People frequently say such tales happened to a "friend of a friend" - so often, in fact, that FOAF has become a commonly used acronym to describe this sort of story. Urban legends are not necessarily untrue, but they are often false, distorted, exaggerated, or sensationalized." In the same time Brandon Toropov in his book The Complete Idiot's Guide to Urban Legends defines a classical urban legend as a compelling story, which origin is enigmatic, the one that is spreading in various forms of humor or terror to deliver the lesson. (p.4). Tom Harris, the author of the article How Urban Legends Work found on the How Stuff Works Website says that urban legend is "any modern, fictional story, told as truth, that reaches a wide audience by being passed from person to person."
Linda Degh in her book Legend and Belief: Dialectics of a Folklore Genre states that the phenomenon of urban legends have been existing for centuries now, at least the scientists who analyzed the folklore from classical antiquity, Middle Ages to the reign of queen Victoria. The things that changed about the old urban legends it is the setting and some minor details, but the plot and the morale often stay the same. The author stated that urban legends are the current outgrowth of traditional legendry, the modern variation of that "mystic metaphysical nightmare stories" that were told long ago near the campfires and fireplaces all over the world. (p.88)
The term "urban legend" was established and gained popularity through the Brunvand's urban legend books; five volumes of stories and tales that were published in a period from 1981 to 1993. The publication of those books inspired the oral and media retelling of those stories and the appearance of the new ones. Year after year more and more books are published about the urban legends, websites and discussion groups appear, and the phenomenon of urban legends is spread further and popularized.
Brandon Toropov marked out the eight standards to to asses urban legend status. Those are:
the story is presented as having been experienced or seen by a "friend of a friend" (the FOAF attribution). It means that we never hear those stories from the immediate participator.
the teller seems a little to eager to insist the story is true
the story plays to the common fear or concern
the story is demonstrably false
the story has appeared in multiple versions
the story carries an important lesson or warning
the story's been around for a long time
the story is too good not to pass along. It has a clear structure, a beginning, middle and end sections, it uses devices such as a "series of three" rule etc (p.4-9)
If you hear a story that features more than two or three of these elements, it is a good chance that it is an urban legend.
The amount of urban legends is tremendous, they are hundreds of books and websites full of those, people retell them every day, they appear in the newspapers ad magazines, and sometimes the urban legends can also be heard from the TV screen. Some of them are totally unrealistic, it is seen from the first glance that they are fake and designed only for fun, but some of those look much like the true stories. In some cases there happens to be some background for this or that legend, but the information is biased and blurred, and sometimes it turns out that the urban legends base on the real facts. There are legends that live for a couple of month or weeks and are passed only through the oral canal of communication, but the other stories live for