Einstein and Toast

The numbers on a toaster indicate duration of toasting in minutes, and not a “degree of toastiness.”—Albert Einstein

False rumors seem to happen more frequently and get sillier these days. Maybe our dependence on social media causes it; maybe our “too busy to look things up” lifestyle. It seems at times like we’re being homeschooled by the neighbors. Like we’re at a backyard barbecue at our cousin’s, and as we’re waiting for a burger, some strange guy with a half drunk beer and a twinkle in his eye — or gal, ignorance is not a gender-based phenomenon — steps up, says, “did you know…?” and proceeds to feed us a load of malarkey. And we buy it.

The political season is rampant with half-truths, innuendo, and plain boldfaced lies. But even strange rumors are created about everyday topics and quotations routinely misrepresented. In this Information Age, when the correct information is a few mouse-clicks away, the wrong information is available and deployed even faster. The truth is at our fingertips but the lies are jumping in the way.

As Einstein did not say…
People are fond of quoting smart people. An idea can carry more authority if delivered by a knowledgeable figure rather than li’l ol’ us. As a result, quotes are frequently misattributed to smart and clever people, especially to Lincoln, Twain, Franklin, and, most of all, Einstein. If you look at the site BrainyQuotes.com, they have an entire Einstein page and a good portion of those quotes appear to be things Einstein did not say.

As a banker, I myself often liked to quote the saying that was attributed to Einstein in the pre-internet era:

“Compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe.”

It certainly sounded smart. Here’s a variation that cropped up frequently: “Compound interest is man’s greatest invention.”  And this one, printed on Einstein T-shirts: “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it … he who doesn’t … pays it.”  Another salient feature of the false attribution society is shown in that quote — the writer included more words that Einstein did not say, as if padding the quote would make it sound more realistic.

Einstein said a lot of pithy things, not just about science, but about the nature of peace, thought, and even God. But he did not appear to have an interest in banking. Intrepid investigators across the web (such as Skeptics.stackexchange.com) trace the reference to finance company advertising in the late 1970s.

Fans of Rita Mae Brown are highly aware that she wrote in the novel Sudden Death, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results.” She was probably quite surprised — pleased? annoyed? bemused?…it’s hard to say — that the reference is now frequently attributed to Einstein. Complete with T Shirt, poster, or mug, that’ll be $8.99, please. QuoteInvestigator and Snopes both point out that Brown used it in print, but the phrase first appeared in a Narcotic Anonymous reference in 1981 and a Hazelden Foundation pamphlet around 1980.


Einstein has also frequently been attributed as the source of this statement about romance: “Anyone Who Can Drive Safely While Kissing Is Simply Not Giving the Kiss the Attention It Deserves.” Quote Investigator has a nice summary of the  derivation that shows multiple sources came from the newspapers in the 1920s, not the Nobel prize winner. It appeared either as a joke dialogue between two characters (Philippa and Dorcas) or as a quip from an unnamed “flapper” friend.

With the invention of the car, jokes about driving would naturally emerge. Apparently, with the idea of relativity also gaining broader understanding, jokes about driving would also naturally be attributed to Einstein. He can be used as a quote shield. If he said it, it must be a smart thing to say. Less important is whether he actually said it or not.

Einstein as Relationship Expert may have arisen because he did sometimes talk about love and physics. For instance, a somewhat unscientific writer asked the scientist if gravity on the spherical Earth led people sometimes to end up on their heads or to stick out at right angles, and then further wondered if being on their head caused people to act foolishly in love. Einstein replied,

Falling in love is not at all the most stupid thing that people do, but gravitation cannot be held responsible for it.
–something Einstein did say

In the original German, he wrote,

Sich verlieben ist gar nicht das Dümmste, was der Mensch tut – die Gravitation kann aber nicht dafür verantwortlich gemacht werden.

Einstein’s words are thoughtful and scholarly, with the verbs carefully clustered at the end in proper German.  A thought perfectly well expressed, but misquoters still often feel necessary to change the words, and throw in extra bits that he did not say. The T-shirt at QuoteDetails now phrases it: “Gravitation cannot be held responsible for people falling in love. How on earth can you explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love? Put your hand on a stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with that special girl for an hour and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.”  This mashes two separate quotes together and adds an extra sentence in the middle that Einstein apparently never said.  What exactly was wrong with the original?

Life Hacks
Another source of widely disseminated falsity is in a popular category called Life Hacks. Hacking often refers to techno-pirates stealing computer information, but the original notion of a computer hack was a way of finding the short-cut or back door into someone else’s system. As Wikipedia points out, the term was first used in a technology conference in 2004 to describe some of the sillier shortcuts of these code scripts.  The term life hacks then caught fire as a description of how to short-cut life itself, through tricks and tips.

But just as misquoting has become more prevalent, the distribution of dumb life hacks has followed in its wake. One that resurfaced last week as a Facebook meme was the explanation about toasters. Apparently, someone decided – and Snopes says this started several  years ago and keeps resurfacing – that the toaster dial numbers referred to minutes. The toaster instruction manuals suggest otherwise; many helpful snapshots of manuals will show a savvy reader that the manufacturers meant the numbers to mean doneness, not minutes.

(This led to a home discussion where my spouse suggested that a seven minute toast would turn black or potentially catch fire, so why would a company even put the number seven on a toaster dial, if it really meant minutes. What about a frozen bagel, said I? That could take seven minutes…I was rewarded with “the look.”)

Simply put, the toaster number dials do not refer to number of minutes. That was someone just MSU (Making Stuff Up).

Another wildly popularized and wildly stupid notion is to put pancake batter into a squeeze bottle, such as a Heinz ketchup bottle. There are videos illustrating how smooth and even the pancakes will become. There will be no drips on the counter. Soon, you will be drawing pictures of Thor and the gardens at Givenchy in your pancakes!

For the record, it is possible to put your pancake batter into a squeeze bottle. But, how long is it going to take to completely clean all the last bits of ketchup out of that bottle? How long before your pancakes stop tasting faintly tomatoey? Given that pancake batter will spoil since it contains milk and eggs, you will be cleaning out that ketchup bottle frequently if you want to reuse it. You will lose a great deal of batter sticking to the inside of the bottle. And all the fluff you were trying to infuse into the batter by using an egg and whipping the lumps out  will be squeezed out. If you even can squeeze it out, since the batter may need to be unacceptably thin in order to be pushed out.  Pancake batter in a squeeze bottle is a colossally stupid idea.

Yes, Denny’s may use large aluminum squeeze contraptions on their giant griddles. Perhaps that’s what the lifehackers were thinking of?  Visit a restaurant supply store if you must. Otherwise, use a large serving spoon and wipe up the drips. There will usually be around five of them.

Humans want to improve themselves. That is a good thing. It’s good to share good ideas. We’ve been doing it since cavemen noticed that sticking the raw meat in the fire made it easier to chew. So-called Life Hacks used to be called “old wives’ tales” and those old-fashioned Tips and Tricks were equally likely to include good and bad advice.

Old Wives Didn’t Know Everything, Anymore than Einstein
Take, for instance, remedies for treating a burn; on the internet today you’ll be told to apply mayonnaise, mustard (ouch!), or the ever popular butter. For forty years, I’ve heard that applying butter is a great remedy for burns. One story says that it gained credibility when the Prussian Surgeon General Friedrich Von Esmarch recommended it in the 19th century, perhaps thinking that it would seal the wound from air and air-borne bacteria. He was ahead of his time understanding air-borne germs, but his advice was bogus.

Treat a burn by running cold water on it — for 10-20 minutes. But, don’t just take my word for it, check any legitimate medical website. Putting anything else on a burn allows the skin layers underneath to continue being damaged even after being removed from the heat source. The remedy is to cool off the skin — several layers down. Often, people don’t run the water long enough on the affected spot. The area can also be dunked ice water, for the same penetrating cold effect, but ice alone could damage the skin further. Cold water, long time. No butter, mayo, mustard or bacon.

The use of Life Hacks has become so prevalent that there are now whole websites devoted to fake Life Hacks, such as zulfiqarpk: “Some Useful Life Hacks for Complete Morons.” The parody suggests using your cat to dust the floor instead of a mop, bringing a plunger to the beach to use as a cup holder, or solving the bent plug problem by adjusting the outlet with a fork. There was a “helpful” picture, but I won’t post it for fear someone might accidentally consider it to be real advice. Although I am certain none of you reading this are that gullible.

Do not stick forks in your electrical outlets.

The earth is not flat.

Giant dinosaurs and humans did not co-exist. (Although dinosaurs and humans do co-exist today, see blog from July 6th).

Putting butter on a burn will not help it.

Just because a lot of people forward something in Facebook does not make it true.

The moral of the story is that if you’re going to read “facts” on the internet, then spend an extra five minutes checking the validity and source of the facts. If you want to correctly attribute a catchy quote to Einstein, check the source at WikiQuote or Quote Investigator. Be skeptical in an age of gullibility. There are too many neighbors out there, beer in hand, ready to provide handy tips for you that make no sense.

There are life hacks and old wives’ tales that do work. Here are three freebies. In your car, the triangle next to the gas symbol on the dashboard gauge points to the side of the car with the gas cap. Car manufacturers started adding this around 2002 models. If you have an entirely electric car, good for you, never mind.

If you want to get tomato paste or jellied cranberry sauce out of a can, run the can opener on both sides. Then push out with a wooden spoon.

And tabasco sauce also comes in a Smoked variety.

You’re welcome.


Today’s DailyPost word: twinkle

3 Replies to “Einstein and Toast”

  1. And the crowd roars! Today’s blogging brought to you by the word “rant”.
    Atta girl!
    And, by the way, only an ocdiot would spend an hour looking for a funnel, over-blending the batter, slurping and spilling half the batter on the counter, watching the batter slip-slide the wrong side of the catsup bottle, stop in desparation and finally make waffles.
    I know this to be true and that is all I have to say about that.
    Plus, Einstien tried it once. Only once.

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