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Rumors and Urban Legends Are Related

Updated on December 18, 2010

Angels Whispering...what are these Angels up to?



The Merriam-Webster dictionary has a number of basic explanations for the word 'rumor':

  1. talk or opinion widely disseminated with no discernible source
  2. a statement or report current without known authority for its truth
  3. (archaic) talk or report of a notable person or event
  4. 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

Urban Legends

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...

Posted on Nov 7 2006 at Stuff U Can Use forum.
Posted on Nov 7 2006 at Stuff U Can Use forum. | Source

Closely Related

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.


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?"

Wedge-Driver Rumors:

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.



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    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 4 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Hello DzyMsLizzy, thanks for reading and commenting. I have seen some of the Bill Gates photo stuff on Facebook, myself. A LOT! It's so easy on FB to just send to all contacts. Talk about spreading things fast!

      My hairdresser's cousin told me that, actually, it's a friend of his mother's who is the culprit always sending around the Bill Gates captions on Facebook. I know this is true because I heard from my neighbour - who is my hairdresser's cousin's mom's friend's best friend - that the lady has always had a crush on Bill Gates and thinks that.....


    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

      You are so correct in your assessments, and the dictionary definitions are for the most part, accurate, although our language is fluid and subject to change (hence the notation of "archaic" on some definitions).

      Some of the current nonsense floating about on Face Book I think falls into a cross between Pipe Dream Rumors and Urban Legends: it is a photo (allegedly of) Bill Gates, holding a sign claiming that he will give folks $5K for sharing the image. Wow! I have lost count of how many gullible souls I've seen forwarding that one around.

      Propaganda/misinformation/disinformation is indeed the purview of governments around the world, and it is likely that many of these types of things are the fuel for Urban Legends.

      The thing that distinguishes most Urban Legends, as you point out, is that you can never get back to the actual source. It's always cited as what is known as a "FOAF" (Friend of a Friend)...or convoluted "sources" such as, "My hairdresser told me her cousin said that her postman's wife heard at the grocery store that....."

      Good job with this! Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Hi BJBenson! Thanks for the nice comments! I hope you have a great 2011, too! Watch out for the Bunnyman! lol

    • BJBenson profile image

      BJBenson 7 years ago from USA

      I just want you to know I saw the funny in your writing! Love you ! Have a great year and keep writing. I love these rumours. The bunnyman eeek! Happy New Year!

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Hi CMHypno. Thanks for stopping by to read and to comment, too. I think what you've described is an urban legend called "The Dead Boyfriend" or similar version of the same. Not a rumour - a full-fledged urban legend with many variations and versions. I have The Dead Boyfriend mentioned on many of my hubs. It's a "classic" modern urban-legend.

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Glad you enjoyed this hub, dreamreachout. Cheers to you too!

    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 7 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Interesting hub. The rumour I remember from my teenage years is the one about the couple in the parked car at night where the boyfirend goes out to investigate. A few minutes later the girlfriend hears a banging noise on the roof of the car which on investigation is the boyfriend's severed head! I'm sure this one was spread by enterprising parents to discourage their teenage daughters from parking at night with their boyfriends!

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      dreamreachout 7 years ago

      Wonderful hub!! Cheers!!

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Hey Blake! Thanks for stopping by to read and comment. KOH!

    • blake4d profile image

      Blake Ford Hall 7 years ago from Now Rising Out of Phoenix Arizona Earthlings

      Very cool MB. Keep on Hubbing. Blake4d

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Thanks, minnow, for the encouragement! I'm glad you found the hub interesting.

    • minnow profile image

      minnow 7 years ago from Seattle

      another amazing, interesting hub. keep up the good work.

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Hey JY3502, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I've noticed you responding on some of my other hubs, so again - THANKS! I'm glad you found this hub informative. Stay well... KOH~

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Very informative piece of work. Good job! voted up.