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A swan can break your arm…

April 8, 2015

There was a report in today’s Times about a violent family of swans in Cambridge that attacks punts. Louie Marks, manager of Cambridge Chauffeur Punts, is quoted as saying: “It can be scary… once they start flapping their wings around you need to be careful because they can break your arm.”

This idea that a swan can break your arm with a single blow of its wing (always the arm; we never hear that it can break your jaw or crack a rib) has been around for a long time; but why has anyone ever believed it? George Orwell included it in an essay about common fallacies back in the 1940s; yet it’s obviously still going strong, as Louie Marks’s testimony shows. But just think about it for a moment. A bird’s bones are light, slender and hollow. If not, they’d be too heavy to fly. Compare that to the big solid dense primate bones of a human being. Even if a swan could hit you hard enough to break bones (and I’m sceptical about even that) its own bones would break, not yours.

I will, of course, retract this claim if anyone can produce a single attested example of a swan’s ever breaking a human’s arm with a blow of its wing.

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3 Comments
  1. chris permalink

    An ex colleague of mine had her arm badly broken by a swan!

    • Oh. Well, what can I say? I’ll have to retract my claim. OK, at least one swan CAN break your arm with a blow of its wing (it was the wing, wasn’t it? Not repeated pecking with the beak?). But I don’t understand it.

  2. hyam permalink

    These big cats, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-32815245, seem to be afraid of flapping wings. But, maybe they just need to get out more.

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