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Urban Legends
I'm not a knuckle cracker myself. In fact, I hate it when people crack their knuckles. And I've frequently told people that cracking their knuckles would cause arthritis. After all, that's what everyone says. But according to this NY Times article (republished in the Arizona Republic) it's not true. It's an urban legend.
Just reading this description of what causes knuckles to crack makes me cringe:
The loud pop of a cracked knuckle is caused by synovial fluid, the thick lubricant that surrounds every joint. When the fingers are stretched or bent backward, the bones of the joint pull apart. This creates bubbles of air in the fluid, which subsequently burst.
But as for the evidence that knuckle cracking doesn't cause arthritis, the article cites a 1990 study:
The largest study to explore a link to arthritis was published in 1990 in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. It looked at 300 healthy people older than 45, 74 of them habitual knuckle crackers. The rates of arthritis of the hand were similar in both groups, though the knuckle crackers, on average, had reduced grip strength.
Still, I think I might keep telling people who are cracking their knuckles that it's going to give them arthritis, just to annoy them and maybe scare them into stopping.
Categories: Body Manipulation, Health/Medicine, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Feb 02, 2005
Comments (70)
Here's a news story that bears an eerie resemblance to the urban legend about the guy who shares a drink with a stranger in a bar and wakes up to find his kidney gone. This news report involves a German professor who goes on holiday to Costa Rica and visits a hospital to have them check out his swollen left foot:

When I got to the hospital they put me on a bed and I heard the word amputate. I tried to protest, but before I knew it they had given me drugs to black me out, and when I woke up I was at the departure lounge. My suitcases were by my side - and then I realised my leg was missing. I couldn't move, and when I checked my wallet I found that £200 had been taken out and replaced with a receipt for the amputation.

Wow! Talk about bad luck. Of course, this story appears on Ananova, so it's anyone's guess whether it's actually true.
Categories: Body Manipulation, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu Jan 20, 2005
Comments (13)
Filmthreat.com has a list of the "10 BEST URBAN LEGENDS IN FILM HISTORY". It's an interesting list, but I think they've chosen an odd choice for number one: the 'urban legend' about President Woodrow Wilson allegedly remarking that the ultra-racist film Birth of a Nation was like "history written with lightning" and "all terribly true." I've heard these comments attributed to Wilson many times. In fact, I can remember sitting in quite a few classes and listening to the lecturer make this exact claim. The remarks also appear in numerous history books. To be honest, until I read filmthreat's list I wasn't aware that there was any controversy about their truthfulness. Personally, I think Filmthreat may be cutting Wilson too much slack. While they point out that there's no definite evidence that he said these comments, there is anecdotal evidence that he did say them. When this is combined with Wilson's well-known views about race (he was the president who chose to resegregate the federal government after it was desegregated following the Civil War), it doesn't seem that unlikely that he might have said words to this effect, even if it wasn't those exact words.
Categories: Entertainment, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 22, 2004
Comments (5)
This story (author unknown) has been 'floating around' the internet for a few months. I found a discussion of it on alt.folklore.urban. There's an easier to read version of it here. It involves a fox terrier named Jasper who eats twelve uncooked yeast rolls that a woman leaves out to rise before baking. The yeast begins to rise in the dog's stomach, causing him to swell up like a balloon:
"He looked like a combination of the Pillsbury dough boy and the Michelin Tire man wrapped up in fur. He groaned when he walked. I swear even his cheeks were bloated."
The next day it's worse. The yeast has begun to ferment inside the dog's stomach, causing Jasper to become drunk: "the darn dog was as drunk as a sailor on his first leave. He was running into walls, falling flat on his butt and most of the time when he was walking his front half was going one direction and the other half was either dragging on the grass or headed 90 degrees in another direction."
Finally, it ends with fermented yeast burps, farts, and poops (that are rock-hard like 'Portland cement'). Now, this all sounds an awful lot like an urban legend, especially since it comes from an anonymous source. Would the yeast actually begin to rise and ferment in the dog's stomach, or would it be killed by stomach acid? I'm not sure. I'm guessing that given the quantity of yeast involved (twelve rolls), the yeast might actually cause the dog's stomach to swell quite a bit... so something like this could happen. Though whether it actually did happen is anyone's guess.
Categories: Animals, Food, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Sun Dec 05, 2004
Comments (13)
image According to urban legend there was once a department store in Japan that, shortly after the war, displayed a smiling crucified Santa at Christmas, mistakenly believing that that was how Santa was supposed to be displayed. In different versions of the legend the crucified Santa was either a small miniature or an 'enormous effigy'. There's no evidence that the Japanese crucified Santa ever existed. But people here in America have, of course, deliberately stuck Santas up on crosses. Here's an article that refers to a guy who delighted his neighbors back in 2002 by placing a crucified Santa in his front yard:
A unique holiday display in Boise has prompted mixed reactions from neighbors and passersby. Residents of a home in the 6300 block of Ustick Road have erected a cross with a full-size, stuffed Santa Claus attached. Chili Ciluaga got the idea to build the crucified Santa in his front yard while watching a TV commercial. He said the display conveys the message that the holiday season has become over-commercialized.
Categories: Religion, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Fri Dec 03, 2004
Comments (18)
Here's a cute little quiz to waste five minutes of your life on: Which urban legend are you? I'm the classic tale of the gator in the sewer (because everyone knows I'm full of crap, but they keep talking about me anyway).
Categories: Miscellaneous, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 23, 2004
Comments (19)
I've finally made a decision in the urban legend haiku contest. It was tough, because there were so many good entries, but I've decided to give the book to Big Gary C, based on the consistently high quality of his entries. He clearly has a knack for urban legend haiku. Here are a few of his entries:
(Ten English Names for Snow)
Flakes, drifts, flurries, slush,
Blizzard, powder, crust, white stuff,
whiteout, ice crystals.
We brought our cute pet
Back from our Mexican tour.
He loves cheese; fears cats.

