What's the word for...

…a story that, while untrue (or likely untrue) should be treated as true?

I remember reading there’s a word in Italian that means this (I think it was in Reader’s Digest). The article described it as “a story that is not true, but should be.” The intimation was that if you told such a story, you wouldn’t be “faulted” for lying because it should be true. What a useful word, but I have forgotten it. My Italian-speaking friends stare at me blankly when I ask them, so maybe it’s not Italian.

In English, the closest words are parable or fable (esp. Aesop’s fables). When I read that article, though, I don’t recall considering it a synonym to these words. The difference being, the word I’m looking for relates more to a personal anecdote of the speaker, rather than some well-written story contrived to make a point.

As well, the “point” of the story need not be a righteous moral. An example:

I sat down on a bench in a shopping mall, dropping my heavy load of shopping bags beside me. Shortly after, a haggard looking old lady sat beside me. I wasn’t paying her much attention until I noticed she was eating a cookie from an open package on the bench between us. MY cookies! She must have slipped it out of one my shopping bags! The nerve!

She looked like she could certainly use something to eat, but I had to respond somehow. So I glared at her as if to say “My cookies” and without breaking eye contact grabbed a cookie and starting eating it. Her expression read slight surprise, but polite. She did the same, grabbed and ate another cookie while looking at me. The audacity! Ratcheting up my “angry look” a degree, I ate another cookie, and she serenly did likewise.

We did this four or five times, when I finally broke down and yelled, “Fine! Just eat the whole package!” and in a huff grabbed my bags and left. It wasn’t until I unpacked my bags at home that I found my package of cookies right where it should be, in the bag untouched.

See what I mean? It’s not a moralistic story, really, rather a “ain’t life that way” kinda snippet. Just a story that, while almost certainly false, should be true, dammit, cuz it’s fun to tell. The only correct way to tell it is as if it were true. I 'spose it’s in the category of urban myth, but less grandiose.

Any help?

A morality play?
Doesn’t exactly fit…

I’d say it is a story with a moral. It’s about misplaced self-righteous anger and the danger of not checking your assumptions. If you take it as just a funny story, you’ve missed the point.

Can’t help with the real question. I’d go with “parable”, but I’m no expert.

True… but almost any anecdote worth telling can be used as a lesson - and I wasn’t trying to distinguish morallity completely out of the definition. But there’s a difference of degree between the parable of the Talents, the fable of the lion and the mouse, and the _______ of the indignant cookie muncher.

I agree: “parable” is probably the closest English word.

Now, where did I put that stack of Reader’s Digest mags?

Wondering, was Douglas Adams the first to use the biscuit/cookie tale? Or did he get it from something even earlier?

I don’t know about a single word, but the story above (with minor variations) is a classic urban legend.

The usual Italian phrase is ben trovato, a shortening of si non e vero, e ben trovato. (If it’s not true, it’s well founded.)

I should have emphasized that it’s used in English too. If a story isn’t true but should be, then it is ben trovato.

YES! Thank you! This is something that’s been bugging me for years. I’m putting aldiboronti in my will!

Not that my estate will be worth anything, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

Adams told the story as a personal experience and also put it in one of his books, but the legend had been around years earlier. http://www.snopes.com/crime/safety/cookies.htm

Thanks, Bibl. Still, his use of it really helps to cement the character of Dent as never getting the hang of Thursdays.

I rather liked the telling of it (as something that had happened to douglas himself,) in ‘the salmon of doubt’, especially the coda:

The cookie story was told to me by a good friend abotu 15 years ago. He told it as gospel truth as told to him by his Uncle Ron.

Since then I discovered two things 1) the story is oft repeated by many others (I don’t remembery by Douglas Adams, though, and I’m a fan) and 2) my buddy has no Uncle Ron.

Oh yes… thank you… I remember now.

I saw Douglas Adams relate this story on David Letterman’s show once. I laughed myself silly and it wasn’t until about 15 years later that I found out it was an old urban myth kind of thing.

btw, how is ben trovato used?

Would I say

“…15 years later that I found out it was ben trovato.”


“…15 years later that I found out it was a be trovato.”

Thanks for the new term, Nature’s Call and aldiboronti!

I believe the word you’re looking for is apocryphal.

Not to be snide, but I think the distinction between the parable of the talents and the story about the cookies is relevance. We can all learn something from the story about the cookies because almost everyone is given to an occasional jump to conclusions.

Ahhh… yes. I wish I’d thought of that! Although, apocryphal (to my understanding at least) is more a commentary on the veracity - rather than on the “should be true” aspect of the story.

…sorry, meant to include this in my last post (post number 1,000, incidentally–and I used that grand milestone for that?!?).

An example of an apocryphal story is Archimedes and his bath. The story goes that Hiero II, the new king of Syracuse wanted a new crown made for himself of solid gold. He sent a bunch of gold to some craftsmen who fashioned the crown for him. The king suspected that the craftsmen may have stolen some of the gold he gave them, but the crown weighed exactly the same as the amount of gold he provided the metal-workers. So the king asked noted wiseman Archimedes to find out the truth.

Archimedes recalled that gold is denser than any other metal that the craftsmen might have added to the crown (silver for example) and therefore if some of the gold was replaced but the crown weighed the same as the king’s gold then the volume of the crown should be slightly larger than the volume of the gold supplied.

But the crown was an irregular shape. How could one accurately and precisely measure the volume of such a thing? Archimedes thought and thought about this for a long time. One day while relaxing in the public bath he noticed the water splashing over the sides of the bath when he sat down in it. Suddenly he realized that the volume of water spilling over the top of the bath was exactly equal to the volume of his body. He had the answer to calculating volumes of irregular objects and presto!-- Archimedes’ Principle was born.

We know that Archimedes discovered this method, but we don’t know if the part about the crown and the gold is true. Still, it really should be because it perfectly illustrates how and why Archimedes’ Principle was discovered.

No snideness detected: you’re absolutely correct (although some would place Jesus’ parable of the talents both at a higher moral level than the cookies and with higher universality i.e. we all have been given talents… blah blah blah… I digress).

I only replied to you originally to clarify what I was trying to distinguish vis-a-vis morality. A parable isn’t a parable without the moral punchline. The impression I was left with after reading the Reader’s Digest article was merely the desire that the story be true (perhaps because of its morality, or perhaps for any other reason).

Indeed, aldiboronti got it. I’m still kicking myself for not thinking of “apocryphal” (thanks again, I Love Me, Vol. I!)

On reflection I picked a poor example. Perhaps a better ben trovato is The Bricklayer’s Insurance Claim. The story may or may not be true - but it **should ** be true!