25 Crazy Old Wives’ Tales People Still Believe
Science is apparently no match for these generation-spanning myths.
Friday the 13th is the bane of almost every business’ existence. Every time this date rolls around, the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute estimates that stores in the United States lose anywhere from $800 million to $900 million in business, all because people are too superstitious to go about their normal days. And yet, there’s no tangible evidence to suggest the day is an unlucky one.
Given all of the world’s scientific advancements, one might assume that old wives’ tales have taken a backseat to logical thinking. But there’s nothing logical about the superstitions spread throughout society—and because these mystic fallacies promise to ward off evil spirits and bring good fortune, people cling on to them like lifeboats. From carrying acorns to throwing salt, there’s no limit to what people will do just to feel a little bit safer, healthier, or happier.
Tale: The swing of your wedding ring will determine your baby’s gender.
In this old wives’ tale as old as time, it is said that you must tie your wedding ring onto a piece of string and hold it over your pregnant belly. If the ring moves in circles, your baby is a girl, and if the ring swings back and forth like a pendulum, then it’s a boy. Many mommy bloggers have reported that the results of their “ring on a string” test were accurate, but obviously there’s no science to back this crazy practice up.
Tale: Pull out a grey hair and two more will appear in its place.
Somehow the world has been duped into believing that pulling out a single grey hair will result in the creation of several more—but luckily, this isn’t the case. As cosmetic scientist Randy Schueller explained to TODAY: “There’s no harm in plucking a gray hair… What you do to one follicle doesn’t affect its neighbors.”
Tale: Sitting too close to the television screen will make you go blind.
Though today this old wives’ tale is entirely erroneous, there actually was once a time when sitting too close to your television set could harm your health. Evidently, General Electric produced color TVs back in the 1960s that emitted up to 100,000 times more radiation than federal health officials considered to be safe—and though the television sets were recalled almost immediately, the superstition remains.
Tale: White wine will remove a red wine stain.
Against their better judgment, even cleaning experts have come to believe in this widely circulated “stain removal tip,” which asserts that using white wine on a red wine stain will clean it right up. While rubbing alcohol does actually help in stain removal, using drinking alcohol, like white wine, will only cause problems down the line: the sugars in it will caramelize and eventually create even more stains.
Tale: Eating chocolate causes acne.
Though some studies have proven there to be a link between increased chocolate consumption and breakouts, most experts believe that this relationship only exists because of the ingredients in the chocolate—like sugar and dairy—and not the chocolate itself. Basically, there’s little to no evidence backing the common misconception that chocolate causes pimples, but that’s not to say that the ingredients making up the chocolatey goods won’t give you a breakout or two.
Tale: Cracking your knuckles will give you arthritis.
People who crack their knuckles constantly get unsolicited advice from strangers and friends alike about how doing so will cause arthritis. However, scientists have never actually found a link between knuckle cracking and arthritis, making this “medical advice” little more than another crazy old wives’ tale.
Tale: Eating carrots will improve your eyesight.
While carrots do contain nutrients, like Vitamin A, that are beneficial for maintaining eye health, they’re not the corneal salve many believe them to be. It was actually during World War II that the link between carrots and eyesight became so widespread—and the inspiration for the rumor was never related to health.
Originally, this rumor took hold when Royal Air Force fighter ace John Cunningham became the first person to shoot down an enemy plane (using automatic targeting) in the dead of night. British officials facetiously credited the pilot’s success to eating carrots in order to fool the Germans. Later, the carrot-eyesight link further gained validity in the public eye when sugar supplies became scarce and, as such, the British Ministry of Food made a push for more vegetables and fewer sweets, with cartoons like “Dr. Carrot” gracing advertisements and billboards everywhere.
Tale: Spilling salt brings bad luck.
The notion that spilling salt will bring bad luck actually dates back to the 15th century. If you look closely at Leonardo da Vinci’s painting “The Last Supper,” you’ll see that there is a pile of spilled salt near the crook of Judas Iscariot’s arm, presumed to have been knocked over by the traitor’s elbow. Thusly, spilling salt is associated with bad fortune and corruption, and the action is even said to invite the Devil in (even though the lot of that is entirely superstition and not based in fact whatsoever).
And as for the “throwing the salt over your left shoulder” aspect of this old wives’ tale? Well, it is believed that the Devil himself stands over your left shoulder, and that throwing salt that way will blind him and prevent him from taking over your body after you accidentally invited him in with the spillage.
Tale: Terrible things come in threes.
Pretty much anything can “come in threes,” if you frame it a certain way. And perhaps it’s because it’s so easy to convince yourself of the fact that bad things come in threes—after all, this notion is explored pretty much every time a celebrity passes away—that this superstition is so widespread and believed in.
Tale: If your ears are ringing, then somebody is talking about you.
