Historical Events  General
Historical Events  General
Ninja

Ninjas were masters of disguise

MMDE: Real Ninjas always wore black

Current: Real Ninjas did not wear black

The ninja is the legendary figure feared throughout history for their agility, stealth and above all superior fighting skills.

They are always depicted in an entirely black outfit  with just a small slit for their eyes. They usually brandish various weapons such as one or two swords, a set of nunchaku or even the dreaded "flying star" shurikens.

There's a big problem with this picture, however. Ninjas did exist, and are well documented as a kind of mercenary force performing special missions where the army or Samurai were not best suited, for example espionage.To achieve this, they were renowned masters of disguise, often blending in perfectly with ordinary people, workers or government officials. You see the problem here? Any kind of instantly recognisable outfit would make this role completely useless. The impression given throughout history is wrong.

Historical Events  General
Credit cards

When were credit cards first described in detail?

MMDE:1950

Current:1888

People think of the origins of money being something like pebbles being used by cavemen, which is almost certainly untrue in any case. The idea of money evolving into something totally abstract, beyond mere entries in a bank account, is popularly associated with the rise of technology, computers and in particular the restructuring many economies were forced to undertake as part of their rebuilding process after the second world war. In particular, the Diners Club cars, launched in 1950, is popularly regarded as the world's first credit card.

It turns out that whilst the implementation of credit cards began at this time, the idea of how they would function was fully documented in great detail a lot earlier.

From the novel Looking Backward:

… a credit card issued him with which he procures at the public storehouses, found in every community, whatever he desires whenever he desires it. This arrangement, you will see, totally obviates the necessity for business transactions of any sort between individuals and consumers.

-- Edward Bellamy, 1888

Historical Events  General
Cowboys poker

Smokey Saloon

MMDE: Cowboys in the Old West mainly played poker

Current: Cowboys in the Old West seldom played poker

The image most people conjure up of the Old West when thinking of how the cowboys spent their leisure time is a smokey saloon with a table of grim faces, all intent on betting the farm on that one last hand.

This picture is so common it's been depicted since the silent black and white dawn of the Western movies.

However, it turns out not to be accurate. Sure, there were saloons, piano players and colorful dancing girls, as well as the card tables surrounded by gamblers. But were these cowboys playing poker? It turns out probably not, because whilst poker did exist as a card game at the time, the most common one by far was called "Faro"

Historical Events  General
Wall St crash

How many deaths?

MMDE: Hundreds

Current: None

It happened just before the Great Depression. Starting in the summer of 1929, and slowly gathering momentum to reach a peak in October, it became known as the Wall Street crash. Peaking on Black Thursday - October 24th, 1929, stories of ruined traders jumping out of the windows to their death have widely circulated since, but how accurate is this?

It tuns out not only were they wrong, they were completely wrong and no-one died that way on the day, although there were stories of suicides by other means following Black Thursday.

Only decades later, once all the chaos had settled down, could the truth be uncovered.

In the United States the suicide wave that followed the stock market crash is also part of the legend of 1929. In fact, there was none.

--  John Kenneth Galbraith, "The Great Crash of 1929"

Historical Events  General
Vikings Horns

Vikings Horns

MMDE: Vikings had horns in their helmets

Current: Vikings did not have horns in their helmets

Where did the image of the Vikings rampaging across the land with horns in their helmets come from?

If you thought it was back in the Viking age, when they actually carried out their various raids, invasions and pillages, and not the 1800s, you are mistaken.

The image of horns on their helmets was never really seen before Sweden’s Gustav Malmström popularised them when painting them on their raids back in the 19th century, and they really only became cemented in our consciousness in the 1870's for Wagners “Der Ring des Nibelungen”.

In fact, no helmet from the period with horns has ever been found, whereas many without them have.

Historical Events  General
Fortune Cookies

Fortune Cookies

MMDE: Fortune Cookies originated in China

Current: Fortune Cookies did not originate in China

Come on, this is a no-brainer. Everyone knows fortune cookies came from China - don't they?

Not any more.

Today, the Chinese style phrases, proverbs or vague prophecies we see in them certainly allude to their origins as being oriental, and the Chinese restaurants they are served in, together with the way they are made, seem to fit in with what Westerners expect of Chinese food. But nope, they're rarely seen in China at all. This was even confirmed in a 1983 court case confirming they were first served in San Francisco.

It turns out they are largely an American invention. Today they are certainly served in the Chinese restaurants of the US,  but they were not brought over from the orient as a native dish.

Their popularity is due to the way they spread with the growth of what would have been seen as the new, exotic trend in foreign restaurants serving oriental food - or what appealed to the Americans of the day as such, even if not authentic.

Historical Events  General
Bull

Do bulls attack red rags?

MMDE: Bulls attack red rags

Current: Bulls do not attack red rags

The saying "Red rag to a bull" has become so commonplace that everyone is sure it must be rooted in fact. It's used to describe an action which is likely to aggravate, or make an inflamed situation worse.

The assumption is that the origin lies with the angry reaction a bull inherently exhibits when it sees the color red, and this is further reinforced with the use of red flags by matadors in bullfights.

Is there any basis in this? It turns out not to be the case. In fact bulls show no special behaviour to any particular color, and the gruesome reason those flags are red is in fact to try to mask the blood which results from the bull's torment.