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