8 Things Americans Believe, But Aren't Actually True

This list might make you mad, or ashamed, or compel you to think that think that I'm better than all you suckers who believed this folderol. But I don't — I'm just like you. I also believed that Anthony Weiner was a changed man after he resigned from Congress in 2011 and I was also shocked to learn that his campaign shrinkage — his manager's recent abdication — hasn't provoked him to pull out of the race (sorry, had to). Read on to learn more surprising news about George Washington's dentures and the memory capacities of goldfish.

1. George Washington did not have wooden teeth.

Despite the prevalence of this charming myth, our founding father's dentures were actually made from elephant and hippopotamus ivory, gold, lead, and human and animal teeth, laser scans reveal. There's no doubt that George had dental problems — he allegedly only had one natural tooth remaining by the time he was inaugurated in 1789! But the legend of his wooden teeth probably originated because of his rumored predilection for red wine and his poor hygiene, both of which would have caused discoloration, prompting people to speculate that his teeth were made of wood. 

2. You can't see the Great Wall of China from outer space.

Sorry to disappoint you, aspiring astronauts, but after clearing 180 miles of atmosphere, the 5,500 miles of wall is actually no longer visible. In fact, this notion was first published in 1938 — well before anyone was even travelling in space! I blame the wall's publicist for the dissemination of this "fact," and communism too, because that's convenient.  

3. You've been trying too hard to pronounce "ye" (as in "ye olde shoppe") in an old-fashioned way.

Turns out this "ye" is just the Old English spelling of "the" and is pronounced the same way. The "y" here is derived from an Old English letter named "thorn" and originally resembled a "P," until around the middle of the 15th century, when it began to look more like a "y." So despite the modern revival of the traditional spelling of "the," the correct pronunciation of the word remains archaic knowledge.

4. Dropping a penny from the Empire State Building won't make you into a cold-blooded killer.

Despite the ubiquity of this myth, a penny dropped from the 1,454-foot building will reach its terminal velocity of approximately 50 miles-per-hour after falling for about 50 feet. Furthermore, wind resistance makes it even less likely that the penny will remain falling at its terminal velocity, meaning it will most likely stop accelerating and finally reach the ground (or your head) travelling at a speed of 25 mph. All this means that a penny can't pick up enough speed to crack a human skull. Nevertheless, I'm sure being struck on the head by a falling penny would be uncomfortable.

5. Napoleon did not have a Napoleon complex.

Though we thank him for providing an explanation for why short men act the way they do, it turns out that Napoleon may have actually been taller than we assume. At his death in 1821, his height was recorded as 5'2" in French units. Standardizing those measurements today, Nap taps out around 5'6" (or 169 centimeters) — a much more average height.

6. The hair and nails of dead people cannot continue to grow.

In order for these beauty pageant attributes to continue to grow, the body's nerve cells would need a supply of glucose – but after the heart stops beating and the brain's oxygen supply ends, glucose is no longer produced. There is a reason why the hair and nails of the dead appear longer (have any of you actually observed this? I'm sorry) and that is because after dying, the skin loses water and shrinks, which creates the illusion that the hair and nails have grown.

7. Stop stereotyping – the memory span of goldfish is not as shallow as we thought.

Forget what you've heard about Dory's three-second memory span, it turns out that goldfish can actually remember information for up to three months. Scientists have even been able to train certain fish to learn a routine and tell time — a discovery that could make waves in fish farming, enabling fish to mature in their natural habitat before returning to captivity.

8. Our man Paul Revere did not yell, "The British are coming!"

While Paul was certainly a great help during the American Revolution, he definitely did not shout his famous alarm, simply because most colonists at the time still considered themselves to be British. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's famous poem, which recounts a fictionalized account of Revere's ride, is probably responsible for this myth. 

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Rosa Heyman

Rosa Heyman graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2013 and now handles social media for PEOPLE Magazine in New York City.

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