Ev'ry stick of gum
I've ever chewed and swallowed
Is still inside me.

In elevator,
big black man with dog says, "Sit!"
So everyone does.

I had the biggest
beehive hairdo in town, 'til
spiders ate my brain.

Oh, waiter, waiter!
Won't you please feed my dog now?
No, no! Not to me!

Cheney's pocket's full
of something; so they don't call
him "Dick" for nothing.

Once you start writing
verses in Haiku format,
it's hard to stop it.

To be honest, I liked reading everyone's haiku so much that I didn't want the contest to stop. So I'm going to try to give the haiku a more permanent (better organized) place on my site and allow people to keep adding more of it. Maybe I'll also make this an ongoing contest, awarding a prize every month. Or something like that. Stay tuned.
Categories: Miscellaneous, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 23, 2004
Comments (7)
image I've received a free copy of David Wilton's new book, Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends, courtesy of Oxford University Press. So I'm having a contest to give it away. The book has just been published. I'm not sure it's even out in stores yet, but you can get a copy here... if you win the contest.

First, what's the book about? Wilton debunks all those stories about where words come from, such as 'is GOLF really an acronym for Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden?' or 'does SOS stand for Save Our Souls?' or 'was F**K originally an acronym meaning For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge?' You'll have to get the book to find out the answers. It's a lot of fun, and quite enlightening.

Here's what I've decided for the contest: urban legend haiku. I figure this is appropriate since it's a book about urban legends and language. Whoever comes up with the best haiku describing an urban legend (or a hoax, since this is the Museum of Hoaxes) wins the contest. What's 'best' will, of course, be subjectively decided by me.

If you need inspiration, examples of urban legend haiku can be found here or here. I'm not going to be a stickler about whether or not entries maintain proper haiku form (three lines: first line five syllables, second line seven syllables, third line five syllables), since apparently the idea that haiku must adhere strictly to this form is itself a bit of an urban legend. Keep it to three lines, but if the number of syllables isn't perfect, I don't care.

