5 Widely Repeated Facts The World Debunked Ages Ago

By  | 

About 10 years ago, something unexpected happened. Learning became cool. Across the fledgling Internet, site after site began to sprout up crammed full of facts. Not just any facts. Amazing, mind-blowing, incredible, awesome facts you couldnt believe the world didnt know. Some of those sites were wonderful (if we do say so ourselves). Some sourced their work responsibly. Plenty more just reprinted any old urban legend and called it learning, but the truth is out there for anyone who wants to find it.

5 Theres Nothing Racist About Picnics


Photo credit: Francois Lemoyne

The Amazing Fact
Do you love picnics? Then you should be ashamed of yourself. Picnic is short for pick a nr and originally described the crowds that gathered for lynchings.

The Truth
A good rule of thumb for word facts is if it sounds too racist to be true, it probably is. Another is if French already uses a similar word in an identical context, then thats probably a much-likelier origin.

Piquenique dates back to 1692, at least a good century and a half before lynchings began commonly taking place in the Southern states (which didnt exist yet). It made the jump to English around 1750, becoming a word used to denote social gatherings that may or may not be held outdoors. Even then, it wasnt used in America. By the time Alabama was admitted to the union, picnic had already arrived at its modern meaning 20 years beforehand. Since lynching wouldnt become widespread until after the Civil War, the likelihood of the word being even remotely connected to racism is effectively zero.

4 Stalin Didnt Kill More People Than Hitler


Photo credit: US Signal Corps

The Amazing Fact
Hitler was the undoubted great villain of the 20th century. But did you know Stalin actually killed more people? The Soviet dictator murdered an incredible 2360 million, compared to Hitlers 20 million.

The Truth
If 60 million sounds like an exaggeration, thats because it probably is. The entire population of the Soviet Union was around 160 million when Stalin came to power. Combine that loss with the lowest estimate of another 18 million killed when Germany invaded, and Stalin would have had almost no one left to govern.

The discrepancy comes from estimates made during the Cold War about the number of prisoners dying in the gulags. Since the Soviets didnt want their death tolls exposed, analysts in the West had to make educated guesses. In doing so, they greatly inflated the number. When the Soviet archives were opened and finally studied, they showed that no more than one million died in Stalins camps. Thats still a terrible number but nowhere near what we expected.

According to historian Timothy Snyder, the real number of people deliberately killed by Stalin is between six and nine milliona figure that includes the mass famines of the early 1930s. By contrast, Germany under Hitler killed 1112 million noncombatants.

On the subject of the war . . .

3 President Taft Didnt Get Stuck In The Bathtub

00593 (1)

Photo via White House Museum

The Amazing Fact
Taft was the fattest president in US history. He was so fat that when he sat in the White House bathtub, he got stuck. Six aides had to pull him out.

The Truth
Sadly, real life doesnt operate on the same logic as yo momma jokes. Taft was undoubtedly weighty, and he had his own specially built bathtub to accommodate his enormous frame. But the tale of him becoming stuck fast and needing a group of men to come and pull him out is an urban legend.

Theres no way Taft could ever have gotten stuck in his custom tub, which he used starting months before he entered the White House. The thing could comfortably fit four men. You could bathe a hippo in there. Additionally, we have no firsthand accounts of the bathtub incident. The closest we get is a couple of White House staff autobiographies filled with gossip.

Whats more likely is that the bathtub story was simple muckraking. We know Tafts super-tub got his weight a lot of attention, most of it negative. We know he was involved in breaking up the Bathtub Trust, a crooked cartel of porcelain manufacturers. Its not too hard to imagine some satirist working those things into the urban legend we know today.

2 Christianity Didnt Rip Off Pagan Religions


Photo credit: Guillaume Blanchard

The Amazing Fact
He was born of a virgin, announced by an angel and attended by three shepherds. He was baptized at 30, was called a fisher of men, had 12 disciples, and raised the dead. Finally, he was crucified and resurrected three days later. His name was Horus, an Egyptian god who predates Jesus. So much for the Holy Word, right?

The Truth
The claim that Christianity directly ripped off either the Horus or Mithras myths has been everywhere since Zeitgeist included it as part of their insane paranoia-fest of a documentary. Prior to that, it featured in Dan Browns Da Vinci Code. The reason youve never heard it repeated in a more respectable forum is because its utter nonsense.

Pretty much everything people attribute to Horus online is vehemently denied by real Egyptologists. No Egyptian accounts say Horus was born of a virgin, had 12 disciples, or was ever referred to as a fisher of men. Nor did he ever raise the dead. Though he did die and get resurrected, this happened while he was still a child.

This school of making stuff up also affects the legend of the Roman god Mithras, who Dan Brown claimed died and resurrected in three days against all evidence to the contrary.

1 Nikola Tesla Didnt Invent The 20th Century


Photo credit: Napoleon Sarony

The Amazing Fact
He invented alternating current (AC), radar, and radio transmission. His work single-handedly ushered in a second industrial revolution. His name was Nikola Tesla, and today, his contributions to science are almost forgotten.

The Truth
Theres no doubt Tesla was a mega-genius with a planet-sized brain. Theres also no doubt that history screwed him over. But his legend has grown so vast on the Internet that people are crediting him with stuff he wasnt solely responsible for.

Take AC, the current that powers most of the world and the biggest thing Tesla today gets credit for. Although Tesla was well ahead of Thomas Edison (who was still messing around with DC), they werent the only two experimenting with electricity. Galileo Ferraris was making nearly the exact same breakthroughs as Tesla at the exact same time, as happens surprisingly often with new inventions. Charles Bradley, Friedrich Haselwander, William Stanley, and Elihu Thomson were also pushing AC forward into a viable system.

Same deal with radar. Heinrich Hertz, Guglielmo Marconi, and Christian Hulsmeyer were all there before Tesla, and even Teslas undoubted genius needed men like Robert Watson Watt to come after him and refine the system. Radio transmission, too, wasnt solely down to this one eccentric genius. Its fitting that we laud Teslas work today, but saying he was responsible for all the 20th centurys major innovations ignores the contribution of dozens of other unsung scientific heroes.

Morris M.Morris is a freelance writer and newly-qualified teacher, still naively hoping to make a difference in his students” lives. You can send your helpful and less-than-helpful comments to his email, or visit some of the other websites that inexplicably hire him.
Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.