I wrote this and posted it in 2007. With some minor editing I am presenting it again.
Some time ago I got one of those e-mails that friends send. 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.” 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 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 am 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.
Whew! That is a lot to think about from one little e-mail.
Here is another factoid 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,” you say grinning, slowly swirling the ice in your whiskey glass, “Al Capone’s business card said that he was a used furniture dealer.” Gasps of astonishment come from the crowd. You are suddenly the smartest guy in the room, with the most unusual and arcane trivia. Is it factoid or fictoid? You don't care. They don’t either.