Factoids Debunked & Verified, Part II

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Factoids Like most people with e-mail, I get plenty of forwards. Usually, a quick visit to Snopes is enough to check them out (debunking them, more often then not). Sometimes, though, I'll get an e-mail that's just one big long list of supposed facts, and it can be a little harder to find a handy page dealing with all of them.

The first time I went through the excercise of checking all the factoids from an e-mail, I ended up having to go to a lot of independent sites to research the claims. With this e-mail, though, a lot of the claims are dealt with on Snopes and related sites. In particular, WordOrigins.org and WorldWideWords.org seem to be two very good sites for word and phrase etymologies. Towards the end of my research, I also ran across a blog, PopularMisconceptions.com, that seems to be going through this same e-mail that I received, and making posts on a claim by claim basis. However, for all these other sites I've found, you still have to go researching the claims individually - there's no compiled list like I have here, so I figured that for all the people that have gotten a version of the same e-mail I received, I'd still go through and make this page to help people check these claims more quickly. Plus, in some instances, I was able to find more information than what was available from those sites, so I can include that, too. By the way, the particular e-mail I received does appear to be a compilation of several factoid lists.



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'
False- The phrase, 'rule of thumb,' most likely comes from using your thumb to measure things - in most adults, the distance from the tip of the thumb to the first joint is about an inch. Regarding the claimed etymology in this factoid, Sharon Fenick, the first link given below, appears to have the definitive answer on the Internet. There is a grain of truth to it. It used to be accepted for men to hit their wives. There even appear to be a few legal cases where judges used the thumb or some other finger as a guide to how big of a stick the men could use (and contemporary accounts of others thinking those judges as barbarous). However, none of those legal cases appear to be associated with the phrase, 'rule of thumb.' In fact, all the cases listed by Fencik come after some of the reported usages given in the other links below. This folk etymology appears to have originated in a NOW report by Del Martin, Battered Wives:

For instance, the common-law doctrine had been modified to allow the husband "the right to whip his wife, provided that he used a switch no bigger than his thumb"-a rule of thumb, so to speak.

This play on words was misinterpreted, and a new urban legend born.

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.
False- The truth is, nobody's really quite sure. Some dictionaries list the old Scottish word, gowf, meaning a blow with an open hand or used as a verb meaning to strike, but still, nobody's sure if that inspired the name of the game or vice versa. Still, it certainly didn't come from the acronym listed above.

The first couple to be shown in bed together on prime time TV were Fred and Wilma Flintstone.
False- It was the actress and actor Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns, starring themselves in a sitcom named, Mary Kay and Johnny. The show debuted in 1947, and ran for three years (compared to The Flintstones, which ran from 1960-1966).

Every day more money is printed for Monopoly than the U.S . Treasury.
Probably False- According to Hasbro's website, Monopoly was introduced in 1935, has sold over 250 million copies since then, and contains $15,140 per game. That's $3.79x10^12 in 72 years, or $52,569,444,444.44 per year, or $144,025,875.19 per day, as a rough average. According to the Treasury Department's web site, in 2006, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) printed $529 million per day (mostly to replace old notes in circulation). So, IF sales of Monopoly have been relatively steady over the past 70 years, the BEP is now printing more money than is being printed for Monopoly. However, keep in mind that the $529 million per day figure for the BEP was for 2006. There's been a lot of inflation in the past 70 years, so I don't know what their average has been.
Note that for this factoid, I used the research already done by PopularMisconceptions.com.

Men can read smaller print than women can; women can hear better.
Possibly True, On Average- So far, I've only found a reference to hearing. It states that on average, women's hearing is slightly more sensitive than men's. To quote from the link below:

But those two little words "on average" are crucial. If you pick a man and a women (or a boy and a girl) at random, the chances are about 6 in 10 that the girl's hearing will be more sensitive -- but about 4 in 10 that the boy's hearing will be more sensitive.


