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A - Automobile
Myth: The word automobile entered the English language in the New York Times on January 3rd 1899.
Fact: The word automobile entered the English language at least six years earlier than currently believed. In 1893 the word was used to describe compressed air warship torpedoes. Source: The Popular Science Monthly. December 1893. page 174.
B - The Moral Panic Myth
Myth- The phrase and sociological concept of moral panic, as used first by Jock Young and then Stan Cohen, emerged from the British National Deviancy Conference of 1968.
Fact – Neither Young nor Cohen (not even Marshall McLuhan, as some slightly more enlightened author’s believe) coined the phrase. The exact phrase and basic sociological concept moral panic - being a form of deviancy amplification, which makes the original problem worse - was used at least 137 years earlier. See: An Association of Physicians (1831) Vol. III. Philadelphia. September 14. No.1. page 180; in relation to a cholera epidemic in Sunderland.1
C - Cyberspace
Fact– It is universally accepted that the science fiction writer William Gibson invented the word cyberspace in a story called Burning Chrome – its use was expanded in Neuromancer in 1984. This is indeed correct.
I.D. Discovery – The little known phrase ‘cyber place’ was coined at least as far back as 1969 in the journal of Research in Education. Volume 4. Issues 4-6. page 34.
D - The Darwin Natural Selection Myth
Myth – Charles Darwin coined the term ‘natural selection’.
Fact – Darwin never coined it. The term ‘natural selection’ was used at least three years before Darwin was born. See: Preston, W. (1803) The Argonautics of Apollonius Rhodius, Translated into English Verse With Notes Critical, Historical and Explanatory. Vol. III. Dublin Graisberry and Campbell. The same term was used four times before Darwin published it, including its usage in a publication by Darwin’s fellow member of the Royal Society - Francis Corbaux, in 1829.
E - Why No Etymology of Etymology?
Claim – Weirdly, no dictionary of etymology appears to have examined the first use of the word etymology.
Discovery – The word etymology can be found as least as far back as 1607: Cowell, J, (1607) The Interpreter, Or, Booke Containing the Signification of Words: Wherein is Set Forth the True Meaning of All, Or the Most Part of Such Words and Terms as are Mentioned in the Law-writers .Laws, Statutes, Or Other Antiquities. The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd.
F - The Founding Father’s Myth
Myth – U.S.A. Republican Senator Warren G. Harding, coined the phrase ‘Founding Fathers’ in his keynote address to the 1916 Republican National Convention.
Fact – Harding never coined it. The phrase, albeit with a different meaning, dates back to at least the late nineteenth century. See: May, W. B.(1895) Chronicles of a Highway, El Nuevo Camino Rea; (Fourth paper). Sunset, May 6th San Francisco, Calif. Vol. 1. No 2. (In magazine format). Moreover, Harding first deployed the phrase in a 1914 speech, which was published in 1915 - not in a 1916 speech, as the myth has it. See: Harding, W. G. (1915) Our Merchant Marine. Marine Review, Volume 45. pp. 10-11.
G - Global Village Myth
Myth – American media and communications expert, Marshall McLuhan, coined the phrase ‘global village’ in 1962.
Fact – The phrase was used at least 16 years earlier to describe the exact same concept. See: Stuart, F. S. and Biard, H. C. (1946) Modern air transport. London. J. Long. page 74.
H - The Hello Myths
Myths – There are currently three myths associated with the word ‘hello’. Namely (1) Edison coined the word in 1878; (2) that it first occurred in print in 1833; (3) that ‘hello’ was not used as a greeting until after Edison used it that way on the telephone.
Fact – The exact word, spelt ‘hello,’ was in common use at least 72 years earlier than purported by purveyors of ‘current knowledge’. It might perhaps have been first used as a hailed, greeting, and perhaps as a mounted hunting call – such as ‘tallyhoo’ – ‘helloo’ from at least 1761 see: D. Fenning (1761) The Royal English Dictionary. London. R. Baldwin and Co. It was commonly used as a softer greeting, as used today, from 1829: see Griffin, G (1829) The Collegians, Volume 3. Saunders and Otley.
