a person on a horse has both front legs in the air, the person died in battle. If the horse has one front leg in the air the person died as a result of wounds received in battle. If the horse has all four legs on the ground, the person died of natural causes.
This used to be a favoured quiz question a few years ago, and I used it on an unsuspecting wife when we first met (she still hasn't forgiven me for it), but I have not found any evidence for this. Indeed, this site says this is possibly only coincidence, and that there has been no such overt tradition in Europe. Another urban legend?

Q. Most boat owners name their boats. What is the most popular boat name requested?
A. Obsession

More trash. Popular in which country? Which year? An informal survey by BoatUS over an 11 year period finds 'Serenity' the most popular in 1992, 1993, 1996, 1998, 2000. 'Obsession' was fifth in 2000. By 2008, 'Happy Ours' was the most popular in the US. Obsession was nowhere in the list. There were also names such as 'Anchor Management'. Two years earlier, the most popular was 'Aquaholic'. What a pointless question this is.

Q. If you were to spell out numbers, how far would you have to go until you would find the letter 'A'?
A. One thousand
On the other hand, if you spelled out the number 101 as 'one hundred and one', you wouldn't have to go as far out as that, eh? And you'd go even farther before you encountered the letter 'Q'. So? Pshaw, I say, pshaw.

Q. What do bulletproof vests, fire escapes, windshield wipers, and laser printers all have in common?
A. All were invented by women.

Some bosh and some truth. Bulletproof vests have been talked about since the 16th century at least; the Koreans came up with a soft vest in the 1860s. At the end of 1880s, Casimir Zeglen, man of Chicago, developed a vest of silk fabric that could stop a slow bullet. The likes of DuPont (of Kevlar fame) have been involved in this as well.

Meanwhile, it's true that the first patent for the fire escape was issued to a woman: Anna Connelly in 1887.

Another woman, Mary Anderson, is credited with the first patent for the windshield wiper swinging arm in the United States in 1903; contemporaneously, J. H. Apjohn "developed a method of moving two brushes up and down on a vertical plate glass windscreen", as Wikipedia deftly has it.

Finally, the laser printer was developed at Xerox by Gary Starkweather. This happened in 1969, and despite all that flower power and hash, he didn't become a woman.

Q. What is the only food that doesn't spoil?
A. Honey
Well, this is true. Ish. Honey has a large sugar content (which is hygroscopic, and sucks moisture out of any bacteria) and some hydrogen peroxide and antimicrobial properties, all of which lend it longevity. But if it is improperly stored, it can develop mould. Surely that's spoilage?

In Shakespeare's time, mattresses were secured on bed frames by ropes. When you pulled on the ropes the mattress tightened, making the bed firmer to sleep on. Hence the phrase 'goodnight, sleep tight.'
As far as I can tell, this is garbage. 'Tight' is generally used to mean 'soundly'. Shakespeare's time doesn't come into it at all. The earliest citation is from 1866, when Susan Bradford Eppes wrote 'Goodbye little Diary. "Sleep tight and wake bright," for I will need you when I return' in her diary Through Some Eventful Years.

It was the accepted practice in Babylon 4,000 years ago that for a month after the wedding, the bride's father would supply his son-in-law with all the mead he could drink. Mead is a honey beer and because their calendar was lunar based, this period was called the honey month, which we know today as the honeymoon.
Again, hogwash. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the earliest known use of this expression is in 1546, 'hony moone', possibly a reference to a new marriage's sweetness and how long it will last (given that the moon begins to wane as soon as it is full). For more detail, check this out.

In English pubs, ale is ordered by pints and quarts... So in old England , when customers got unruly, the bartender would yell at them 'Mind your pints and quarts, and settle down.' It's where we get the phrase 'mind your P's and Q's'
Well, this is as much an explanation as another that exhorted printers to watch out for their letters p and q as these were placed (reversed) on the typeset. Or if you want to be really geeky, you might imagine that if a student were not particularly careful and swapped p and q in a Poisson bracket, he might get momentum (p) and position (q) wrong. Yeah, a likely story, that.

Many years ago in England, pub frequenters had a whistle baked into the rim, or handle, of their ceramic cups. When they needed a refill, they used the whistle to get some service. 'Wet your whistle' is the phrase inspired by this practice.

More pish-posh. Since at least 1386 'whistle' has been used as a colloquialism for 'throat'. In 1612, Beaumont and Fletcher's Coxcomb had it thus: "Let’s have no pitty, for if you do, here’s that shall cut your whistle". The alliteration involved no doubt adds to the longevity. The Word Detective even says that in the 17th century, people would use the expression 'wet your weasand' to mean the same thing. Ah, those obsolete words and meanings.

So there you go. My two bits.


Elaine Saunders - Complete Text said...

Whilst writing my book about pub history I discovered that “Mind your Ps and Qs” might also be another kind of warning. When landlords chalked pints and quarts up “on the slate” they weren’t averse to adding a few extra marks. It’s therefore a warning to customers to watch the bill.

Instead of chalking up on the slate, London Market porters had their drinks marked on a strip of leather or tab, hence “running a tab”. It’s also said to give us the expression “strapped for cash”

Elaine Saunders
Author: A Book About Pub Names
It’s A Book About….blog

Dutchie said...

Oh nice read, Fëanor, more than two bits for sure. Thoroughly enjoyed it !

Elaine's addition here is interesting too. Bravo.

Fëanor said...

Elaine: I didn't know that about the 'tab'. Good stuff, thanks!

Dutchie: There's a lot of nonsense that's constantly forwarded around the Internet, and this is my small fight-back, heheh. Thanks for stopping by!

Fëanor said...

Elaine: since you are a pub maven, you probably already know the various facts I documented in this blog about them. I'd love your feedback:

Elaine Saunders - Complete Text said...

As you can imagine, any fact connected with pubs has to originate in a tall story somewhere along the line.

Whilst researching, I came across so much information that had been parrotted from one blog post to the next. Often it was impossible to separate fact from fiction so I included every interpretation into each entry in the book.

I also cover drinking expressions and also doubt the origin of the Wet Your Whistle idea. At the time, manufacturers had difficulty producing a drinking vessel with a flat botton (hence a tumbler because they kept tumbling over). I therefore think it unlikely that they could have made something as complex as a mug with a whistle in the rim.

However, who knows? Hopefully it will provide more fuel for bar-room debate!

Elaine Saunders
Author – A Book About Pub Names
It’s A Book About….blog

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