In this week’s search for facts on the topic, I came across another definition of an old wives’ tale.
An old wives’ tale is a type of “urban legend,” so to speak. It is usually passed down by word of mouth from the older generation to the younger. Most of these “tales” usually are just unfounded superstitions, unfounded lore, but, mixed within are a few kernels of truth that helps perpetuate the majority of those that are untrue.
Actually, I guess I do qualify as an old wife because I discovered a notation that said “wife” in this context means simply a “woman” rather than specifically “a married woman.” It started, as many words in our English language do, from the Old English word “wif” for woman. The root word is also related to the German word “Weib,” which also stands for woman.
Although intriguing, most old wives’ tales are false.
They probably, as you can well image, were first used to try to keep children from behaving badly. Unfounded folk cures for ailments also are a major component in this area, due muchly — I’m a-guessin’ — to the less-than-accurate scientific knowledge that didn’t abound.
Old wives’ tales are even mentioned in the Bible — in I Timothy 4:7 in the King James Version Bible — and were discredited even then: “But refuse profane and old wives fables, and exercise thyself [rather] unto godliness.”
Most wives’ tales, old or otherwise, were passed down through what is called an “oral tradition” which basically means through stories and not books. These stories supposedly were used to help teach lessons or to make a difficult issue, such as death and dying, more understandable, especially to children. That, my investigation tells me, also is where fairy tales came from.
Old wives’ tales have also morphed, in this modern era, being used as the name of a restaurant in Portland, Ore. It boasts of a 90 percent gluten-free menu, as well as a “multi-ethnic” menu of vegetarian, chicken and seafood fare.
Who knew? But I still don’t get what this restaurant has to do with ole wives’ tales.
But now, I want to get back to finding out what some of these old wives’ tales are. Here’s a hodgepodge of a large variety of some of my faves.
- We’ve probably all heard the old wives’ tale that goes: If you break a mirror, you’ll have bad luck.
- OK. Now here’s one even I can’t find any justification for: In the 1500s, egg shells had to be crushed after breaking because — and this is online research I’m getting this from, remember — witches, yep, witches, would collect the unbroken egg shells, make a boat out of them, and take to the seas to cause storms and other havoc. Okey Dokey!
Supposedly, the following 10 are not true. “Bunkum” was the colorful term I found that was used to describe them. Here they are:
- Feed a Fever, Starve a Cold — not true. First of all, both cause dehydration, so liquids are essential, as is good nutrition. So, this old wives’ tale should go: Feed a fever, and feed a cold too.
- If you eat within an hour of swimming, you’ll get a cramp. The Red Cross denies this will happen. The Red Cross does recommend that folks don’t eat or chew gum WHILE swimming.
Ah, has anyone out there ever eaten WHILE swimming? Gum, maybe, but eating?
OK, moving on.
- There is only one way to catch a cold or a virus — by coming into direct contact with that virus. You can stand outside with wet hair in the cold all you want, and you won’t catch a cold or flu that way.
Whew! What a relief!
Here are some, rapid-fire style:
- Don't breathe in when driving past a cemetery or you might breathe in a spirit.
- If your nose itches, someone is talking about you.
- If your hand itches, you are going to receive money.
- Touching a toad will give you warts.
- Drinking coffee will stunt your growth.
- Eating bread crust will make your hair curly.
- Spicy food causes ulcers. No, it doesn’t, although it can aggravate the some. An ulcer is usually a result of the overuse of aspirin and/or anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Don't cross your eyes — they'll get stuck that way!
Here are a bunch of hair-related ole wives’ tales.
- It is unlucky to have your hair cut when the moon is waning as this will cause it to fall out and/or lose its lustre.
- Never pull out grey hairs, for one will be replaced by 10.
- A sudden fright can turn hair completely white.
And to end this second column in the series, some medical old wives’ tales.
- You can catch poison ivy from someone who has it. No, you can’t. Contact with the oil of the plant is the only way to contract the rash.
And, of particular importance and interest these days:
- You can get the flu from the flu shot. Again, no you can’t. The vaccine contains inactive organisms. Therefore, it cannot give you the flu.