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I honestly don’t know how some of these myths are persisting so I’m here to bust them. Let’s hope Mythbusters doesn’t mind if I provide some additional firepower to the whole stupid myths thing.

  1. Your heart stops when you sneeze. FALSE. Holy crap could you imagine if it did? I’ve even heard university anatomy tutors claim this is true. It is most certainly not. Nor will your eyes pop out if you manage to keep them open. A sneeze begins with a tickling sensation that sends a message to your brain that something needs to be expelled from the lining of your nose. Your chest tightens from taking in a deep breath, your eyes close, your tongue presses against the roof of your mouth and you blast air out of your nose with an amusing sound that is unique to the person.
  2. Osmosis (basically water absorption) is the cause of the wrinkly, prune fingers that you get from staying in water for too long. FALSE. Surgeons discovered centuries ago that cutting a certain nerve would prevent prune fingers, suggesting that osmosis was not the cause. A bit more recently, scientists determined that the wrinkles were an adaption to provide better grip in wet conditions (S. Karger AG, Basel, 2011).
  3. The Coriolis effect (caused by the Earth’s rotation) is responsible for water draining down the sink in a certain direction. FALSE. The Coriolis effect does affect long-lasting vortices, but this is on the scale of things like hurricanes. Your sink, bathtub and shower are not significant enough to be affected by this force (which is a very small force indeed when you consider that the Earth makes one rotation a day, whereas your sink will make a rotation in seconds). The direction your sink drains in is determined by the vortices introduced whilst washing, the way the sink is filled and even the shape of the sink.
  4. A human in the vacuum of space without a space-suit will pop, explode, implode or anything else dramatic like that. FALSE. If the person exhales before exposure (to prevent lungs from bursting), that person could survive around 30 seconds before dying of asphyxiation (lack of oxygen).
  5. Dropping a penny from a very high building will kill a pedestrian below. FALSE. A penny is not aerodynamic enough to pick up enough speed to kill somebody. Its terminal velocity and weight aren’t sufficient to produce enough impact to kill – in fact it would just sting if you got hit by it.
  6. Lightning does not strike the same place twice. FALSE. In fact, it’s more likely to strike in the rough vicinity of the first strike because of the way lightning bolts are formed. I won’t get too deep into this (at least not for this post) but lightning is formed after a path of ionised air (known as plasma) is created between the cloud and the target (known as a step leader). Because plasma is more conductive, electrical current will flow along this path to neutralise the charge separation, shooting lightning back up into the clouds. While we’re at it, tall objects do not always get hit by lightning. True, they are closer to the cloud and thus there’s a higher chance for the step leader to create a path to a tall object rather than low ground, but the path of lightning is very unpredictable. For the purpose of this myth, just remember that if lightning strikes near you, then there’s a conductive path of ionised air going up from there and you are most definitely not safe because lightning is a goddamned beast and will strike wherever the hell it wants (probably close to an existing conductive path because electricity will obviously flow through the path of least resistance).
  7. You can’t create gold from other metals. FALSE. This might come as a surprise to many, since alchemists have tried for so long to accomplish this, but scientists are already capable of turning lead into gold. Glenn Seaborg, 1951 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, was apparently the first to succeed in transmuting a minute quantity of lead into gold. I’ve lost the academic paper that I originally read so I can’t be entirely certain, but I remember it was through a process of adding/removing particles or electrons or something else subatomic from the molecular structure of lead. Unfortunately, the cost of creating gold is not worth the value of the gold created, but there were insider reports (from Proctor and Gamble I think) that they predict the process will be refined to a profitable state within the next 50 years. Incidentally, these days the transmutation of elements is no big deal. Particle accelerators do this every day.
  8. Evolution always brings about improvements. FALSE. You may think that evolution is the process of improving a “lower” life form into a “higher” one, but in actual fact it’s dependent on environment and circumstance. Natural selection does tend to weed out weaknesses, but certain environments may have changed or remained the same over time, causing living creatures in those environments to require or not require evolution, respectively. Alligators, fungi, sharks, some fishes, and mosses are examples of creatures that have remained relatively the same over time, because they are so well adapted to their environments that they do not require improvement. The “strength” and “survivability” of a creature is almost entirely dependent on its environment.
  9. There is no gravity on the moon (or in other parts of space). FALSE. If you were to draw vectors in space to represent the influence of gravity, it would be a chaotic mess. Every stellar mass’s gravity in the universe will be influencing you with a force dependent on the distance between you and the core of that mass. The calculation of this, in a multiple body system, stumped Newton, causing him to become religious at the end of his days. Ironically, his problem was solved later through further study into perturbation theory and Newton’s own calculations by someone whose name I’ve forgotten and can’t find with a quick search on Google. I believe he was a French or Swiss scientist who also belonged to some church. Hit me up if you know who I’m talking about. Anyway, considering the calculation of this baffled one of the greatest minds in history, let’s just talk about gravity on the moon. Yes, you are being pulled towards the moon and earth (because Earth’s gravity is far stronger), but because the moon is orbiting the Earth, you are also travelling “sideways” enough so that you can stay airborne (or spaceborne?) for far longer than on Earth.
  10. Christopher Columbus discovered that the Earth was round. FALSE. Navigation systems were already based on a spherical world by Columbus’s time, and he failed to reach his original destination and discovered America instead. Pythagoras was actually the first to propose a round Earth. He died around 495 BC, around 2000 years before Columbus.

