Can You Guess Which of These Wives' Tales Are Actually True?

LIFESTYLE

Marie Hullett

7 Min Quiz

Image: Henglein and Steets / Cultura / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Old wives' tales are just that: tall tales—right? In reality, a lot of these old adages have some truth to them, so you should think twice before you shake off your dear old grandmother's advice. Meanwhile, some tales that are commonly accepted as fact have absolutely no basis in reality. Then there are still others that scientists, researchers and "old wives" continue to fervently debate on the internet—thus, we may never know. 

Before the internet, though, and even before the advent of print, many people turned to folklore and superstition for everything from life's biggest mysteries to how to cure a cold. Without extensive research, there was no way to prove whether coffee stunts your growth or toads really cause warts. These days, the research is fairly conclusive on a number of these widely-circulated beliefs. Yet, the old myths prevail. 

Do you think you know better than the old wives of the world? Do you really need to dry your hair before you head outside? Mom, do you have to wait 30 minutes after eating to dive in the pool? And will your face really get stuck like that? Take the following quiz to find out whether these sayings are fact or fiction, once and for all. 

You've probably heard this one before: Don't go outside with wet hair. If you do, you'll catch a cold. Do you know whether this is true or false?

Contrary to this widespread myth, you can't catch a cold from failing to use a blow-dryer before you head outdoors. You can't come down with a cold from merely being cold at all; you must acquire the virus from someone else's germs. So, why do people tend to get sick during the fall and winter? Increased time spent indoors can aid in virus transmission. Meanwhile, lower levels of of humidity in the air can dry the mucus in the nasal passages, making it easier for viruses to enter your system.

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That gum you just swallowed is going to take seven years to digest. Right?

Gastroenterologists and scientists have negated the assertion that gum will stick in the stomach for seven years. Most likely, the gum will pass through the body normally in about 48 to 60 hours. The only exception would be if someone swallowed a very large wad of gum (larger than .75 inches in diameter), which could potentially cause a blockage in the stomach.

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Stop staring at your laptop and smartphone—all that screen time will damage your eyes. Is that true?

While a few hours of "screen time" a day won't cause permanent damage, looking at the blue light of digital devices for extended periods of time can lead to short-term issues like eye fatigue and strain. Some studies also suggest that ongoing exposure to blue light can damage retinal cells and lead to vision loss, but the results remain inconclusive. Doctors recommend giving your eyes a break every 20 minutes for at least 20 seconds to reduce negative effects.

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"The sharper the blast, the sooner 'tis past." Do you know if this old adage about storms is correct?

There is quite a bit of truth to this age-old saying. When a storm builds up quickly, it moves more rapidly than if it builds slowly. A strong thunderstorm traveling at a rate of about 30 mph should thus "end" faster (or leave your region more quickly) than a gentle rain shower. A light rainfall means it's passing over you at a slow rate.

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A long, arduous labor means it's more likely to be a boy. Right?

While many women certainly experience difficult labors with baby girls, studies show that a long labor is more likely to result in a boy. One study of 8,000 births between 1997 and 2000 found that on average, labor for boys lasted over six hours and girls took under six. Male births were also more likely to require extra intervention like caesarean sections. The mild discrepancy could possibly be due to the increased weight of male babies.

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Fish is "brain food," so eat your salmon. Is this old wives' tale fact or fiction?

In various studies, regular consumption of fish correlates with lower incidence of Alzheimer's disease and improved memory. Though mercury content in fish like tuna can cause adverse health effects, the omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins in seafood appear to support overall good health.

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Walnuts help remove scratches from wood furniture. Huh? Is this one true?

A walnut or pecan's unique combination of oils, color and texture can indeed repair a mild furniture scratch. Rubbing the flesh of the nut on a light scratch area can fill it in with oil and a bit of color that disguises the mark. The nut's oils essentially work to polish the wood. Don't believe it? Go try it on your coffee table.

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The old wives' tale that people swallow an average of eight spiders in their sleep each year is enough to cause nightmares. So, should you believe it?

In general, spiders want to avoid humans at all costs, especially ones that reside in North American homes. We are large and create vibrations when we breathe that signal danger to arachnids. Although it may happen occasionally, it's mostly a random event. More likely, you consume a lot of insect parts each year through the food you eat, as the FDA permits a certain amount of bug parts in edible consumer products.

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Pop, pop. Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis. True or false?

According to Harvard Health Publishing, there's no evidence to suggest that cracking your bones will raise your arthritis risk. Arthritis is typically caused by the degeneration of cartilage in a joint, and may be caused by repetitive motion, increased stress on the joints, and genetics. While knuckle cracking won't cause arthritis, though, it can lead to diminished grip strength.

