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Old 08-13-2004, 08:34 PM
Tammi Terrell Tammi Terrell is offline
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On "why is a modern folktale called an urban legend?"

A very minor comment (or two) about bibliophage’s fine answer to “why is a modern folktale called an urban legend?”

http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/murbanlegend.html

bibliophage writes,

Quote:
Rodney Dale, author of The Tumour in the Whale (1978), is responsible for two more synonyms: "Whale Tumor Story" and "FOAFtale."
Dale, who published one of the earliest compilations of contemporary legends (or “whale-tumour stories,” as he dubbed them, with the hyphen in place), can indeed also be credited with coining the ever-useful “foaf,” an acronym for “friend of a friend.” (“Foaf” is soon to be included in the OED.)

He’d be the first to tell you, though, that he never came up with “foaftale” (or “FOAFTale,” for that matter). As he wondered in a speech he delivered at the ISCLR’s annual conference on contemporary legends, held at Sheffield in 2002,

Quote:
Being an acronymist, the word ‘foaf’ came naturally to me, delightful with its clodhopping connotations. But who was the genius who recognised the homophony between ‘foaftale’ and ‘folktale’? He or she should be honoured, and I hope that this Conference will identify whoever it was.

[From Dale, Rodney A.M., “The Silver Jubilee of the Foaf,” Perspectives on Contemporary Legend 2002, Conference Abstracts, Sheffield, UK; Published in FoafTale News No. 53, December 2002.]
(By the way, urban-legends fans who’ve not already read his The Tumour in the Whale ought to do so. It’s followed by It’s True ... It Happened to a Friend [London: Gerald Duckworth & Co., 1984]. And he’s got another waiting to be published.)

I haven’t heard whether Rodney ever discovered the originator of “foaftale,” but I suppose it’s possible that Paul Smith -- known for his own contributions to the field of contemporary folklore -- coined the term, since he was the first editor of the ISCLR’s FoafTale News, which started publication in September, 1985.

Finally, a thought or two about “legend” and truth. Some folklorists get around the prickly issue about truthfulness and untruthfulness and “the legend” by maintaining that what’s important about the legend (as a folkloric term) is not whether it’s actually based in truth (either largely or in small measure or not at all), but whether the teller of the legend believes in its truthfulness and tells it as true. On the other hand, folklorist Linda Dégh concludes (after 74 pages of debate) that “[t]he legend is a legend once it entertains debate about belief. Short or long, complete or rudimentary, local or global, supernatural, horrible, mysterious, or grotesque, about one’s own or someone else’s experience, the sound of contrary opinions is what makes a legend a legend.” (For more, see Dégh’s “Is There a Definition for a Legend?,” pp. 23-97, in her Legend and Belief [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001].)

-- Tammi Terrell
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  #2  
Old 08-13-2004, 11:46 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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bib. Thanks. Another great report. While I thought I knew a lot about UL's(that's how I came to the SDMB, originally), your research(and humor) taught me a lot.

Tammi Terrell It's nice to have such well-researched additions from a specialist. Not only well-researched, but well-written.

--Say, have you considered writing an article or two for the SD?

I noticed that you've posted twice this year. Assuming you don't want to break your 2002 record of posting three times, should we hold our breaths until next year?

Can either of you suggest to me just when the concept of FOAF arose? I don't mean the acronym, but the idea that rumors came from a "friend of a friend."

I read a newspaper article from 1924 where poor Gloria Swanson, the actress, was plagued by rumors that she had died, and a replacement actress was doing her roles. The exact words in the article were
Quote:
People were found who "knew" Gloria Swanson had died. They had talked with a friend of a friend who knew a barber who shaved the scene-shifter who knew Gloria had died! Or they had known a person whose cousin lived five blocks from the studio who saw them carrying the coffin away! Or they had heard her insurance policy had been altered, changing the beneficiary!
As a point of interest, and perhaps for further research, there was evidently a song from the first decade of the twentieth century titled "I'm a Friend of a Friend of Frohman," about an elusive miliionaire producer named Charles Frohman. Frohman was a man of mystery, who never allowed himself to be photographed, or was rarely even seen in public.

