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Are "Old Wives Tales" Based on Fact?

Updated on October 1, 2016

Old Wives Tales-just what exactly are they? Some say they are superstitions handed down through the generations, others say they are based on facts. Let's take a look at some of them and see how they add up when we look at them logically, or critically, or however you want to say it.

Of course, most wives tales must be based on some type of truth, because they would have had no basis otherwise. However, the truth is often lost in the telling and retelling of the tale. Wives tales are passed down from mother to daughter, grandmother to granddaughter, etc., and many are handed down from father to son, so it is easy to see how things might get a little muddled. You can trace many wives tales back through the centuries but you will find that the tales are different depending on the location, family experience, and, well, the story teller. Wives tales cover a wide range of topics as well, going from A to Z (or very nearly that large).

How do you see it, do you think black cats are bad luck?

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Black Cats

If a black cat crosses your path, you will have bad luck for the duration of the day. This is one that I remember from way back when I was a wee little one. Is it true? Well, perhaps. Let's look at this rationally and see how it holds up. First, if you believe that it is true, then anything bad that happens will automatically be blamed on the cat. Second, if the cat crosses your path close to you, you might watch the cat and not the road (or sidewalk) and you might have an accident. Although beliefs around the world differ about cats in general, it is generally understood that cats are great pest controllers and wonderful companions, no matter what color they are born with. Also, cats are cleaner than most pets and they are one of the most adaptable of all domesticated animals.

So are they bad luck? If you are allergic to them they might be, or if you trip on one lying on the stairs. If you run over one that belongs to a neighbor you might end up fighting with the neighbor over it. If you abuse one you might end up being fined or even going to jail. I guess it all depends on how you look at it.

I believe that most of the "bad luck" stems from the Salem Witch Trials in this area because black cats were considered to be "familiars" of witches. Also, during periods of illness and death, black cats may have been destroyed in the belief that they were causing the illness. In other areas of the world, black cats are revered for their beautiful shiny coats and sleek (most times) appearance. I, myself, love cats of all colors so I can't vote on this one.

Do you think eating an apple a day will keep the doctor away?

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An Apple a Day keeps the doctor away. It might very well do that. Apples are rich in nutrients and fiber along with natural sugars that are easy for the body to dissolve. Apples help with digestion because of their fiber content and are rich with antioxidant compounds. Their sugars are easily absorbed and used by the body for energy. Like many fruits and vegetables, when the apple is eaten raw it burns extra calories because the body must work harder to break down the components of the fruit.

So is this one true? Well, if you were Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, I guess an apple might not be so good for you. But when you look at all of the good things apples do for the body (and how delicious they are especially in apple pie and apple crumb cake) I think that we can agree that an apple a day will keep the doctor away (at least long enough for me to finish my pie--anyone got whipped cream?)

Do you believe it is bad luck to break a mirror?

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If you break a mirror you will have seven years bad luck. This one would be very hard to test out because once one year (especially one fraught with bad luck) passes, won't most people forget about the broken mirror? I know I would, in fact I would forget after a day or two. I mean the shards of glass aren't put on display or something as a reminder, are they? No, we throw them away. Besides, once we break a mirror, won't we attribute anything bad that happens to the broken mirror?

I suppose if the mirror broke just as I was putting my make-up on I might consider it to be bad luck. And I suppose if I needed to know if my clothes matched and the mirror broke I would consider it to be bad luck. And I suppose that if I cut myself with the pieces as I was cleaning them up I just might consider it to be bad luck. And I have known quite a few people who have had long periods of time where they had bad luck continuously. Hmmmmmm, maybe it is bad luck to break a mirror, but seven years???????

I think perhaps that belief stems from the fact that back when mirrors were hard to produce they would have been considered rare. That would make it very bad luck indeed to break a mirror, don't you think?

Do you believe it is bad luck to walk under a ladder, or just bad judgement?

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Is it bad luck to walk under a ladder? Hmmmmm. It probably is bad luck to walk under a ladder because by walking under the ladder you risk having something very large, very heavy, and/or very messy landing on you. But, is it true bad luck, or just bad judgement? If I walk under a ladder, does that mean that I have just change my luck meter to bad and everything I do will turn out bad? Of course, if I realize that I walked under the ladder, then everything bad that happens to me after that will be because of the ladder incident, right?

I believe this one comes from a time when ladders were not very sturdy and walking under them meant that you would actually dislodge the ladder from the item it is resting against and not only will you get hurt but the person on the ladder will as well. Today ladders are made of strong metal and have safety features to prevent mishaps. However, I think I'll refrain from walking under any ladder I see, especially if someone is up there with something messy or heavy. "Look out below!"

Here's a tricky one-would you stitch, or toss?

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A stitch

A stitch in time saves nine. Uh, well, uh, this one seems to work pretty well, don't you think? I mean if I have a pair of pants with a small tear in them, and I repair the tear immediately, then the tear does not get bigger and I am saved from a rather bothersome embarrassment. So if I take a stitch now to repair the small hole (a stitch in time), I will save more stitches later when the hole gets bigger (saves nine).

Is this one true? More like this one is common sense. I mean we all know that a small hole always turns into a bigger one eventually. Even washing the garment will cause the tear to get bigger. And using safety pins will cause the threads of the material to pull and stretch, which eventually will pull them out and, whallah, the hole is bigger.

Uh, maybe we could use a clip to hold the hole closed. That might work, right? No, it will probably catch on everything I rub against and pull the hole so it gets bigger. Maybe a straight pin, a big one? Wow, won't that be fun when the pin pokes me as I walk, or worse yet, pokes someone I am walking past! Let's face it, if we don't stitch it up, we might as well toss it out!

If you found a penny, would you pick it up and feel lucky?

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A Penny

Find a penny, pick it up, and all the day you'll have good luck. I wonder about this one. I mean, if I find a penny and pick it up, I would feel pretty "lucky" about it because it is money. But what about a nickle, or a dime, or a quarter? How about a half-dollar piece, or even a bill or two (any denomination will work)? I think a penny is truly just the very beginning of this wives tale. Why if I collect every penny I find: let's see, supposing I find one penny a day--that's 365 pennies a year or $3.65, wow I'd be rich in.....say......well too many years to count.

So could this one be true? Realistically I don't believe so. I mean, if you believe you will have good luck, then everything that happens that is good will be attributed to the penny find. But, how could a penny pull luck? I believe this one comes from a time when people bartered for what they needed and only the very rich had money. That would mean if you found a penny, you were very rich indeed. Well, I don't know about you, but I'm off to seek pennies so I can make my fortune........

Do you think old wives tales are based on fact or superstition?

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In Summary:

I could go on with this hub forever.........and ever.....and ever.... Old wives tales are beliefs, thoughts, and training guides. People would give information by repeating what they knew to the young. Then the young, when grown up, would repeat it to their young and the cycle goes on. Rhyme helps people remember, thus many of the wives tales are rhymes. Yes, I do think that the wives tales began as fact, but through the generations, I think many have lost their meanings, or their reasons for being created. Still, I enjoy hearing them all and researching their heritage because no matter how straight-forward a wives tale, rhyme, or saying is, it may not have begun that way. So remember:

  • Time heals all wounds
  • A watched pot never boils
  • Time brings forgetfullness
  • It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all
  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
  • Never get drunk with strangers (where did that one come from?)
  • Smile, laugh, and enjoy--life is too short for anything else! This one is mine, hope you had fun reading my hub :)

© 2011 Cheryl Simonds


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