Old wives’ tales: eating spiders, knuckle-cracking, and tea | Jack Marshall’s column

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Any chewing gum you accidentally swallow stays in your stomach for seven years, you know. And be careful what you do with that razorblade, because everyone knows that shaving hair makes it grow back even thicker. Don’t even get me started on what happens if you crack your knuckles. Early-onset arthritis. There. I said it.

Mind how you go whilst sleeping, too, because it’s common knowledge that every single one of us swallows and inadvertently consumes eight spiders a year. Also, wait at least 45 minutes after eating before you go swimming, lest you be struck down by debilitating cramps and drown. Anyways, stick the kettle on. But remember, tea tastes better in a China mug.

Sidestepping their faintly sexist moniker, old wives’ tales are potent things, titbits of vague and half-true-sounding lore which have passed down from generation to generation like heirlooms of wisdom and warning. When you finally realise it’s all rubbish, you cast your mind back and think ‘how the hell didn’t I realise we don’t eat 600 spiders in a lifetime?’

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No, chewing gum doesn’t stay lodged inside you: your body may not be able to digest it, but you can still pass it. Shaving doesn’t make hair grow back thicker, cutting it off at a blunt angle just makes it look and feel thicker. Cracking your knuckles is just popping nitrogen bubbles in your joint fluid and feel free to go for a swim after a meal. You’ll be fine.

No, you don't accidentally eat 600 spiders a year in your sleep...No, you don't accidentally eat 600 spiders a year in your sleep...
No, you don't accidentally eat 600 spiders a year in your sleep...

Ah, but the brew. ‘Tea in a China mug tastes better’ is one of those things which your mum says; something which sounds wrong, which has an innate old-wives’-tale quality to it. How can the mug make the slightest bit of difference? Surely it’s just confirmation bias: you think the tea will taste better in a fancy mug, so you convince yourself it does. Surely.

But no. Highfalutin science-boffins claim there’s proper science facts behind this faux old wives’ tale. Because China mugs are smoother than their non-Chinese counterparts, fewer natural tannins from the tea stick to the mug itself, meaning more tea flavour in your brew. So go ahead, stick the kettle on. I’ll take mine in a China mug.