Wednesday 21 June 2006


Will Rogers famously used to say: “All I know is what I read in the papers!” Were he around today, twirling his lasso and sharing his homespun philosophies, would he have modified this statement to: “All I know is what I read on the INTERNET!”?

Probably not, because - despite his 'Common Man' persona - Will Rogers was a pretty savvy fella…

But many of us read whatever Google, Yahoo and the other genies of cyberspace conjure up on our computer screens and take it for Gospel.

For example, a friend recently sent me one of those e-mail stories that seem to circulate more often than a goldfish in a whiskey glass.

This mailing claimed to give the origins of popular sayings such as “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” and “Raining cats and dogs”, all of which were said to have resulted from various social conditions of ‘Life in the 1500s’.

My friend prefaced his forwarding, with the comment: “I don’t know how much of this is true, but it makes interesting reading…” And he was right. It WAS interesting - fascinating, actually. After reading it, you felt as if you’d gained a lot of intriguing information and, at the same time, had been entertained.

But my friend’s question nagged away… Was it also TRUE?

I summoned the Google genie and he quickly located a reference to the story on a very useful site called The Phrase Finder which revealed that not only has this particular story been in circulation since April 1999, but also that its claimed derivations are “unproven, lacking evidence or credibility” and, say Phrase Finder, were “almost certainly made up by whoever posted that message.”

In reproducing the original mailing (with its beguiling explanations for such expressions as ‘upper crust’, ‘bringing home the bacon’ and ‘dead ringer’) Phrase Finder begs:

“Please don't mail us saying that these aren't correct - WE KNOW. They are included here merely as examples of the types of folk etymological myths that can so easily spread, and in the hope that this may in a small way help to dispel those myths.”

Which is why, in turn, I’m passing this on as a blog.

The Internet is, without doubt, the single most incredible invention of our time. It's an amazing research tool: instantly accessible newspapers, magazines, dictionaries, encyclopaedias and a zillion other publications on every facet of life we’ve ever wanted to know anything about --- and a great many others that we haven’t!

But we should never forget that it can also be fallible and may contain as many untruths as it does truths.

To revise an old adage: we live in an age of lies, damn lies, statistics and search-engine results! So we need to keep our minds open and keep asking questions - but not, necessarily, accept the first answers we’re given.

Which is why I commend a couple of useful sites which every sceptic should instantly ‘bookmark’: Hoax-Slayer and The Museum of Hoaxes.

Oh, and by the way, if any Will Rogers devotees happen to be reading this and STILL believe anything of what they read in their newspapers, then take time to check out everything2 ‘If it is in the newspaper, it must be wrong.

Remember, as Mulder and Scully used to say: “THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE!”

[Image: Will Rogers on stage at The Coleman Theatre Beautiful in Miami, Oklahoma.]

1 comment:

Brian Sibley said...

My Friend ‘Scrooge’ comments: “Don't forget, in addition, the magnificent site, (‘Rumour Has It’), that I regularly use to check on the ‘myths’ that surface as ‘truths’. As well as giving background, I often find the words of my suspect email reproduced exactly - such is the accuracy with which rubbish travels round the globe! If you've not seen the site before, do set aside a few hours...”