Rumors and Urban Legends Are Related
Angels Whispering...what are these Angels up to?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary has a number of basic explanations for the word 'rumor':
- talk or opinion widely disseminated with no discernible source
- a statement or report current without known authority for its truth
- (archaic) talk or report of a notable person or event
- a soft low indistinct sound (like a murmur)
More Tidbits About Rumours:
In 1944, a man named Robert Knapp identified 3 basic characteristics involved with rumours.
- Transmission - they (rumours) are transmitted by word of mouth
- Information - they provide data on a person, event, thing, place, condition or situation
- Expression and Societal Gratification - they express and gratify the needs of society/community
Bunnyman of Clifton Making a Getaway Into The Woods
The same dictionary gives the following definition on 'urban legend':
an often lurid story or anecdote that is based on hearsay and widely circulated as true
Additionally it can be said that urban legends are often circulated by tellers who believe the legends to be true and they tell the "stories" in a manner so that the accounts are generally to be taken as true accounts of events, descriptions of people, places, entities, things, etc.
Even with some "ghost stories," they are told as if the true friend of a friend or other characters in the story might have believed in the ghost. Some portions of the tales can be unanimously decided upon as "not true" or "not plausible," however, with an urban legend, the teller and audience generally believe that either 1 MAJOR detail of the legend is true or that several details within the legend are true, despite some flaws or unbelievable portions of the tales.
What's The Big Deal About a Gigantic Submarine Just Off The Public Beach? No matter - just IMAGINE the stories people will be able to tell about THIS...
Just from the definitions above, you can see how closely related urban legends and rumours are. Basically, both are heresay... statements or stories without a clearly proven, legitimate source.
Research in the fields of psychology, sociology and communications studies each, however, offer quite differing definitions of the term "rumour."
Another statement about rumours (from communication studies field): rumours are probably a subset of propaganda"
* Note: "propaganda" is another very difficult term to define!
1927 concept brought forth by Harold Lasswell, a pioneer in propaganda studies... propaganda refers "solely to the control of opinion by significant symbols, or, to speak more concretely and less accurately, by stories, rumors, reports, pictures, and other forms of social communication."
From a psychological standpoint:
serious experiements have been done since 1902 regarding rumours. One old experiment from 1902 has become a common exercise for groups to use either for fun or in showing how important listening is in communicating. It's not just what you say that is important - it is the quality and focus of the hearing and the person who listens who largely determines how a message will be passed on... we sometimes call this "The Telephone Game" but in 1902, this exercise was seriously studied, written down, evaluated, etc.
Technically, the old experiment was made up of a "chain of subjects" who passed a little story from "mouth to ear." The subjects did not have an option to repeat the story more than once, nor were any subjects permitted to explain anything about the story...It was observed that the story was both shortened and changed significantly by the time the story reached the last subject or the end of the chain of subjects. (William Stern 1902).
Rumours are also discussed in the context of "misinformation" and "disinformation."
Misinformation: information that is simply false
Disinformation: information that is deliberately false
Usually, between misinformation and disinformation, government and political sources, media and foreign government sources will actually stoop to circulating DISINFORMATION...
The Main Rumor Types
As far back as 1902, a "Psychology of Rumors" was developed. Early on, as today, most authorities in psychology, sociology, history and related fields which deal with rumors and legend recognize three main types of rumors.
- Pipe Dream Rumors
- Bogey/Boogeyman or Fear Rumors
- Wedge Driver Rumours
Many rumors will fall into multiple categories and not every rumor is easy to "read" or examine but these are just basic categorizations of rumor and act, in part, to give us some descriptor words and concepts surrounding rumors.
PIPE DREAM RUMORS:
These reflect the wants and desires (wish fulfillment) of the public/community and usually contain statements indicating outcomes of situations that the community desires. Likely, Pipe Dream Rumors are types that sometimes can have positive effect - although not in every case of rumor transmission.
ie: attributing the end of WWII to Japan's rapidly lowering fuel/oil reserves... now this wraps up a quick explanation about the end of WWII, however - this "explanation" is a RUMOR and a pipe dream rumor at that... the end of WWII was an extremely complicated event, not one which ended due to one singular situation or nation's actions or inactions. This pipe dream rumor, however, leaves the story or concept of WWII neatly tied to an overly simplified close so that the mind can move on to other things. It provides a much needed explanation that SOME PEOPLE will gladly accept, then move on as far as attention and thinking goes.
Bogey/Fear Driven Rumors:
These reflect the fears in society or a community and are extremely common out in society. We, as a human species, use storytelling very well to spread fears. Sometimes we mean to tell scary stories to gain a good result and warn people about dangers (as in the CAUTIONARY TALE. See: Recipe For Your Own Cautionary Tale), but often, this tactic goes awry and we end up with harmful stories that may cause hysteria...
ie: Poisoned Apples and Razor Blades in Apples urban legends around Hallowe'en time. These can start out as rumors and turn to urban legends that people remember for years to come... "Hey remember when that rumor started about the poisoned halloween treats and everybody believed that one year a few years back?"
In almost all cases, the "wedge" is a dangerous way to go with information and communication. Wedge Driver Rumors create boundaries between people, create "us" and "them" viewpoints and can lead to a lot of communication and societal problems.
ie: an example of a wedge-driver is the statement, "Germans hate Jews just like Hitler hated Jews." I know, the Hitler examples are overused and NO this is not what I believe to be a truthful statement - but it's just an example...
an erroneous statement at best but it serves to drive a wedge between Germans, Jews and others all at the same time. You might be able to guess at why wedge drivers and wedge tactics in communicating data are very dangerous in almost every instance of use.