I - Ivory Tower
Myth - Ivory Tower was first used as a phrase in the 1837 work of the French poet Charles Augustin Saint-Beuve in his poem “Thoughts of August”, making its first appearance in the English language in 1911.
Fact – The phrase is used many times in English throughout various works in the 18th century. Its earlier meaning is different to the modern usage, but the exact phrase ‘ivory tower’ can be found, written in English, at least as far back as the early 17th century. For example, in Field, I (1644) A revelation of the Apocalyps: whereunto is added a most comfortable exposition of the last part of the prophesie of Daniel. Together with a commentary on the Song of Solomon. London. Lynin Paul Church Yard.
J - Jerry built
Myth - The phrases: ‘jerry houses,’ ‘jerry-builder’, ‘jerry built’, first emerged in 1869, but their etymological root remains unknown.
Discussion - I conducted some extensive ID research on the etymological roots of this idiom, which produced some quite fascinating findings that are beyond the scope of this book.
Fact –. The phrase ‘jerry houses’ – in terms of shoddily built homes - dates back at least 18 more years than previously known. See Chambers’ Papers for the People (1851) Industrial Investments and Associations. London: Chambers and Chambers. Page 9.
K- The Know Your Onions Myths
Myths – There are two myths associated with the phrase to ‘know your onions’: (1) that it stems from the reputation of Oxford Dictionary expert C. T. Onions, and was coined in the 1930s (2) that it stems from an American craze for such daft phrases as ‘the bees knees’ from the 1920s.
Fact –Both of the above are myths, since, the phrase can be found in a poem published in 1909: ‘But, never mind; Billy knows his onions, He is not troubled with corns or bunions. He travels along at a good, fair gait; Unless the roads are bad, he is never late’ See: The Postal Record (1909). Volumes 21-22. Page 27.
Discussion – Once again there are some delightful ancient passages in the published literature that appear to shed light on the etymology of this phrase, but they are beyond the scope of this book.
L - Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
Myth - Sir Water Scott in (1824), was the first to convert Chaucer’s 1374 advice that “It is nought good a slepyng hound to wake" to the modern phrase ’let sleeping dogs lie’
Fact – The Phrase was published six years earlier by Scott’s friend James Hogg: ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ comes from: ‘It is best to let sleeping dogs lie, they may rise and bite you.” See: Hogg, J. (1818) The Brownie of Bodsbeck and Other Tales. London. William Blackwood and John Murray. Page 40.
M - The Merton Myth
Myth – The famous sociologist, Robert Merton, coined the phrase ‘self fulfilling prophecy’ in 1949.
Fact – Merton’s own first published use of the phrase was actually 1948. But he never did coin it, because ‘self fulfilling prophecy’ can be found in the literature 107 years earlier. See: Fraser's magazine for town and country (1841) - Volume 23, Issues 133-138 - Page 130.
N - The Not Rocket Science Myth
Myth –The Phrase ‘not rocket science’ was coined in the Pennsylvania newspaper The Daily Intelligencer in December 1985.
Fact – The phrase ‘not rocket science’ can be found in the literature at least eight years earlier. See: Fain, T. G; Plant, K. C. and Milloy, R. (1977) Federal reorganization: the executive branch. New York. Bowker. - Page 153.
O - The One Medicine Myth
Myth - Veterinary epidemiologist and parasitologist, Dr. Calvin W. Schwabe, of the University of California, coined the phrase ‘One Medicine’ in the 1960s, to promote the idea of unifying medical and veterinary medical approaches to tackle zoonotic diseases.
Fact – The exact same phrase, with the same meaning, was published many years earlier. See: The Cornell Veterinarian. (1923) Volume13. Page 293.
P - The Popeye, Spinach, Iron Myth
Myth – The cartoon character, and first American superhero, Popeye ate spinach for its strength providing iron content because his creator was misled by the publication of a widely believed 19th century decimal point error that exaggerated the iron content of spinach.
Fact – Popeye’s creator E.C. Segar had Popeye eat Spinach for its Vitamin A (in fact beta carotene) content, never once for iron. See Segar, E. C. (2007) Popeye: Well Blow Me Down. Vol. 2. Seattle. Fantagraphics Books. Page 162. Spinach is actually a poor source of nutritional iron due to its oxalic acid content. Moreover, the story of the decimal point error is a supermyth. For the full spinach and Popeye myth-bust See: Sutton (2010) and Sutton (2012a).
