Column: Really running rampant with ridiculous rumors

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 22, 2005

More years ago than I care to really recall, I was on a troopship a few months after the end of World War II. As a member of

the U.S. Army, I was one of about 1,200 soldiers being sent to a then really unknown place called Korea. Anyway, that was the destination for our ship, according to an officer at our embarkation point in Seattle, Wash.

However, after a few days out in the Pacific Ocean, a rumor was being passed around among the troops on this ship that someone back in Seattle had lied to us. We were

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actually going to the Philippines. A few days later another rumor with a little more alleged authority said we were going to Japan. Either destination sounded a lot better than a place called Inchon, Korea.

The next big collection of rumors for the passengers on this glorified freighter involved something called the International Date Line. As we traveled west in the Pacific Ocean, the ship’s rumor mill went into overdrive regarding the wild ceremony we all would have to endure with the crossing of this line.

Supposedly, the date line event was similar to

the one we had seen in a few old movies which took place when folks

crossed the Equator for the first time. What was going to take place was here equivalent of a college initiation into a fraternity with an added military touch. Within a few days we were picking up more crude and lurid details about what was going to happen when the International Date Line was crossed.


reality, the ship crossed this imaginary line in the ocean during the night. The voice on the ship’s loudspeaker system the next morning announced what we thought was Monday was actually Tuesday. In other words we had arbitrarily lost a day. And there was no outlandish ceremony based on the line crossing. It turned out to be just another boring day on the ship.

A day or so later a soldier I knew from basic training in California told me he was responsible for the rumors about Japan and the date line crossing events.

He explained that you could tell another person something which had some basis of truth and maybe a touch of false or exaggerated information. That person would tell someone else and possibly garble part of the message. As the tale passed along from person to person, the original version could really get distorted. From sequences like this comes rumors.

Maybe my buddy was the male version of a gossip. Anyway, he evidently liked to create a rumor,

then wait to see how badly warped it became by the time it recycled back to him.

Incidentally, our troopship did go to Inchon, Korea, despite the hopeful rumors regarding the Philippines and Japan.

Now, to really define the word rumor, let’s consider a few dictionary definitions. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (over 40 million sold!) says this word is defined as &uot;common talk, a statement or report current but not authenticated.&uot; The New American Webster Handy College Dictionary defines rumor as a, &uot;popular report, an unconfirmed but widely circulated story; a piece of gossip.&uot;

However, the one publication which gives the word rumor its most devastating and truthful treatment is Roget’s Thesaurus. This book, based mainly on synonyms, says

a rumor is hearsay, scandal, tattle, tittle-tattle, canard, gossip, tale bearer and tale teller.

Just what in heck

is the definition for tittle-tattle? One of the Webster dictionaries say this

is &uot;idle talk, gossip.&uot;

Through the years I’ve dealt with rumors of various types and possibly passed along a few of these tales to others.

This certainly has been true during the years I’ve been a member of the Tribune’s staff. If I may refer back to last week’s column, dealing with rumors is like separating the wheat from the chaff. In other words, it’s a challenge to determine what’s actually true and what’s really false with so many of the rumors being passed around.

(Feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears each Friday.)