Questionable facts

One of my friends sent me an eMail today, It’s one of those general trivia eMails dotted with animated cartoons and comical characters to emphasise the “facts” on offer. I started to read them and I immediately identified three of them as wrong right off the bat (first three below). On further investigation I found that fully one quarter of the “facts” were fallacies.

Goldfish AnimationIf you find trivia interesting here are the corrections extracted from my reply to my friend (I removed the whole intro bit, straight down to business)…

Just one or two corrections:

  • “Goldfish have a 3 second memory”

This is not true. Scientists have known that this is false for a while and despite that the popular misconception continues (there is even a South African music band called Goldfish which is so named because the front-man has a notoriously bad memory). Note that the original claim about the three second memory emerged in popular understanding without any scientific study being performed. There were no studies that concluded that the goldfish memory was three seconds, this “fact” appears to have come out of nowhere. But it did start some scientists devising ways to disprove it (such as this good example of disproving goldfish have a bad memory) and it was also a MythBusters episode on the Discovery channel a couple of years ago.

  • “No word rhymes with Purple”

Two words do; hurple (hobble along with one lame foot) and curple (part of a horse’s saddle, also horse’s hind quarters).

You can view the part of the TV show QI where this was discussed here, I laughed my butt off when I watched this episode last year – I was also surprised at the time to learn that “Purple” had a rhyming word. “Orange” rhymes with “sporange” (biology term) and “silver” rhymes with “chilver” (a female lamb) – yeah, I know, weird right?

However, the real list of words which have no rhyming partner is very VERY long. Here are some common examples; citizen, ninth, film, wolf, gulf, angry, husband, luggage, penguin, nothing, something, comedy, synonym, galaxy, vegetable, and so on.

  • “Your eyes are always the same size from birth until death”

Your eyes are always the same size from late teens until death. From birth (when the eye is about 2/3 full adult size) until roughly the second birthday nothing happens and then rapid growth sets in which progressively slows until the late teens early twenties when the eyes are full adult size and do not change after that, At birth the eyes are about 19mm in diameter and by adulthood they are 25mm in diameter. Not a big difference. Compared to the size of the body, the eyes are definitely largest at birth (source here, last paragraph).

  • “February 1865 is the only month in recorded history without a full moon”

This one is quite far off the mark. Not only is 1865 the wrong year (it’s 1866), according to the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia

Because the month of February has only 28 days (or 29 in a leap year), there have been a few occasions during which this month has been without a full moon. In particular, there was no full moon in February 1866, 1885, 1915, 1934, 1961 or 1999. There will be no full moon during February of 2018. In these years, there were instead either two full moons in January, March, or both (as in 1999).

It was the first because not long before that (end of the 16th century) the English were still using a lunar calendar of thirteen months wherein, by definition, each month has one full moon.
Refer to the comments for more details.

  • “There are only 4 words ending in ‘dous’ “

There are many (you can search through these here – I counted 43) but most of them are uncommon (biological terms). Jeopardous is one common example in addition to the four given in the eMail.

  • “Leonardo Davinci invented the scissors”

Scissors were invented thousands of years ago (roughly 1500 BCE) in ancient Egypt. (from Wikipedia)

  • “Winston Churchill was born in a Ladies’ Room during a dance”

Winston Churchill was born in his ancestral home, Blenheim Palace. If there was a dance at the time, I’m certain that his mother would have found a more suitable place for the birth in her own home. And it wouldn’t have been called a “Ladies’ Room” in a palace, at the very least it wasn’t a public convenience as alluded to by the “fact”. The room is currently a tourist destination at the palace and I don’t think that the most common question is “can you move the Toilet Duck so that I can take a picture?”

~ by James on 7 February 2009.

3 Responses to “Questionable facts”

  1. Cool article, thanks James.

  2. Thank you

  3. Apropos Februaries without Full Moons, the English did *not* use a lunar calendar before the end of the 16th century! Questionable facts, indeed.

    England was part of the Roman empire from the mid 1st century AD, and for around 1,700 years it used the Julian calendar, which is a solar calendar. In 1752, England and her American colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar, falling into line with the rest of Europe. The Gregorian calendar is also a solar calendar.

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