T-learning # Idiom
Speak Like a Native

an old wives’ tale

Click below to listen to the phrase.

Choose the correct definition a, b or c.

a) a well-known fact which is actually not true

Well done! That’s the right answer.

An old wives’ tale is a fact passed down through generations of families, which is usually false. These facts are often advice about domestic problems, and are superstitions rather than being based on evidence.

The phrase reportedly dates back centuries, and in 1611, it was referenced in the King James Bible.

Examples of old wives’ tales include:

Going outside with wet hair will make you catch a cold.

Shaving makes hair grow back quicker.

Swallowed gum will stay in your stomach for seven years.

French translation

des histoires de bonne femme, une légende urbaine

How NOT to translate : *des histoires de vieille épouse


Examples in context

‘Burns warning over children’s steam treatment for colds

The surgeons’ research indicated GPs and practice nurses "often recommended steam inhalation to parents" when there is no evidence to suggest any real benefit.

Consultant plastic surgeon Dai Nguyen said: "Parents were present and supervising the steam inhalation in all the cases we looked at. You cannot catch a bowl of hot water once it starts tipping over."

Ms Hemington-Gorse said: "Something that is being recommended by healthcare or via old wives’ tales and grandparents is actually causing injuries to children who have a cold. And we could avoid this altogether if this practice is stopped."’

BBC News, 16 December 2015


‘Old wives’ tales could be pointing to a harsh winter ahead

Britain could be facing the harshest winter for 50 years, according to some forecasters.

And if you believe old wives’ tales and folk legends, they could be right.

There are lots of holly berries on bushes, which could mean it’s going to be a harsh winter.

And leaves are still on the trees, which could be another indication.’

Norfolk Eastern Daily Press, 16 October 2015


Everyday usage

I know it is advisable Mrs. Turner, however we cannot base our findings on what could actually just be an old wives’ tale.

Don’t believe that, it is just an old wives’ tale! Go right ahead with the project.

b) a story told to young children before bed

Sorry, wrong answer. Please try again.

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