English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

What word describes the concept of how what is generally held as to be true, is in fact false (at least most of the time). I think a fictional story illustrates an example the best:

Tinkerbell lives in Never Land. Tinkerbell got lucky and secured a job as a fairy. Everyone knows being a fairy is the best job that exists in Never Land. However, after becoming a fairy, Tinkerbell learns that most fairies find the job terrible and it is actually really unenjoyable being a fairy.

Another example (completely made up):

Most people assume Olympic Athletes are fit, but in turns out this is untrue as a great deal of the time and to compete in the Olympics is determined more by connections than athletic ability.

share|improve this question
an illusion, a misconception, a falsehood or fallacy – Sam Feb 6 '14 at 4:47
I like "misconception" or "common misconception" – d'alar'cop Feb 6 '14 at 5:06
up vote 0 down vote accepted

You could try "misconception" or "popular misconception," especially if people are simply mistaken about the facts. "Fallacy" might be more appropriate for an incorrect theory or faulty logic. If the mistaken notion finds expression in a name, like "risk-free bungee-jumping," you could call it a "misnomer." If you think it results from a mistaken world-view, then I think you have no choice but to refer to it with some clumsy thing like "false paradigm" or whatnot.

share|improve this answer

"FACTOID" (non-American English)?

fact +‎ -oid; coined by Norman Mailer in Marilyn (1973): "facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper, creations which are not so much lies as a product to manipulate emotion in the Silent Majority". An inaccurate statement or statistic believed to be true because of broad repetition, especially if cited in the media.

share|improve this answer

You're probably looking for the word "myth".

Myth http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/myth

share|improve this answer

To really answer this well, it would helpful to know what perspective this is judged from.

Is it someone who does not suffer from this mistaken belief? Then, I would describe it as delusion.

Many people in society have delusional ideas about the environment.

If it is commonly believed but generally false and stated neutrally (i.e., stated like an anthropologist form the outside), then I would use myth.

many people believe the myth that it's all happily ever after once you're married.

If I want to deride it, then fairy tale might be good:

A perfect government is just a fairy tale

If it is what I once believed, then I would emphasize that in the tense:

I was deluded or I was tricked into believing that if you work hard you can succeed.

But there could be other contexts that would lead me to recommend different words.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.