Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Legend: Even in the most crowded of rooms, an inexplicable silence will invariably strike conversationalists at twenty past the hour.
Origins: Ever notice how conversation spontaneously seems to die out at twenty after the hour? If so, you're not
Why does this happen? There's no right
Sudden silence — it must be twenty afterFor what it's worth, President Abraham Lincoln did not die at 8:20, although his death did occur at roughly 20 past the hour. Lincoln was shot by actor John Wilkes Booth while attending a play at Ford's Theatre at approximately
The most popular superstition on this subject, however, is the belief that when, for no apparent cause, everyone in a group suddenly seems at a loss for something to say, it must be twenty minutes after the hour. This idea is generally accepted by superstitious Americans, and is purely American in origin, going back to a legend which has grown around Abraham Lincoln's death.
For those who believe that the Great Emancipator died at
A related theory asserts that human conversations lapse into silence every seven minutes; that is, that all members of the verbal exchange spontaneously find themselves at a loss for anything to say, leaving a blank spot in the yack session. It has been postulated that this seemingly impromptu onset of what in the radio business would be called 'dead air' dates back to prehistoric man, whom evolution eventually hardwired into programming in these pauses to listen for the approach of dangerous animals or members of rival tribes intent upon raiding the campsite.
Barbara "it's never 20 after at my house" Mikkelson
Last updated: 14 June 2005
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