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Six Idiotic Idioms – and What’s Wrong with Them

Why NOT cry over spilt milk? Famous idioms and sayings don't always make sense – and here's why.

1. Money Can’t Buy Happiness
1. Money Can’t Buy Happiness
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THE FLAW: Yes, it can. Permanent happiness is fleeting no matter what your bank account looks like, but research shows that money does, in fact, give you short-term bursts of joy – if you spend wisely.

Experiences such as concerts or holidays have been shown to bring greater happiness than purchasing stuff.

People who spend money on others are also measurably happier than those who treat themselves.

So do yourself a favour: buy happiness for someone else. 

2. Low Man on the Totem Pole
2. Low Man on the Totem Pole
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THE FLAW: The low man is often the most admired.

Vertical order on totem poles rarely denotes importance.

One thing the ‘low man’ almost always earns, though, is love from the carver and hence the viewer.

'Most carvers begin from the bottom of the pole, moving to the top,' writes Pat Kramer, author of Totem Poles. 'Bottom figures are detailed because observers see these figures close up.'

3. Pick the Low-Hanging Fruit First
3. Pick the Low-Hanging Fruit First
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THE FLAW: Lower fruit is often the last to ripen.

'Fruit that is high up, exposed to the sun, ripens the fastest,' says Gennaro Fazio, a plant breeder and geneticist for the USDA’s Agricultural Resource Service.

'You want to pick the low-hanging fruit last, so it has more time to develop,' he said. 

What’s more, starting at the top makes the job easier, says apple-picking veteran Henry Rueda. When pickers harvest from top to bottom, the sacks of fruit they carry around their necks and shoulders grow heavier as they move downwards, working with gravity, not against it. 

4. No Use Crying Over Spilt Milk
4. No Use Crying Over Spilt Milk
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THE FLAW: Crying can help people recover from disappointment.

True, it’s dangerous to dwell on the past, but holding back those spilled-milk tears could hurt even more.

A survey of more than 5000 weepers in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology suggests that a good cry can provide resolution after pain – respondents who tried to suppress their sobs only felt worse.

Or, to put it in more lactose-tolerant terms, 'Sometimes we should cry over spilled milk,' writes Aaron Ben-Ze’ev, a philosophy professor at the University of Haifa in Israel. 'Otherwise, how will we learn to value milk, and how will we avoid spilling it again?'

5. Pure As the Driven Snow
5. Pure As the Driven Snow
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THE FLAW: Driven snow is toxic.

‘Driven’ snow has been blown into drifts and remained untrodden-upon by human heels. Sounds pure, but according to Canadian researchers, fresh white snow is a magnet for car exhaust pollution, absorbing enough toxins while ‘driven’ to become a health hazard if you were to drink enough of it. 

6. You Catch More Flies with Honey than with Vinegar
6. You Catch More Flies with Honey than with Vinegar
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THE FLAW: Vinegar is a fly magnet.

If you’ve ever endured a fruit fly invasion in your home, a bowl of vinegar was likely your first line of defence. Researchers from Northwestern University found that “adult flies forage for microbes on overripe fruit, relying on their sense of smell to detect the acetic acid – the chemical that gives vinegar its pungent aroma – that accumulates as the fruit ferments.”

The hungrier a fly gets, the quicker it succumbs to vinegar’s dubious charms. 



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