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10 World Facts You’ve Believed That Are Totally False

by Lee Byford
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Have you ever heard that lightning never strikes the same place twice? Or that being out in the cold can give you a cold? These are just a couple of the many misconceptions that have weaved their way into our collective understanding of the world. They’ve passed down through generations and, as a result, have become so ingrained in our consciousness that we accept them as facts.

But today, we’re here to debunk those myths and set the record straight. From misunderstood natural phenomena to long-held historical beliefs, this list confronts these widespread fallacies head-on. Some of these misconceptions are centuries old—passed down through generations—while others are a byproduct of modern misinformation.

So buckle up and get ready for a reality check as we uncover the truth behind these 10 common misconceptions about our world. You might be surprised to learn that some truths you’ve held for years are, in fact, complete fiction.

Related: 10 Things You’re Probably Getting Wrong About Major Religions

10 Deserts: Not Always a Hotspot

Is Sahara Desert The Largest Desert on Earth?

When you hear the word “desert,” scorching sand dunes under the blazing sun probably spring to mind. But here’s a shocker—not all deserts are hot! The definition of a desert is actually an area that receives less than 10 inches (254 mm) of precipitation per year, regardless of its temperature.

In fact, the biggest desert on Earth is a chilly one. With a whopping size of around 5.5 million square miles (14.2 square kilometers), Antarctica qualifies as a desert due to its extremely low rainfall and lack of vegetation. But instead of sand dunes, you’ll find snow and ice here, with average temperatures ranging from 14°F (-10°C) on the coast to -76°F (-60°C) inland.

Other cold regions, like parts of the Arctic and high-altitude mountainous areas, are also classified as deserts due to their low precipitation. So next time you think of deserts, remember—it’s not all about heat and sand. Icy wastelands like Antarctica show that deserts can be as cold and dry as they are hot and dusty.[1]

9 Diamonds: Not as Rare as You Think

The Diamond Cartel: History’s Greatest Monopoly

Diamonds are often touted as rare and precious stones, a symbol of luxury and wealth. But are they really as scarce as we’re led to believe? The reality may surprise you. The De Beers diamond company cemented the concept of diamonds as rare and valuable back in the 1930s-40s. They controlled the market, regulating the supply of diamonds and creating a perceived scarcity. Their grip on the global diamond market even remained as high as two-thirds into the 2000s.

However, De Beers’s own researchers estimate that the world’s natural diamond supply will run out in 20-30 years. But here’s the twist—the introduction of lab-grown diamonds has shown us that we can create gems identical to natural diamonds without mining. So while diamonds are not as abundant as other gemstones, the idea of their extreme rarity is largely a product of early 20th-century marketing tactics.[2]

8 The Forbidden Fruit Wasn’t an Apple

What was the Forbidden Fruit?

The infamous fruit that Eve plucked in the Garden of Eden has been portrayed as an apple in countless paintings, films, and stories. It’s so ingrained in our minds that it’s hard to imagine it being anything else. However, here’s the catch—the Bible never specifically identifies the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. It only refers to a “fruit.”

The apple misconception can be traced back to Latin translations of the Bible, where the word malus was used, which can mean both “evil” and “apple.” This, over time, linked the two ideas. By the Middle Ages, the myth was firmly established, even though it had no direct scriptural basis.

Various scholars have proposed that the actual fruit could have been a fig, grape, pomegranate, or another species common in the Middle Eastern “Cradle of Civilization.” Despite these speculations, the true identity of the forbidden fruit remains unknown. So while the apple might be a symbol of temptation and sin today, the biblical forbidden fruit is still shrouded in mystery.[3]

7 Cold Weather: Not the Actual Cause of Colds

Why Do We Get Colds When It’s Cold?

Brr… did you just catch a chill? You might believe it’s a precursor to catching a cold, but that’s not exactly true. Although it’s a common misconception that being out in the cold or getting wet can make you sick, cold weather itself cannot cause illnesses like colds or the flu. The real culprits are viruses, not the low temperatures.

Here’s what actually happens: Cold viruses propagate more easily in drier indoor conditions, which are more prevalent in cold weather. These viruses are spread through contact with infected individuals, not through the environment. While cold air might make your nose run and potentially compromise your immune system, it’s the exposure to these infectious viruses that causes winter illnesses.

So the next time you’re shivering in the cold, remember it’s not the temperature that’s making you sick. It’s the viruses lurking around that you need to watch out for.[4]

6 Lightning: A Repeat Offender

Lightning strikes the same place 11 times in Fort Bend County – May 9, 2019

Contrary to popular belief, lightning can—and does—strike the same place twice. In fact, it often hits the same spot multiple times, especially if the conditions are right for a strike.

