Urban Myths, Folk-Lore, and Old Wive’s Tales

A friend of mine informed me today that one in five cell phones has been found to have human feces on it.  That is not exactly the type of thing I care to hear even if it is true.  But I challenged her by asking exactly who had made such a proclaimation.  She did not know.  I told her that the cynic in me is very reluctant to allow for such “facts.”  That brings up the great question of who “they” are when someone says, ” you know, they say . . . ”  I cannot say off-hand who “they” are which leaves me doubting what is said.  My friend did offer that it would be just like the federal government to pay for such a project.  I observed that such research has got to be a huge waste of time and money.

New England is renown for its folk lore.  One of the most famous, of course, is the red sky in the morning and red sky in the evening.  It turns out that such a sky is quite a good predictor of the coming weather.  There is also the tale that cows lying down is a sign of rain as is birds flying into the wind.  While I do not know about the cows thing, it turns out that birds flying into the wind is true.  The birds do that because they are drawn by the moisture in the air.

Then there is the don’t walk under a ladder, do not put shoes on a table because your luck will walk out the door, if you spill salt you have to immediately throw some over your shoulder the negate the bad luck it brings, and how the number 13 is somehow unlucky.  You can make a laundry list of such beliefs.  I believe them all to be a bunch of bunk.

Even so, such folk-lore is an extremely important part of history.  These tendencies people have account for certain actions they might take.  For example, if a large portion of a certain grouping of people considered something to be unlucky, it will affect how the go about their daily life.  For example, let’s say that a group of people in a particular village considered Friday the 13th to be particularly unlucky and therefore did not work on such a day.  If a flood hit that particular day and wiped out the community, historians of the future will know the answer to why so many people were home on a day normally devoted to work.

My recommendation is that they next time someone says something that is all encompassing, particularly if it starts as, “you know what they say . . . ”  Challenge all such things by requesting an offer of authoritative proof.  Authoritative proof does not come from fortune tellers, the guy on the news, the National Enquirer, or Facebook.  Such authority comes from a source who is an expert in a particular field and can show you the research results.


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