An urban legend, popular legend, urban myth, urban tale or contemporary legend is a form of modern folklore consisting of fictional stories with macabre elements deeply rooted in local popular culture. These legends can be used for entertainment purposes, as well as for semi-serious explanations for random events such as disappearances and strange objects.
Despite its name, an urban legend does not necessarily originate in an urban area. Rather, the term is used to differentiate modern legend from traditional folklore of pre-industrial times. For this reason, sociologists and folklorists prefer the term “contemporary legend”. Because people frequently allege that such tales happened to a “friend of a friend” (FOAF), the phrase has become a commonly used term when recounting this type of story.
Sometimes urban legends are repeated in news stories, or distributed by e-mail or social media. Examples include the news story of an alleged mass panic in America in 1938, after a radio drama describing a Martian invasion, or a repeated claim dating from 1972 that a large percentage of people have a biological father who is not their assumed father and are therefore illegitimate.
Some urban legends have passed through the years with only minor changes to suit regional variations. One example is the story of a woman killed by spiders nesting in her elaborate hairdo. More recent legends tend to reflect modern circumstances, like the story of people ambushed and anesthetized, who awaken minus one kidney, which was supposedly surgically removed for transplantation (a story which folklorists refer to as “The Kidney Heist”).