Coca-Cola was originally green.
False- Coke has always been brown. Snopes implies that the brown color was intentional, to help hide any impurities in the days when making Coke was still a small scale operation.

It is impossible to lick your elbow.
False- It may be rare, but some people can do it. Since seeing is believing, here are 3 YouTube videos proving it. (For the record, I can't quite do it.)

At least 75% of people who read this will try to lick their elbow!
Unsubstantiated- But I'd be willing to be that a lot of people will try or have tried.

The State with the highest percentage of people who walk to work: Alaska
True- If I managed to figure out the data server from the US Census Bureau correctly, then it looks like Alaska does indeed have the highest percentage of people that walk to work from any state - 4.3% compared to the national average of 1.3%. The next closest state, Vermont, had 3.1% of its working force commute by foot.D.C. beats them all at 5.8%, but D.C.'s not technically a state. Plus, I think cities in general have more people that walk to work than rural areas, and I'm not sure how D.C. compares to other cities.
long link from http://factfinder.census.gov/

The percentage of Africa that is wilderness: 28% (now get this...) The percentage of North America that is wilderness: 38%
Probably True- The best data I can find on this is the paper linked to below. Unfortunately for trying to verify this factoid, it doesn't have Arctic Tundra or Boreal Forests broken down by continent. However, it does have a figure, which I've copied below. The figure does make it look like North America has a higher percentage of wilderness than Africa, mostly due to the Arctic Tundra and Boreal Forests, which in North America are mostly in Canada and Alaska. From looking at the figure, it does look like both continents have more wilderness than the factoid states, but the authors of the study explain this when comparing their study to previous studies, "Nevertheless, both of these studies produced wilderness maps remarkably similar to ours, although with lower overall areas of wilderness because of their use of more severe thresholds..."
Wilderness Map by Mittermeier et al
Figure from Mittermeier, R. A., Mittermeier, C. G., Brooks, T. M., Pilgrim, J. D., Konstant, W. R., da Fonseca, G. A. B. & Kormos, C. (2003) Wilderness and biodiversity conservation, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci . USA 100, 10309-10313
long link from PNAS.org

The cost of raising a medium-size dog to the age of eleven: $ 16,400
True Enough- It can vary a lot, but $16,000 is certainly in the ball park. Vet bills, grooming bills, supplies and food all add up. The page linked to below has a fairly detailed breakdown. For a 14 year old dog, he puts the low end at $4,242, said that it's cost him personally $12,468, and can get as high as $38,905.

The average number of people airborne over the U.S. in any given hour: 61,000

Intelligent people have more zinc and copper in their hair.
Unsure- I really just can't find anything about this on Google that's reputable, or cites any references. Maybe I need to learn some new research methods.

The first novel ever written on a typewriter: Tom Sawyer.
Maybe- Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) himself claimed as much in his autobiography, but he said, "probably." The first link below says pretty clearly, but without giving a reference, that Clemens' memory didn't serve him very well, and that in fact it was another of his books, Life on the Mississippi, published in 1883. The second link below is from a blogger, David Peterson, who did a little bit of research, and says that it seems most like that Life on the Mississippi was the first typewritten manuscript submitted to a publisher. However, Clemens still originally wrote those stories by hand, and then dictated them. It would seem to be safe to say that Clemens submitted the first typed manuscript, but as far as the first author to use a typewriter to write the story originially, that's a little tougher to say.
http://home.earthlink.net/~dcrehr/firsttw.html http://circadianoesis.blogspot.com/2006/03/tom-sawyer-was-not-first-typewritten.html

The San Francisco Cable cars are the only mobile National Monuments.
False- The cable cars are National Historic Landmarks, not Monuments. The USS Constellation and USS Constitution are also both historic landmarks, which as ships, I'd say are mobile. If you want something modern, the USS Nautilus is a historic landmark, too. I didn't skim through the rest of the list to see if there were any more mobile landmarks, but it wouldn't surprise me at all.

