Myth Trivia: Jack and Jill, Columbus’ flat world and those pesky bedbugs

Jack and Jill, Columbus and a world gone flat, and those pesky bedbugs revealed


CHARLOTTE, NC, April 29, 2015 – Each week we actively explore myths, legends and old wives tales in an adventurous trivial pursuit.

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Today, we include an honest-to-goodness explorer who is known to everyone since their first day of school.

1 – Columbus and the Flat Earth Theory: The legend goes that Christopher Columbus set out in the 15th century to prove the earth is round by sailing west to reach the east.

Actually, except for totally uneducated people of that day, almost everyone knew the world was round in 1492. So why the controversy, and why did Columbus have such a struggle to obtain the funding for his voyages?

The reason was not due to the belief that if old Chris sailed far enough he would disappear when he reached end of the planet. Rather it was because Columbus’ critics believed the earth was much too large to circumnavigate without running out of provisions first.

Even Eratosthenes of ancient Greece had calculated the circumference of our planet with fairly accurate results and thought it to be larger than what Columbus had determined.

As for Columbus, North and South America just happened to pop up before he could make his way to India or China. Columbus made four voyages to the “new world” with the last beginning in 1502.

He died in 1506 believing he had, indeed, sailed to Asia while refusing to accept the notion from other explorers that he had actually reached a previously unknown continent.

2 – The Origin of Jack and Jill: The popular children’s nursery rhyme has several possible beginnings of which the most popular is that Jack and Jill represent Louis XVI of France and Queen Marie Antoinette. Louis was beheaded in 1793, thus “losing his crown,” and Marie Antoinette “came tumbling after.”

The problem is that the poem had been published in print before Louis XVI and his queen were executed.

With that theory eliminated, another belief is that the poem details a series of events in Somerset, England in 1697 when a local spinster became pregnant. Her father reportedly then was killed due to a rock fall and the spinster died shortly afterward while giving birth to the child. Whether the events are related is unclear, but the explanation is not nearly as compelling as other versions of the story.

Certainly of more historical interest is the explanation put forth by John Bellenden Ker in 1835 who opined that Jack and Jill were two priests. This rendition was later expanded in 1930 to suggest that Jack represented Cardinal Wolsey during the era of Tudor King Henry VIII and Jill was Bishop Tarbes who was responsible for negotiating the marriage of Mary Tudor to the French king in 1514.

Yet another description claims that when King Charles I attempted to reform the taxes on liquid measures his proposal was vetoed by Parliament. In retaliation, the king ordered that the volume of a “Jack”, or half pint of liquid pleasure, be reduced while leaving the tax the same.

In doing so, the tax was increased and as a result, “Jack fell down and broke his crown.”

The choice is yours in this nursery rhymes version of Game of Thrones.

3 – How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep: The popular expression goes, “Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite” but where did it originate?

The most popular answer is that in the days of William Shakespeare, when there were no box-springs for mattresses, that bed frames held tightly pulled ropes to make the bedding more firm for sleeping. In order to have the best possible rest a person would tell their friends to “sleep tight.”

Some historians even go so far as to say that when a visitor stayed too long, the hosts would loosen the ropes, thereby making the mattress sag and discretely letting their guests know it was time for them to leave.

Using that explanation, then what about the bed bugs? A second version says that in earlier times when living conditions were considerably less sanitary that bed bugs were very much a health problem. Since people often slept in long john pajamas, they were advised to be sure to secure their nightgowns tightly to keep the bed bugs from nibbling away during the night.

The most logical answer, however, is also the least interesting. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the adverb for “tight” is “tightly” which during the period when the expression was popularized was nothing more than a synonym for the word “soundly.”

Thus when someone said “sleep tight” it merely meant to “sleep soundly” or “to sleep well.”

While the third rendition may be a snoozer, it does contain “sound” reasoning which may, after all, be a good reason to snore.

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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