In an age where all the world’s information is at our fingertips, you’d think that uncertainty would be a thing of the past. After all, with every question that pops into our heads, couldn’t a quick Google search just give us the answer? Sure, those results may sound promising, but little did we know that misinformation runs far deeper than a bit of a fake news.
For centuries, humans have relied upon certain myths and beliefs as absolute fact — most of them, however, are actually lies. These 20 myths were once some of the most widely believed, but now that the truth is out, you’ll never know what — or who — to trust again.
1. Despite Independence Day being celebrated as the day the U.S. became an independent nation, the Declaration of Independence wasn’t signed on the 4th of July. The language of the document was approved on July 4 — the Declaration wasn’t signed until August 2.
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2. Though a story in perseverance that’s inspired many, Michael Jordan actually wasn’t cut from his high school basketball team — or, at least, in the way most think. Jordan was cut from the varsity team during his sophomore year, as in those days underclassmen rarely made varsity.
3. Although your takeout sushi menu might tell you otherwise, the word “sushi” in Japanese doesn’t mean “raw fish.” The word roughly translates to “sour rice,” appropriate given the earliest sushi was a means of preserving fish in fermented rice.
4. Most people believe the Caesar salad is an Italian creation, named after Roman emperor Julius Caesar — wrong! It’s actually Mexican, created by chef Caesar Cardini at his restaurant in Tijuana.
5. No Chinese takeout order is complete without fortune cookies, but did you know that these after-dinner treats aren’t Chinese at all? The first fortune cookies were actually invented in California and are based on a similar dessert originally from Japan.
6. As a child, the dangers of swallowing gum were well known, the threat of that tiny bit of rubber sitting in your stomach for seven years always in the back of your mind. Well, good news: gum digests just as quickly and as harmlessly as any other food.
7. The Great Wall of China is the only man-made structure visible from space — or, at least, that’s what you’ve probably heard. In reality, not only is the Great Wall not visible from space, but there are other structures — such as the pyramids of Giza — that are.
8. Quick: what would you say is Sherlock Holmes’ most quotable catchphrase from Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels? If you said “Elementary, my dear Watson,” you’d be wrong. Basil Rathbone was the first to quip that in 1929’s The Return of Sherlock Holmes — the phrase never appears in the books.
9. On the heels of the 1992 book Sharks Don’t Get Cancer, sufferers everywhere clamored to get their hands on ground shark cartilage under the pretense that it could help cure them. Well, not only does the cartilage not cure cancer, but sharks can develop the disease, albeit rarely.
10. Between 2002 and 2006, several reports emerged that claimed, according to a World Health Organization study, that the blond hair gene would be extinct by 2202. The study, it turned out, never existed, and blondes are still kicking it to this day.
11. Good news for people who were tortured during Medieval times: iron maidens didn’t exist. The use of these devices was actually a myth started in the 18th century to make the Middle Ages seem more barbaric, and the ones that stand in museums are actually just misinterpreted reconstructions of other devices.
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12. Don’t listen to your grandma: Freezing your batteries will not make them last longer. Extreme temperatures, whether hot or cold, will only drain them faster. Keeping batteries at room temperature is the best way to prevent them from draining.
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13. Tired of dating sites never finding you your prince charming? Try kissing a few toads. Contrary to popular belief, these bumpy little frogs don’t give you warts, so feel free to pucker up!
14. Despite the term bearing his name, Napoléon Bonaparte didn’t have a “Napoleon Complex.” At 5’7″, the French emperor was slightly above average height for people of the time — it was his enemies that spread false rumors about his short stature.
15. Isn’t it cool that chameleons change color in order to blend in with their surroundings? Well, they don’t. The real purpose for this color change is to regulate their body temperature and communicate their mood to other chameleons.
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16. If you slice an earthworm in half, the individual halves actually don’t become two distinct worms. Only the half with the worm’s mouth will live, though it’ll likely only survive for a few minutes.
17. One unsettling myth states that your fingernails continue to grow long after you die. Well, bad news, fingernail fans: while the nails will appear longer, this is simply because the skin has receded away from them.
18. No one in 1942’s Casablanca ever says the phrase, “Play it again, Sam.” It’s Ingrid Bergman’s line “Play it once, Sam, for old times’ sake,” that spurs the tinkling of “As Time Goes By.”
