Myth Trivia: Elephants, jeeps and rawgabbits

A varied collection of useless factoids and administrivia to bore your friends at your very next Christmas party.

Is this elephant really sidestepping a mouse? (Video still from "Mythbusters" episode)

CHARLOTTE, N.C., Dec. 2, 2015 – We’re running the gamut in the world of trivia today with interesting things we discovered en route to looking up other interesting things.

1 – Are elephants really scared of mice? The answer is “no.” Actually a better response is “not exactly.” We-e-el-l-l-l, “maybe.” Okay, you decide.

The technical term for fear of mice or rats is “musophobia.” Why it isn’t “mousophobia” is another story.

Back in 1939, F.G. Benedict conducted experiments that showed that zoo-dwelling elephants had no reaction when they spotted a mouse, even if the rodent was bold enough to scamper up on an elephant’s trunk. What Benedict did learn however, is that when a mouse ran across a sheet of paper, some of the giant beasts would stand up and trumpet. Benedict surmised that it was the rustling of the paper that “spooked” jumbo.

Years later, in 2006, Troy Metzler, a trainer with Ringling Brothers circus, held up a collection of white mice at eye level in front of elephant after elephant without a response.

The truth is, elephants in the wild rarely encounter mice or rats, so the point is actually moot, except, of course, out of pure curiosity.

What is known is that elephants are easily surprised, not unlike a golfer who gets startled by a sudden noise during his back-swing or while he is putting. This is partly due to the fact that elephants have relatively poor eyesight.

There are actually two smaller creatures, other than mice, that are more of a nuisance for elephants. Swarming bees will send an elephant running — so much so that scientists are now experimenting with sounds that replicate the noise bees make as a means of keeping elephants away from crops in populated areas.

Even smaller pests that bother elephants are guardian ants. They have been known to defend their colonies passionately, even to the point of crawling into an elephant’s trunk. Needless to say, elephants get very upset when there are invaders rumbling through their prodigious proboscises.

Let’s just say that the presence of a herd of ants in its schnozzola is definitely something for an elephant to sneeze about.

2 — The origin of the word “jeep”: This one is a forehead slapper. There are a number of explanations, but the most common theory is that “jeep” is derived from the military designation “G.P.” which stood for “Government Purposes” or “General Purpose.”

Credit goes to Joe Frazer, the president of Jeep creator Willys-Overland Motors from 1939 to 1944 (not the boxer). Purportedly, he used to slur the initials G.P. into the term we now deploy as “Jeep.”

Another more detailed, interesting, but probably less accurate, explanation comes from R. Lee Ermey, who once had a television series called “Mail Call.”

Ermey claimed that a “jeep” would never be referred to as “general purpose” because the vehicle had specific uses. Furthermore, according to Ermey, a GI would have been more familiar with the abbreviation GPW for which the “G” stood for government, but “P” alluded to the size of the wheelbase and the “W” indicated it was manufactured by Willys-Overland.

So how do we get to “jeep” from that? Ermey said that soldiers were so impressed with the little vehicle that they affectionately named it “Jeep” after the character “Eugene the Jeep” in the popular Popeye cartoons of that era. Eugene the Jeep was Popeye’s jungle pet.

One sidebar to the story is that Willys-Overland demonstrated the Jeep’s off-road capabilities in 1941, when test driver “Red” Haussman drove the vehicle up the steps of the United States Capitol building.

Ahhh, but there’s more. Returning to our original premise about slurring the letters “G.P.,” we encounter another military conveyance, the high-mobility multi-purpose wheeled vehicle, or HMMWV.

Slur those letters and what do you get? You guessed it, “Humvee.”

3 – What’s a “rawgabbit”? Here’s a quick answer to this burning question of the day. A “rawgabbit” is an individual who speaks in the strictest confidence about a subject he or she knows nothing about.

Know anyone like that?

That’s our cue for the rawgabbit’s edition of Myth Trivia to adjourn for now to seek out even more fascinating but foolish facts. Until next Wednesday.

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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