Fifty-four years ago this very month, a game show named Call My Bluff was being hailed as the latest entertainment triumph from the BBC. In it, two teams of three people tried their hardest to bluff their opponents with fake definitions of obscure words, like queach or morepork, jirble and ablewhacket, the true definitions of which I shall leave you to look up at leisure.
For more than twenty years, guest teams in the British show refined their ability to say things that were totally fake without batting an eyelid. The format itself was based on an American show of the same name, but that only ran for six months, before being mysteriously cancelled.
It’s not the only show the United States has cancelled, of course, but rejecting a program in which two out of three sentences were fake is somewhat ironic, because that proportion, around sixty-six percent, is about the norm for the US, historically.
For example, you may have been taught that the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus discovered America on the third of August 1492, setting the nation on the glorious strada to the country you see today.
And of course, only a part of that statement is correct.
Columbus, of course, was Spanish, not Italian, so it was a carretera not a strada. Also, and more importantly, America had already been ‘discovered’ at least five hundred years earlier by Leif Erikson and his Norse seafarers, and Columbus didn't actually set foot on any part of the United States. It did happen on that date, though, and that seems enough for the US to have named twenty-three places after him, and erected one-hundred-and-fifty statues in celebration of the confused Spaniard.
Years later, the Pilgrims arrived from Holland, and, after enjoying the pleasant journey on the Mayflower, determined to seek advice from the local Indigenous people on how to survive in this new world, and sat down with them for that enduring American celebration called Thanksgiving, centered around a warm-hearted and loving meal with their Native American brethren, devouring turkeys to solidify their friendship.
But of course, that’s mainly the triptofan talking.
In reality, the Pilgrims were attempting to steal their neighbors' food supply for their own needs. They practiced trickery, gave the indigenous population diseases they had no defense against, and acted with pure hatred, not friendship, for their ‘savage’ neighbors. It really wasn’t any celebration at all, although the Pilgrims did bring several turkeys to America on that epic voyage in 1620.
After the Pilgrims progressed from conning locals to enslaving strangers, they began to flourish in what you’ve been taught, if you’re an American, were the thirteen original colonies of the United States. And again, you've been misled.
Delaware wasn’t even a colony until 1776, just as the Revolution was starting, and for the majority of the eighteenth century, it belonged to the British. Before that it was a part of Pennsylvania, so, in reality there were only twelve colonies, a true dozen, and never a baker’s.
During that same Revolutionary War, you may have been told, a fearless hero called Paul Revere rode with lightning speed to warn of the oncoming British forces, yelling at the very top of his lungs, “The British are coming!”
And of course, only two-thirds of that is true as well.
At the time, the colonies were still absolutely British, and as the whole scheme he was allegedly part of depended on secrecy and stealth, yelling about the British while atop a steed would have been ridiculous. He did ride that night, so that’s true, but he was stopped before even getting down the end of the lane he lived on, and sent back to make extremely fine colonial-era silverware, which he actually did, though no-one ever told you that bit.
In some cases, even that sixty-six percent may be a stretch.
Take the flag for example, the famous Stars And Stripes, which obviously wasn’t created by the sweet goodly Betsy Ross.
While this fallacy continues to be taught in American classrooms to this day, it is completely baseless. In reality, the President of the United States did not stroll down to ask a seamstress to sew a flag of her own design, and she, after a post-Colonial meal of pie and pie, did not unilaterally decide to create the flag you now see flying on pick-up trucks running democratic candidates off the road.
There is of course zero evidence for any of this story, and reports at the time made no reference whatsoever to Ross or a meeting with the second President of the United States, and Washington never ever mentioned her. In fact, she wasn’t even known until 1870, when her grandson arrived at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and told this tall tale with enough conviction and beer to convince the Society to accept this ridiculous story.
Staying with that particular period of rebellion, you could, of course, examine the exciting life of the Revolutionary War hero Molly Pitcher, who carried water to American soldiers during the Battle of Monmouth in 1778, amid the gunsmoke and carnage, and then took up arms in place of her husband, who was too injured to fight, or just needed a break, and a glass of hickory coffee.
But actually you can’t, because she didn’t really exist.
There was a woman called Mary Hays McCauley, who became part of the huge group of women who traveled with the army, and took on terribly exciting activities like cooking, washing, darning things, cleaning, caring for the mortally-wounded, writing letters, and being bored. This Mary did, allegedly, bring water to her parched husband, though it did him no good and he collapsed anyway, out of the realization that he looked far better in red.
When Mary died, reports of her bravery were described with no reference to any battle whatsoever, but inevitably, through bluster and desperation to create any kind of historical excitement, she was inextricably linked to the Revolutionary War and the fictitious Molly Pitcher, the name her grave now carries erroneously.
After the war, George Washington, the first elected President, but not the first President, a title that goes, mostly unknown, to John Hancock, and who was endowed with dentures not made of wood at all, but more likely of human, cow, or horse teeth material, ivory, lead-tin and silver alloy, and even brass, though probably not at the same time, also didn’t get a hatchet for his sixth birthday, and didn’t damage his father’s cherry tree, nor did he cry “I cannot tell a lie…I did cut it with my hatchet.”
And, as the country launched itself on the global stage, it needed a national anthem, and got one, "The Star-Spangled Banner", written by the poet Francis Scott Key. True he wrote the words, but he wrote them to a bawdy British drinking tune called "To Anacreon in Heav'n," which was the anthemic song of an obscure men's social club, where drinking, whoring, and being sweaty was all part of an evening’s entertainment, and whose original words were, as you’re keen to know,
Voice, fiddle, and flute, no longer be mute,
I'll lend you my name and inspire you to boot
And besides I'll instruct you like me to intwine
The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's vine.
No last gleaming of twilight there, I’m afraid.
And the fake news continued on.
There were not untold panic deaths in the stock crash on Black Tuesday, on October 24, 1929, as only two suicides were recorded, and one of those was an old woman named Hulda Borowski, whose motivation for jumping off a building was dubious, as she held no stocks, and had a roast in the oven.
The terrifying Orson Welles did not fool people with his 1938 radio broadcast of the War of the Worlds, as only one man appears to have been tricked into thinking the US was about to succumb to Martians, and he was asked to pose in a frightened way for a Life Magazine shoot, so we shall never know whether he was really worried or just posing for a Life Magazine shoot.
And Charles Lindbergh, the great American hero who, in 1927, was hailed as the first person to fly a plane across the Atlantic, but was, of course, not the first person to fly a plane across the Atlantic, because the British aviators Alcock and Brown had accomplished the feat eight years earlier.
Abner Doubleday did not invent baseball, it was another guy called Abner, and George Washington Carver did not invent peanut butter, though he was a nut guy for sure.
No witches were burned at the Salem Witch Trials, but people were executed.
Manhattan was not sold for twenty-four dollars worth of beads, even though a statue proclaims this as truth, though it was sold by Native Americans.
Benjamin Franklin did not discover electricity, nor did he fly any kite, though he did write about it.
General Robert E Lee did not surrender nine-thousand men to the one-hundred-and-twenty thousand of Ulysses S Grant, but he did, of course, surrender.
The lightbulb was invented by British chemist Joseph Swan, and not Thomas Edison, though Edison did make it widely-available.
Albert Einstein never flunked math as a child, though he did fail the entrance exam to Zurich Polytechnic.
And, by the end of his third year in office, Donald J Trump had told just over eighteen thousand lies to the American people, who could be forgiven for thinking that one-third of what he said was actually true.
Picture Vincent Wachowiak