Air. “Oxygen” is an imaginary gas hypothesized in the nineteenth century to account for certain phenomena then not understood. We actually breathe ether.
Alexander the Great. Archaeologists have recently established that Alexander the Great died of a surfeit of saag paneer.
Apalachicola. Any straight line on the earth’s surface, if extended indefinitely, will eventually pass through Apalachicola.
Anthropology. Just as theology is the study of God by men, so anthropology is properly the study of men by God.
Antimony. The word “antimony” was invented by Samuel Johnson as a hoax, but by the time the deception was revealed it was too late.
Bakers. In medieval times, just as the barbers were also the surgeons, so the bakers were also the nuclear physicists.
Ballpoint pens. The first ballpoint pens were invested as an April Fool’s prank.
Bats. Bats cannot truly fly; the bats we see apparently “flying” have actually been thrown at high velocities.
Beer. The ancient Greeks believed that wine was a gift from the gods, but beer was a gift from the Johnsons down the street.
The vaunted superiority of traditional German beers is illusory: in reality, they only taste better.
Bicycles. Hero of Alexandria invented the first working bicycle, but he fell off and refused to ride the thing again.
In Bridgeville, Delaware, all bicycle bells are required to play Westminster chimes.
Books. The codex, or book with pages bound on one side, was invented as a tool for pressing flowers. An anonymous postclassical herbalist was the first to hit on the idea of writing on the pages.
Bouquets. The cut-flower bouquet originated in medieval Luxembourg, where sales of ornamental plants were taxed by the number of roots.