Here's my own rather weak attempt at a hoax haiku. It took me all of a minute to write:

Enclosed in glass,
Soon she'll be rectangular,
My Bonsai Kitten.


You'll have to do better than this to win the book.

The contest will end on Nov. 20, about a week from today (oh, and you can submit as many haiku as you like).
Update: And one more thing, submit your entries as comments. Don't email them to me directly.
Update: Okay, the contest is now closed. I need a day or two to review all the entries.
Categories: Miscellaneous, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 12, 2004
Comments (143)
Jan Harold Brunvand calls it the "Indecent Exposure" urban legend. It involves a vacationing couple whose hotel room is broken into and robbed of everything save a toothbrush and a camera. When they get home and develop the film in the camera, they discover pictures of their toothbrush up the robber's rear end (to put it not so delicately). It appears that this urban legend has now served as the unfortunate inspiration for a prank that a New Zealand golfer played on his rival. As this article describes it:

The Dominion Post understands bad blood between teenagers Kauika and Aucklander Kevin Chun boiled over when a bare-bottomed Kauika misused Chun's toothbrush as a prop in a photograph allegedly snapped by Iles.

As punishment, Kauika and Brad were banned from representing New Zealand overseas until the end of the year.
Categories: Pranks, Sports, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 04, 2004
Comments (1)
An urban legend has been circulating about Pimp My Ride, the MTV show on which people get surprised by having their raggedy hoopties (read: old cars) transformed into tricked-out pimp-mobiles. I'll let this poster from the Elle.com forums describe the rumor, since she does it so much better than I could:

okay remember the beloved episode of the girl Nile with the pink cadillac and they put the river in the back her car. i think it was like episode 2 or something. i was told that she was car jacked and killed like 6wks after the show aired. did anyone else hear this? i searched the internet looking for this and i did see it posted somewhere else but you chicks are usually up on stuff like this, so did someone else hear this or am i just the last person to find out?  that is so sad!

So was Nile the victim of carjackers? No. At least, if she was, it hasn't been reported anywhere in the news. Another poster on Elle.com claims to be Nile's friend and assures everyone that she's still alive, but who knows if that person really knows Nile. Anyway, I'd classify this rumor as yet another of the perils-of-sudden-fame-and-being-too-ostentatious variety.
Categories: Death, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 03, 2004
Comments (11)
Can Coca-Cola work as an insecticide? Indian farmers seem to think so. The Guardian reports that many of them have taken to spraying their cotton and chilli fields with the soft drink. The article quotes an agricultural analyst who suggests that this might actually work because the sugar in the drink would "attract red ants to feed on insect larvae". But a Coca-Cola spokesman dismisses the entire story as an urban legend: "We are aware of one isolated case where a farmer may have used a soft drink as part of his crop management routine. Soft drinks do not act in a similar way to pesticides when applied to the ground or crops. There is no scientific basis for this and the use of soft drinks for this purpose would be totally ineffective". I'm not enough of a plant expert to judge on whether Coke would work as an insecticide, though it does seem to me like the sugar could actually attract flies (but what do I know?). Plus, I'm not one to criticize the Indian farmers since I regularly throw banana peels around the flowers in my yard in the (perhaps illogical) belief that the peels will somehow keep aphids away.
Categories: Food, Science, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 03, 2004
Comments (13)
Yahoo News offers up this brief report about a British train conductor who "stamped and carefully returned the ticket of a slumbering passenger without realizing the man was dead." I guess people only realized the guy was dead once the train pulled into the station (York) and he failed to wake up. Now, by coincidence, I took this very same train last month, and the seats were pretty cramped, so either the train was quite empty, or whoever was sitting next to the dead guy was really oblivious. The story reminds me of the old urban legend about the guy who dies in his office, sitting at his desk, but none of his co-workers notice.
Categories: Death, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Mon Nov 01, 2004
Comments (7)
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