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

Partially True- I found this one on Snopes. They have it listed as False, but here's their summary:

In summary, the court cards in decks of playing cards were not initially identified by name. The assignation of identities to the kings (as well as the queens and knaves) was a temporary practice unique to French card masters that began around the mid-15th century, was not standardized for some time, and was discontinued at the end of the 18th century. The royal figures on modern playing cards no more represent specific persons than do the kings and queens in chess sets.

So, for a time, the king cards did represent those historical kings. However, the cards have also represented Solomon, Augustus, Clovis, and Constantine, among others.

111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321
True- Obviously enough. The same pattern also works with smaller numbers where all the digits are a one. 112 = 121, 1112 = 12321, etc.

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.
False- Cecil Adams from The Straight Dope went and researched this claim on 18 statues, and even giving the code the benefit of the doubt for cases like having a rear leg in the air, found that only 8 statues matched. He also had this to say in his conclusion:

Significantly, in the two equestrian statues I turned up by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, one of the most famous sculptors of his day and someone who surely would have respected a code had there been one, I found that one piece did correspond with the code and one didn't.

So, it would seem that there probably never was such a code. But, even if there had been at some point, it's certainly not a reliable indicator for any old statue you might just happen to see.

Only two people signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, John Hancock and Charles Thomson. Most of the rest signed on August 2, but the last signature wasn't added until 5 years later.
Mostly True, but Misleading- On July 2nd, 1776, 12 of the 13 colonies of the Continental Congress approved a resolution for independence. Thomas Jefferson and others had already been working on the Declaration of Independence prior to that, and the final rough draft was approved by the Congress on July 4th, 1776. This draft was "Signed by Order and in Behalf of the Congress, John Hancock, President. Attest. Charles Thomson, Secretary," but it is not the same version as what everyone is used to seeing. It was sent off to the printing shop of John Dunlap, who made many copies for distribution, which have become known as "Dunlap Broadsides." On July 9th, New York approved the resolution for independence, and shortly thereafter on July 19th, the Congress ordered that the Declaration be "fairly engrossed on parchment, with the title and stile [sic] of 'The unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America,' and that the same, when engrossed, be signed by every member of Congress." Engrossing was the process of an expert at penmanship writing the document neatly. This is the version that we're used to seeing. On August 2nd, most of the members of the Congress signed the Declaration, except for those who had had to leave for various reasons but signed it later, and a few who didn't agree with the resolution and never signed. It appears that Thomas McKean was the last person to sign. After voting to approve the Declaration, he had to leave the Congress early as colonel in command of the Fourth Battalion of the Pennsylvania Associators. In January of 1777, the Congress approved a printed copy to include all the signatories. McKean was not on this version, indicating that he either signed the Declaration later, or that somebody involved in the printing made a mistake.

Q. Half of all Americans live within 50 miles of what?
A. Their birthplace

Unsure- I haven't yet been able to find any good evidence on this. It wouldn't surprise me at all if it were true, though. It seems pretty consistent with the people I know personally.

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

Probably False- I wasn't able to find any official documentation on this, since the law doesn't require most boat owners to register the names of their boats. The name is more or less a decoration, up to personal taste. The few lists I did find, compiled by companies that make the lettering for people to put the names on, show that while Obsession is popular, and in fact was the most popular a few individual years, it doesn't appear to be the most popular over the long run. It looks like Serenity may hold that honor, but it's really hard to tell without some good, hard statistics.

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

True- As long as you're not one of those people like me who says "a hundred" instead of "one hundred," and as long as you're counting in English. Cuatro/quattro/quatro/quatre is 4 in the romance languages. And acht is 8 in German & Dutch. I suppose you could count in Chinese and never get an a, or any other of the 26 letters in our alphabet, for that matter.

