Old Wives Tales – Discuss!

Yesterday I wrote of all things philosophy. Well not all things, I mainly conveyed the fictional philosophical words of wisdom by an equally fictional Frenchman named Aidan Le Torche.

Today I want to touch upon the lower end of philosophy market – old wives tales. Folklore which, depending on your inclination, are advocacies of gospel truth or the absurdities peddled by the misguided.

old wives tales

Ordinarily, these generational pearls of wisdom bequeathed by some mothers to enlighten their offspring are erratic in their accuracy. Although the motives of the maternal figure are meant to be educational, in all probability a good number are merely myths from the misguided.

Old wives tales have ensured that, for generations, families retain essential knowledge like the digestion time of swallowed chewing gum. Without them we’d be bereft of the necessity of touching wood to avoid tempting fate. Not to mention, awareness of when a north wind shall blow you’ll see a partridge (or something like that) would, like a woolly mammoth, be no more.

I’m not advocating that these snippets of knowledge are all incorrect, or indeed don’t enhance peoples lives in any way. However, I’m inclined not to pay them much attention as, in my opinion, most of them are as factually correct as my friend’s claim he can see into the future with his spectacles.

I’m not saying all people who subscribe to these soundbites from the cauldron are idiots For example, you reading this are certainly aren’t ……. Despite your superstition of refusing to ride a horse in a month with an ‘F’ in it!

That being said, your adherence to these superstitions hasn’t stopped you wearing that dreadful green top with those blue jeans! ….. Remember what your mum taught you as a child, “Blue and green should never be seen!”

February – A month with an ‘F’ in it!


What I sometimes find with ‘old wives tales’ is that some of them are from a time so long ago they are no longer bear relevance. For example last week a friend, who believes in the validity of these tales, informed me “If you see one woolly mammoth it signifies it will snow, if you see two run like f**k!”

It sounds like it would have been good advice back in the day, however I’m not sure it’s applicable these days.

An online website describes old wives tales as “…… an epithet used to indicate that a supposed truth is actually a superstition or something untrue, to be ridiculed.”…….. A thought-provoking descriptive which I’d subscribe to – or I woulddo if I knew what epithet meant.

Examples of old wives tales are:-

  •  Masturbation will make you blind and have hairy palms.
  • Ice cream leads to nightmares.
  • Toes pointed up signify low blood sugar.
  • Letting a wound “dry out” is the proper treatment.
  • Cracking knuckles gives arthritis.
  • Swimming with full stomach causes cramps and that one should wait an hour after eating before swimming.
  • Don’t swallow gum or it will stay in your stomach for seven years, two months, four days and six hours.
  • Don’t make silly faces or you’ll stay like that permanently.
  • Eating crusts (from a sandwich) makes your hair go curly/you grow hair on your chest.
  • The appearance of white spots on the fingernails is due to lying/not eating enough green vegetables/calcium.
  • It’s bad luck to open an umbrella indoors.

The widespread use of these tales of folklore as genuine shows the indoctrinating power of old wives tales. They are generally harmless, but it amazes me the number of individuals who pass it through their families as valid information.

It intrigues me how a proportion of these widely held traditions come to pass. For example, how did “Don’t swallow gum or it will stay in your stomach for seven years, two months, four days and six hours**.” gain credence? I suspect, though, it wasn’t from local councils, who spend thousands having to remove gum from pathways.

** – Other theories into how long chewing gum takes residence in the human body are available.

For editorial balance, I wanted to add that apparently not all old wives tales are nonsense. The following has been apparently scientifically proven as good advice:-

  • Don’t play hide and seek on the M1 motorway.
  • Don’t call Mike Tyson a pussy if you’re in the same continent as him, or not heavily armed.
  • Don’t tell your wife she is wrong about anything.
  • A Rolling Stone gathers no bus pass.
  • ‘Debbie Does Dallas’ isn’t a travel information film by the Texas Tourist Board.
  • If you see one woolly mammoth it signifies snow, if you see two run like f**k!

Anyway, I have to draw a line under this blog now as I need to shave my palms prior to my 2pm opticians appointment.

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