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19 October 2010

Everything you know is wrong. OK, not really everything.
Lead teeth seem like a bad idea.

And just yesterday, I learned that the phrase is "just deserts," not "just desserts."

desert (dɪˈzɜːt)

ón
1. (often plural) something that is deserved or merited; just reward or punishment
2. the state of deserving a reward or punishment
3. virtue or merit

[C13: from Old French deserte, from deservir to deserve]
-- Dictionary.reference.com
posted by filthy light thief 19 October | 12:12
Not bad, but snopes.com it isn't.
posted by Melismata 19 October | 12:52
I, uh, knew most of that stuff was inaccurate, and I suspect most of my friends would know that, too. Are these really common misconceptions, or are they just false pieces of trivia that we think other people believe, misconceptions that we enjoy attributing to others?

Reading this actually making me feel a little more tolerant of the book I'm currently reading: The Know-It-All, by A.J. Jacobs. He's reading his way through the Encyclopedia Brittanica, and every time he's flummoxed by a new factoid, I want to smack him. Not only does he seem woefully lacking in general knowledge before he starts the project, but he actually seems to believe (or is pretending to believe for the purposes of his book deal) that reading the encyclopedia makes a person smarter.

Not better informed, not more amply stocked with trivia: SMARTER. (He also seems to view knowledge as a stick to smack other people with and a way to garner attention, not as an end in itself.) That's... disheartening.
posted by Elsa 19 October | 13:04
Sorry, my point was:

But reading this list of allegedly-common misconceptions made me reconsider my irritation with the author of my current book. Maybe I'm completely wrong about him being woefully ill-informed; maybe I'm nerdishly well-informed about pointless trivia and he's as well-informed as the general public. That might reframe my reading of the book and make it a little more enjoyable.
posted by Elsa 19 October | 13:07
Elsa: I am often surprised by people not knowing something that I just happened to learn as a little girl, and therefore assumed was common knowledge that all adults had.

On the other hand, I've read Jacobs' book, and yes, he behaves badly and makes odd assumptions. His book about trying to live as prescribed in the Old Testament is much better.

As for the linked wiki page, some of these I knew were wrong, and some I didn't. (I won't say which is which for fear of embarrassment.)
posted by JanetLand 19 October | 13:13
I didn't know about the wooden teeth, nor about the black holes, the searing meat, Napoleon's height, the viking helmets. I'm probably missing a few. Others would have seemed false if I'd stopped to think about it, but somehow never did.

And who here knew that "Honest Abe" Lincoln gained that nickname because of his reputation refereeing cock fights?

Or about the rules governing falcons on air planes/
posted by Obscure Reference 19 October | 13:15
maybe I'm nerdishly well-informed ...and he's as well-informed as the general public

I think this is much more probable. It's really only a subset of people who are interested in abundant factual knowledge, mastery of general knowledge, debunking, and stuff like that. People like that tend to hang out on the internet and in educational settings and among other knowledgeable people, and it ends up that they often share the same knowledge, and of course they trade in knowledge as a currency with one another. So it often seems like "EVERYBODY knows this!" about some fact or other, but that's really only because in one's cohort, everybody knows it or at least has probably had the opportunity to know it. But the majority of the population just aren't infomania people. And much as I love information, I am still capable of being pretty surprised at learning some major factoid or other.

For instance - at the history conference i attended recently, the speaker was James Loewen. He gave the audience (historians!) a quick quiz: What was the reason for the secession of Southern states that caused the Civil War?

1. States' rights
2. Slavery
3. Tariffs and taxes
4. The election of Lincoln

The audience (historians!!), including me, failed this quiz.

I haven't read the Jacobs book, but this isn't to say it's not irritating. I bet it is. Isn't he the "Living Bibilically" guy? I'm starting to develop an allergic response to these stunt-type book projects: The Year I Did This, That, or The Other. The Tiny Insignificant Thing That Changed the World. I Did Such and Such Every Day For a Month. The Pop Culture Thing As Self Help Project.
posted by Miko 19 October | 13:20
I adore the Berliner/jelly doughnut story, though even when Dad told it to me 30 years ago, he told it as an apocryphal tale about the importance of articles and the difficulty of translation. I will continue to tell it as an apocryphal tale.

that's really only because in one's cohort, everybody knows it or at least has probably had the opportunity to know it

Thank you! This is the phrase I was reaching for when I mentioned that my circle of friends probably had the same trivia data set I have: I was trying to feel out whether this is normal, or only normal for my particular social-age-education-location bracket. My dormant anthropologist's brain wouldn't supply the term.