Q. What do bulletproof vests, fire escapes, windshield wipers, and laser printers all have in common? A. All were invented by women.
False- Individuals have probably been trying to make some type of bullet proof armor for as long as there have been bullets, but the credit for the first commercially available bullet proof vest goes to a man, Casimir Zeglen of Chicago, who developed it in the late 1800's. He used silk as the material to impede the bullet. However, it was a woman, Stephanie Kwolek, working at DuPont, who invented Kevlar, the material used in most modern bullet proof vests. The laser printer wasn't invented by a woman, either. It was invented by Gary Starkweather of Xerox in 1969. Additionally, the core technology behind laser printers, photocopying, was invented by Chester Carlson ca. 1938. The other two items listed were invented by women, though - fire escapes by Anna Connelly ca. 1887 and windshield wipers by Mary Anderson ca. 1903.

Q. What is the only food that doesn't spoil?
A. Honey

False- It is true that raw honey won't spoil if kept in a sealed container, but it's not the only food. From what I've been able to gather, this appears to be due to the fact that honey is mostly concentrated sugar. This makes it act as a dehydrating agent if bacteria or mold do happen to land on it (I'm sure, in the same way as salt does), killing them before they can start to grow. However, sugar is the same way. If you keep plain old granulated sugar in a sealed container, it won't spoil, either. I think highly salted foods (beef jerky, pickles, etc.) last a while, too. However, if honey isn't kept in a sealed container, it can absorb water, lowering the concentration of sugar to the point where it can spoil. Maybe the writer of this factoid meant the only naturally occuring food (i.e. processed by other animals besides humans) that won't spoil. I'm not sure about that one.

Q. Which day are there more collect calls than any other day of the year?
A. Father's Day

True- According to Snopes, at least. Snopes also says that Mother's Day gets the second most collect calls, followed by Valentine's day.

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.'
False- In this case, tight means good, or soundly, kind of like in the expression, "Sit tight." It has nothing to do with the style of bed (by the way, beds in that time were constructed the way the factoid states).

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.
False- It seems most likely that honey moon is a reference to the fact that marriages start very sweet, like honey, but the love wanes and waxes, like the moon.

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'
Unsure- There are several explanations for where this saying came from, but nobody's really quite sure. To quote from the first link provided below, here are a few of the common explanations.

  • Advice to a child learning its letters to be careful not to mix up the handwritten lower-case letters p and q.
  • Similar advice to a printer's apprentice, for whom the backward-facing metal type letters would be especially confusing.
  • Jocular, or perhaps deadly serious, advice to a barman not to confuse the letters p and q on the tally slate, on which the letters stood for the pints and quarts consumed "on tick" by the patrons.
  • An abbreviation of mind your please's and thank-you's.
  • Instructions from a French dancing master to be sure to perform the dance figures pieds and queues accurately.
  • An admonishment to seamen not to soil their navy pea-jackets with their tarred queues, that is, their pigtails.


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.
False- Whistle used to be a slang term for your throat, so the expression simply means to get your throat wet. I mean, honestly, can you imagine being in a bar, and blowing on a whistle to get the bar tender's attention, instead of just calling out to him, or walking up to the bar?

Don't delete this just because it looks weird. Believe it or not, you can read it.

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh?

False- Yes, it's interesting, and yes, I can make it out, but it's not exactly as easy as reading it if everything were written properly. For instance, where it said "I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd," it took me a little while to figure out that the second word wasn't "cloud," but "could." Also, there doesn't appear to be any actual study done by Cambridge on this subject. The first link provide below goes into great detail on some real science of reading in relation to this factoid. It also mentions what might be the inspiration, a letter to New Scientist by Dr. Graham Rawlinson, describing his PhD work at Nottingham University.

This reminds me of my PhD at Nottingham University (1976), which showed that randomising letters in the middle of words had little or no effect on the ability of skilled readers to understand the text...
The resaon for this is suerly that idnetiyfing coentnt by paarllel prseocsing speeds up regnicoiton. We only need the first and last two letetrs to spot chganes in meniang.

However, the page linked to below does go on to show that this isn't exactly the case, explaining why, and giving threee example sentences all following that rule, but which become increasingly difficult to read.


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