Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fw: Abhorrent!

There are many, many, many things to hate about the internet. My sloth in updating content for this self-indulgent little blog that maybe five people read is one of them. Keeping in lockstep with the self-centered nature of this side-project, I personally hate, with the seething passion of an active volcano on the Pacific Rim, forwarded e-mails that migrate across the web like gazelle running across the veldt. Except instead of exciting footage taken from a helicopter, its horrible, anonymous attempts at humor and/or knowledge misspelled enthusiastically (if it wasn’t copy and pasted from someone who actually took the effort to write something original) in Comic Sans, usually in a rainbow of unnecessary colors and oddly sized so that if it were actually printed out it would stretch onward and onward, like a useless parody of the Bayeux Tapestry. Its nothing personal against Comic Sans. Its rather harmless and well meaning, and I liked it once. When I was in 8th grade. Over time (and I owe no small debt to the Internet), I came to realize that it was the Short Bus of fonts: It may provide a useful service (ie. Conveying sentences through legible letters, unlike Wingdings), but few people take one seriously when they see it on the road.

Anyway, back to forwards (see what I did there?). Last week or whatever, I don’t care enough to verify, I received one such forward (oddly enough, not in Comic Sans) that featured the creative tagline of “Interesting Stuff.” What followed was a long list of “facts” about things that I don’t waste my time angsting over, in short, useless “information” that is probably fodder for watercooler conversations or whatever it is cubicle jockeys do to give their Monday mornings the illusion of tolerability. Unlike many other such crap forwards, the list was very, very long and written in confident, matter-of-fact tone (unlike this here blog, which is written in a conversational, cocky, sarcastic-ranting-bastard kind of tone. I don’t actually talk like this in real life. Usually.). The use of quotation marks above is important, because these “facts” were, of course, nothing of the sort. Now, one thing you may have noticed about me is that I convey the image of an intellectual elitist who looks down upon bourgeoisie and bohemian alike when I write. Receiving this list of lies from a well-meaning and innocent party caused me to swell up like a puffer fish, except instead of self-defense it was pure outrage. Not caring a whit about the mathematical “facts” on the list, I chose a select few cuts from the abomination I was asked to unblinkingly accept, jotted a few notes down then scuttled myself over to Snopes to double-check that I had indeed sniffed bullshit through my monitor, and what follows is the result. The format is: The quote from the forward, unhampered except to fit the format of the page. My own gut reaction/thought process to the “information” and then a link to Snopes or Wikipedia (Yes, Wikipedia. Its more credible than the damn forward) where you can see for yourself just how idiotic the “fact” really is.

“Many years ago in Scotland , a new game was invented. It was ruled "Gentlemen Only...Ladies Forbidden"...and thus the word GOLF entered into the English language.”

No. Just simply no. Its probably Scottish in origin and would follow an etymology. Not to mention, until about the 1700s, people played fast and easy with spelling (even into the printing age), so a standardized word for it is just nonsensical. Of course, the original sender was considerate enough to provide an origin for the word “golf,” but placed it in the foggy “many years ago,” which as we all know, is where myths and legends continue to dwell. Except for, you know, myths and legends have some basis in truth.

“Coca-Cola was originally green”

Wha-? That’s it? Just “Yep. It was green.” I mean, aside from being blatantly wrong there’s no effort in it, no soul. Dan Brown was blatantly wrong about so much in the DaVinci Code, but at least he put real effort into selling it. He created outlandish backstories and situations that caused me to slam the hardcover edition of the book repeatedly into my forehead every chapter. I hated it, yes, but at least I felt involved.

“Each king in a deck of playing cards represents a great king from history: Spades - King David Hearts - Charlemagne Clubs -Alexander, the Great Diamonds - Julius Caesar”

I’m sure people substituted any four legendary/epic kings in there when they felt like it. Its not like the cards even have any kind of telltale signs as to who’s who. Julius Caesar was incredibly famous for being fastidious in his appearance and was an obsessive shaver. The Medievals knew this. All 4 King cards have big, bushy beards. I could just as easily say the 4 Kings stand for The Carolingians: Charles Martel, Pepin the Short, Charlemagne and Charles the Bald. There. Equally plausible, and I just made it up. Moreover, the number of playing cards in a deck was not fixed for a long, long time. The Tarot deck was originally used only for card games, and look at how damn confusing that deck is.

“If a statue in the park of a person on a horse has both front legs in the air, the person died in battle. If the horse has one front leg in the air the person died as a result of wounds received in battle. If the horse has all four legs on the ground, the person died of natural causes."

That just sounds silly. Am I to believe that throughout the world stone carvers/bronze casters have all had an unspoken rule about how to position the legs? What about other cultures? The color red symbolizes good luck and fortune in China and Japan, but passion and violence in the West. They had horses too. Am I to believe that these other cultures, developing parallel to our own, did the same. Exact. Thing? Its eyerollingly bad. Yes. Its so ludicrous that I had to make up an adjective to describe it.

“It was the accepted practice in Babylon 4,000 years ago that for a month after the wedding, the bride's father would supply his son-in-law with all the mead he could drink. Mead is a honey beer and because their calendar was lunar based, this period was called the honey month, which we know today as the honeymoon.”

That is a horrible, horrible stretch. The Egyptians and later Sumerians/Babylonians had Beer and wrote about it quite a bit. Not as we know it now, but it was still beer made from grain since the Fertile Crescent was an agricultural area. Also, all the mead you can drink in a month? That’s a horrible dowry, particularly for a people who’s lives depended on crop tending all year long. A husband going on a month-long bender doesn’t sound like it would be encouraged. And mead is not a “honey beer.” Beer is beer, Mead is mead, Wine is wine, and this list of "facts" is enough to drive any man to drink.

“Many years ago in England , pub frequenters had a whistle baked into the rim, or handle, of their ceramic cups. When they needed a refill, they used the whistle to get some service. "Wet your whistle" is the phrase inspired by this practice.”
“In English pubs, ale is ordered by pints and quarts... So in old England , when customers got unruly, the bartender would yell at them "Mind your pints and quarts, and settle down." It's where we get the phrase "mind your P's and Q's"

Now speaking of alcohol, here's a twofer.
That “whistle” phrase has two possible meanings. Whet means to sharpen or excite, so to ‘whet your whistle/appetite’ simply means to excite your thirst/appetite. Wetting your whistle can also mean to take a drink, since whistle has a double meaning as the sound your lips can make and also a name for a flute. Knowing what I know about Renaissance English, its probably also innuendo, which means its almost a guarantee that it was innuendo. Whether it goes back to the Renaissance is questionable, since this is, after all, set in “many years ago,” when Star Wars was good and Gungans never walked the land. Either way, its informal slang and I highly doubt it has such a civilized origin based on an impractical invention. Actual bar patrons probably just shouted or threw things to get the barkeep’s attention, depending on the establishment. A small built in whistle on a mug would have to compete with the talking, shouting, singing and live music around them.

As for P’s & Q’s, that’s a saying that’s got an even more muddled and full of contradicting origin stories. I personally think the typesetting one is fairly reasonable since the lowercase letters are mirror images of each other, but if its true, then the phrase means just to watch your spelling and grammar, nothing about manners.
It’s a stupid phrase anyway.

The lesson of this should be clear. Don’t send me forwards, because I will hate them with a concentrated spite and they’ll ruin my day. A more “afternoon special” friendly lesson is to repeat the mantra “sez who?” after each “fact” in one of these lists instead of “durr” and hitting forward. It would renew my faith in humanity’s potential.