Revisited: Thanksgiving Myths

November 19, 2017

A couple of years ago, I tackled the main Thanksgiving myth (see #69) about the first Thanksgiving and also the one about popcorn and Pilgrims (see #70). This year I’ll send you to another site where Eric Thompson of Texas has tackled several Thanksgiving myths. I learned something from his site–I hadn’t known of a First Thanksgiving claim of 1541 from Texas. Really, many states point to an early feast and prayer event and claim it was the earliest Thanksgiving, but the truth is, our holiday began when Lincoln made it a holiday during the Civil War.


Revisited Myth #116: The phrase “passing the buck” comes from poker where a token, called a buck, indicated the dealer.

April 2, 2017


Bingo! This is not a myth. The phrase “passing the buck” does come from the card table. According to the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, a buck was a token used in poker to indicate the dealer. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, the buck was originally a “buck-handled knife,” by which they presumably mean a deer antler. It was the next person’s turn to deal, you passed the buck, or the knife, to him. Theoretically, someone who didn’t want the responsibility of dealing could pass the buck to another player. 

The term seems to come into use around the time of the Civil War. Mark Twain’s Roughing It (1871) says, “I reckon I can’t call that hand. Ante and pass the buck.”


Previous comments:

  1. I don’t always post a comment, but I always enjoy this blog. Thanks for the amusing information.

  2. Melissa Nesbitt says:

    Well! What a pleasant surprise! I thought for sure this one would be a myth. How interesting!

  3. Curtis Cook says:

    The version I read some fifty years ago was that the ‘buck’ was a $2 bill. Some people thought $2 bills were unlucky (why?), and in order to avert the bad luck that possessing one would bring a receiver of such would tear a corner off before passing it along. Once all four corners had been torn it would be difficult to find someone willing to accept it in payment, so frequently the buck would stop there (with the fourth tearer).

Revisited Myth # 43: “Flip your wig” is an 18th-century expression referring to a dangerously low bow.

March 28, 2015





Speaking of wigs–and we were speaking of wigs in Myths #40 and #42–that famous phrase, “Don’t flip your wig” doesn’t seem to have been an eighteenth-century expression at all. Supposedly, it referred to bowing so low to one’s superior that one’s wig flipped off, but instead, the phrase seems to be a bit of twentieth-century American slang meaning “to go crazy.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the acknowledged authority on word origin, the first known use of the term occurred in 1952.

The Spanish Myth I Encountered in Seville

March 22, 2015

170px-Estatua_de_Pedro_I_el_Cruel_(M.A.N.)_01I had the good fortune to spend last week in Seville, Spain, with a group of graduate students from the University of Richmond. Early in the week, we had a walking tour of the historic city center, conducted by a knowledgable professor. I took the opportunity to ask him about something I’d heard forty years ago when I took Spanish in college, something I suspected was a myth. 

The reason Castilian Spanish speakers lisp is because, hundreds of years ago, a beloved king lisped, so everyone at court copied him. 

Not true, said our guide. There was a Spanish king who lisped, hence the association. Pedro the Cruel (probably not beloved, with a name like that, huh?) lived from 1334-1369. But the linguistic feature that sounds lisp-ish to our ears came after his death. And it’s not really a lisp–they say S in some words, just not in all. Certain Ss and Zs turn into THs, like the city of Cadiz, which, when I went there on a bus one day, was everywhere pronounced Cadith. 

It’s not an American myth, so I didn’t give it a number, but it’s interesting that everywhere one goes, pervasive myths are lurking. 

The end of the history myth list?

January 18, 2014

View More: almost four years of history myth busting, we seem to be approaching the end of the myth list. There are still a few phrases needing research and a couple difficult myths lurking about, waiting for someone to slog through the research. But while almost 800 people subscribe to the blog and an average of 750 more visit every day, most have joined up recently and have, therefore, missed earlier posts. So I’m going back to the 2010 beginning and recycle the older posts, update them if appropriate to include some of the information that came in via your Comments, maybe add some new pictures or citations, and post them.

Starting tomorrow with Myth #1, the famous closet tax myth. 

Buried Alive in Brazil?

November 9, 2013

Just in time to be included in this week’s ghoulish topic– man rising from the grave in Brazil. Read it below or on the Huffington Post at

man buried alive brazil
 It’s not every day you see someone climbing out of a grave. But for one woman in Brazil, who was visiting her family tomb, that’s exactly what she was in for.