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Maybe your grandmother told you this one when you were sick: You should starve a fever and feed a cold. What's the verdict?

This is one of the oldest maxims in the book, dating back to a 1574 dictionary by John Withals that stated that "fasting is a great remedy of fever." This theory perhaps exists because people thought that avoiding food would cool down body temperature. Scientists say you should instead "feed a cold, feed a fever," though. When you're sick, your body burns increased calories and needs energy to fend off the illness.

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Carrots are beneficial for your vision. Right?

According to a mid-20th century propaganda effort conducted by the U.K. Ministry of Food, British Air Force members were able to take down German aircraft in World War II thanks to improved night vision due to carrot consumption. While that's probably not the case, carrots are rich in beta-carotene (which the body uses to make Vitamin A), which helps protect eye cells from damage. Furthermore, Vitamin A deficiencies can erode the cornea and, in extreme cases, lead to blindness.

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Does the old adage that coffee stunts your growth have any scientific backing?

According to Harvard Health Publishing, there's no scientific evidence to prove that coffee stunts your growth. This belief possibly originated from the idea that coffee causes osteoporosis, which can lead to height loss. However, coffee doesn't cause osteoporosis. In fact, coffee consumption is linked to a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes, stroke, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, liver disease and certain cancers, so go ahead and drink up.

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You may have heard this creepy old wives' tale before: People's hair and nails grow after death. Is this true or what?

The hair and nails stop growing once someone dies. However, the skin dries out after death, which can make hair and nails appear more prominent. Goosebumps also emerge due to the contraction of hair muscles, which can exacerbate this illusion.

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While we're talking about death, is it possible that you can maintain consciousness in the minutes after death?

While it sounds like a crazy superstition, neuroscientists found that the brain experiences a surge in activity within minutes after death. Scientists have dubbed this phenomenon "spreading depression." Whether brain activity equates to consciousness comes down to subjective interpretation, though.

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And while we're talking about brains, we only use 10% of ours, right?

Surveys found that nearly two out of three Americans believe this widely-propagated myth. Sometimes, it's even falsely attributed to Albert Einstein. In reality, neurologists like Barry Gordon say that "we use virtually every part of the brain," and brain scans show that all parts of the brain are almost always active. So, even if you fail brain-dead sometimes, good news: apparently you're not!

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Children must speak one language before they learn another. Is this claim legitimate?

On the contrary, children who learn two or more languages at once garner a better general knowledge of language structure. The original myth was based on the belief that parts of the brain compete for resources, so learning two languages at once will cause confusion and slow development. Numerous studies show that multilingual students likely have academic advantages.

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Clean your windows with newspaper instead of paper towels; they prevent scratches and don't fall apart as easily. What do you think?

Newspaper fibers are much denser than paper towels', which permits greater liquid absorption. They also won't fall apart as easily as paper towels or cause streaking. So, go ahead and make your windows shine! Keep in mind that a microfiber cloth will work just as well, though.

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Don't jump in the pool just yet! You need to wait at least 30 minutes after eating before you swim. Is this myth or substantiated medical advice?

The idea that you must wait to swim after eating stems from the belief that after a big meal, blood will divert from your limbs to your digestive tract. If your limbs don't receive enough blood flow to move, then theoretically, you could drown. In reality, the body has plenty of blood to maintain function in all parts of the body after eating. Instead, experts recommend staying away from alcohol and drugs to stay safe in the water.

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Eat some chicken soup to treat your cold. Does this common advice really work?

The advice to eat chicken soup for a cold remedy dates back as far as the 13th century, when medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides recommended it. This longtime adage might be on to something: A study published in the journal of the American College of Chest Physicians found that chicken soup has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body that can reduce swelling in the upper respiratory system, diminishing symptoms. Whether it's due to the chicken or the garlic, though, no one knows.

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A herd of cows lying down means rain is on the way. Is this adage true?

There appears to be no real correlation between cows lying down and a storm brewing. In reality, cows lie down for a variety of reasons, including to chew their cud. Cows do tend to stand more when their bodies overheat, though, so an upright position could mean warmer weather.

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When a pregnant woman experiences heartburn, it might mean that her baby has hair. Right?

While a baby with a full head of hair doesn't necessarily cause heartburn during pregnancy, scientists have found some correlation between luscious locks and acid reflux. Some scientists think that the hormones that contribute to hair growth in the womb also serve to relax the muscles that control stomach acid.

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Stay away from the hot sauce if you have an ulcer: spicy food will only make it worse. Right?

Decades ago, those in the medical community accepted it as fact that spicy food caused and exacerbated peptic ulcers. In reality, research shows that capsaicin (the spice in peppers) may actually help prevent and combat ulcers, so go ahead and pour on the hot sauce.

