This morning I got one of those e-mails that your friends send you, things that they received that they pass along. It was titled Did You Know and included "facts" like "Stewardesses is the longest word typed with only the left hand and lollipop with your right." Now who figured that out, and should I believe it? I'm not going to go through the unabridged dictionary typing out words to see if I can make one with my left hand that's longer than the word stewardesses, so it's basically impossible to know if it's true or not.
Suspicious type that I am, I call little factoids like that "fictoids," because I suspect they may be fiction.
I'm willing to accept some things the e-mail says like, "A dime has 118 ridges around the edge," or "Peanuts are one of the ingredients of dynamite," because I believe those facts could be readily checked. I'm not going to go check them by counting the ridges on dimes or blowing myself up with dynamite to see if the taste in my mouth as I die is peanutty, but they sound reasonable. I'm less willing to accept at face value that "the average person's left hand does 56% of the typing," or "women blink twice as much as men." How could I check either of those? Into the suspected fictoid file they go.
One of the lines had a familiar ring to it. "If the population of China walked past you, eight abreast, the line would never end because of the rate of reproduction." I heard something similar over 40 years ago when I was in junior high. The teacher who said it to us had a slightly different, more ghoulish, take: "If you lined up all of the Chinese and machine-gunned them as they walked by you you'd never kill them all because they'd reproduce too fast." Those were the years of more open and casual racism. There was the Cold War; China was "Red China," Chairman Mao had his Little Red Book, and fresh in our memories we had the Korean War and thousands of Chinese soldiers coming over the hills in North Korea to engage our guys in battle.My classmate, Richard, who was a smartass like me, piped up: "It'd be hard for them to 'do it' if they were walking." The teacher looked at him for several seconds until the laughter died down. "All right, it would," he conceded, and went on to another subject. I got a mental image of people having sex and babies while lined up, walking, waiting to be machine-gunned to death.
In 2007 I ask, was this fictoid determined before or after the Chinese adopted the one-child to a family rule? They do have a lot of people. According to no less an authority than the CIA China has a population of about 1,300,000,000 people in a land mass a little smaller than the U.S. The U.S. has a population of 300,000,000, or roughly one billion less residents. So would you be able to machine gun all of the residents of America if they'd be so dumb as to march by you and be shot, or would we be reproducing too fast, too?
Whew! That's a lot to think about from one little e-mail.
Here's another factoid that I consider suspicious: "If you are an average American, in your whole life, you will spend an average of six months waiting at red lights." Awww, c'mon. If you live in Utah like I do you just blow through red lights. That could skew the averages. Over a lifetime Utahns probably only wait three months at red lights. People in Utah do not think of a red light as "stop," but more like a challenge to get through an intersection without being t-boned by another car. Into that alleged fictoid file it goes.
I have no way of knowing if this is true or not (it's the first time I've ever read it, and I've read a lot about Prohibition-era gangsters): "Al Capone's business card said he was a used furniture dealer." But I like it. You could sound real smart at a party if you dropped this one into a conversation. "Well, you know," grinning, slowly rotating the ice in your whiskey glass, "Al Capone's business card said that he was a used furniture dealer." Gasps of amazement come from the crowd. Wow, you're suddenly the smartest guy in the room, with the most unusual and arcane trivia. Is it true? They don't care. You don't either.
Ciao for now.