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URBAN LEGENDS by Don L. F. Nilsen and Alleen Pace Nilsen Urban Legends, like Hip Hop and Rap Exhibit many features of Literature: They are dramatic, and play on such emotions as fear or embarrassment.

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urban legends


by Don L. F. Nilsen

and Alleen Pace Nilsen



Urban Legends, like Hip Hop and Rap Exhibit many features of Literature:

They are dramatic, and play on such emotions as fear or embarrassment.

They are filled with such rhetorical devices as Hyperbole (overstatement), Antithesis, Symbolism, Irony, and especially Poetic Justice.

They appear credible, because they are grounded in reality, and because they explain mysterious phenomena.

They are also based on stereotypes and archetypes we see around us every day.

They get our attention, because they are gross and sexual and scatalogogical and Titillating.

And they are documented, because they always happened to a Friend of a Friend. They are therefore called FOAF tales.


you provide the endings
  • A man goes to a hotel with a beautiful, sexy woman he met at a party. They make mad, passionate love, after which he falls asleep. When he wakes in the morning, the woman is gone, but written in lipstick on the mirror is this message:
  • “Welcome to the world of AIDS.”


The driver of a cement truck goes past his house at lunch time and sees a brand new car in the driveway. He is suspicious that his wife has a male visitor, so he sneaks up to the house and hears a man’s voice. In anger, he…
  • backs his truck up to the new car and dumps in his lad of cement.
  • Later he learns that his wife has just purchased the new car for his birthday.
  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 302)


On a cold and rainy night, a man sees a young woman standing at a bus stop with no coat and no umbrella. He stops and offers her a ride home, which she gratefully accepts.
  • Because the two are so compatible and she lives right on his way, he aranges to pick her up on a regular basis. But after a few evenings she isn’t there. He goes to the house where he has been dropping her off and learns that…
  • 20 years ago she had been killed by a speeding car at that very bus stop.
  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 303)


A vacationing husband takes off all his clothes and is relaxing in the back of the camper while his wife takes a turn driving.
  • When she stops suddenly, he jumps out to see what the trouble is. It is just a dog crossing the road, so the wife…
  • speeds off not realizing that she has left her naked husband behind.
  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 303)



Tell us each of these urban legends:

  • The Alligators in the Sewers
  • The Baby on the Roof
  • The Fifty-Dollar Thunderbird
  • The Dog in the Oven
  • The Second Blue Book
  • The Baby and the Turkey



The Death of Little Mikey

  • The Elephant That Sat on a VW
  • The Finger in the Dog’s Throat
  • The Mickey Mouse Acid
  • The Hairy-Armed Hitchhiker



The Manhattan White

  • The Phantom Hitchhiker
  • The Purse in the Changing Room
  • The Maniac’s Hook
  • The Stuck Couple




When Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he replied: “Because that’s where the money is”

Mary Baker Eddy was buried with a telephone so she could talk to the other side

John Dillinger’s member is at the Smithsonian Institution

Humphrey Bogart posed for Gerber baby picture

Tobacco Companies own large marijuana plantations in South America




There are ground worms in McDonald’s hamburgers

Pop Rocks have exploded inside children’s stomachs

Cigarette filters are made of ground glass

Some Girl Scout cookies are laced with hashish

Procter and Gambel advertisers are Devil worshipers




and that Some Kentucky Fried Chicken is actually People’s Fingers

and that one of the ingredients of Coca Cola is cocaine.




But the one about the Kentucky Fried Finger actually happened, but it was at Wendy’s and it was a customer’s finger.

and it’s also true that one of the ingredients of Coca Cola used to be cocaine.



Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Choking Doberman and Other “New” Urban Legends. New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 1984.

Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meaning. New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 1981.

Dickson, Paul, and Joseph Golden. There Are Alligators in Our Sewers and Other American Credos. New York, NY: Delacorte, 1983.

Eschholz, Paul, Alfred Rosa, and Virginia Clark. Language Awareness: Readings for College Writers, 10th Edition. New York, NY: Bedford/St. Martins, 2009.

Mey, Jacob. Pragmatics: An Introduction, 2nd Edition. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001.

Nilsen, Alleen Pace, and Don L. F. Nilsen. Encyclopedia of 20th Century American Humor. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000.