Things We Keep Getting Wrong When We Think About History

List Rules
Vote up the most interesting cases of setting the historical record straight.

We all attend school for learning, but what if some of those lessons end up teaching the wrong history? Plenty of historic misconceptions exist about famous figures in the world  - especially about what they did or said. Most of these are stories, made to add to their legend. Think of history as the "Telephone" game. When a message is passed along from person to person, it changes. The final form is often a very corrupted version of the original. The same happens with history  - especially in the times of Internet myth, memes, and propaganda.

Don't believe everything you read. On that note, here are some factoids we keep getting wrong about history. And it's not just us making the mistakes; the history buffs err as well.


  • President Abraham Lincoln Did Not Believe In Racial Equality, At First
    Photo: Alexander Gardner / Wikimedia Commons / CC0 1.0

    Abraham Lincoln was undoubtedly a just man, according to history. He did outlaw slavery. But this was not his initial view.

    At least in the beginning, Lincoln did not believe in the equality of races. His views came through in a series of 1858 political debates with his opponent in the Illinois race for US Senate, Stephen Douglas. At that time, Lincoln said, "I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the White and Black races." He went on to say he did not believe Black people should vote, serve on juries, or intermarry with Whites. 

    But later, Lincoln's POV changed. In his last speech, he promoted Black suffrage, and said that every Black man who fought in the Civil War had a right to vote. He also said that every Black person had the right to enjoy the fruits of his labors. Lincoln brought about a change, but the change first began in himself.

  • Neanderthals Were Not Inferior To Humans
    Photo: Neanderthal-Museum, Mettmann / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0
    2,712 VOTES

    Neanderthals Were Not Inferior To Humans

    If you've seen the animated movie The Croods, you can see interactions between modern man and Neanderthals, AKA cave people. In the movie, it's funny. It's also largely incorrect. 

    The real Neanderthals were not dim-witted in the least. Research shows them as skilled hunters with diverse communication skills. They ate as per local availability and supplemented their diet with meat, much like Homo sapiens.

    The latest research shows that even prehistoric humans as early as 1.8 million years ago were not as primitive as we thought. Researchers feel a link exists between language and advanced tool-making, and cutting-edge brain mapping is helping prove just that. As the tools advanced, so may have language, through instruction. 

  • Medieval Peasant Food Was Not Bland
    Photo: The Decameron / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    3,640 VOTES

    Medieval Peasant Food Was Not Bland

    People talk of medieval food as bland. Frankly, it was anything but. Salt was a luxury, but the peasants had generous access to spice. And the food reflected the flavors of what was easily at hand.

    Cloves, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, pepper, and mace (derived from nutmeg) were just some of the common seasonings. Other flavors included ginger, sugar, vinegar, wine, raisins, and honey. There were plenty of meats as well, and peasants had access to seafood (at that time, lobster was actually considered lower class). If facing hard times, peasants could even grind acorns into a high-protein flour for bread.

    The food may have been less salty, but it was certainly not bland. 

  • Marilyn Monroe Was Not Plus Sized
    Photo: Teichnor Bros., Boston / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    The allure of Marilyn Monroe is alive and well, even though she has been gone for half a century. And other than a million stories about her death, people love to talk about her "plus size." However, that's a misnomer; with near-hourglass measurements and a waist of 24.5-28.5 inches, Monroe was a size 6-8.

    Like all people, her shape shifted throughout her life. The size brought up in the "plus-sized" argument is a 12. But that would be a British measurement, which in American measurements translates to a size 10.

    Also remember that today we have more of a vanity sizing. Today's size 6 would have been a 12 in 1958. So while Monroe was voluptuous, plus-sized would not be the correct term for her.

  • Pandora's 'Box' Was Actually A Jar
    Photo: Charles Edward Perugini / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    2,705 VOTES

    Pandora's 'Box' Was Actually A Jar

    Pandora did not have a box. She had a jar. Erasmus, the Renaissance Humanist philosopher, turned her jar into a box via his writings in the 16th century.

    Either he made a mistake in the translation, or he may just have confused it with the box in the story of Cupid and Psyche.

  • The F-Word Is Not An Acronym Of Any Sort
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    2,623 VOTES

    The F-Word Is Not An Acronym Of Any Sort

    It's a popular pop culture tidbit that even celebrities like January Jones love to throw about: the F-word is actually an acronym for "Fornication Under Consent of King." Historians doubt any king would have had the time or inclination to sign off on such acts.

    Neither does the word stand for "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge." Instead, the term comes from other languages. There's the middle Dutch "fokken," the Norwegian "fukka," and the Swedish "focka" and "fock." And they all mean the same thing as the "F-bomb" in English.