24 Surprising Truths About Old Wives’ Tales [2024 Guide]

Old wives’ tales are oft-repeated nuggets of wisdom that can hold surprising truths or fanciful fabrications. My background in journalism and motherhood gave me plenty of practice at separating fact from fiction, and I applied that skill to the old wives’ tales examples in this post to determine just how much truth those tales hold!

Old wives tales examples: Photos of a woman looking at a bowl of carrots and taking off her eyeglasses; woman in an animal print coat hugging herself and shivering

While many common old wives’ tales certainly sound outlandish, some of them are supported by scientific research! We’ll begin by looking at some examples of old wives’ tales that are true before moving on to others that are just plain false, and arm you with the information you need to make informed decisions about your wellbeing.

11 Old Wives’ Tales Examples That Are True

Tales About Food And Drink

Old Wives' Tales That Are True - collage: woman eating a slice of cheese; same woman having a nightmare

1. Cheese Can Cause Vivid Dreams

If you’ve ever heard that eating cheese (or dairy in general) before bed will give you crazy dreams, you might be surprised to learn there may be some truth to the claim!

In 2005, an informal study by the British Cheese Board asked volunteers to eat a small amount of cheese before bed every night. The volunteers kept a journal recording the types of cheese they ate, their quality of sleep, and the content of any dreams they remembered. The results suggested two things: cheese consumption may lead to restful sleep, and the type of cheese consumed may influence the nature of the eater’s dreams.

In an NPR interview about the study, the Secretary of the British Cheese Board said those who ate blue cheese reported the most vivid and outlandish dreams, while those who ate cheddar had dreams about celebrities. Fascinating!

2. Bananas Make Other Fruits Go Bad

This particular old wives’ tale is true, and I expect it’s why my favorite fruit bowl has a designated hanger for bananas! Bananas stored next to other fruits can cause other fruits to ripen rapidly because they give off fruit-ripening ethylene gas. (Oranges and other citrus fruits are less likely to be affected by the presence of bananas.)

Photo of a DIY Oatmeal Shower Bag

3. Oatmeal Is Good For Your Skin

Oatmeal contains phenols that can help soothe irritation from bug bites, rashes, and other itchy skin conditions. Make a paste of oatmeal and water and apply to the affected area, or try an oatmeal bath or oatmeal shower!

Tales About Safety

Photo of a shower - an old wives tale says you can get electrocuted in the shower by lightning.

4. You Can Get Electrocuted In The Shower During A Lightning Storm

While 20 to 30 people in America die because of lightning each year, there’s little risk of being struck directly while in the shower. However, water and plumbing are good enough conductors to conduct electricity from a nearby lightning strike into your bath or shower.

To avoid this hazard, wait until 30 minutes after the last thunderclap during a storm before taking a shower or bath. Better safe than sorry, right?

5. It’s Dangerous To Wake A Sleepwalker

A state of disorientation called “sleep drunkenness” can cause some sleepwalkers to become violent when woken up. For the safety of both parties, don’t attempt to wake up someone who is sleepwalking. Gently try to guide them back to bed instead.

Tales About Predictions

There are several common old wives’ tales about circumstances that supposedly predict a certain outcome. The tales below don’t exactly predict the future, but they do suggest probable outcomes based on many years of collective experience and observation.

6. Baby Boys Lead To Longer Labor

Photo of a pregnant woman in a pink dress sitting on a bed.

Each time I was pregnant with one of my three boys, I was frequently told to expect a long and intense labor to deliver them. I didn’t find it particularly helpful, but there’s reason to believe it’s more than a myth!

study of the deliveries of over 8,000 babies found that labor was slightly longer on average for boys than for girls and that baby boys were slightly more likely to require C-sections, forceps, and vacuum pump assistance. These differences can be partially attributed to size differences between the sexes, but they also suggest baby boys are simply more vulnerable during and after birth than girls.

Old Wives' Tales That Are True - a beautiful sunset with vivid orange and red fluffy clouds

7. Red Sky At Night, Sailors Delight

As the old saying goes, “Red sky at night, sailors delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning.” This sailor’s saying has stuck around because, at least in certain conditions, it can be a pretty dependable way to evaluate the weather!

A process called Rayleigh scattering causes molecules of sunlight rays to scatter in the atmosphere, separating wavelengths of light and creating colorful sunrises and sunsets. Since weather systems in the mid-latitudes generally travel from west to east, the rising sun may illuminate clouds from approaching weather systems, while the setting sun may illuminate the clouds of passing weather systems.