Lightning is naturally attracted to the tallest object in an area, and this often becomes a repeated target. The Empire State Building, for example, gets struck by lightning numerous times each year. Other natural and man-made high structures like tall trees, mountains, and radio antennas also often become lightning magnets.

While the probability of any random spot being struck twice is low, fixed landmarks often get hit multiple times given the right conditions. So next time you’re seeking shelter during a thunderstorm, remember that the tree that just got hit might very well be struck again. The idea that lightning never strikes the same place twice? Definitely a shocking myth![5]

5 The Great Wall of China: Not So Visible from Space After All

Is the Great Wall of China Really Visible From Space?

Here’s a “fact” that has made its rounds in trivia games and dinner-table conversations: The Great Wall of China is the only man-made structure visible from space. Sounds impressive, right? Well, prepare for your bubble to be burst—it’s not true.

The Great Wall, while magnificent and expansive, is simply too narrow to be seen from the orbit of our planet. Imagine trying to spot a single strand of hair from a couple of feet away—quite a challenge, wouldn’t you say? Now imagine that hair being thousands of miles away. That’s roughly what an astronaut would be dealing with when trying to spot the Great Wall from space.

So next time you hear someone assert that the Great Wall can be seen from space, you’ll know better. This enduring myth is yet another example of how misconceptions can become deeply ingrained in our collective knowledge.[6]

4 Camel Humps: Fat Reserves, Not Water Tanks

What’s Inside A Camel Hump?

Those iconic humps on a camel’s back are often thought to be filled with water, right? After all, camels are famous for their ability to endure harsh desert conditions and travel long distances without water. However, it’s time to bust that myth. Camel humps are not filled with water—they’re actually reservoirs of fatty tissue.

This fat is metabolized into energy when food and water sources are scarce, sustaining the camel on its long desert treks. When a camel finally gets to hydrate, it can drink up to 40 gallons (151 liters) of water in one go, but this water is stored in their bloodstream, not in their humps.

So while camels are indeed remarkable survivors of the desert, it’s not because they’re hauling around portable water tanks on their backs. The truth is much more fascinating—their humps are energy reserves, ready to be tapped when the going gets tough. [7]

3 Fortune Cookies: Not a Chinese Invention

Unwrapping the California Origins of the Fortune Cookie | Bay Curious

Ever finished up a meal at a Chinese restaurant with a fortune cookie? You might have thought these sweet, crisp cookies with tucked-away messages were a quintessential part of Chinese cuisine. Well, think again. Fortune cookies aren’t actually a Chinese invention—they have their roots in Japan and San Francisco.

The cookies as we know them today, complete with fortunes, originated in early 20th-century San Francisco. They were made by Makoto Hagiwara, a Japanese immigrant, in the Japanese Tea Garden. However, a similar type of cookie—with a message inside—was found in Japan as far back as the 19th century.

Though fortune cookies might be a staple in American Chinese restaurants, they aren’t a genuine part of traditional Chinese cuisine. Next time you crack open one of these cookies, remember that its origins are a blend of American innovation and Japanese tradition.[8]

2 Vikings: Horn-Free Helmets

Vikings never wore horned helmets. Here’s why people thought they did.

When picturing a Viking, what’s the first image that comes to mind? A fierce warrior with a horned helmet, right? Well, it’s time to revise that image. Despite their popular depiction in modern media, Vikings didn’t actually wear horned helmets. This popular image is a Victorian-era invention.

The idea of Vikings wearing horned helmets was largely propagated by 19th-century romanticized artistic representations. In reality, there’s no historical evidence to suggest that Vikings wore such helmets. Practicality discouraged the use of horns—imagine the difficulty of navigating a ship or engaging in battle with unwieldy horns on your head!
So while the horned Viking helmet might make for great theater or comic book imagery, it’s a far cry from historical truth. It serves as a reminder of how easily misconceptions can become entrenched in our collective imagination.[9]

1 Cleopatra: A Greek Macedonian Queen

The Real Origin of Cleopatra Queen of Egypt

When you think of Cleopatra, you likely imagine an Egyptian queen, right? It’s time to rethink that. Cleopatra, one of the most famous women in history, wasn’t actually Egyptian. Her ancestry can be traced back to Greek Macedonia.

Cleopatra was a part of the Ptolemaic dynasty, which was of Greek Macedonian origin. This dynasty came to power in Egypt after the death of Alexander the Great. While Cleopatra was born in Egypt and was the first in her dynasty to learn the Egyptian language, her lineage was not originally from Egypt.

Despite her significant place in Egyptian history, Cleopatra was not of Egyptian descent. She was a Greek Macedonian, ruling over Egypt. It’s a fascinating twist that challenges our common perception of this legendary queen.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen