Thursday 30 August 2012

World of (Spoil)sport - Part 4

Have you seen this one?

A whale's penis is called a dork.

Really? Is that true?

Then please show me where this 'fact' is recorded other than on 'cool facts' type websites. I'd like to see it.

This is another of those 'uberfacts' or 'cool facts' that I read regularly. I'm told that it appears on over 10,000 websites. And yet, as far as I can see, there's absolutely no evidence of it being true.

There's a fairly comprehensive deconstruction of this 'fact' here where urban myth-buster David Emery points out that 'dork' has only been in use since the 1960s and is probably a politer form of 'dick' in the same way that the Irish use 'feck'. He also took the time to contact whale scientists and marine biologists who stated that they have never seen the word used to mean 'whale penis'.

However, and with no disrespect to David Emery, I wanted to know for sure for myself. After all, if 10,000+ websites are getting it wrong then there is the possibility that David's webpage isn't kosher either. So I spoke to several staff at London's Natural History Museum and guess what? They don't call it a dork either.

The most interesting part of this particular story is how people cling to the 'fact' despite the weight of evidence against it. If you read the comments on David's webpage, many people claim to have read the fact in books when they were at school. However, no one seems able to cite their source. Surely someone can provide a starting point for investigations? It is quite possible that there are books out there that claim that a whale's penis is called a dork. If so, it would be interesting to see what sources these books quote.

It sounds to me like a case of 'creeping fox terrier syndrome' (see here) with maybe a dash of 'false authority syndrome' (see here). In other words, an author has repeated a fact without checking its origin and has succeeded in passing on an urban myth and, because it's now in a book, people believe it must be true.

But, putting all that aside, it does seem odd to give a special name to one species of animal's penis. The only other case of this I know is that camel penises are supposedly called 'dudes'. However, as the only places I've ever seen that fact listed are uncorroborated websites and chatrooms, I am extremely dubious (the fact that 'dudes' is also claimed to be the correct name for the hairs on an elephant's arse just compounds the silliness).

But I'm happy to be proved wrong if you know different.

More spoilsporting action soon.

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