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4 weird fact-checks from our work fact-checking in 2021 (number 3 will shock you!)

Yes, KFC has investigated lab-grown chicken, and a pilot sucked from a plane at 23,000 feet survived. But no, “F-you” didn’t come from a 1415 battle, and the Arabic “al-kuhl” – today’s “alcohol’ – doesn’t mean “body-eating spirit”.

From bone-breaking frogs to immortal jellyfish and heart-shaped lakes, Africa Check has seen a lot on these social media streets. 

We’ve debunked claims about lions attacking prophets and dead mermaids in a South African president’s swimming pool. 

The year 2021 was no different. The bulk of our work went to fact-checking harmful claims about Covid-19, violence in South Africa, Kenya’s perennial politicking, Nigeria’s insecurity headache and more. But in between we also looked at the stranger viral claims. 

Here are four of the odder claims we investigated this year. 

#1: Bioprinted synthetic chicken nuggets

“KFC will test lab-grown chicken nuggets made with a 3D bioprinter in Russia later this year,” reads the headline of an article shared as a screenshot on Instagram.

Facebook’s fact-checking system flagged the post as possibly false. We couldn’t resist finding out if lab-grown KFC was coming soon. 

The article, from 2020, is real. It reports that KFC has partnered with 3D Bioprinting Solutions “to create a chicken nugget that will mimic the taste and appearance of its original nuggets at a fraction of the environmental cost”.

The fast food chain told Africa Check: “KFC is constantly testing new product concepts to address changing consumer preferences.” But it added:“KFC Russia’s July 2020 announcement on cell-cultured meat is just an experiment and not part of a long-term strategy.”

#2: Alcohol, from ‘al-kuhl’, means body-eating spirit

“Al-Kuhl is the Arabic word from which alcohol is derived,” claims a graphic posted on Facebook. It adds that in Arabic, “al-kuhl” means “body-eating spirit”. 

It gets weirder. Another graphic claims that “they” are “pushing” hand sanitisers because these contain “alcohol (Al-Kuhl) which is a body eating spirit that lowers your vibration”.

Andreas Unger, a German philologist, explained in an article published in Deutsche Welle that the English and German words for alcohol do come from the Arabic term “al-kuhl”. But it is not a reference to any “spirit”.

Rather, it’s derived from “kohl”, an early cosmetic used to darken the area around the eyes, much like eye shadow.

When it was adopted into English it originally referred to any fine powder produced by a similar process. Over time, the term evolved to refer to anything produced from a purification process.

#3: Hanging on for dear life on a plane!

Was a pilot really sucked out of an aircraft kilometres above the ground? And did he live to tell the tale? This claim was made in a graphic shared online in South Africa.

It reads: “In 1990 a wrongly installed windscreen on BA Flight 5390 fell out, causing the plane’s cockpit to decompress and its captain to be pulled halfway out of the aircraft at an altitude of over 17,000 feet. The crew held onto the captain’s body fearing it would get sucked into the engine. The captain survived.”

A quick online search led us to a 1990 article in the New York Times that confirmed the graphic’s claims. But shockingly, the plane was at 23,000 feet – higher than the graphic claims. That’s about 7 kilometres above the ground.

#4: ‘F-you’ slur began with 1415 Battle of Agincourt

A claim posted in various forms thousands of times on Facebook begins by telling users something they “never knew before”. It supposedly describes the origin of “fuck you” and the middle finger insult.

Both originated at the 1415 Battle of Agincourt, it says, when French soldiers planned to cut off the middle fingers of captured English archers. This would prevent them from using “the renowned English longbow”, a weapon made from yew wood.

When the English won, the claim says, the soldiers waved their middle fingers at the French as a reminder they could still “pluck” their yew longbows. Over time, the phrase “pluck yew” became corrupted to “fuck you”.

But online detective work revealed that this elaborate story is nonsense. 

The most likely origin of the myth is medieval French chronicler Jean de Wavrin. In his multi-volume history of England, produced in the late 1400s, De Wavrin says King Henry V of England told his troops before the Battle of Agincourt that the French had threatened to cut off three fingers from English archers. 

But this is just an anecdote. Any definite proof of this statement is lost in time and De Wavrin makes no mention of insulting hand gestures.

The post is also wrong about the origins of the word “fuck”. Its etymology and earliest use are unclear. This is possibly because writing the rude word down has always been taboo, keeping it out of written records. But we found no evidence it’s a corrupted form of “pluck yew”.

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