How to research urban legends

First of all, lets start by discussing what an urban legend is. Have you ever received an e-mail asking you to send it to 10 people because Bill Gates, Disney, AOL, or another entity with multitudes of money would pay you? If so, you have seen an urban legend. How about those e-mails asking you to send post cards to sick children? Yep, an urban legend. What about people thinking that their brain is falling out by an attack of the Pilsbury dough boy? You guessed it, another urban legend.

I hear you complain that "so far, all you have done is come up with a short list of urban legends, but what is an urban legend?" Well, an urban legend is a piece of folklore that may be grounded is a small shred of truth but is rarely entirely true. Most often an urban legend is a completely made up fable attempting to teach a lesson akin to "old wives tales" and Aesop's Fables. Like the former, they portray themselves as true and, similar to the latter, they wish to impart a moral lesson.

"If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is" goes the old saying. If someone is offering you money, free merchandise, or any other offer for little or no work on your part, an alarm should go off in your head. What if something sounds too bad to be true? Typically, the same rule applies (i.e. no one is China is raising cats in glass bottles).

"How do I tell if something is an urban legend?" I hear you ask. Well, if you can't figure it out on your own, are unsure of the validity of an e-mail or rumor, or just want more information on an urban legend check out http://www.snopes.com. The Mikkelsons have a humorous and informative explanation for numerous urban legends and hoaxes that have circulated over the years. Their synopses typically include examples, analysis, explanation, moral, variants, and validity of each legend.

Their site has a useful search engine to help you quickly find any legend that you have come across. They have also divided their site into categories for easy perusal of key topics. When people send me urban legends through e-mail, I always refer them to this site in order that they may not be fooled as easily by hoaxes in the future.


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Last edited: 2017-09-18

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