Gossip week: Still traumatised from the stories she was told about Po from the Teletubbies and Steve from Blue’s Clues, Alice Webb-Liddall seeks closure in a ranking of schoolyard gossip.
All week, The Spinoff is taking a look at the role of gossip in Aotearoa’s past, present and future – read more Gossip Week content here.
They flew around the playground faster than lice – the insidious, often grim stories of dead childhood heroes, swimming pool urination and slides studded with razor blades that terrified primary schoolers across Aotearoa. Schoolyard gossip was, in the best cases, creative, and in the worst a terrifying way for a small child to learn about the most violent combination of pencils, nostrils and desks.
As one of those nervy, nerdy small children, I took all of the rumours as fact and it played games with my brain. I already didn’t like the sandpit for fear of dog poo buried beneath the first layer of fine grain, but now apparently the body of the old caretaker was under there too?
To put those demons to rest, and maybe finally find closure for my 7-year-old self, I’ve ranked 10 of the most popular pieces of schoolyard gossip, sourced via a quick crowd survey.
A modern-day take on the ‘slenderman’ nightmare, Momo was a genuinely horrifying part of the late 2010s that I would rather forget about forever. The goss was that Momo, a skinny, wide-eyed ghoulish figure with an ear-to-ear smile, would appear halfway through children’s YouTube videos and tell viewers to do harmful things.
While there was no verified proof that this was real, it scared the shit out of anyone who dared to look into her bulbous eyes, including thousands of children, and that’s not cool.
9. Blues Clues
I don’t know if it’s anatomically possible to die in the way that the gossip said Steve from Blue’s Clues died, but it seems plausible. I won’t repeat it here but if you were a kid in the Blues Clues era, you’ll know the one. It involved the nasal passage and a drawing utensil.
It’s also completely untrue, as he told an interviewer in a video for BusinessInsider in 2017. When the rumour started spreading, his mother called him in tears. “To be rumoured dead for 15 years starts to feel disturbingly like a cultural preference,” he says in the video. In reality, he left the show because he was balding. We owe Steve one for that lie, he deserved better from us. He taught us how to think, think, thiiiiink.
8. Razors in the hydroslide
Every town with a hydroslide had a variation of this gossip. Dunedin’s Moana Pool, the Paraparaumu water slide, the Whangārei wave pool, the New Plymouth aquatic centre – all were riddled with the razor rumour.
Like the Blue’s Clues goss, this rumour was not fun for those (like me) with nervous dispositions. I spent many precious pool-day minutes waiting at the bottom of the slide, making sure there were no injured kids shooting out the other end.
One commenter on Reddit said their mum was terrified of the rumour and wouldn’t let them go down the chute. That, my friends, is a tragedy – a childhood wasted.
7. Ink poisoning
There was nothing more fun during particularly boring classes than drawing fake tattoos all over your arms and legs. Sometimes your friends would get in on the fun, quickly scrawling your crush’s name in a heart on the back of your hand before you realised what they’d done. You’d then spend 20 minutes trying to rub off with a bit of spit. Oh to be a child again.
That was until we found out the news: you can die from ink poisoning as it seeps through your pores and into your bloodstream. Except you can’t, at least not from only writing on the surface of the skin.
I still sometimes use my hands as to-do lists, and I haven’t died yet. So kids: go crazy.
6. Step on a crack
Marry a rat. Or break your mum’s back. Both options are less than ideal but sometimes even now I avoid cracks in the pavement. You can never be too careful.
The idea that Po died in his suit on set is a true Mandela effect moment, and also absolutely false. This gossip was so far-spread that some people’s brains even created memories of the traumatic event. “I have a fake memory of it even being on the news and my dad telling me ‘look away’ as they showed Po’s body,” says Spinoffer Alex Casey.
It’s grim, and made worse by the fact that Tinky Winky’s actor did actually pass away under tragic circumstances in 2018, which had nothing to do with the purple suit.
4. Swallowing chewing gum
“If you swallow chewing gum it stays in your body for seven years and wraps around your organs and you die,” recalls one ex-child. In truth, according to the Mayo Clinic, chewing gum can’t be digested, but it does still move through the body and comes out the other end the same way other food does.
This rumour wasn’t based in fact, but it wasn’t too harmful either. A true neutral piece of gossip to chew over.
3. Quicksand is everywhere
This one was not so much perpetuated by other kids, more so by cartoons that made quicksand seem like far more of an issue than it actually is. The fear of accidentally standing on a patch of sand that would slowly swallow me whole was always circling my mind, its true threat greatly exaggerated.
According to National Geographic, humans actually float in quicksand, so it’s virtually impossible to be completely submerged in it. I still would rather not encounter it, but it’s nice to put the mind at rest. Take that, Cartoon Network.
2. Swallowing a fruit seed
Apparently, according to my year four classmate, if you swallowed an apple seed an apple tree would start growing in your stomach. The problem with this one is, I love that idea. A human terrarium? Yes please! To me this sounds entirely good and not at all like a problem.
1. Peeing in the pool
The schoolyard gossip that probably did the most good for the general population was one that suggested there was a chemical added to the school pool that reacted with urine to turn the water red. It was a beautiful lie, believable enough to scare you out of releasing the bladder during swimming lessons but not terrifying a la Momo.
I will continue to spread this gossip like my life depends on it. If it only convinces one child to not pee in the pool, it will have been worth it.