Top Five Lies You've Learned


Written by James Read
16 Monday 16th January 2012


Black holes are galactic vacuum cleaners

Bullshit. Black holes are not gradually sucking up everything in the universe. That would be loco. They possess gravity in the same way as stars, planets and any other object with mass. Until something passes 'inside' them (i.e. beyond the event horizon) they act pretty much the same as the stars they evolve from. In fact, if the Sun were to be replaced with a black hole of the same mass right now, the only difference we'd notice would be the cold, lonely darkness. So for Lapland, basically no difference.

What makes black holes specials is that their mass in concentrated into an unusually small space (they are dense), meaning that objects can get closer to them, and thus be subject to greater gravitational force. Beyond a certain point, gravity increases to such a degree that not even light can escape - this is the Schwartzchild radius, or event horizon. After that, shit gets weird.


Alcohol makes you warmer

This one's tricky, because alcohol genuinely makes you feel warmer. This is because it causes your blood vessels to dilate, sending your warm blood to the surface of your skin, where it makes your heat receptors all toasty (this is also why your alcoholic maths teacher had such a jolly red face). So, gin gilet n'est pas?

NON! If all your warm blood is floating up near your skin, it's gonna get cold, right? So while you'll feel warm at first, your core temperature will be dropping, which means you're going to feel colder later. Same goes for chilli and poppers by the way (both vasodilators).

So, that kindly picture of a St Bernard with a barrel of Rémy Martin hanging round his neck? He ain't no mobile minibar to keep you cosy on the chilly-willy black runs - he's a stone cold killer. He's just helping you on your merry way towards hypothermia so he can have himself a jumbo-sized frozen dinner. It's basically Cujo in the snow (yeah, he was a St Bernard).


The daddy longlegs spider has the most lethal venom in the world but its fangs are too short to use it

I'm not sure where I first heard this. I feel like it might've been this Ricky Gervais sketch from Animals. It could be said that stand-up comedy DVDs aren't the most rigorously reviewed source for scientific fact, but this was long before The Invention of Lying, so we had some level of trust.

Anyway, I'm sure that the daddy long-legs rumour has been propagated elsewhere. However, it is not true. The universe is not that cruel, and evolution isn't that useless. They don't have any venom that we need to worry about. Before you get too complacent though, the brown recluse spider has similar 'useless' fangs, and can occasionally puncture naked skin. And when they do, their venom is necrotic and potentially deadly. Good news? They only live in America. Hooray!


In times of history folk used to say ‘Ye’ when they meant ‘the’

The only people to use ‘Ye’ are bad playwrights and those seeking to give their retail outlet false antiquity and pomp. It is not a word that anyone said. Okay, really quick lesson in Old English. The etymology of our favourite definite article (that’s ‘the’) can be traced back to the word ‘se’ (or ‘séo’ for feminine, ‘þæt’ for neuter, ‘þá’ for plural etc). Masculine and feminine forms were later combined into ‘þe’, and then by Middle English they got rid of all the others. Okay, so what is up with this ‘þ’ thing that kind of looks like an ‘b’ on mead? It’s an Anglo-Saxon rune, that’s what. Yeah, like in Skyrim and Thor (or rather, Þórr). It’s called a ‘thorn’, and it’s pronounced ‘th’. So, ‘the’, ‘þe’? Same thing!

Okay, so here’s where the confusion comes from. Medieval scribes were pretty badly paid, and between the monastic moonshine and the shitty candles they couldn’t write so good. Even though our friend the thorn looks pretty much like a ‘b’ to you and me, somehow these boozy lettersmen made it look like a ‘y’. So when the first printing press was imported from Germany, and they discovered that it didn’t ship with any kind of weird ‘þ’ (because Germans weren’t using shit like runes in the 15th century), Chaucer figured that a ‘y’ would do just fine. And then ‘þe’ becomes ‘ye’. So that’s where we get it from.



Sherlock Holmes’ was fond of saying "Elementary, my dear Watson" and smoking a big curly pipe

In light of the second series of Sherlock, and Guy Ritchie’s second film adaptation, A Game of Shadows, it seems like a ripe time to drop some science on the Cumberbitches. The first time Sherlock Holmes said “Elementary, my dear Watson” was during the 1929 film The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Never in the books, so it ain’t Conanical. Then again, in the book he doesn’t tweet or blog either…

What he does do, is smoke a pipe. But it ain’t the one plastered all over Baker Street tube. The curved ‘Calabash’ style of pipe again probably came from films, as it’s easier to keep in one’s mouth while gesticulating wildly (in an actorly fashion). Sir Arthur didn’t mention which type of pipe Sherlock actually did smoke, though the original illustrations in Strand Magazine show Holmes smoking a boring regular pipe.

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