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50+ Famous Facts You’ve Always Believed That Are Actually False

Napoleon wasn’t short? Bananas don’t grow on trees? Here, the world’s most contagious myths and misconceptions—debunked.

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Painting of Napoleon BonapartePhoto: Shutterstock

Napoleon Was Short

A tall tale. At five six, he was slightly above average height for a Frenchman of the time.

Indulge your inner Francophile by learning these French phrases.

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Children swimmingPhoto: Shutterstock

Don’t Eat and Swim

This doesn’t increase the risk of cramps; alcohol is the biggest risk increaser. But a full stomach will make you short of breath.

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Boiling pot of waterPhoto: Shutterstock

Salty Water Boils Quicker

Adding a sprinkle of salt to water makes no difference. It can actually make boiling take longer.

You’ll wish you knew these brilliant cooking shortcuts sooner!

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Cooking penne pastaPhoto: Shutterstock

Oil Stops Stuck Pasta

Nope. It’ll only make it greasy. Stirring prevents sticking.

Here are more pasta cooking mistakes you should avoid.

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X-ray scan of brainPhoto: Shutterstock

Left and Right Brain

There’s no solid division between the talents of each hemisphere; the left brain can learn “right-brain skills” and vice versa.

Check out these simple ways to boost your brain power.

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Canadian penniesPhoto: Shutterstock

Dropped Pennies Kill

Terminal velocity of a penny is 18 to 30 kilometres per hour. Not fast enough to kill—but it sure would sting.

Don’t miss these outrageous news stories from around the globe.

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Three wise men figurinesPhoto: Shutterstock

Three Wise Men

Nowhere in the Bible does it specify that there were three.

Find out why bunnies are so popular for Easter.

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Woman with headachePhoto: Shutterstock

MSG = Headaches

There’s no scientific proof—just anecdotal evidence implicating monosodium glutamate.

These are the surprising things that could be triggering your headaches.

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Terrier dog runningPhoto: Shutterstock

Dogs Sweat by Salivating

No—they regulate temperature through panting. They actually sweat through their footpads.

We’ve rounded up the smartest dog breeds.

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Great Wall of ChinaPhoto: Shutterstock

Great Wall of China

It’s not visible from space. No single human structure is visible from orbit, but you can see cities at night.

Find out what it’s really like to restore the Great Wall of China.

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Toilet in bathroomPhoto: Shutterstock

Water Rotation

A flushed toilet does not rotate the other way in the Southern Hemisphere. The Coriolis effect doesn’t alter water in toilets.

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E=MC2 on chalkboardPhoto: Shutterstock

Einstein Failed Math

Nope. He failed an entrance exam for a school but still excelled in math.

Learn Albert Einstein’s secret to happiness!

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Dinosaur fossilsPhoto: Shutterstock

Humans and Dinosaurs

Despite 41 per cent of U.S. adults thinking we coexisted, humans and dinosaurs actually missed each other by 64 million years. Yikes.

Check out the weirdest discoveries archaeologists have made.

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Black hole in spacePhoto: Shutterstock

Black Holes

Not really “holes,” but rather hugely dense objects with massive gravitational pull.

Don’t miss these baffling mysteries about the universe.

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Balancing on tightropePhoto: Shutterstock

We Have Only Five Senses

Some scientists insist on 21, including balance, pain and temperature.

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Doctor with vaccinePhoto: Shutterstock

Vaccines Cause Autism

Groundless fears based on fraudulent research that’s been shown to have been manipulated.

Learn the difference between autism and Asperger’s.

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Baby birdPhoto: Shutterstock

Don’t Touch Baby Birds

Most birds have a limited sense of smell, so they won’t abandon babies who “smell” of humans.

Think twice before believing these other myths about animals!

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Beer bottlesPhoto: Shutterstock

Alcohol Kills Brain Cells

Even in heavy users and alcoholics, brain cells aren’t killed, only damaged.

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Canadian police officersPhoto: arindambanerjee/Shutterstock

Missing-Persons Report

Police don’t require a 24-hour waiting period before accepting a missing-persons report.

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Woman sticking tongue outPhoto: Shutterstock

Different Tongue Parts

There are not different sections of the tongue for each taste: bitter, sour, salt, sweet and umami (savoury/meaty).

Here are the body parts you never knew you had.

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Man lost in thoughtPhoto: Shutterstock

Only 10 Per Cent of the Brain is Used

The proportion of the brain “firing” at any one time is task dependent, but ultimately, every region is used almost every day.

Can you pass this brainteasing colour quiz?

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Iron maiden devicePhoto: Shutterstock

Iron Maidens

These were never medieval torture devices, but 18th-century fakes were created for sensational circuses.

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Toddler in bedPhoto: Shutterstock

Body Heat and the Head

Only in infants is most heat lost through the head (unless the head is the only uncovered part of the body).

Read on to find out North America’s most popular baby names.

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Sleepwalking womanPhoto: Shutterstock

Wake Sleepwalkers?

They’ll be really confused, but it’s OK. They’re more likely to hurt themselves if they’re not awoken.

These are the best songs to help you sleep, according to science.

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Banana treePhoto: Shutterstock

Bananas Grow on Trees

Actually, they grow on massive herbs that just resemble trees.