There’s heaps more interesting “facts” that are wrong, but I’ll leave it at these for now. It’s getting hard for me to think of any more at the moment. Some of this info was pulled off the internet but I can’t remember where so I’m not going to source them. In any event, it’s all in my own words so no biggie. It’s not like I’m claiming a huge discovery, these things should be well-known but aren’t, which is where the problem is!

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Too often do I get carried away championing the Grammar Nazi cause that I forget to educate in a less scathing way. This is an odd habit of mine considering I used to be an English tutor – a patient and encouraging one too (I’d like to think).  I blame the impersonal nature of the internet for my blunt, borderline-mockery of those that commit errors relating to English syntax, although I’ve mentioned before that I generally don’t bother correcting people unless they’re trying to correct someone else – and getting it wrong. I’d like to think this absolves me of some of the gravity of my crime – I leave the oblivious alone and hunt the self-proclaimed Grammar Nazis who obviously need a bit of a lesson themselves.

Anyway, to amend my sins I’ll quickly throw together some of the most common errors that I see so that this can be used as a reference for those trying to fix up their English (to whom I give my utmost respect – props for your effort). I don’t believe absolutely perfect grammar is necessary, and I have many well-educated, intellectual peers who have problems with English syntax themselves, but a good degree of English writing is necessary for professional credibility, and also for its own sake. What I find hilarious are people who attempt to be deep and meaningful with incorrect grammar – it sort of undermines your credibility when you don’t know what you’re saying. I think it would be plagiarism for me to go linking funny grammar fail photos, so I’ll let you guys Google them yourselves. I also don’t want to offend my Facebook friends by using theirs. Suffice to say, in a world comprised mostly of idiots, it’s nice to be able to stand out by using proper English. By the way, for those who don’t know, in linguistics, syntax is the study of the principles and processes of constructing sentences. I use the word syntax because I don’t want to be incorrect by calling something a grammar mistake when it’s actually spelling, punctuation or diction, for example (so yes, the term Grammar Nazi is actually a misnomer, which I find ironic). Syntax sort of encompasses all of that.

