Urban Legends FAQ
What is an urban legend?
Urban legends are tales told and retold as if they are true, and which often contain a moral or some other message. They can be broken into three categories:
How do urban legends spread?
Honest but ignorant people tell them to each other, and over time they are mutated by social bias, mismemory, and innocent error into something entirely different. In this way, a "ghostly hitchhiker" story told by folks on a wagon train in the 1800s becomes a Weekly World News headline about Bigfoot pregnancy in 2005. They are also perpetuated by the likes of Readers Digest, Ann Landers, and Dear Abby. Particularly Dear Abby -- man, that woman will believe anything.
What makes a good urban legend?
To a classically trained sociologist, a good urban legend has three qualities:
Who starts urban legends?
Urban legends are started by four different kinds of people:
What is a tell-tale sign that a story might be an urban legend?
If someone relates an anicdote that's interesting and worth repeating, it's probably an urban legend. If the story is told by a man and relates to his fishing or sexual prowess, it is likely a category #3 urban legend (see the first question on the page).
What is the oldest urban legend?
The oldest urban legend, found in The Tale of Gilgamesh, involves a warrior who believes he is being given the alchemical formula for turning lead into gold by an ancient dragon, but later finds out that the dragon charged his credit card $100, so now he's giving the formula to everyone.
Where can I find out more about urban legends
If you want to make a serious study of urban legends, you would do well to pick up a number of books on the subject. Our favorites include, The Choking Hitchhiker, Curses! Broiled Doberman!, The Truth Never Stands in the Way of a Good Vanishing Mexican Pet, and (by the same author) the encyclopedic Encyclopedia of Stuff People Really Believe. Other valuable sources of urban legends are The Weekly World News, corporate press releases, and high school history textbooks.
What do I do if I have an urban legend I'd like to see on your site?
What if I have an e-mail that tells me to e-mail it to my friends.
Do as you are told (and remember: we're not your friends, just friendly strangers).