I’m always amazed at some of the urban myths and old wives’ tales that people here in Latvia and elsewhere believe. I’ve alluded to some of these at various times in the past. For example, in a previous post, I pointed out that Halloween owes its origins more to Celtic countries like Ireland than the USA, yet people still think of it more as an American festival. So many of these myths persist and people wheel them out without even thinking of whether they’re true or not.
1) “You’ll get fat if you eat after 6pm.”
A student said this one to me recently, inspiring this blog post. Her dietician told her to avoid eating after 6pm in order to lose weight. I nearly choked on my undietfriendly coffee. A calorie is a calorie regardless of the time of day you eat it. Your body also has the same power to process it at all times of the day. Here’s what a popular British weight loss site has to say on this:
“The latest obesity research evidence suggests that restricting food after a particular time in the evening has no effect on overall weight loss. What is important is that you have food throughout the day (including a breakfast) and stick to a daily calorie limit.”
It’s depressing though, that a dietician is giving such baseless advice to someone paying them.
2) Giving people even numbers of flowers can cause them to die early.
Alright. I’m exaggerating. However, in much of Eastern Europe people will shriek with horror if you try and give them 2, 4 or 6 flowers, which are traditionally given for funerals. “Are you trying to kill me?” exclaimed my ex when I once tried to give her four flowers. All I can say is, I’ve given more than one lady an even number of flowers in my time and they’re all still alive and kicking. On Valentine’s Day, it’s even customary in the UK and Ireland to give people 12 red roses, but if there’s research that shows that it affects life expectancy, I’ll stop my dastardly practices.
3) Jesus was an effeminate, pale-skinned, long-haired guy.
Okay, I’ll lay my cards on the table straight away. I’m an atheist and am doomed to spend my eternity roasting in hell like a shashlik (hopefully together with one.) That doesn’t mean that I can’t shake my head in bewilderment at the unlikeliness of the Jesus stereotype shown in photos like this one in Latvian churches and elsewhere:
Oh Jesus. If the great man even existed, where even to start? The beard is about the only bit that they probably got right.
Let’s start with his physique. The guy, according to the bible, was a carpenter. In those days that involved working with stone and marble as well as wood. In his pre-teenage years, he probably started a life of hard, physical labour which would have continued for the next 20 years. A life of heavy physical lifting, breaking up rocks and sanding them down by hand probably left him with a body that Arnold Schwarzie in his prime would have been proud of.
Next, the long hair. What’s with that? Making him look like a marijuana smoking hippy? Almost all busts of important people from that era showed them with short, closely cropped hair. In an era where people could easily be conscripted to the military, it also had advantages in hand to hand combat.
Besides the military stuff, then, as now, people would have followed the fashion of the rich and famous and it was very unusual then for men to have long hair. I suspect this comes from Medieval art, when long hair in men was becoming popular.
Lastly, his skin tone. Given where he was born and the outdoor life he is supposed to have led in a hot climate, it’s unlikely he looked like an Irish/Latvian person in mid-January. To me, it’s bordering on casual racism to make him look that way, as if an Arab-looking guy wouldn’t command the religious devotion of European people.
All in all, if he did exist, I think facially, he would have resembled the computer generated image below that researchers created a few years ago, combined with the guy below that.
4) The word fuck started as an acronym meaning “fornication under the consent of the king”
Now to a word that Jesus almost certainly didn’t use. The word fuck. Definitely one to approach with care. A whole musical genre, punk rock, owes its rise to the outrage caused by The Sex Pistols using it on a regional TV programme in 1976.
