Friday, December 4, 2009

Where does the term "URBAN LEGEND" come from?

The Bathroom Readers' Institute

From Uncle John's Endlessly Engrossing Bathroom Reader:

Where does the term "URBAN LEGEND" come from?

Urban legends are modern folktales are often thought to be factual. So why are they called "urban" when they often don't involve cities in any way? Because they're named after Jeffrey Jack Urban, a farmer from Yankton, South Dakota. He was a notorious teller of wild, almost believable stories in the 1930s. Local people started calling any such tales "Urban legends" after Jeffrey Jack. (Just kidding. We made that up.)

The truth is that in the 1940s and 50s, folklorists started collecting modern American legends and noticed that they had different characteristics than older, rural-based legends did. They called those legends "urban belief tales" or "city tales"--the words "urban" and "city" indicating their darker, more modern themes, even though the stories weren't necessarily based in cities. The name evolved to become "urban legend" in the 1960s. The first recorded use is usually credited to folklorist Richard Dorson in the 1968 book, Our Living Traditions. (Dorson is also credited with popularizing the term "fakelore".)

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