I wonder if this either was the origin of the phrase, or at least helped to popularize it.

Since you both have done more recently on the topic, I appeal to you for help.

(Or, I may not appeal to you, but would like your help in any case)
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Old 08-14-2004, 04:16 PM
Tammi Terrell Tammi Terrell is offline
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Quote:
Tammi Terrell It's nice to have such well-researched additions from a specialist. Not only well-researched, but well-written.

--Say, have you considered writing an article or two for the SD?
As appealing as you are, samclem, that buttering-up won’t work: you’re definitely still on your own when it comes to “asparagus-scented pee” research.

I do need to amend something I wrote earlier, though: it seems that Rodney Dale himself won’t even take credit for coining “whale-tumour story.”

His prologue to The Tumour in the Whale begins with his recounting of a conversation with George Melly, his friend,

Quote:
Discussing some anecdote, [George] said, ‘That’s a whale-tumour story ... Do you know what a whale-tumour story is?’ At that time I didn’t. He continued:

Quote:
During the war, when whale-meat was offered as a substitute for beef, a woman bought some whale-meat steak, took it home, and put it on a plate preparing it for the oven. Her husband was sitting in the living-room, and suddenly a movement in the kitchen caught his eye ... on investigation, they found that it was the whale-meat, which contained a live tumour, gently throbbing ...

A whale-tumour story is one of those that people swear is true – it happened to a friend of theirs, but you never actually meet this friend. And you keep hearing of the same thing happening to friends up and down the country ...
[p. 13]
I suppose we can say, then, that Dale’s responsible for popularizing the expression, but -- according to Dale’s telling, at least -- it seems that a friend (or perhaps even a friend of that friend) deserves credit for “whale-tumour story.”

Getting back to your interesting question, though, what can we say about the phrase “friend of a friend” as it applies to oral transmission?

While we wait for bibliophage and others, of course, to weigh in here, I’ll see if I can collect my thoughts enough to merit setting a new personal record for loquacity.

-- Tammi Terrell
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Old 08-16-2004, 11:19 AM
bibliophage bibliophage is offline
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I see that I did overstate Dale's contributions to the two terms. Thanks for the clarification, Tammi. I haven't actually read Dale's books. I did check the catalogs of all four of the libraries I frequent, but no luck. I guess his popularity hasn't jumped the Atlantic. I can get the report updated to include your information.

I will definitely read Dégh’s book, which seems to be more readily available. Anyone who can write a 74-page definition of a single word is my kind of writer. I almost wish I were joking, but I'm not.

Sam, I don't know where "friend of a friend" as a source of rumors came from, but I do know that it was a sort of password on the underground railroad before the Civil War. A runaway, if he arrived at a station unaccompanied, would say "A friend of a friend sent me" or "I'm a friend of a friend."
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Old 08-16-2004, 04:08 PM
RiverRunner RiverRunner is offline
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If it's true that "my enemy's enemy is my friend," then a "friend of a friend" would also be an "enemy of my enemy's enemy's enemy;" that is, a "foaf" is also an "eomeee." Feel free to submit this one to the OED.

But, then, I guess that sounds like a coyote with hemorrhoids or something, so maybe we should just leave the OED out of it.


RR
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  #6  
Old 08-16-2004, 10:45 PM
rfgdxm rfgdxm is offline
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One point I'd like to make here. It is common practice in certain Internet fora, such as Usenet, to use FOAF when what is really meant is "I" in cases where it might be dangerous or unwise to publicly admit you are referring to yourself. For example, in alt.drugs.* someone might post "Last week a FOAF smoked some crack, and experienced these symptoms...". The person may be describing what happened to them after smoking crack, but don't want to confess to using an illegal drug.
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Old 08-17-2004, 12:50 PM
Misnomer Misnomer is offline
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Am I the only one who felt a bit teased by part of bibliophage's report?