Years back I had a private student, a middle-aged, middle-class business woman, who insisted that I teach her all the swear words in English. Her rationale was that she watched lots of English films and needed to understand common swear words. After arguing with her, I relented and a colourful class resulted, even though it was highly surreal to be teaching an otherwise serious business person such words, which she dutifully jotted down in her notebook. In the class, I realised that, although taboo, it’s one of the most versatile words in the English language. It can be
i) a noun (“cool as fuck”)
ii) a pronoun (“he’s a stupid fuck-face”)
iii) a verb (for sexual intercourse)
iv) a phrasal verb (“to fuck up” , “to fuck someone over”)
v) an auxiliary verb (“quiet! He’s fucking sleeping!”)
vi) an adverb (“it was fucking great”)
vii) an adjective (“I’m fucked” i.e. in trouble or drunk.)
viii) a modal particle (“Just fucking move, will you?”)
ix) an interjection (“Fuck! I’ve lost my keys!”)
As a teacher, I don’t recommend the use of such words of course, and I would never use them (*cough*) but they exist in the language.
F.U.C.K simply means Fornication Under Consent of King. in the early years, i was told, that one had to obtain permission before that person could get it on with another.
For Unlawful Cardinal Knowledge
It was crime to have premarital sex so they use the acronym we all know.
The story goes that in older times, couples wanting to enjoy a bit of alone time together had to obtain royal permission and were given a sign with the acronym F.U.C.K on it, which they hung outside their door to dissuade nasty neighbours from reporting them. Not only is that against the rules of English (“by consent of the king” would be correct,) a king busy signing off these little permits for his horny subjects wouldn’t have any time to do anything else. In reality, as Time magazine point out in their history of it, the word seems to have come from older Germanic words for thrust or push, entering English about 500 years ago.
5) Organic food is healthier for you than non-organic food
A lot of people, including my students, unquestioningly seem to believe that a label saying “organic” makes the food healthier. In reality there’s little evidence that organic food is much healthier than non-organic. The Washington Post did a decent analysis of this and found that in terms of meat, eggs and diary products there’s no significant difference to health, no proof that organic fish is better and that the jury is still out on whether it makes a difference to vegetables. Stanford University’s research came to similar conclusions. There may be good environmental reasons for going organic and therefore paying double for a lot of stuff, but the health benefits are doubtful.
6) Irish is a dialect of English
I’m tempted to use the forbidden word in section four above when I hear this. For example, here’s a sentence from the start of the Irish Wikipedia entry on Latvia: “Is ball den Aontas Eorpach í. Tá beagnach naoi gcéad míle duine sa phríomhchathair.” Understand anything of that “dialect?” Nope, I didn’t think so. Irish is much older than English and belongs to a completely different language branch and, like Latvian, doesn’t have so many words of Latin origin (given that the Romans never made it that far in either case.) English has much more in common with French and Swedish and little in common with Irish.
By the same token, no Latvian isn’t a dialect of Russian either. I sometimes think of the relationship between the two as being like English vs Spanish. There are some common words and grammatical structures shared between the two, but they’re far apart otherwise.
7) Santa owes his image to a coca cola advert
A popular urban legend is that Santa comes from a clever coke marketing campaign in the 1930s, the company dressing Santa in coca cola’s colours, which stuck afterwards. For example at this link:
Santa is all about Coke. No joke. Fat and jolly Santa with the red suit and cap, thick black belt, sooty boots, rosy cheeks, luminous eyes and brighter-than-white teeth is the product of a genius advertising campaign created by Coca-Cola in the 1930s. In previous incarnations, Santa wore no red suit.
It’s an interesting story, but doesn’t explain magazine covers like this one, 25 years before the coke ad appeared:
In reality, the Santa Claus image known today seems to have solidified in the early 20th century. Coke just used it, thereby popularising it.
8) Winters in Latvia in the past were much colder and snowier than now
I’ve often heard students lamenting the fact that the winters of their childhoods were, in fact, “more wintery” than now. In reality, a quick look at historical weather records for the past 30 years doesn’t show any great changes compared to today. For example February 1988, just one random month I looked at, was above zero for most of the month.
My own theory on this is that people just remember the more extreme times and milder winters get passed over. Add in a bit of natural nostalgia for the times when things were better (and they were younger) and you have a belief that doesn’t stand up.
Personally, I’ll thank Jesus when it doesn’t snow, as well as praying to him that people stop believing any old rubbish they read on the net.