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White milkPhoto: Shutterstock

Milk Increases Mucus

Nope, it doesn’t. There’s no need to avoid dairy if you have a cold.

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Bats in cavePhoto: Shutterstock

Bats Are Blind

Not only can bats see, but they also use echolocation. That’s why they’re so awesome!

Check out the animals that are deadlier than sharks!

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Coffee in potPhoto: Shutterstock

Caffeine Dehydrates You

Not really. The diuretic effect of caffeine is offset by the amount of water in a caffeinated drink.

Check out our ultimate guide to different types of coffee!

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GoldfishPhoto: Shutterstock

Goldfish’s Three-Second Memory

While not the smartest creatures, goldfish boast a memory span of three months.

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Man shaving facePhoto: Shutterstock

Shaving Thickens Hair

Regrown hair isn’t thicker, coarser, or darker; it just appears so because it grows back with a blunt tip.

Avoid falling for these old wives’ tales you were told as a kid!

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Blowing gum bubblePhoto: Shutterstock

Seven Years to Digest Gum

The chewy base of gum is indigestible and passes straight through. The remainder is absorbed.

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Viking with helmetPhoto: Shutterstock

Vikings’ Horns

The helmets were created by a costume designer for a 19th-century Wagner opera.

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Pouring vodkaPhoto: Shutterstock

Alcohol Keeps You Warm

It merely dilates warm blood vessels near the skin, creating the impression of warmth. It can actually drop core body temperature.

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Roman colosseumPhoto: Shutterstock

The Vomitorium

Not a room Romans used for Bacchanalian binges, but the name for the entrance to a stadium.

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Sugar cubesPhoto: Shutterstock

Sugar = Hyperactivity

Studies have disproved this. Poor or rowdy behaviours still occur in children with sugar-free diets.

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Raging bullPhoto: Shutterstock

Bulls Hate Red

Bulls are colour-blind. They actually perceive the motions of the bullfighter’s cloth as a threat.

Can you spot the animals camouflaged in these photos?

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Man playing bagpipesPhoto: Shutterstock

Bagpipes Are Scottish

Sorry, Braveheart fans: They were prevalent in the Middle East centuries before Western Europe.

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Woman's nailsPhoto: Shutterstock

Your Hair and Nails Keep Growing After Death

Wrong—but your skin tissue does recede, making them appear longer.

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Toad in its natural habitatPhoto: Shutterstock

Toads Cause Warts

Humans can catch warts only from other humans. Those bumps on toads are just their skin glands.

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Morse code transmitterPhoto: Shutterstock

SOS = “Save Our Ship”

It doesn’t stand for anything. SOS became a Morse code distress signal because it’s so easy to transmit: three dots, three dashes, three dots.

Take a look at what life was like aboard the Titanic.

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Red applesPhoto: Shutterstock

Adam and Eve Ate an Apple

They ate the forbidden “fruit” of the tree of knowledge—nowhere in Genesis does it say it was an apple.

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Funeral casketPhoto: Shutterstock

Celebrities Die in Threes

Of 449 celebs who have died since 1990, only in seven cases did three die in the same five-day period, according to data from the New York Times.

These mysterious celebrity deaths are still unexplained.

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Woman sleeping in bedPhoto: Shutterstock

Sleepers Swallow Eight Spiders Per Year

Spiders usually don’t crawl into beds during nighttime wanderings because they offer no prey. You probably swallow zero spiders per year.

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Mount EverestPhoto: Shutterstock

Everest is the Tallest Mountain

Only above sea level. If you measure Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano from its underwater base, it stands more than 33,000 feet tall—4,000 above Everest.

Find out how climbers are ruining Mount Everest.

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Vincent Van Gogh self-portraitPhoto: Shutterstock

Van Gogh Cut Off His Ear for a Lover

It was just a small piece of lobe, and he did it during a violent spat with Pat Gauguin. Whether Van Gogh then gave it to a local girl remains unknown.

Read up on these strange unsolved mysteries of the art world.

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Painting of pilgrims and IndiansPhoto: Shutterstock

The Pilgrims First Landed at Plymouth Rock

They landed in what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts, and signed the Mayflower Compact there. Plymouth came five weeks later.

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Cityscape at dawnPhoto: Shutterstock

A Story Can “Break” the Internet

“The Internet is a very resilient system,” says Web pioneer Vint Cerf. “Shutting the whole thing down has not happened [since] it has been in operation.”

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Egyptian pyramidsPhoto: Shutterstock

Slaves Built the Pyramids

Egyptologists say this ancient construction job was a great honour granted only to respected labourers, who remains entombed near the site today.

Here are more monuments that have baffled researchers.

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Fat wild turkeyPhoto: Shutterstock

Ben Franklin Wanted the Turkey to Represent America

While designing a national seal, Franklin proposed an image of Moses, not a wild turkey, to represent America.

Dive into these other quirky facts about America.

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Cutting fingernailsPhoto: Shutterstock

All Your Fingernails Grow at the Same Rate

Because blood flow stimulates nail growth, the nails on your dominant hand actually grow faster.

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Ninja warriorPhoto: Shutterstock

Ninjas Wore Black

This “uniform” comes from years of fiction and folklore. Real ninjas wore anything that would help them blend into daily life.

Next, check out these mind-blowing facts you’ll think are made up!

Originally Published in Reader's Digest