Ok, I ramble a lot; my posts are way too long. If you avoid all of these errors, your English is passable and you should be left alone by all but the most seasoned of Grammar Nazis. These are off the top of my head so I may miss some conditions. Here’s the list:

10 Common English mistakes:

  1. You’re means “you are”. Your means something belongs to or is associated with you. (You’re always late to your classes.)
  2. An apostrophe followed by the letter “s” ( ‘s ) is used to indicate possession, except for the word “it’s” which means “it is”. I find this one particularly amusing because people often say “Grammar Nazi’s” to indicate plural, which is incorrect. To indicate the possessive of a plural, you put the apostrophe after the “s”. However, if it’s a name ending with “s”, you still put an apostrophe with an “s” after the name. (Jess’s grammar is horrible. It’s quite obvious that she never paid attention in school; the teacher claims that she always got on the other students’ nerves.) Edit: Actually, there’s some debate over whether you need to add the apostrophe “s” after a name ending with “s”. My academic view is that you should, but it would take up too much space to support that argument here. Suffice to say, just make sure you’re consistent in your own writing.
  3. To indicate the plural of a word, generally you add an “s” to the end. If the word ends with the letter “y”, you change the “y” into an “ie” and then put the “s” on the end (-ies). Some exceptions include the plural form of “he” and “she”, “that” and “this” (they, those and these, respectively). (The baby’s eyes glared sinisterly at the other babies. They stared back with equal menace.)
  4. Words should be capitalised at the beginning of every sentence and after ever period/full-stop. Names and significant terms should also be capitalised (which is why Grammar Nazi should be capitalised, as it is an established term used to name somebody who corrects other peoples’ grammar). This should be pretty obvious so I’m not going to give an example. If you can’t do this correctly, I honestly think you need to go back to primary school – and I say that without any hint of insult intended. Also, capitalising randomly in the middle of your words and sentences makes you look like a douche.
  5. Then is used to indicate the next event after a certain time. Than is used to compare things. (He read the poorly constructed comment, then realised that he was far more educated than the other guy.)
  6. A liar is somebody who lies. I have no freaking clue what a lier or a lyer is. The act of committing a lie is lying. 
  7. Affect is a verb; it is the action of causing an effect, which is a noun. (His atrocious grammar affected the Grammar Nazis’ sensibilities to good effect.)
  8. Farther is used to indicate a measurable distance. Further is used for abstract distances, such as time or events. (He ran farther ahead but could predict no further catastrophes).
  9. Multiple negatives can be used for dramatic effect, but most of the time people use them incorrectly. If you use more than one negative in a sentence, you’re complicating things and you’re cancelling out the effect of your negatives. “He hasn’t never done nothing wrong” actually means he always does things wrong. See how confusing and stupid that is? If you want to say “He’s never done anything wrong” then just freaking say it normally.
  10. I’m not actually sure what the proper name for this error is but please, never say “more better” or anything along those lines. More is an adjective. Adjectives are used to describe nouns and pronouns only. Better is an adverb. You do not use adjectives in front of adverbs. Just say “better”, it already has the meaning of “more” incorporated into it.

Obviously, there’s many more mistakes that people make, but if you can manage to avoid these then congratulations! You are now the top 10% (a statistic that I can’t back up with any sources, but seriously, you’re now special because you’re no longer just another incoherent writer whose comments speak poorly of your education).

As a reward, here are some cool words (in my opinion) that you can try using to make yourself sound even more awesome.

  1. Ubiquitous – Omnipresent; found everywhere
  2. Pulchritudinous – Physically pretty; appealing to look at
  3. Paradigm – A set of forms and processes that is used as a model or example
  4. Paramount – Of great importance or impact
  5. Tantamount – Equivalent; equal to
  6. Guile – Cunning; deceitful
  7. Machiavellian – Characterised by the traits of deceit, manipulation and cunning
  8. Effervescent – Bubbly; lively
  9. Comeuppance – A consequence that one has earned, usually negative
  10. Enthrall – To captivate; to hold power over

With great grammar comes great responsibility. Enjoy your newfound power and may it help you in your social life, academic life and professional life (and it probably will if you used to tork lyke dis).

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