Suppose, I want to say that you need to bust the myth that girls are not good at sports or any other stereotype for that matter.

What's the word to prove wrong an old, established stereotype?

Is it correct to say 'break the stereotype' or 'break the cliche'?

  • I think "break the stereotype" is fine. "Break the cliche" doesn't sound quite right. "Shatter the myth" is a common phrase for this, when it's done with a single strong stroke.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 16:36
  • @Hot Licks, Ok Thanks,If I want to use the word cliche then what's the correct phrase?
    – user99185
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 16:40
  • @QualityTalk As a dictionary will tell you, a cliché is a phrase or metaphor that has become trite from overuse (e.g. avoid clichés like the plague); it is orthagonal to stereotype. What is the cliché you want to counter or contrast? Do you just want to point out something is contrary to an adage or breaks with conventional wisdom?
    – choster
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 16:55
  • @choster Though they used to mean the same thing. Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 17:15
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    – myol
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 21:39

11 Answers 11


You could consider "debunk"

To expose the falseness or hollowness of (a myth, idea, or belief).

Individual cases where a stereotypical assumption is confounded might be described as someone "breaking the mold"

Women Artists Who Broke the Mold

  • I think that's appropriate when you do so in a scientific way, but it sounds like the OP is considering more the actions of an individual. (Such as a girl succeeding at sports.) In that sort of context "debunk" would be a little odd.
    – starwed
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 19:00
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    @starwed proving wrong by being a counter example to the myth? Yes see what you mean. Will have a think. Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 19:06
  • Good suggestion but there are a load of synonyms - puncture, confute, quash, discredit, disprove, controvert, invalidate, negate etc
    – WS2
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 20:04
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    I somehow do not like the use of the word "confound". I think "confront" is a better word here.
    – Jonas
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 10:17
  • @Jonas - Why? "prove (a theory or expectation) wrong." seems to fit. Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 10:40

Debunk is spot on but, if you don't mind being a little less accurate, dispel also works and I've seen it in this context quite frequently.

I am posting this in order to dispel the myths and rumours that answers posted three hours after the question never get upvotes.


Disprove means "to show that (something) is false or wrong." So you could say, for example, "A recent study disproves the myth that girls are bad at sports."


I think it's OK with break the stereotype. I suggest also demolish, get rid of, eliminate the stereotype, and explode, shatter, ruin the myth.

  • Demolish and shatter are particularly appropriate when the person shows great excellence
    – jmoreno
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 16:29
  • Depends on the audience but in non sensational writing, myths (which by their definition are not true) need to be supported, to do otherwise looks loaded. jmoreno mentions that some terms are accurate in individual cases, to show differentiation from the group but that has the opposite intent from what the author probably wants because it reinforces the stereotype, by illustrating an exception rather than a rule. The above terms are certainly fine but very careful argument construction would be needed to not fall subject to previously mentioned issues.
    – Quaternion
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 18:43

A more colorful phrase to describe your situation is that someone is putting the lie to a myth or cliche. This is usually used to describe something which belies some usually-overreaching claim or statement, and has a somewhat triumphant air of "Ah-hah! I have found a clear counterexample to this absurd statement!"

As an example, from last month's Washington Post:

Five myths about lame-duck presidents

  1. Lame-duck presidents cannot get anything done.

Wartime presidents as diverse as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush put the lie to this myth.

Also, http://www.thefreedictionary.com/put+the+lie+to

  • What's a "lame-duck president"?
    – ADTC
    Commented Dec 24, 2014 at 8:41
  • 1
    A president with no more elections ahead of them. Since US presidents typically participate in their midterm elections (even though they themselves are not on the ballot), in the US this phrase is intended to indicate the final two years of a president's last term in office. Commented Dec 25, 2014 at 0:21


Only nerds will understand this reference to the TV show Mythbusters, but this could be suitable depending on your audience.


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    Only nerds? I'm pretty sure that show is aimed a general (ie: not highly educated) audience. It would be more accurate to say "only TV watchers".
    – DanielST
    Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 19:49
  • @slicedtoad being a nerd has nothing to do with education by my definition.
    – Evorlor
    Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 19:58
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    @slicedtoad He could go into great detail about exactly what sort of person would understand the reference (which includes many people who do not watch TV, but not people that watch only other types of TV), but I don't think that such specificity is necessary here.
    – Vitruvie
    Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 21:39
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    @Saposhiente Right. But my issue isn't with specificity, it's with accuracy. He says "Only nerds will understand this reference". From my experience (possible localization bias), nerds would be less likely to watch this type of TV than, say, your average car mechanic. Granted the definition of nerd is rather broad and can be vastly different between individuals (even in a given locale). Also, I'm pulling from my experience, not any solid stats. So I'm not pushing it, just mentioning it as a "worth noting".
    – DanielST
    Commented Dec 23, 2014 at 21:48
  • @slicedtoad the miscommunication is in the definition of nerd. In my definition, a mechanic, or any other profession/education can be a nerd
    – Evorlor
    Commented Dec 24, 2014 at 2:33

to refute a myth

to refute:

Prove (a statement or theory) to be wrong or false; disprove.


A simple google search shows that to refute a myth is indeed actually used widely enough.

It is also used in books, as seen in this Google Ngram Viewer (which also shows how the phrase compares with the more popular to debunk a myth).


You can puncture a myth or stereotype:


2 Cause a sudden collapse of (mood or feeling):


the earlier mood of optimism was punctured

The company has punctured this fragile mood of optimism with a miscalculation of astonishing proportions.

Worse still is the title track - eight-and-a-half minutes of tedium and cliché interrupted by bad Riverdance impressions which really puncture the dark mood the song is trying to conjure up.

Sigmund Freud's theories have been punctured and pricked with doubt, but anyone who argues that he should be dropped from the canon of Western civilization needs therapy.

(Definition and examples from Oxforddictionaries.com)


Disabuse - to show or convince someone that a belief is incorrect




I'd like to add an answer to the several good ones here to point out a slight distinction between the title and body of your question.

It's fairly common parlance to refer to stereotypes as myths, but there are certainly many myths which are certainly not stereotypes.

Consider the myth, or old wives' tale that:

Toast always lands buttered side down!

This would never be described as a 'toast stereotype', but it would be a myth. You could debunk, bust, or shed light on this myth - simply by dropping toast and watching it land buttered side up.

Next consider the stereotype, or at a stretch myth that:

Blonde-haired women are dumb.

A blonde-haired woman could break the stereotype, break the mold, prove herself, disprove the stereotype, by doing something intelligent I suppose.

A cliché is different again, and really doesn't fit at all here. I might use the cliché:

He's as old as the hills!

to describe someone, but he wouldn't really be busting a myth - and certainly not breaking a stereotype - in producing a birth certificate that proved himself younger than the hills.


Instead of 'puncturing' and 'busting,' I would rather prefer 'sabotaging' and this word will give the correct meaning in this industrial age.

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