August 06, 2007

#01-004: Cooking Up a Legend

Old Woman Frying Eggs by Diego Velázquez, 1618 - If only she'd had a sidewalk!

Note: This is the fourth in the series of five lessons I submitted when I applied to write for the Shenzhen Daily. Again, it's about the heat of August, the month when I applied in 2007.

Get Ready: Do you think it's possible to fry an egg on a hot summer sidewalk? Many people believe it! Read on to find out the truth!

Walking the streets of Shenzhen, China (where I lived for 11 years), I often saw street vendors cooking on the sidewalk.

Well, not on the sidewalk. In a grill on the sidewalk.

But in late summer, it's common to hear TV weathermen in the United States say: "Wow, it's so hot out there, you can fry an egg on the sidewalk!"

Is this possible? According to the sources I consulted, it's not. It seems that the temperatures required to fry an egg are much higher than the hottest temperatures on record.

But it's another great example of weather-related exaggeration.

It may also be an example of a theme that fascinates me: The Urban Legend.

An urban legend (also called an urban myth) is an untrue story that is passed from person to person, with each person who tells it swearing that it is true. It usually happened to "a Friend of a Friend" (referred to among folklorists as a FOAF). In other words, the teller does not have direct evidence of the story, and neither did the person who told him. And often, the story is told as a warning.

Fred: Don't stand in the sun; it's hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk. 

Barney: Oh, that's impossible.

Fred: No, it's not, really. A friend of my brother's teacher did it once.

So I'm telling you that, according to scientists, it's impossible. But someone reading this will say, "No, I know someone who knows someone who..."

A classic urban legend.

Other urban legends are "factoids" repeated from person to person, without anyone bothering to find out if they're true. These are often used against politicians and other public figures.

Others reflect a misunderstanding of a major scientific concept, such as "Darwin says we came from apes." (He did not. He said we and apes came from the same common ancestors.)

Before you pass on information, it's worth checking out the facts of the matter!

Read more:

Practice: Look at the following statements. Are they Urban Legends (UL) or simply Strange, But True (STB)?

  1. When a sneeze leaves your mouth, it's going over 160 kilometers per hour (100 miles per hour).
  2. French leader Napoleon Bonaparte was unusually short.
  3. A bat can eat 3,000 insects in one night.
  4. If you leave a tooth in a cup of Coca Cola overnight, it will be completely dissolved by morning.
  5. Walt Disney, creator of Mickey Mouse, had his body frozen so they could bring him back to life when science became more advanced.
  6. People have been found in a bathtub full of ice in a hotel room with their kidneys missing.
  7. It takes about six months for fingernails to grow from the base to the tip of the finger.
  8. A square piece of paper can't be folded in half more than seven times.
  9. Humans only use 10% of their brains.
  10. Astronauts can't cry normally in space.

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for August 6, 2007

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. SBT; 2. UL; 3. SBT; 4. UL; 5. UL; 6. UL; 7. SBT; 8. SBT; 9. UL; 10. SBT