Myth Trivia: Forks, bullfighting and shaking hands

Bulls don't see red, but it helps hide the blood spatter you'll get when you reach for the last pork chop without a fork.

Blood spatter doesn't show on red / Photo by San Diego Shooter, used under Flickr Creative Commons license
Blood spatter doesn't show on red / Photo by San Diego Shooter, used under Flickr Creative Commons license

CHARLOTTE, N.C., May 20, 2015 — Our trivia lesson today looks at cutlery, bull fighting and an international custom, plus some interesting side dishes to whet your appetite.

1. Do Bulls See Red? Popular belief is that matadors use a red cape to taunt a bull because red makes them angry. The truth, according to scientists, is that bulls can distinguish blue from red, but not red from green; they are red-green blind. They see best in shades of dark and light, and they possess excellent peripheral vision.

Spanish matadors began using a muleta, or a small red cape, as far back as the 18th century. What seems to attract a bull is the movement of the cape itself, regardless of the color. Bulls will charge whatever item is moving the most, which is typically a cape.

Now for an interesting tidbit. Bullfighters also use a cape called a capote that is magenta on one side and gold or blue on the other.

The illustrious author known as Truman Capote was born with the given name of Truman Streckfus Persons. As it turns out, another meaning for the word capote in modern day language is “a guy who is gay and openly flamboyant.”

It appears that the famous writer took his pen name from that derivation of the word and that’s no bull.

2. A Brief History of the Fork: The famous New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra once said, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Actually, forks in the road have probably been around longer than the ones we use when eating, but when did they become primary dining utensils?

As with many old inventions, the history of the fork is ambiguous. There is evidence of forks in China over 4,000 years ago. Most experts believe the Western use of forks originated in either the Roman Empire or in ancient Greece, which is a significant gap in time. Personal table forks most probably came into use in the Byzantine Empire, and they were first seen in Venice at the 11th century wedding of Byzantine princess Maria Argyropoulina to the nephew of the Doge of Venice.

Maria brought gold forks as part of her dowry, and they were a scandal. St. Peter Damian declared, “God in His wisdom has provided man with natural forks—his fingers. Therefore it is an insult to Him to substitute artificial metal forks for them when eating.” When she died of plague two years later, in 1006, Peter noted with satisfaction that “this woman’s vanity was hateful to Almighty God; and so, unmistakably, did He take his revenge.” God hated forks.

Forks did not come into common use in northern Europe until the 18th century. Accurate depictions of the Renaissance in films and television programs show the people of the time still eating with their fingers. Many people even draped a cloth over their left shoulder to wipe away any grease or other residue from their fingers.

The use of a fork as a utensil was first described in English in a volume of writings by Thomas Coryat in 1611. Coryat was documenting his travels in Italy at the time. In other parts of Europe, however, using a fork was regarded as unmanly, and it was considered an Italian affectation.

It was not until the American Revolution that forks became popular in North America.

Curved forks that are so familiar today were developed during the mid-18th century in Germany, but the four-tine design we use today did not become practical until the 19th century.

Germans regarded the fork as an important invention because eating with your fingers was considered disrespectful. In fact, using a fork during meals was a primary reason German families established sit-down dinners, which became an important aspect of German culture.

Despite this, forks are still primarily a western eating utensil. In East Asia, chopsticks are far more prevalent, and many Chinese restaurants in the United States offer a choice between American cutlery and their traditional chopsticks.

3. Why do we Shake Hands? The answer to this question is simple, but there are some fascinating sidebars.

Handshaking goes back as far as the 5th century B.C. in Greece, where it was a symbol of peace. By shaking another person’s hand, you showed that neither was carrying a weapon.

Later, during the Roman Empire, the custom became more of an arm grab, which signified that neither person had a concealed knife in his clothing.

The gesture became even more symbolic in the Middle Ages, when knights would vigorously shake the hands of other knights in an effort to loosen any hidden weapons they might have.

Handshaking is still widely used throughout the world, but gradually a fist bump has come into vogue in the United States. The fist bump is most common among athletes and young people, although it is slowly becoming accepted by other age groups.

Now for the fun part. Greetings vary widely around the world. For example, in Tibet it is popular to stick out your tongue. Ethiopian men touch shoulders, and male friends in the Democratic Republic of Congo touch foreheads. Asian cultures are known for bowing as a greeting, and in Europe and some Arab countries, hugs or kisses on the cheek are common. The Maori of New Zealand usually welcome each other by touching noses.

And that completes our list for today, proving once again that we have an exceptional “nose for news.”

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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