19. If you’ve ever wanted to toss a penny off the Empire State Building, you don’t have to worry about sending someone to the morgue. That’s because a penny can only reach a terminal velocity of between 30 and 50 mph — just enough to leave a nice bump on the head.
20. While it’s a widely held belief that humans have only five senses, this was simply a construct devised by Greek philosopher Aristotle. Humans actually have between 14 and 20 senses, including sense of time and acceleration.
Like myths, most superstitions are also based on misconceptions. Strolling beneath a leaning ladder is a quick way to negatively influence your love life and is also seen as an open gesture welcoming the devil and other evil spirits. But how did this logic come to be?
The ladder superstition is primarily based in religion, as the triangular shape the ladder makes represents the Holy Trinity — thus, passing through it is seen as disrespectful to God. There’s also the physical threat of a tool or person falling and clocking you in the head.
2. Black cats: They may be adorable, but over the years, black cats have gained a reputation for being omens of bad luck. If one crosses your path, it’s said the devil himself is keeping a close eye on you.
Though they were once considered bringers of good luck, their association with witches in the Middle Ages completely changed the popular perception of black cats. Many actually believed these animals were witches in disguise, leading to them being chased from homes and villages.
3. Opening an umbrella indoors: Even on the rainiest days, you’d be surprised at how many people wait until they’re outside before opening their umbrella. Superstition has it that opening one inside will lead to bad luck “raining” down upon you.
This practice originated in Victorian England, though the reason had nothing to do with bad luck. Early umbrellas were made of metal spokes and notoriously unreliable springs: if opened inside, the umbrella threatened to fly off its handle and strike another person!
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4. Tossing spilled salt over your left shoulder: You’ve probably seen a handful of people do it, but do you really need to be tossing seasoning at the dinner table? Well, if you don’t, the devil standing over your shoulder is sure to stick around.
The basis for this superstition is as practical as it is religious, as salt was once considered extremely valuable. Only someone under the influence of evil would waste such a priceless resource, so tossing it over your left shoulder — and into the devil’s face — prevents further temptation.
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5. Breaking a mirror: Oh no! You accidentally just shattered that brand-new mirror you got from Pier 1. Not only is there tons of broken glass to sweep up, but now you’ve got seven years of bad luck to boot.
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This belief began in ancient Greece, where diviners would condemn the sick if their reflection in a looking glass was distorted. The Romans eventually altered the reading to seven years of sickness and misfortune, as they believed a person’s health changed every seven years.
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6. Unlucky 13: Friday the 13th is considered the unluckiest day of the year, and most tall buildings are built without a 13th floor — but why? Of the infinite combinations of numbers in existence, why is 13 so universally feared?
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Norse mythology is to blame, as in one legend Loki, the god of mischief, was the 13th guest at a feast in Valhalla and caused the death of Balder, god of light and purity. The evils of 13 later became associated with the Last Supper, as Judas Iscariot was also the 13th guest.
7. “God bless you”: Nowadays, not saying “God bless you” after someone sneezes is merely a social faux pas, a flub that makes you look like a jerk in the office. In the sixth century, however, it was the difference between life and death.
During this time, the plague was running rampant throughout Europe, and the sniffles meant that death was usually not far behind. As a result, Pope Gregory mandated that sneezes be followed with “God bless you” as a prayer for the sick.
8. Toasting with water: Raising a glass in celebration should be a show of good faith regardless of what it’s filled with, though if it’s water, the opposite is true. When toasting someone with water, it actually means you’re wishing death upon them.
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The ancient Greeks were the first to warn of this practice, as they would only toast with water to honor the dead. This belief stemmed from the myths of the River Lethe, the drinking of its water serving to help the souls of the Underworld pass on.
9. Knocking on wood: Did you tell a friend you’re hoping for some good news? Or that you really hope something terrible doesn’t happen? You better find the nearest table or chair and knock twice, or else you’re going to be in for a bad time.
That’s because early pagans believed that trees contained fairies, spirits, and other mystical creatures. By knocking on wood, they believed these creatures would grant them good luck or even keep evil spirits from influencing their lives.
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10. Hanging a horseshoe: An old Irish legend tells of St. Dunstan, a blacksmith who was visited by the devil himself in search of horseshoes. Dunstan decided to nail a searing hot shoe to his hoof, removing it only when the devil agreed to avoid any place marked with one.
