IT IS WHAT IT IS—OR IS IT? 5 CURIOUS MISCONCEPTIONS IN COMMON KNOWLEDGE
Knowledge is a tricky thing. It’s so vast and abstract, and yet it is one of the most important things in our society. Knowledge is power, some say, and many agree. Once we think we know something, it’s difficult to convince us otherwise—and maybe even impossible, depending on the person. This gets even more complicated when it comes to something that’s commonly accepted. Because if it’s commonly accepted, it’s for a reason, right? It has to be right, right?
For example, if you’re a person who cracks their knuckles often, surely someone will have said to you something along the lines of “that’s bad for your joints”, “you’ll eventually get arthritis!” Or when you were a kid, I bet your parents always warned you—with that especially stern look in their eyes that made you even smaller than you already were—not to go swimming right after you’d eaten because you would get cramps.
And they were totally right, weren’t they?
Surprise, surprise, it’s not always the case. In fact, neither of the above statements are true.
More often than not, what we take as common knowledge is nothing more than a misconception that has been rooting in society for a very long time, so long that no one bothers to question it because it’s kind of always been there and it makes sense… or does it?
We can find these infamous misconceptions in almost every aspect of our lives, from history to medicine, over science and sports and everything else. Here are five interesting examples of how we think things are and how they actually are.
5. Not as Short as You’d Think: It seems to be a fact that Napoléon Bonaparte’s megalomania was considerably bigger than him, to the point that he was nicknamed The Little Corporal for his height—or rather for the lack of it. However, it turns out that the French emperor wasn’t as short as we always thought. After his death, his height was recorded as 1.69m (5’2 in French feet, which translates to 5’7 feet)—slightly taller than the average French, even. On the other side, Napoléon was often accompanied by the Imperial Guard, who were selected for their height, which could have also contributed to this false perception. And the nickname, you might ask yourself. Well, that was probably just for affection.
4. The Atheists did not Strike Again: Have you ever wondered why we sometimes say Xmas instead of Christmas? If you think it was an attempt to get rid of religion and take out the Christ in Christmas, you’re wrong. The X actually stands for the Greek letter Chi (χῖ), the starting letter in “Christós” in Greek. The use of Xmas can be traced back to monks in Great Britain in the year 1021. Didn’t see that one coming, huh?
3. What doesn’t Kill you… is maybe not even supposed to: Urban legends say that the daddy longlegs spider is the most venomous spider in the world, but thanks to the shape of their mandibles, they can’t pierce through human skin. Plot twist: They can bite humans, but they carry so little venom that it would only cause us a small burning sensation for a few moments and not a horrible, painful death. In addition, harvestmen and crane flies are also called daddy longlegs and believed to be venomous, too.
2. Sometimes Words are quite Misleading: You know when you’re learning a foreign language and they warn you about false friends? Words that sound similar to some in your own language, but mean something that has nothing to do with them? Well, that is exactly what happened to the Roman’s vomitorium. Contrary to what the word might suggest, it was not a special room where they purged their food during meals to keep eating more afterwards. It was simply the name for the entranceway through which you entered and exited a stadium. Funny, these languages…
1. A Matter of Chastity?: You all know what a chastity belt is, of course… but do you? Yes, that device from the Middle Ages to stop women from having sex, that’s what it is! Except it isn’t. Modern historians state that the chastity belt wasn’t invented in the Middle Ages, but it was rather an anti-masturbatory device from the 19th and early 20th centuries—made from the belief that masturbation could lead to insanity. … And as a fun fact, they were mostly bought by parents for their teenage children.
So, how many of you knew what was up? If I just happened to destroy a few myths for you, I’m afraid I will not apologize, it was time you saw the light. But they aren’t called common misconceptions for nothing; you don’t have to be embarrassed.
If this has gotten you interested, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the next brand new Brain Games episode about misconceptions. And not only that, but you’ll also find out why we’re so attached to money, how our morality works or how far we can take our imagination. Excited yet? Then don’t forget to tune in to Brain Games, premiering in March on NatGeo!