10 common misconceptions most people think are true

From Vikings with horned helmets to chubby Buddhas, all may not be as it appears

Jess Staufenberg
Friday 26 March 2021 10:20 GMT
The fortune cookie is not Chinese, but brought to the US from Japan
The fortune cookie is not Chinese, but brought to the US from Japan

Old wives' tales and received wisdom often take on lives of their own before anyone can find out if they are true.

This certainly seems to be true of the following 10 odd misconceptions. How many did you think were true?

1. Fortune cookies are not Chinese

Despite them being handed out in many western-based Chinese restaurants at the end of a meal these days, the fortune cookie is not from China.

Rather, it was brought to the US by the Japanese. They are rarely found in China, and are often seen as a symbol of American cuisine.

2. The Buddha was not fat

The popular image of the fat, laughing buddha with a big friendly belly is completely inaccurate.

This is actually a 10th century folk hero in Chinese lore called Budai - and the two have been confused over time.

In fact, Buddha was an ascetic who prayed under a lotus tree eating almost nothing to achieve enlightenment.

3. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was not composed by Mozart

It has been widely whispered that the classic children's song was composed by the Austrian musician when he was five years old.

Actually, it originated from a French folk song which Mozart composed variations of when he was 25 and 26 years old.

4. "Golf" does not stand for a misogynistic slogan

There is a widespread misconception that "golf" stands for Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden.

However, there is no evidence for this - and "golf" as a word existed in the Middle Scots period as a standalone word.

5. Vikings did not wear horns on their helmets

An iconic image for identifying the invaders, there is no historical evidence it is accurate.

In fact, the horns on helmets for Vikings come from an opera scene by Richard Wagner of Der Ring des Nibelungen.

A man in viking costume is silhoutted by a burning longship during the annual Up Helly Aa Festival in Lerwick, Shetland Islands

6. The Great Wall of China is not the only human-made object visible from space

None of the Apollo astronauts reported seeing any specific human-made object from the Moon. Even Earth-orbiting astronauts can barely see it.

City lights, however, are easily visible on the night side of Earth from orbit.

7. Napoleon was not short

The "Little Corporal's" height was recorded in French feet - five feet two inches - which is five feet seven inches in English feet.

This was, in fact, slightly taller than the average Frenchman at the time.

8. John F Kennedy did not identify himself as a doughnut

Legend has it that because the US President used the indefinite article "ein" in his famous announcement to Germany "Ich bin ein Berliner", he actually said that he was a donut.

This is not true. His sentence was the standard way for a German to identify themselves as someone from Berlin, as was intended.

9. Three kings did not visit the baby Jesus

One of the most re-told stories of all time, this account is not exactly found in the Bible.

Instead, it says that kings might visit the baby - and elsewhere three gifts are described - leading painters to draw three kings with presents.

But the exact number of kings and the belief that their names were Balthazar, Melchior and Casper is nowhere in the Bible.

10. When earthworms are cut in half, two baby earthworms are not born

Only the front half may survive - the back end dies. Very few kinds of worm are able to do this.

[This article was originally published in November 2015]

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