A Head for Numbers

Over at Que Sera Sera, Sarah Brown has a post about the misconceptions that people (including myself) had as children. Be sure to read through the comments, which include such gems as, “My husband believed (still believes?) that limes are unripened lemons”.

Also in the comments are a few instances of readers coming to shocking realizations, such as the woman who discovers that her long-held belief that Alaska is an island (because of its placement on US maps) is erroneous.

That reminded me of an incident in my late 20s. I had lived in Washington State nearly all of my life, and driven its roads innumerable times. One afternoon I was driving home from the airport, having picked up a friend who was making her first visit to the state.

“I love your State Highway signs,” my friend remarked as we passed one. I thought this was an odd thing to find charming, and asked her to clarify. “I like how the number is printed on a silhouette of George Washington,” she replied.

I had no idea what she was talking about. It wasn’t until we approached another of the black and white signs that I could validate her observation.

“You never knew that?” she asked. “What did you think the white thing was?”

I shrugged. “It’s always been the State Highway Background Shape to me.”

18 thoughts on “A Head for Numbers

  1. Aren’t those for Washington State Highways, not Interstate highways?

    They are, durr. Corrected. -MB

  2. Two of my bigger childhood revelations (though they were resolved at the time and didn’t make it to adulthood) were:

    A “quarter of an hour” was *not* 25 minutes (since a quarter was 25 cents).

    And Arkansas was Kansas with Ar- on the front. :)

  3. OH GOOD! It took me a good three years after I moved to WA state to realize that was George Washington’s head myself. I felt really dumb.

  4. I have a couple of friends with a rare genetic defect that causes very loose joints. At the party where they discovered this shared trait, one of them remarked how shocked she was when she discovered that most people can’t scratch every inch of their own back. The other friend responded with a shocked, “What? There are people who can’t scratch their whole back?”.

  5. I spent some 20 years quoting the Monty Python and the Holy Grail line, “filthy ke-niggits” before I realized that’s the phonetic pronunciation of “knights”. The day I figured it out, I mentioned it to another Python-loving friend, only to find out he’d missed that too.

  6. This inspired me to check something that I always suspected must be wrong, but I heard it so clearly. And, in fact, the second line of “Blinded by the Light” is not “wrapped up like a douche” as I have always heard it, but “revved up like a deuce”. I still suspect they’re singing it my way, but pretending it’s the other.

  7. I am angry that the Internet won’t yield images of the old road signs for the Meadowlands sports complex, since they were clearly a silhouette of Carmen Miranda, and not the state of New Jersey. (This was not a misconception, just one of those eye tricks you can’t stop seeing once you’ve seen it.)

  8. My dad often talks about eating (or not eating) at a Greasy Spoon. For several years of my childhood I thought it was the actual name of a restaurant chain.

  9. Oh. MAN. This is so brilliant that I hope it becomes an unstoppable meme. My contribution: When I was seven years old, I was watching a documentary about African wildlife with my best friend and her family. At one point, one baboon was grooming another. “Why is that monkey doing that?” my friend asked. Her older brother said, “Oh, that monkey is eating the salt off the back of the other monkey.” Made sense to me, since whenever I’d licked my own skin, I could taste the salt. Immediately I made the connection that the salt in our salt shakers came from monkeys picking it off other monkeys. Laborious and time-consuming! No wonder my mother scolded us for using too much on our food! [I figured out the truth a little while later, in Grade Three science class, when we learned how salt and sugar dissolve in water. Mrs. Gregoire told us that salt was made of sodium and chloride. Primates were not involved.

  10. I still have a deep-seated almost emotional or moral belief in my core that Boston is a temperate mid-to-north coastal city while New York City is a frigid New England metropolis to the north of Boston. I’ve been to both cities, and I know it’s wrong, but every time I see it on a map, something inside me — something that won’t be winning any geography bees for damn sure — rebels.

  11. Years ago I read in MAD magazine someone make the quip “If I said you have a beautiful body would you hold it against me?” I gathered that this was a popular catch-phrase in the ’60s and ’70s. But it was only a couple years ago that I realized it was a double entendre. Hah! It’s funny!

  12. Dug – Don’t feel bad, K-nights is actually the historic pronounciation. In early english many words that now start with a silent ‘K’ would have the K pronounced- Ker-nife. Being Oxbridge educated, the Pythons almost certainly knew that. What TV Tropes would call a ‘Genius Bonus’.

    As a kid I believed clouds were made by chimneys, specifically the tall thin metal industrial ones.

  13. In California, the highway on-ramp signs say “880 East” and then there’s an angled arrow pointing downward at the road itself. When I was 8, just learning about maps in school, this confused me to no end. How could East be DOWN?! Not only was it downward, but the arrow pointed slightly to the West too! Gaaahh!!!

  14. For the longest time I just assumed there was a lovely meadow somewhere in Canada beneath which surface lay enormous amounts of iron ore.

    Because instead of pointing to true north, compass needles point to the magnetic field.

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