True or False? Great ideas that died

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The twentieth century has been shaped by a succession of beliefs and credos that have had tremendous influence on us all and then been proved to be false. Beliefs such as Soviet communism. The belief that the Tory party is the party of tax cuts. The belief that electrical goods made in Japan have comprehensible English instructions provided with them. The belief that if you start a part-work history and give away instalment Number Two FREE with Number One, then people will buy Number Three ...

Today, as it happens, I am starting a new part-work history, and by incredible chance it is a collection of Beliefs and Credos that have had Tremendous Influence on us all In The Twentieth Century and then Been Proved to be False. What is interesting is that all the false ideas and beliefs I bring you today are still believed by most people!

So here we go, with Part One of A Hundred Great Ideas That Have Shaped Our Century Even Though They Were Non-Starters.

1. The idea that adding "Le" to an English word makes it French. "Le Shuttle" means nothing - there already is a good French word for shuttle and it isn't "shuttle" and anyway it should be "la shuttle" if anything. Le Crunch in apple advertisements - who are they kidding? "Le car" in car ads - do they know that "le car" in French already exists? And means "the bus"?

2. The Tory belief that if you preach the value of giving people the right to choose, this automatically means that there are things worth choosing from. If I have the right to choose my child's school, and there are no good schools, what price choice? To put it even more plainly, if I have the right to choose at the ballot box, and my choice is between Labour and Tory, is it worth having a choice? And what price democracy?

3. The belief that if something is light it is easy to lift, but that if it is "lite" it will help you get slim.

4. The belief that anything in a hotel bedroom is yours to take away free. This light-fingeredness on the part of guests has led to a radical rethink in hotel bedroom design, even down to keys, which now tend not to be heavy metal items but light computerised cards which cannot be re- used. Hotel hangers have been made useless anywhere but in the hotel cupboard. Everything else has been made too small to be tempting (soap, shampoo sachets, bottles in mini-bars) or too foolish (eg. shoe-shine papers, courtesy shower caps).

5. The belief that the new computer culture will lead to better design. Nothing could be worse designed and cluttered than the cover of the average computer magazine. God knows what the contents are like.

6. The belief, very common among even experienced passengers, that if you jump to your feet when the plane comes to a stop you will get off quicker. All that happens is that you stay on your feet for ten minutes, unable even to get back to your seat. If by a miracle you do get off quicker, you only have to stand longer in the terminal.

7. The belief that you have to go away from home to be on holiday.

8. The amazing belief, sincerely held by petrol companies, that motorists prefer one brand of petrol to another. (They must believe it, else they wouldn't do all that advertising.)

9. The belief that the pace of life is big cities is much faster than elsewhere. Actually, it's much slower, because of the crawling pace of traffic and people's unwillingness to walk. The reason that city life seems rushed is that people are always delayed by the slowness of city life and late for something else. The symbol of city life is a man standing still on a street corner, idly chatting into a mobile phone, the modern equivalent of a country yokel chewing a bit of straw.

10. The belief that an information explosion is the same thing as a knowledge explosion.

11. The belief that sex education is more important than love education.

12. The belief in Britain that anyone in America is aware that there is a special relationship between us.

13. The belief that fashion and style are the same thing. Not only are they not the same thing, they are actually complete opposites. Fashion changes all the time, style stays the same. If you've got style, you don't need fashion. In Quentin Crisp's words "Fashion is only for people who don't know who they are".

14. The belief that if you leave washing-up without rinsing it, the taste of washing-up liquid will magically vanish.

More great wrong-headed notions of the twentieth century coming soon!

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