Q - Quiz
Myth - Several weird myths exist about this word, but the closest to reality is that ‘quiz’ entered the English language literature in 1781.
Fact – The word quiz appeared two years earlier in Kelham, R. (1779) A dictionary of the Norman or Old French Language. London. W. Clarke and Sons. Moreover:
‘For here thou say’st, my little quiz! How could I read it in thy phiz?’ marks its first entry in a poem a year later. See Hope, J, (1780) London. R. Christopher.
R - The Rocket Science Myth
Myth – The phrase ‘rocket science’ was coined by Alfres Zaehringer in 1947.
Fact – The exact phrase and contemporary meaning of ‘rocket science’ was anonymously published 15 years earlier in Popular Mechanics (1932) March. Page 464.
S - The Semmelweis Myth
Myths – In the 19th Century Ignác Semmelweis solely implemented hand washing practices in hospitals, significantly cutting the death rate from childbed fever among mothers there to give birth. His failure to influence the medical community to take up this hygienic practice led to his mental illness, and he was so unpopular with his powerful rival colleagues that they had him committed to an institution where he spent the rest of his life. The phrase: ‘Semmelweis reflex’ is used to typify the usual knee jerk response of the orthodox scientific community in initially rejecting new ideas without properly examining their veracity.
Fact – The whole story is a pervasive myth constructed and disseminated in the late 19th and early 20th century by the Hungarian scientific community in order to create their own science hero of the modern age. For several excellent, though obscure, myth-busts see: See: (1) Adaiwi, J. G. (1921) Charles White of Manchester (1728 1813) and the Arrest of Puerperal Fever. Lyod Roberts Lecture. Manchester Royal Infirmary. (2) Nuland, S. (2003). The Doctor's Plague: Germs, Childbed Fever and the Strange Story of Ignác Semmelweis . New York. W.W. Norton. (3) Varga, B (2009) The Myth and Cult of Ignaz Semmelweis: Constructing History of Science during the 20th Century. Paper presented at Oxford Brookes University, History of Medicine Seminar Series.
T - Thick as Thieves
Myth - The phrase ‘thick as thieves’ was coined by Theodore Hook (1833) in his book ‘The Parson's Daughter’ where he famously wrote: "She and my wife are thick as thieves.’’
Fact – Hook never coined the phrase. Because it can be found in a dictionary three years earlier. “Thick: Intimate – as ‘thick as thieves” See: Forby, R. (1830) ‘The vocabulary of East Anglia; an attempt to record the vulgar tongue of the twin sister counties, Norfolk and Suffolk, as it existed in the last twenty years of the eighteenth century, and still exists; with proof of its antiquity from etymology and authority’ London, J.B. Nichols and Son.
U - The Underdog Myth
Story to date: David Barker, a famous freemason, allegedly invented the metaphorical concept of humans as underling dogs in a popular poem which, according to legend, he wrote in 1859 and had published in various newspapers. To date, no citation for a single one of these legendary newspaper publications exists in the literature. So we cannot yet ascertain whether or not Barker really is the author. However, the poem in question was posthumously published, in 1876, by a relative, two years after Barker’s death. The, poem was anonymously published in The American Freemasons New Monthly Magazine.(1859) Volume 4. No 21 September. On Page 175 is the verse in question:
‘But for me I never shall pause to ask
Which dog may be in the right,
For my heart will beat while it beats at all,
For the under dog in the fight.’
As others have suggested, the origin of the phrase is most likely related to nautical knot tying. On which note, I unearthed: Bushell, C. (1857) The Rigger’s Guide. Portsmouth. H. Lewis. Page149:
“Hitch the salvage to the gammoning one end over and the other under dog the ends along the chain and seize them with spunyarn.”
Whatever future etymological research unearths regarding Barker’s alleged penmanship of the ‘Underdog in the Fight’, he did not invent the concept of humans as underdogs. That was done earlier. For example, by Oliver Goldsmith. See Goldsmith, O. (1854) The Works of Oliver Goldsmith. London. John Murray, page 186:
“Mr Graham has a noble courtesy an unerring chivalry that makes him range himself on the side of the bottom dog a detestation of anything like bullying every gift of charity indeed except the shy genius of pity.”