As a result, a “red sky at night” could potentially signal fair conditions to come!

A woman in a garden - an old wives tale says leaves can predict weather.

Tales About Plants And Planting

8. Leaves Can Predict Rain

While this old wives’ tale may sound like fiction, there is some scientific merit to the belief that leaves can signal impending rainfall. This phenomenon is an effect of changes in atmospheric pressure and humidity that precede rain.

When the atmosphere becomes more humid before a rainstorm, many plants’ leaves react by flipping, curling, or rolling inward. This evolutionary adaptation helps plants conserve water and protect themselves from potential damage during heavy rainfall.

9. Plant After Blackberry Winter

A “blackberry winter” is a short period of cold weather that sometimes occurs in late spring after blackberry bushes have bloomed. The truth in this old wives’ tale is based on observations of natural cycles and seasonal behaviors.

Late cold snaps can be detrimental or even fatal to newly planted crops, so farmers and gardeners who wait to plant until after blackberry winter may give their plants a better chance of thriving.

10. Bury Pennies In Your Pots For Healthier Plants

Since copper is a fungicide, adding a penny or two to your flower pots or indoor plants can actually help protect them from fungus. The copper will slowly disperse into the soil and eventually enter the plants.

Photo of planting flowers after pecan trees have bloomed, per old wives tale.

11. Plant After Pecan Trees Bloom

Pecan trees are often among the last to flower in the spring, earning them a reputation for knowing when the last threat of frost has passed. If you have pecan trees nearby, you can be reasonably sure it’s safe to start planting after they’ve bloomed.

13 Old Wives’ Tales Examples That Are NOT True

While the tales above weren’t as crazy as we thought, there are plenty of other old wives’ tales you should stop believing, including the ones listed below.

Tales About Hair

old wives tales

1. Pluck A Gray Hair And Two More Will Take Its Place

Only one strand of hair can grow from each follicle on your head, so it isn’t technically possible for two gray hairs to replace one you’ve pulled out. (Once you start noticing gray strands in your hair, it may feel as though they multiply overnight, so the popularity of this tale is quite understandable!)

If you really dislike those stray silver or white hairs, getting your hair colored is your best option. But there’s nothing wrong with embracing the change and letting those grays stay.

2. Shaving Makes Hair Grow Back Thicker And Coarser

This old wives’ tale about hair can be traced back to the fact that hair is tapered. Using a razor to remove hair at the skin level gives it a blunt edge, making it appear thicker or coarser when it starts to grow out.

However, shaved hair will eventually taper off and look the same as it did before, so don’t let this tall tale prevent you from enjoying the benefits of using a facial hair razor! You’ll love how easily your makeup glides on and how clear and radiant your skin looks.

A woman with curly hair - old wives tale says eating bread crusts will make your hair curly.

3. Eating Bread Crusts Makes Your Hair Curly

I used to resent my stick-straight hair, especially as a little girl when I envied my friends’ curly tresses. My mother used to tell me that I could have curly hair too if I ate the crusts of my sandwiches instead of throwing them out.

Sadly, my efforts to eat my sandwich crusts proved futile, because my hair remains as straight today as it ever was. I’m pretty sure my Mom heard that white lie from her own mom, in the way many of us pass down these sorts of tales.

4. Cutting Your Hair Makes It Grow Faster

Our hair grows from its roots, so trimming the ends doesn’t affect its growth. Getting regular trims can make your hair look thicker, healthier, and more abundant, but it won’t necessarily make it grow any faster or longer.

Old Wives' Tales That Are True - woman wearing an animal print coat and shivering

5. You’ll Catch A Cold If You Go Outside With Wet Hair

Colds are caused by viruses, so you can’t catch a cold by going outside with wet hair. The common cold is transferred through bodily fluids, like the small droplets of moisture we expel while coughing, sneezing, and talking.

While wet hair may make you a bit colder when you go outside, you can rest assured that it won’t make you a virus magnet.

Tales About Food

6. Chewing Gum Stays In Your Body For 7 Years

You may have heard this from adults when you were a kid, but any chewing gum that ends up in your stomach will pass shortly after. (And by “shortly” I mean days, not years!)

While swallowed gum will eventually pass through your digestive system, it can lead to uncomfortable consequences like diarrhea and abdominal pain, according to Yale Scientific. The bottom line? It’s best to spit gum out when you’re done chewing it, but there’s no reason to panic if you accidentally swallow it.

These Mexican pork chops are spicy but not too hot - old wives tale says if you swim too soon after eating you'll get cramps.

