About Urban Legends...

Chatty Ladies

What exactly is an Urban Legend?

Urban Legends are derived from the age-old tradition of folklore, or, the passing on of stories from groups and individuals. We have been told stories of Legends all our lives; we know of the Legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable, or the Legend of Robin Hood. We even use the word "Legend" to often describe a visionary or very unique individual. Through the ages, Legends have carried along incredible events and mystical times.

The more modern take on Legend is the Urban Legend. The "Urban" part of "Urban Legend" is a misnomer, as these stories don't have to take place in a city or urban environment. "Urban" just means modern or current. These tales are often described as apocryphal, of questionable authority, or, fictitious. Many Urban Legends change over timeas the teller will often inject their own details, sometimes without even realizing it. Urban Legends are usually spread through word of mouth, however, since the explosion of the popularity of the Internet, e-mail has vastly propelled the dissemination of some Urban Legends (have you received the Neiman Marcus cookie recipe lately?).

Urban Legends can often be ridiculous, outrageous, and frightening but several do have root in truth, and can take another shape throughout the years, and throughout many tellings. Often, the teller will have heard the story from a friend, or a friend of a friend, but will not have experienced the event themselves. Urban Legends usually have a lot of detail injected throughout, and the teller will give particulars about the events. As already mentioned, Urban Legends don't necessarily have to be false, and often have scatterings of truth throughout.


Why evaluate Urban Legends?

Like all stories, there is meaning behind Urban Legends. They may seem like frivolous and silly stories sometimes, but they usually have a lesson, moral, or piece of history ingrained in them that we can learn from if we look closely. Consider the Urban Legend of the danger of consuming Pop Rocks and Coke at the same time. Many have tried it, but none have perished (that we know of.) What could we possibly learn from this story? Well, it tells us we that we ought to be careful about what we put into our bodies. Often time we eat on the run, speed through fast food restaurants, zooming off to our next destination. Perhaps this anecdote is telling us to slow down, pay attention to what we consume, and maybe try putting some more nutrients and less sugar into our mouths. This story, like many other tales is a cautionary tale, warning the listener to beware.

Urban Legends also speak loudly of society's concerns and priorities. During the time of September 11th, 2001, many stories floated around about possible future attacks. Malls, stadiums, and campuses were next on the list to be destroyed by terrorists. Our fear of unsafety and the unknown manifested in Urban Legends because Americans were scared, confused, and unsure about what the future would bring. Urban Legends can tell us a lot about what is on our minds, what we consider important, and what shakes us up as a society.


Should We Continue to Tell Urban Legends Even if We Don't Know If They're True?

Absolutely! Urban Legends can be really great stories and give us a lot to think about! It is probably best not to purposely deceive the listener of your story, so you may want to finish your story by telling them that it is an Urban Legend, and may not be steeped in fact. Sharing Urban Legends for enjoyment and enlightenment is a fun way of storytelling, however.

Storytelling is an oral tradition since the dawn of spoken language and helps us make sense out of our lives and the world around us. Putting events and situations into a narrative helps us as human beings comprehend and cope with things beyond our realm of understanding. Storytelling is a survival mechanism, but also a source of information sharing and entertainment. Before there was radio, television, and the Internet, storytelling was the only way to pass along advice, traditions, and wisdom. Urban Legends is certainly less serious than perhaps passing along our family history, but it is important no less. We should continue to celebrate and share the tales of our existence, including Urban Legends.



About Urban Legends

Urban Legends @ UIUC

What Students Have to Say about Urban Legends

What's the Meaning of All of This?

Sources Used and Thanks

Back to Splash Page

University of Illinois Logo

©2005 Annette Lesak

Page Created April 28th, 2005

Images Courtesy of the University of Illinois and University Archives