V - The Virtual / Artificial Reality Myth
Myth – “The term "artificial reality", coined by Myron Krueger, has been in use since the 1970s; however, the origin of the term "virtual reality" can be traced back to the French playwright, poet, actor, and director Antonin Artaud. In his seminal book: The Theatre and Its Double (1938), Artaud described theatre as "la réalité virtuelle"2.
Comment – The above text is taken from Wikipedia, and I believe that it typifies the level of unreliability and misinformation published by the army of compilers at that source. Readers visiting Wikipedia should expect the above text to be replaced with new information filched and un-cited, from this book. If Wikipedia’s editors trouble to cite this book as the source of the newly discovered information that would be untypical of them. Perhaps the organisers of Wikipedia have motivation-sapping communistic ambitions and believe that in merely compiling what are meant to be facts they have a poetic licence to write what they like and then correct it by lazily stealing veracity from the work of others?3
Fact - The term ‘artificial reality’ can be traced back through the literature to at least 1813. And there have been many fascinating examples of its use prior to 1938. For example: see: Vigors, A. (1813) An Inquiry Into the Nature and Extent of Poetick Licence. London. John Murray. Page 964:
‘To proceed to the second point which has been proposed for discussion, when a fable taken from history is chosen by a diamatick writer, even it falls into his hands subject to no such restrictions in the Poetick Licence of altering its facts, as are binding on the epick poet. This I think may be made evident from the consideration of what has been just advanced on the artificial reality and impressive nature of dramatick representation.’
W -The What Works Myth
Myth – Disseminated by a UK Government Briefing paper on the topic: ‘The term “what works” was first coined in 1974, when Robert Martinson argued that “education at its best, or … psychotherapy at its best, cannot overcome, or even appreciably reduce, the powerful tendency for offenders to continue in criminal behaviour”. Other commentators then and since have taken an equally pessimistic stance…”5
Fact – Prior to Martinson’s work in 1974, the term ‘what works’ has been used in the literature by thousands of writers. It dates back to at least the late 17th century - e.g.: Frankland, T. (1681) The Annals of King James and King Charles the First: 1612 – 1642. London, St. Paul’s. Robert Clavel. Page 27.
X – The X-Marks the Spot Myth
Myth - According to Rees, N. (1996) Cassell’s Dictionary of word and phrase origins, at page 271: ‘The actual phrase ‘x marks the spot’ appears to have originated from Chicago newspapers in the early days of gangsterism.’
Fact – The phrase was used in an earlier context and appears to have emerged as a term in scientific papers. It was a phrase later used for numerous location fixings – not just where a crime took place or bodies were found. For example, see: The Journal of the British Dental Association (1907) Volume 28. Page 242:
'… and x marks the spot from which the excluded tooth of succession was extracted..’
Y - You Are What You Eat: The Bridgeport Telegraph Myth
Myth – According to Cryer, M.(2010) ‘Who Said that First?’ Chichester. Summerdale page 419: The entry into the English language of the phrase ‘you are what you eat’ originated in the Bridgeport Telegraph 1923 by way of an advertisement that informed readers: “Ninety per cent of diseases known to man are caused by cheap foodstuffs. You are what you eat.”
Fact – The phrase ‘you are what you eat’ appears to be of 19th century origin, and can be found at least 37 years before 1923. For example, Longman’s Magazine (1886) deployed the phrase in a typically ludicrous and racist article of the time (page 189):
‘That you are what you eat is a piece of simple and elementary physiological knowledge which early appeals, however crudely, to the dawning ratiocinative powers of the unsophisticated black man.’
Z - The Zombie Cop Myth
Myth - The widely held criminological ‘knowledge’ that foot patrol beat policing is ineffective at either arresting offenders or reducing crime is substantially supported by research conducted by Clarke and Hough (1984)6, which makes the claim that:
‘…a patrolling policeman in London could expect to pass within 100 yards of a burglary in progress, roughly once every eight years but not necessarily catch the burglar or even realise that the crime was taking place.’