More than 2,000 years ago, Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder used this old wives’ tale as an explanation for what doctors know now to be tinnitus, a symptom found in many diseases. Unfortunately, though, your ears can’t tell you what people are saying behind your back, and the only way to actually know whether someone is talking about you is to address them directly.
Tale: Carry an acorn around to stay forever young.
There’s no special healing powers in these nuts, but many people believe regardless that carrying one around will keep them healthy. Why? The oak tree is known for its unusually long life—and in hauling around the seed of this tree, people hope to achieve that same longevity. And instead of keeping an acorn on your person and hoping for eternal life, live forever (or close to it) instead by eating these 40 Heart Foods To Eat After 40.
Tale: Sticking chopsticks upright in your food is bad luck.
As a general rule of thumb, you should never stick your chopsticks vertically into your food when dining at a Japanese restaurant. In Japanese culture, placing chopsticks like this is reserved for funerals only, and it is a belief held by many that doing so anywhere else will bring bad luck.
Tale: Pick up a penny on the sidewalk for good luck.
We’ve all heard the superstitious saying: “Find a penny, pick it up. All day long, you’ll have good luck.” But where did it come from? A long time ago, it was thought that metals were gifts from the gods, sent down as a form of protection. And seeing as pennies are made of copper—a metal—the currency became associated with good luck.
Tale: An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
Rhyming words together don’t make them true. Yes, apples are nutritious and have been shown to help with everything from weight loss to nausea, but eating just one a day won’t ward off every or even any illness in the book. If you really want to keep the doctor away, try these 20 Healthy Living Rules You Should Live By.
Tale: Turkey makes you tired.
If you find yourself drifting off after Thanksgiving dinner this year, don’t go blaming it on the turkey. It’s a commonly held misconception that stuffing your face with turkey makes you tired, but it’s more likely all the carbohydrates and alcohol that are similar mainstays during Thanksgiving dinners are what’s doing it.
Tale: Foods containing mayonnaise spoil faster.
Spoiler alert: Combining your leftover chicken with mayonnaise to make a chicken salad won’t make it spoil faster. On the contrary, mayonnaise is actually an acidic food with a low pH, meaning that bacteria aren’t all too attracted to it.
Tale: Spicy foods cause ulcers.
For decades, the world believed there to be a link between eating spicy foods and the formation of stomach ulcers, seeing as so many people would go to the doctor’s office after a particularly hot meal complaining of burning stomach pains. However, scientists debunked this old wives’ tale in the 1980s when they found that spicy foods can’t cause ulcers (though they can aggravate ones that already exist).
Tale: Dab whiskey on a baby’s gums to help with teething pain.
Parents in the early 20th century used to swear by this unorthodox teething method—and somehow, some moms and dads still pass this parenting tip around today. But whether or not this old wives’ tale works is irrelevant, seeing as just a few drops of alcohol can be toxic to an infant.
Tale: Swallowed gum takes years to digest.
Chewing gum is not meant to be swallowed—but if you happen to gulp it down by accident, you have no need to worry. Though your parents might have warned you as a child that a swallowed piece of gum will take as many as seven years to digest, the chewing candy is actually digested immediately, with any indigestible parts excreted with your stools.
Tale: Reading in dim light damages your eyes.
Reading in a darkly lit room might give your eyes some dryness or fatigue, but it won’t cause any serious or long-term damage. Even if you chose to read a book in a dimly lit room every night for the rest of your life, your eyes would be fine. Tired, but fine!
Tale: Eating chicken soup can cure a cold.
When you’re sick with a cold, slurping down some chicken noodle soup will certainly soothe your sore throat and mask your symptoms for a short while, but it won’t actually cure your illness.
Tale: Bathing while pregnant can drown your fetus.
While in the womb, babies get their oxygen via the umbilical cord. In fact, a baby’s lungs aren’t finished developing until the third trimester of pregnancy, and until they exit the womb, they rely on that umbilical cord—which cannot fill up with water—for air. So no, you cannot drown your fetus by taking a bath.
Tale: Don’t cross your eyes or else they’ll get stuck that way.
Crossing your eyes requires the same type of muscle flexion that showing off your biceps does. And seeing as your arm doesn’t get stuck in a bicep flex every time you show off your guns, it’s safe to say that your eyes won’t get stuck every time you cross them, either.
Tale: Eating horseradish will cure a chest cold.
There is nothing hiding in horseradish that would somehow make it the magical cure for chest colds, and yet somehow still reach for the plant whenever we’re under the weather.
Tale: Drinking milk and eating fish at the same time will discolor your skin.
Many popular fish sauces have milk in them as an ingredient, and yet we still hold onto the notion that drinking a glass of milk alongside a filet of fish will lead to skin discoloration or even vitiligo. It is theorized that this old wives’ tale stems from Judaism, where it is believed that mixing fish and meat will cause adverse skin reactions.