Terminology

The term urban myth is also used. Brunvand feels that urban legend is less stigmatizing because myth is commonly used to describe things that are widely accepted as untrue. The more academic definitions of myth usually refer to a supernatural tale involving gods, spirits, the origin of the world, and other symbols that are usually capable of multiple meanings (cf. the works of Claude Levi-Strauss, Ernst Cassirer, Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, and Northrup Frye for various interpretations). However, the usage may simply reflect the idiom.

The term urban myth is preferred in some languages such as Mexican Spanish, where conventional coinage is “mito urbano” rather than “leyenda urbana.” In French, urban legends are usually called rumeurs d’Orléans (“Orleans rumours”) after Edgar Morin’s work. “Légende contemporaine” is an acceptable translation of the English idiom, instead of “légende urbaine”, which is an improper and meaningless verbatim translation, though used by some French sociologists or journalists. But neither expression is commonly used: for ordinary French people, the more genuine terms rumeur or canular (hoax), not to mention more colloquial and expressive words, describe this phenomenon of “viral spread tall story” properly enough.

Some scholars prefer the term contemporary legend to highlight those tales with relatively recent or modern origins. Of course, an eighteenth-century pamphlet alleging that a woman was tricked into eating the ashes of her lover’s heart could be described as a contemporary legend with respect to the eighteenth century.

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