Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: In the days when the "rabbit test" was used to determine if a woman was pregnant, the rabbit's death was an indicator of a positive result.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1999]
Origins: Nowadays a woman who wants to find out if she's pregnant need only make a quick trip to the local drug, grocery, or convenience store; purchase an over-the-counter home pregnancy test kit; and perform a simple test; and she'll know the results within a matter of minutes. Not so long ago, however, it wasn't nearly so quick or easy: A woman who thought she might be with child had to schedule an appointment with her doctor, make a trip to his office, give a urine sample, go home, then spend an anxious couple of days waiting for the office to telephone with the test results.
In the movies and television, a positive result was usually revealed by having a character burst into a scene and announce dramatically, "The rabbit died!" (This phrase was either shouted excitedly or whispered in a hushed tone, depending upon whether or not a positive result was the one the woman desired.) But why a rabbit? And why did it die if the woman was pregnant?
The origins of the "rabbit test" lie with the discovery in the 1920s that a woman starts producing a hormone known as human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) shortly after a fertilized
Modern pregnancy tests are still based on measuring the amount of hCG present in urine, but they do so directly, without the need of an animal intermediary to serve as a test subject. (Blood can also be tested for hCG, and a blood test is more accurate and can be performed earlier in a pregnancy. However, urine tests are still used in home pregnancy kits because they're much easier to self-administer.)
Sightings: In an episode of TV's M*A*S*H ("What's Up, Doc?", original air date
Last updated: 23 August 2008
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