Quote:
Newspapermen used to call persistent stories "dead catters." (See the index of any of Jan Harold Brunvand's books under "Cats, killing of" or "Cats, corpses of" or even "Cats, eating of" to see why.)
I do not currently have access to any of Brunvand's books; it may take a while to get a response if I submit this phrase to William Safire; and I'd much rather ask a question here than go to the library, so: would someone please explain "dead catters?"
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Old 08-17-2004, 05:55 PM
Backwater Under_Duck Backwater Under_Duck is offline
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And in a serendipitous news report from yesterday from several "reputable" news sources sources have reported A Genuine Loaded Dog/Animal's Revenge Story.
Quote:
A burning rabbit scampered into a cricket club shed and caused £60,000 damage in the ensuing blaze.
The animal was hiding in a bonfire pile at Devizes Cricket Club in Wiltshire.
Soon after groundsmen lit the fire, the startled rabbit ran off with its tail alight and headed for a nearby shed.
A news search for "burning bunny" will point to numerous links.
Hmmmmm!!! What do ya think?
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Old 08-17-2004, 11:13 PM
Askance Askance is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Misnomer
would someone please explain "dead catters?"
A large proportion of ULs seem to feature dead or dying felines. That's all.
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Old 08-18-2004, 12:10 AM
AskNott AskNott is offline
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Up until now, I didn't think of ULs when I saw SDMB member The Loaded Dog's screen name. I don't remember seeing him own up in any of those "How'd you get your username?" threads, but I probably didn't read them all.
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"You know what they say about sleeping dogs; you can't trust 'em." --Oliver Faltz
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Old 08-18-2004, 08:30 PM
bibliophage bibliophage is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Misnomer
Am I the only one who felt a bit teased by part of bibliophage's report?



I do not currently have access to any of Brunvand's books; it may take a while to get a response if I submit this phrase to William Safire; and I'd much rather ask a question here than go to the library, so: would someone please explain "dead catters?"
Here's a representative sampling of dead catters:

1. "The Dead Cat in the Package," in which a thief steals a package only to discover it contains the corpse of a cat being transported for disposal
2. "The Poisoned Pussycat at the Party," in which partygoers have to have their stomachs pumped when a cat who ate the same salmon they did turns up dead. Too late, they learn that the cat died of some other cause.
3. "The Bungled Rescue of the Cat," in a cat is rescued from a tree by firemen only to be run over by the fire truck as it pulls out.
4. "Why there are no Cats in [insert town name here]": It's because those damned [insert despised nationality here] immigrants are eating them as rabbit substitutes.
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Old 08-19-2004, 01:28 AM
Blake Blake is offline
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Quote:
Up until now, I didn't think of ULs when I saw SDMB member The Loaded Dog's screen name. I don't remember seeing him own up in any of those "How'd you get your username?" threads, but I probably didn't read them all.

The screen name itself actually comes from the title of a Victorian-era short story by Australian writer Henry Lawson. The story is quite famous in Australia and known by most schoolchildren. and is indeed about a loaded dog of the urban legend type, but it’s not an urban legend itself since it was never intended to be believed true. So really the screen name isn’t associated with urban legends except in the sense that presumably the original published short story was a re-telling of a bush yarn, or what we might now call an urban legend.
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Old 08-19-2004, 07:45 AM
AskNott AskNott is offline
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Thanks, Blake, for clearing that up. What the Aussies call bush yarns are called tall tales over here, and what we call bush yarns over here are rather political.
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  #14  
Old 08-19-2004, 06:52 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AskNott
Thanks, Blake, for clearing that up. What the Aussies call bush yarns are called tall tales over here, and what we call bush yarns over here are rather political.
See! Now, that was PERFECTLY OK political humor. Thanks.
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