Fact - Clark and Hough published this hugely influential claim in a UK government research report, even though the calculations for it were done as a back-of-an envelope arithmetic exercise based upon two ludicrous premises: (1) that all foot patrol police officers are headless zombies and (2) that all crime is uniformly distributed.
ID research reveals just how pathological this myth is, its effect on policy, and who has been actively disseminating it. See: Sutton, M. and Hodgson, P. (2013)7.
(1) Prove - with reference to a verifiable dated publication - that they (or another) discovered the newly revealed origin of a word or idiom before I did in 2013
(2) Get back even further than I have and show us an even earlier published source.
Please note: if you find any of the busted myths reported here on Wikipedia please ensure you check their "history" of edits tab to see when the entry was made. Because Wikipedia was discovered in 2013 to be deliberately plagiarising my work (see here).
The ID method is as yet far from infallible and others may have discovered earlier uses of words. terms and idioms than presented here. If you are one such expert then please do as Dr Clifford Cunningham has kindly done (see here) - add a message below - and let me trumpet your unique work from the rooftops.
A-Z of Busted Myths Bibliography
Books purchased by the author for the specific purpose of researching ‘current knowledge’ for this A-Z of busted myths and other interesting information:
Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable ( 2005) 19th edition. London. Chambers Harrap.
Chambers Dictionary of Etymology (2012) London. Chambers Harrap Publishing.
Cryer, M. (2010) Who Said that First? Chichester. Summerdale. In 1834 Roget was appointed as the first Fullerian Professor of Physiology. The same chair was later to be awarded to Thomas Huxley in 1863. In 1839, both Roget and Darwin were Vice Presidents of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (see British Association 1840); Darwin for Geology and physical Geography, Charles Lyell, and Roget for Medical Science. What is more, in 1824 Roget became a charter member of the highly exclusive Athenaeum Club, which Darwin later joined in 1838. While Roget would have been vehemently opposed to Darwin’s thoughts on transmutation of species, it seems likely that they would have been personally acquainted considering their exclusive mutual involvement in these exclusive London scientific societies and gentlemen’s clubs.
Ewart, N, (1984) Everyday Phrases: Their Origins and Meanings.
Flavell, L and Flavell, R. (1992) Dictionary of idioms and their origins. London. Kyle Cathie.
Liberman, A. (2009) Word Origins and how we know it. Oxford. Oxford University Press.
Oliver, H. ( 2008) March Hares and Monkey’s Uncles. London. Metro Publishing.
Rees, N. (2002) Cassell’s Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins. London. Cassell.
The Oxford Library of Words and Phrases. (1986) London. Guild Publishing
Wilton, D. (2009) Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends. Oxford. Oxford University Press.
1 I busted this particular myth, using ID, in April 2013 and published it on the Best Thinking website. Wikipedia then plagiarised it by passing it off as their discovery. When challenged, Wikipedia refused to cite my publication, which uniquely busted the 45 year old myth, on the grounds that although my discovery of this new information was correct its source is not reliable! In ‘stealing’ original research findings in this way Wikipedia is keeping important myth busting out of the open access public domain until it is first published with a notable publisher. It is most ironic that Wikipedia is not a notable publisher and has a dreadful reputation for being an unreliable information source.
2 This paragraph is from Wikipedia - accessed 26 July 2013.
3 At least on senior editor of this encyclopaedia has it on his Wikipedia page that the official policy of Wikipedia is that “experts are scum” This information can be verified at my website Dysology.org.
4 See also page 87 for another example of the usage of this term.
5 Text taken from UK Government briefing paper.
6 Clarke, R.V.G and Hough, M. (1984) Crime and Police Effectiveness. Home Office Research
Study N0. 79. London: HMSO.
7 Sutton, M. and Hodgson, P. (2013) The Problem of Zombie Cops in Voodoo Criminology. Internet Journal of Criminology. http://www.internetjournalofcriminology.com/Sutton_Hodgson_The_Problem_of_Zombie_Cops_in_Voodoo_Criminology_IJC_May_2013.pdf
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About the Author
Dr Mike Sutton is the author of 'Nullius in Verba: Darwin's greatest secret'.