As someone who routinely pours 200-400ml of sterile salt water into people’s lungs without any significant side effects, I am often struck by how strange it is to be assured, with the insuperable certainty of folk wisdom, that I could drown on (or is it in?) a cup of water. Even medical mythbuster websites suggest this rumor is true. The innocuous-appearing mug on our table holds the key to our undoing. But it’s not all that true, except in the sense that you could drown in a pillow, or on your arm, a pork tenderloin, or a pet cat. According to the best medical literature I could find, 85% of survivors of near drowning aspirated less than 22ml per kilogram of body weight. In the average person, that’s about a liter and a half. Now I’m not recommending that you aspirate your cup of water (particularly not a super-sized convenience store Mega-Gulp), but the probability that a normal cup of water will drown you even if it’s sprayed directly into your lungs, is exceedingly low, if not zero. So my question is, why is this such a compelling rumor? What is the social and cultural void this story fills? Is this one way we have to negotiate our fear of death? Is it a way to reinforce the risks associated with the ingestion of certain substances (if water can kill you, just think about a pint of Guinness)? A cultural memory of the time when rabies was rampant?
Finally, I would pose the question: are the Latter-day Saints uniquely situated to answer this question given our canonized revelation about the relationship between water and dark forces?