Urban legend (urban myth)
Urban legend (urban myth): A type of contemporary folklore typically involving an apocryphal, often cautionary tale that varies locally and is frequently circulated widely on the Internet. Urban legends need not be set in the city, though many are. Stories about potentially plausible but generally nonexistent dangers are common, as are tales of misinformation, such as the claim that a college student whose roommate commits suicide automatically receives straight As for the semester. The stories are often couched as having happened to a “friend of a friend” to lend credibility but are commonly either entirely fabricated or only partially true. Jan Brunvand, an American folklorist who has compiled numerous collections of urban legends, succinctly defined the genre through the title of one of his books, Too Good to Be True: The Colossal Book of Urban Legends (1999). Numerous websites have sprung up to investigate and debunk urban legends, including www.snopes.com.
FURTHER EXAMPLES: The story of baby pet alligators being flushed down toilets in New York and subsequently thriving in the city’s sewer system; the assertion that author Kurt Vonnegut gave a commencement speech at MIT advising new graduates to “wear sunscreen.” In reality, the text attributed to Vonnegut, widely circulated on the Internet as an email “forward” and made into a popular song in 1999 by filmmaker Baz Luhrmann, was a 1997 Chicago Tribune column written by Mary Schmich.