According to local reports, the woman, who has not been identified, was at a cemetery in Sao Paulo’s Ferraz de Vasconcelos when she heard some odd noises and saw some dirt moving near a grave. That’s when she spotted a man, buried alive, trying to pull himself from the ground.

“I was terrified to see a man who I thought was dead, trying to get out of the grave,” the woman recalled later, according to local reports.

The woman notified authorities, and emergency services arrived to dig out the rest of the man’s body; he had already managed to free his head and arms from the ground. In a video broadcast on local station Record TV, the rescue team is seen pulling the partially buried man from the grave.

It’s not immediately clear how the man, who reportedly worked as a city hall employee, came to be buried alive, but it is believed he got into a fight in another part of the city and was badly beaten up in the altercation, the Daily Mail reported.

After he was rescued from the grave, he was taken to a local hospital for treatment. Though city officials confirmed the case, they did not disclose the condition of the man, Noticias R7 reports.


Random Oddities that Stumped Me

July 15, 2013

Here are a few suspicious things readers have reported hearing recently. Not widespread enough to class as myths, in my opinion (and you’ll let me know if I’m mistaken about that), these are still something more than mere errors. Local myths perhaps? I thought they were worth sharing. Please weigh in if you can add something definitive to any of these; I’ve hit a wall. 


Mary Cassatt "The Young Bride" 1875

Mary Cassatt “The Young Bride” 1875

1) From Heidi, a resident of the great state of Utah, “One of my acquaintances works at a local living history park and just told me that a bride’s dowry from the 19th century would consist of 1,000 buttons, a sewing needle and 13 quilts.  I’m no expert, but that seems off to me.  Just one needle?  Why 1000 buttons?  No other clothing?  No kitchen things?  How do you collect 1000 buttons when you’re farming or homesteading in the middle of nowhere?”

No, Heidi, you are very much an expert to have recognized this odd statement and questioned it. I am unaware of any “rules” about what constituted a bride’s dowry. My sense is that a young girl prepared as much as she could for her marriage, and that her dowry, as it was sometimes called, consisted largely of linens. 



2) From Alabama comes this question. “First, I must qualify the source of this as third or fourth hand as it was told to me by a friend who read it in an article in today’s Huntsville Times about Birmingham, Alabama’s most famous madam.  It seems that when she passed, many of the area’s elite sent empty carriages to her funeral as a gesture of respect when propriety wouldn’t allow them to attend in person.  Anyone have any experience with this tradition at the death of a person with a questionable background?”

Rhett Butler aside, I can’t think that any Southern “gentleman” would care to have it known that he was sending his empty carriage, which everyone would have recognized as belonging to him, to a madam’s funeral. I tried to research this in books about funeral customs and found nothing. 



3) Any truth to this one? “The story of “THE BLACK EYED PEA” being considered good luck relates directly back to Sherman ‘s Bloody March to the Sea in late 1864. It was called The Savannah Campaign and was lead by Major General William T. Sherman. The Civil War campaign began on 11/15/64 when Sherman’s troops marched from the captured city of Atlanta, Georgia, and ended at the port of Savannah on12/22/1864. When the smoke cleared, the southerners who had survived the on slaught came out of hiding. They found that the blue belly aggressors that had looted and stolen everything of value and everything you could eat including all livestock, death and destruction were everywhere. While in hiding, few had enough to eat, and starvation was now upon the survivors. There was no international aid, no Red Cross meal trucks. The Northern army had taken everything they could carry and eaten everything they could eat. But they couldn’t take it all. The devastated people of the south found for some unknown reason that Sherman’s blood thirsty troops had left silos full of blackeyed peas. At the time in the north, the lowly black eyed pea was only used to feed stock. The northern troops saw it as the thing of least value. Taking grain for their horses and livestock and other crops to feed themselves, they just couldn’t take everything. So they left the black eyed peas in great quantities assuming it would be of no use to the survivors, since all the livestock it could feed had either been taken or eaten. Southerners awoke to face a new year in this devastation and were facing massive starvation if not for the good luck of having the black eyed peas to eat. From New Years Day 1866 forward, the tradition grew to eat black eyed peas on New Year’s Day for good luck.”

I tried researching this but came up relatively empty-handed. I strongly doubt it. Black-eyed peas are native to Africa and figure prominently in Southern African-American cuisine. According to Wikipedia (no citation there either) it was a Jewish practice to eat those, and other good-luck foods, at Rosh Hashana. Since Jews immigrated to the South in the 1700s, it is conceivable that the practice spread from that origin. 


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