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“When leaves show their undersides, be very sure rain betides," an old saying goes. Is it true that some leaves will turn upward before it rains?

This bit of lore appears to have limbs to stand on. Deciduous trees, such as maples, poplars and oaks, tend to have leaves that turn upward before a heavy rainfall. This is because the sudden surge in humidity adds weight to the leaves that can cause them to flip over.

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How a woman carries the baby in her belly helps predict the gender. Is there truth to this common pregnancy belief?

People often claim that women who "carry low" can expect a boy and those who "carry high" will have a girl. However, there's no scientific evidence for these claims. In reality, one's muscle tone, belly shape, and strength will depend the placement. A woman who has had previous pregnancies may also carry lower due to increased elasticity of stomach muscles.

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While we're talking about pregnancy, salty cravings typically signal a boy and sweet cravings mean a girl is on the way, right?

While evidence suggests that extreme hormonal changes during pregnancy can indeed provoke cravings, there's no basis for the idea that certain cravings indicate one gender or another. Only the ultrasound can tell that!

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Many people think that a person can't become pregnant if they have intercourse while menstruating. What do you think?

This false belief has likely led to some unplanned pregnancies over the years. In reality, women can still ovulate during or right after their period, and sperm can live for several days inside the body, which means pregnancy is still very possible.

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You may have heard that the tongue is the strongest muscle in the body, but is it true?

Some people think that the myth that the tongue is the strongest muscle in the body arose from the fact that it never tires. Unless one has a disorder of some kind, the tongue does have impressive stamina. However, the tongue constitutes eight different muscles, none of which are the strongest. Contenders for strongest muscles include the heart, masseter, soleus, gluteus maximus and uterus.

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Your mother knows it, your grandma knows it, and your brother knows it: Shaving your hair makes it come back thicker and darker, right?

Contrary to popular to belief, shaving does not change the thickness, rate of growth, or color of hair. However, shaving will give the hair a blunt tip, which can make it feel more coarse and appear more noticeable until it grows out.

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You can blame your adolescent acne on chocolate consumption, true or false?

Although there is some evidence to suggest that foods with a high glycemic index (rich in sugar and refined carbohydrates) exacerbate acne, there's no evidence that chocolate in particular causes any problems. If anything, blame the sugar: Sugar may provoke acne in those who are already prone to it by causing a spike in insulin that raises sebum production, and increased sebum can clog pores. However, hormonal changes are always the biggest culprit.

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You've heard it once, twice, one thousand times: An apple a day keeps the doctor away. So, does it?

Believe it or not, there's actual scientific research on this. In a study of 8,4000 men and women, including 753 who ate an apple a day, there was no correlation between apple consumption and doctor's visits. However, the small amount of people who do consume an apple a day seem to use fewer prescription medications. Apples are definitely healthy for you, anyway, so go ahead and munch on one.

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Don't touch a toad or you'll get a wart. Does this wives' tale have any merit?

Sure, the bumps on a toad certainly look like warts, which is probably why this myth first proliferated. In reality, toads and frogs cannot cause warts; only a human virus can. Still, you might want to keep your hands off these hopping amphibians, as their skin can contain poison that provokes other skin conditions.

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“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning." Should you heed this advice before you set out to sea?

From the Bible to Shakespeare, variations of this adage date way back. Turns out, there is some truth to this saying: A red sky at night appears when dust and tiny particles become trapped in the atmosphere due to high pressure levels. Thus, a red sky at sunset could mean high pressure is coming from the west, which means pleasant weather the next day. If the sky appears red in the morning, the high-pressure weather may have already moved east, which means wet, windy, low-pressure air.

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If you're hungover, many recommend having some of the "hair of the dog that bit you." Will it make you feel any better, though?

If you look this one up, you will find news articles claiming that scientists say it absolutely won't work, and others saying it definitely does. So, what's the truth? Probably something closer to in-between. While some scientists adamantly oppose drinking alcohol because it will dehydrate you more, prolonging the hangover, others say that it boosts endorphins, making you feel better.

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If the groundhog sees his shadow on February 2, there will be six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't see his shadow, spring will come early. Is Punxsutawney Phil the real deal?

While Punxsutawney Phil has been trying his best to predict the weather since 1887, his accuracy is only about 39%, which is even worse than leaving it up to a coin flip. While he's a cute little woodchuck, you should consult your local weatherperson for the forecast instead.

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"Don't make that face, or it will become stuck like that!" Uh oh. Is your scowl going to be stuck on your face for all eternity?

No, your face won't get stuck like that. However, your mother may have been on to something: If you make the same expression with regular frequency, it can impact your facial structure over time. For example, if you raise your eyebrows frequently, the muscles in the area might strengthen, slightly changing your appearance. Repetitive movement will also determine how wrinkles develop.

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