A more grounded explanation comes from the ancient Greeks, as they believed iron’s flame-resistant properties made the metal magical. They also shaped the horseshoes to resemble the crescent moon, a symbol of good luck and fertility.
Superstitions, in a way, can be boiled down into a fear of the unknown: sure, a four-leaf clover probably won’t do anything… but why not carry one, just to be sure? Phobias and fears are grounded in scientific explanations, too.
1. Globophobia: For globophobes, the hit song 99 Red Balloons sounds less like an anti-war track and more like a declaration of war. Experts suppose it’s the potential sound of balloons popping that really scares these sufferers.
2. Anthropophobia (fear of people): Imagine being afraid of literally everyone—shy to a pathological degree. Those suffering most seriously from the phobia communicate through writing only. Face-to-face interactions are just too much.
3. Amathophobia (fear of air particles): Even though those suffering from this phobia know a speck of dust will not hurt them one bit, they can’t help themselves. Dust bunnies become dust beasts.
4. Somniphobia (fear of sleep): Nightmares or traumatic events that happen while sleeping can make a person fearful of curling beneath a blanket and shutting their eyes. They never sleep peacefully!
5. Feretrophobia (fear of caskets): Those fearing caskets typically fear death, being buried alive, or getting locked in a tight space, unable to move…
6. Chaetophobia (fear of hair): Sufferers often shave their heads, but that’s not always enough—hair is everywhere. One sufferer, 17-year-old Emily White, said, “I just hate the texture of hair… Thick, curly hair or wet hair is the worst of all.”
7. Trypophobia (fear of holes): Though not officially recognized as a mental disorder, trypophobes suffer panic attacks, “crawling skin,” or nausea upon seeing irregular clusters of holes.
8. Coulrophobia (fear of clowns): A child’s birthday party is no fun for those who quiver in the presence of red-nosed jokesters. Visiting circuses and Halloween parties probably don’t make their bucket lists, either.
9. Agoraphobia (fear of going outside): Stepping outside their homes can spur panic attacks that send them back inside again. Agoraphobes fear the outside and events that might make them feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed. Crowds? No thanks.
10. Pedophobia (fear of children): Some experts believe pedophobes fear children’s penchant for embarrassing us. An official cause, though, escapes psychologists.
11. Hemophobia (fear of blood): Few enjoy getting their blood drawn, but hemophobes are actually scared at the mere thought of it. Likely gripped by the fear because of an early trauma like a serious wound, the afflicted faint at the sight of any blood.
12. Nomophobia (fear of being without mobile coverage): Researchers discovered that 77 percent of teenagers experienced anxiety when separated from their smartphones. Though not medically recognized as a fear, the anxiety is most certainly real.
13. Chronophobia (fear of time passing): Sands through the hourglass mean the days of our lives are passing quickly to chronophobes. Typically, this phobia stems from a fear of death, too. Time passing means less time with loved ones.
14. Athazagoraphobia (fear of being forgotten): For people suffering from this condition, every day is like being trapped on a desert island with no escape. Friends forget your laugh, your face—you. Your legacy dies with you. Scary, no? Athazagoraphobes certainly think so.
15. Claustrophobia (fear of tight spaces): Do enclosed spaces like elevators spike your heart rate? Then you suffer from claustrophobia, the fear of small spaces, like 5 to 7 percent of the rest of the world.
16. Pediophobia (fear of dolls): The 1988 slasher film Child’s Play tapped into this phobia, giving the world nightmares thanks to the murderous doll, Chuckie. This phobia also includes mannequins and wax figures—anything resembling a human.
17. Triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13): One might be the loneliest number, but to triskaidekaphobes, 13 is downright terrifying. The number earned a reputation as unlucky long ago and for these folks, it’s honestly terrifying.
18. Chemophobia (fear of chemicals): Whether they fear the side effects of synthetic chemicals or quiver at a chemical’s chance of causing harm, chemophobes all fear carcinogenic chemicals or chemical warfare.
19. Taphophobia (fear of being buried alive): Of course, no one jumps with glee at the idea of dying six feet underground, but to some, the concept’s paralyzing. To assuage them, experts invented coffins with breathing holes just in case the dead aren’t dead.
20. Nyctophobia (fear of the dark): When the childhood fear of darkness lingers through adulthood, it’s officially a phobia. More often than not, nyctophobes fear what could happen to them in the dark, rather than the dark itself.