An urban legend, urban myth, or urban tale, more properly a “‘contemporary legend'” is a form of modern folklore consisting of stories thought to be factual by those circulating them. The term is often used to mean something akin to an “apocryphal story.” Like all folklore, contemporary legends are not necessarily false, but they are often distorted, exaggerated, or sensationalized over time.
Despite its name, a typical urban legend does not usually originate in an urban setting. The term is simply used to differentiate modern legend from traditional folklore in preindustrial times. For this reason, sociologists and folklorists prefer the term “contemporary legend”.
Urban legends are sometimes repeated in news stories and, in recent years, distributed by e-mail. People frequently allege that such tales happened to a “friend of a friend”—so often, in fact, that “friend of a friend,” (“FOAF”) has become a commonly used term when recounting this type of story.
Some urban legends have passed through the years with only minor changes to suit regional variations. One example is the story of a woman killed by spiders nesting in her elaborate hairdo. More recent legends tend to reflect modern circumstances, like the story of people ambushed, anesthetized, and waking up minus one kidney, which was surgically removed for transplantation (a story which folklorists refer to as “The Kidney Heist”.)