Rediscovering long-forgotten Old Wives’ Tales made me giggle. What people regarded as folk wisdom years ago were later proved myths. Surprisingly, some bits remained wisdom well into this century. Let’s start with the one myth that lost its wisdom status as recently as 2012.
The myth that warned people not to swim too soon after eating
In 1911, the Boy Scouts’ handbook warned that boys who go swimming within the first hour after eating risk paralyzing cramps, followed by drowning. The guide explained that the body diverts all blood flow to the stomach during the digestive process. That would leave the arms and legs bloodless and unable to move, hence the drowning risk.
Now we know that the body increases blood flow to the digestive muscles, but not nearly enough to disable the limbs. After a review, the American Red Cross published a report in 2012 stating that it was a myth. The report said there was no supporting information available to prove that swimming too soon after a meal could cause a drowning risk.
Did you ever believe the gray hair myth?
I can remember curling my granny’s hair, and she watched me closely to make sure I don’t pull out any gray hairs. Why? Because two new gray hairs would grow to replace each one I pulled out. While there is an endless list of tricks to hide gray hair, why not embrace the changes that come with age. Healthy gray hair is as beautiful as any other shade.
The myth about watermelon seeds is just crazy
When I say the folk wisdom lacked common sense, this is proof! Older folks warned us never to swallow watermelon pips. If we did, a watermelon would grow in our stomachs. At that young age, I remember thinking that nobody ever swallowed a pip because I knew no one who had to deal with a watermelon in their tummies. I didn’t know anything yet about scientifically possible or not. However, it did not take me long to discover that anything swallowed and not digested would just pass straight through. (After I saw my teddy bear’s eye in my dog’s poop.)
Then there’s the myth about swallowing gum
As a young child, my parents did not allow me to eat gum because of the risk of swallowing it. This was because they believed that swallowed gum remains inside you for seven years. Nobody could ever tell me what harm that gum would do to me during those years. By the time I could eat gum, I never feared swallowing it because, again, I had not seen evidence of harm done by the gum in someone’s gut for seven years. Furthermore, some of my friends admitted to swallowing gum, and they seemed none the worse.
However, Yale Scientific warns that swallowing gum could cause health damage, including abdominal pain and diarrhea — within days or hours, but definitely not for seven years!
Go outside with wet hair and catch your death
I could never understand the danger of going outside with wet hair. After all, I spent hours outside with wet hair from swimming almost daily. So, how did the viruses — or germs, as I knew them — know whether my hair is wet from swimming or from shampooing? However, I learned later that viruses passed from others via the air when they sneeze, shout or cough cause colds. This meant I could “catch my death” even when my hair was dry — inside or outside.
Dropped food only became risky to eat after five seconds
I was unfamiliar with this wisdom until I heard a friend’s mother saying it was okay to pick up and eat dropped food. According to her, as long as you don’t leave it on the floor for longer than five seconds, it will do no harm.
Now, with me being a visual thinker, I remember seeing in my mind’s eye tiny germs counting “1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi…. ” They had to make sure they wait the full five seconds before they get onto the dropped bits of food. (I also conjured up pictures of people with watermelon leaves coming out their ears, and the fun two pieces of gum can have in my tummy for seven years)
To clarify, Rutgers University scientists said bacteria transfers onto dropped food immediately. The difference is in the cleanliness of the surface on which you drop the food.
Starving a fever does more bad than good
An Old Wives’ Tale says anyone with a cold should eat lots of nourishing food, with chicken soup being the best healer. Essentially, the first part of the tale is not a myth. However, the second bit that says “starve a fever” makes no sense. Withholding nourishing food from sick people will weaken them even more, regardless of whether it is fever or another condition. Keeping an ill person nourished and hydrated is the way to go.
Were there any Old Wives’ Tales that confused you as a child?