Once upon a time I was known as the go-to guy for urban legend debunking. I’d read all of Jan Harold Brunvands’s books and could spot a foaf-tale at 100 yards. My friends and family were forever calling me up and saying, “my friend Sally said that her aunt bought the Neiman Marcus cookie recipe for $250 — that ain’t true, is it?”
These days, of course, there’s snopes.com, so my bullshit detection services are no longer in high demand. But I still consider myself something of a minor authority in the subject. But let’s face it — even someone who makes an effort to keep abreast of urban legends can occasionally get suckered. So this month, I’ve rummaged around in my mental file cabinet full of “beliefs” and flagged a few that, despite my having quoted them as fact for years, strike me as suspicious.
Bottlers in Washington State are prohibited by law from printing alcohol content on beer labels: This is the belief that prompted this urban legend purge. Some drinking buddies and I were recently in a local tavern, and I noticed that the alcohol content for the microbrews were listed in the menu along with the descriptions. So I asked my friend J., a bartender by trade, how they could do that when they can’t print alcohol content on bottles and cans.
“Why wouldn’t they be able to print it on bottles and cans?” J. replied.
“Oh, it’s some old Washington law,” I informed him. “Apparently when they were worried that brewers would get into an alcoholic arms-race if they were allowed to put the alcoholic content on the cans and bottles — you know, each would try to outdo the others by jacking up the potency and proudly advertising this fact. So they made it illegal, and the law has never been overturned.”
“I don’t think that was ever a law,” said J. “And I’m sure it’s not now.” He pointed to the label of my own bottle of beer, where, in tiny letters, it read “5.1% alcohol by weight.”
The next day I wrote an email to the Washington State Liquor Control Board, and they confirmed that there had never been any such law.
I have no idea how that “fact” came to be lodged in my head, but it had been there since college.
Honey never spoils: I learned this in one of those “10,001 Amazing And Poorly Researched Facts!” books I read as a kid. But given that these are the kind of books that perpetuated the great lemmings myth, re-evaluating those “facts” is probably a good idea. And this one strikes me as particularly bogus.
But it appears to be true all the same. According to Wikipedia: “Honey does not spoil. Because of its high sugar concentration, it kills bacteria by osmotically lysing them. Natural airborne yeasts can not become active in it because the moisture content is too low. Natural, raw, honey varies from 14% to 18% moisture content. As long as the moisture content remains under 18%, virtually no organism can successfully multiply to significant amounts in honey.”
That is amazing! But it’s too bad it’s honey, which I don’t particularly like. Everlasting corned beef, though — that would pretty much rule.
Cher had a pair of ribs removed: Having not thought about Cher for a decade or so, this isn’t one I’ve mentioned recently. But I do recall, at some point, telling someone that this was a for-real fact. Alas, no. Snopes has the goods on this one: “In 1988 the chic magazine Paris Match announced Cher had .. two ribs [removed] … Cher sued the magazine, but the rumor gained even wider acceptance after being picked up from the Paris Match piece and run in other papers. That these stories were later corrected didn’t do much to mitigate the impact of the rumor’s first finding its way into those pages as revealed fact.”
Dude, I came this closed to getting sued by Cher!!!!!
If you’d like to play along, pick one of your own beliefs that you are having second thoughts about, research it on Google, and post your findings in the comments.