7. Swimming Too Soon After You Eat Causes Cramps And Drowning

This scrap of persistent “wisdom” likely originated in a 1911 Boy Scouts handbook. “Many boys make the mistake of going into the water too soon after eating,” the book warned, going on to suggest it could lead to paralyzing cramps and drowning.

Such claims are based on the outdated idea that digestion diverts blood from your limbs. We now know that, while more blood flows to your muscles during digestion, it isn’t enough to increase one’s risk of drowning.

According to the American Red Cross, “Current available information suggests that eating before swimming is not a contributing risk for drowning and can be dismissed as a myth.”

8. Eating A Watermelon Seed Can Cause A Watermelon To Grow Inside You

If you ever believed this tale, I hope you realized it wasn’t true a long time ago! But in case you need to hear it: There’s simply no way for a watermelon to grow inside of you, no matter how many watermelon seeds you swallow!

9. Dropped Food Is Still Safe To Eat If You Pick It Up Within 5 Seconds

If you’ve ever invoked the “five-second rule” before eating something you dropped on the ground, that doesn’t mean the food was any safer to eat. Scientists from Rutgers University found that bacteria can transfer to dropped food instantly.

You may be slightly better off eating something you dropped on your freshly mopped kitchen floor than your living room carpet, but your safest bet is to simply throw it out.

A woman with a tissue to her nose - old wives tale says starve a cold, feed a fever.

10. Feed A Cold, Starve A Fever

An old piece of health advice suggests that the best way to heal and recover from a cold is to eat plenty of warm, nourishing foods like chicken soup, while those sick with the flu should fast instead. But medical experts disagree, saying that fasting when you’re ill will only weaken you further.

Eating nutritious foods and staying hydrated while sick is the best thing you can do to help your body fight illness and infection. So even if you don’t have an appetite, try to eat that chicken soup anyway!

Tales About Your Body

11. Crossing Your Eyes Can Cause Them To Get Stuck

Despite what your mom used to tell you, crossing your eyes will not cause them to “get stuck like that”. Our eyes are designed to adjust inward or outward, depending on the distance of the thing we’re looking at, so there’s no reason to fear they’ll get stuck in a certain position.

There is a medical condition called strabismus that can make your eyes point in different directions, but it isn’t caused by crossing your eyes.

12. You Can’t Get Pregnant While Breastfeeding

It’s always smart to take old wives’ tales and folk wisdom with a grain of salt, but it’s downright crucial to do your research about anything related to pregnancy or contraception. While breastfeeding can have an impact on your menstrual cycle, you absolutely can get pregnant when you’re breastfeeding.

Don’t rely on tales like these for accurate information about contraception! Talk to your doctor or a trusted healthcare professional.

A woman holding out her hands - old wives tale says cracking your knuckles will give you arthritis.

13. Cracking Your Knuckles Will Give You Arthritis

Cracking your knuckles may annoy the people around you, but there’s no evidence that it can lead to arthritis.

Jillee’s Take:

There are undoubtedly many more old wives’ tales worth mentioning than I had time or space to include here. I’d love to hear from you about examples of folk wisdom you’ve given or received over the years!

Common Questions About Old Wives’ Tales

Why Do We Call Them Wives’ Tales?

As the name suggests, old wives’ tales are pearls of wisdom passed down through generations from older and more experienced wives and mothers to their successors. These tales imparted practical wisdom, useful remedies, and tips for household management and child-rearing.

What Is The Old Wives’ Tale About Morning Sickness?

One common old wives’ tale about pregnancy suggests that the baby’s gender can influence a woman’s food cravings and aversions during pregnancy. Food cravings and aversions are both common aspects of pregnancy for many women, but they’re not a reliable predictor of babies’ genders (or any other quality, for that matter!)

What Is the Old Wives’ Tale About Twins?

Another common pregnancy-related wives’ tale claims that a pregnant woman with a particularly large belly, or who is carrying a baby higher in her body, is likely carrying twins or multiple children. While it’s logical to assume a pronounced baby bump might mean more babies, remember that the safest thing to say to a pregnant woman about her body is nothing at all.

Conclusion

Some old wives’ tales can keep you safe or even help you predict certain outcomes, while others are just plain silly. Learning to distinguish between true nuggets of wisdom and myths is a skill that can be useful and empowering.

Next time you hear an old wives’ tale, look online for supporting evidence before accepting it as truth. Embrace the stories that have proven their worth and be sure to pass them on!

Have you heard these old wives’ tales before, or do you have any others to share? Let me know in the comments!

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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