Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Legend: A farmer mistakes the inscription on a banded wild bird for cooking instructions.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, 1998]
Origins: The "Wash. Biol. Surv." tale started out as a joke at least as far back as the 1940s, one which played on the stereotype of the backwards, rural farmer as too unsophisticated to recognize the significance of a banded bird, too unschooled to interpret the designation on its band as anything but cooking instructions, and too poor to let something he'd killed go to waste by not eating it. In one early telling, the angry note sent to the government came from an Alberta farmer, not an Arkansas camper:
In Washington, a government survey was ordered to study the migratory habits of birds. Thousands of all species were released with metal strips attached reading, "Notify Fish and Wild Life Division. Wash. Biol. Surv." Hugh Newton writes, "The abbreviation was changed abruptly following receipt of this penciled note from a vexed Alberta agriculturist: 'Gents: I shot one of your crows last week and followed instructions attached to it. I washed it, biled it, and surved it. It was awful. You should stop trying to fool the public with things like this.'"1By attributing the 1998 Internet version to Knight-Ridder, someone passed off a decades-old joke as a recent news item, prompting Smithsonian magazine to take a look at the venerable legend. According to their findings, the story may have begun back in the 1920s, when the government used a batch of bands on which the abbreviation "Biol." was misspelled as "Boil":
BirdAlthough it doesn't involve animals, an anecdote related in a book about the 1986 New York Mets baseball team somewhat echoes this legend:
At an autograph gig in New Jersey several years back, an irate fan approached [catcher] Ed Hearn, who was sitting behind a table. "Where's [Met infielder] Tim Teufel?" the man yelled. "I'm gonna kick his ass! He's trying to pick up my wife!"Last updated: 22 April 2007
Hearn, an admirer of the quiet, religious Teufel, was shocked. "Tim's trying to pick up your wife?" he said. "What makes you say that?"
The man handed Hearn a baseball bearing Teufel's signature. "Look," he said. "He signed it for her and put his room number on the ball!"
Hearn laughed hysterically. The ball read:
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