Please don't think that I mean "I am SO WELL-INFORMED!" I'm often flabbergasted at how little I know about the world, and in every class I take, I discover some Great Big Fact that I had no inkling of before; I just happen to know most of the trivia covered in the wiki link. (Except the bit about black holes, which I would dearly love to understand and which tragically is all rendered "blahblahblahGINGERblahblah" to me.)

On the other hand, I've read Jacobs' book, and yes, he behaves badly and makes odd assumptions.

Thank you for the confirmation; I've been wondering if I'm absurdly irrational in my dislike of the author.
posted by Elsa 19 October | 13:31
I'm often flabbergasted at how little I know about the world, and in every class I take, I discover some Great Big Fact that I had no inkling of before

Example of a Great Big Fact I learned recently, and this one's on the wiki list: the Immaculate Conception. I was in my 30s before I learned (in an art history class) that the Immaculate Conception didn't refer to Christ's conception but to Mary's freedom from original sin --- but I assumed that I was in the minority in making that error. It's enlightening to see it listed as a common misconception!
posted by Elsa 19 October | 13:39
Oh, I had the same reaction as you, Elsa.
posted by gaspode 19 October | 13:40
They say nothing about debunking Obama being born in Kenya.

Whew.

So that must be right.
posted by danf 19 October | 14:03
I knew about The Immaculate Conception because my father (small f) who taught Art History loved to correct people about that one.
posted by Obscure Reference 19 October | 14:05
Eh, I'm not sure that anybody not Catholic needs to really know that one.

Douglas Coupland made a good point in his recent list of pessimistic predictions: "Knowing everything will become dull."

It all started out so graciously: At a dinner for six, a question arises about, say, that Japanese movie you saw in 1997 (Tampopo), or whether or not Joey Bishop is still alive (no). And before long, you know the answer to everything.

Back in college I was a veteran stack-miner in the library. While I was supposed to be researching papers, I was instead satisfying my hunger for trivia, following one thing to another like James Burke. It was really fun. Now the internet comes along and makes this all ridiculously easy. For a while I contributed to Wikipedia, which is pretty much the same place a lot of people like me end up. But ultimately (aside from other priorities pulling at me) even this led to burnout.

Now I have freakin' Google on my phone. It's almost too much trouble to actually look something up when you know you're going to find the answer.
posted by dhartung 19 October | 16:12
I'm a bit of a Queen of Trivia, but I confess to being stunned to learn the story about King Christian X of Denmark and the Jews and the yellow star isn't true. (And sad, too. Wish it had happened. Somewhere.)
posted by bearwife 19 October | 16:37
, following one thing to another like James Burke. It was really fun. Now the internet comes along and makes this all ridiculously easy.

Me too - I remember when the idea of hypertext was new, and to me it was just like the way I always loved to learn, only more conveniently. I would read the liner notes on old garage-sale albums, then look up the names they mentioned at the library, tracking them down in the Readers Guide or Encyclopedias of this that or the other. My pulse would skyrocket if I was flipping around the TV and heard one of my latest obsessive quests briefly mentioned. The internet has made it ever so easy to satisfy the simple curiosity and to build crystalline structures of layered knowledge, but there's part of me that misses the romance and difficulty of the information quest of yore. It was hard to learn things, harder to become an expert.
posted by Miko 19 October | 16:52
I know about Immaculate Conception because there is a day for it (December 8th) and I usually forget to take my religious holiday at work during the year. This ends up being the only option I have left.
posted by youngergirl44 20 October | 10:56
"What was the reason for the secession of Southern states that caused the Civil War?"

What was the answer given?

This one really goes back and forth through the myth debunking and rebunking wringer. Googling suggests that Loewen takes the slavery-minimizing course which I think is probably a scope mismatch at best and vile lie-mongering at worst.
posted by fleacircus 20 October | 14:16
"Maximum: two falcons per seat." || Anachronisme.

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