Myth Trivia: Broken legs, Dom and Elmers

Today's myths surround the theater's entreaty to "break a leg," the mysticism of Dom Perignon Champaign and holding it together with Elmer's glue


CHARLOTTE, N.C., May 6, 2015 – Most people think of Wednesday as “Hump Day,” but at Communities Digital News the middle of the week means trivia. Here are this week’s offerings,

1 – Why do performers say “break a leg” for good luck?: The performing arts have always been an integral part of human culture. Therefore, it stands to reason that there are multiple theories about the origin of the term “break a leg” as an expression of good luck.

In ancient Greece, before applause was in vogue, audiences would stomp their feet. Some historians say if the stomping went on long enough, patrons would eventually “break a leg.”

Another explanation comes from the autobiography of Manfred von Richthofen, also known as “The Red Baron,” who claimed that pilots used the German phrase “hals und beinbruch” meaning “neck and leg fracture” as a term of success before a flight. The expression was later translated into Polish to roughly mean “I wish you a fracture of the legs.”

Some etymologists say that British actor David Garrick became so focused during a performance of William Shakespeare’s Richard III that he did not even know he had fractured his leg in the process.

Continuing with Elizabethan theories, “break a leg” was said to be a slang phrase for actors when they were taking their bows and, thus, bending their knees during curtain calls.

Another popular belief, which has been proven false, comes from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, when John Wilkes Booth jumped to the stage after murdering the president. Booth broke his leg which was said to mean that a great performance would be worth remembering.

And finally, professional dancers are said to have altered the traditional idiom from “break a leg” to the French word merde which in English means “S….”

Of course performers today never hope the “merde hits their fans.”

2 – The truth about Dom Perignon and Champagne: Dom Perignon was a Benedictine monk in Hautvillers, France, who pioneered several winemaking techniques.

In the late 1600s, Dom Perignon was placed in charge of a dilapidated abbey where he began blending his grapes as part of a revitalization program.

Wine had been produced in Champagne since the 13th century, but at that time it was a light red wine, similar to the wine in Burgundy. It was not until 1668 that Dom Perignon’s “bubbly” wine began to gain acceptance.

Among Dom Perignon’s innovations was introducing corks, rather than wood, to seal bottles of wine. He also discovered that the re-fermentation process used for his products sometimes made the bottles explode; that led to thicker packaging for strength.

Though Dom Perignon experimented with his winemaking concepts until his death, he actually hated the bubbles that “invaded” his wine because he regarded them as a corruption of the product.

It was not until more than a century after his death that the development of sparkling wines became the primary style of production in Champagne.

Despite that, King Louis XIV declared Dom Perignon’s red wine the best in France during the monk’s lifetime. French nobility naturally followed suit, and fame and fortune came to the Champagne region.

Once word got out, the billionaire founder of the American Tobacco Co., James Buchanan Duke, ordered 100 bottles of Dom Perignon 1921 for himself.

In 1971 the Shah of Iran purchased several bottles of Dom Perignon 1959 for the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire. A single bottle from that order was later sold at auction in 2008 for approximately $30,000.

Not to be outdone, Lady Diana and Prince Charles had magnums of Dom Perignon 1961 served at their wedding in 1981 with a special insignia created just for the occasion.

Just imagine what that famous French monk could have done with “bubble gum.”

3 – Why doesn’t glue stick to the Inside of the bottle?: Another pressing question of our times that is well worth an answer.

According to the Elmer’s Glue website, “As long as the glue remains inside the bottle away from air it remains a fluid. Glue hardens when there is a loss of water from the formula. Exposure to the atmosphere will cause the water to evaporate and make the glue harden.”

So much for Elmer. What about “super glue”? The answer is similar. Super glue is fast-acting and strong because it is made from cyanoacrylates (easy for you to say) which are also adhesives. To get sticky enough to bond two surfaces, the glue requires a small bit of water, which is present in most things that people want to glue together.

If the container of glue is water-free, then the substance inside will not stick and eventually dry out. That’s the reason the top of a super glue bottle frequently sticks to the container when it has not been used for a while.

For more trivia, join us every Wednesday. In other words, just “stick around.”

Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod

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