I always thought that apocryphal should just mean "of doubtful authenticity". But more and more I am noticing that people use it positively to mean mythical or untrue, especially in phrases such as "This is probably apocryphal, but...".

The use of probably here is what seems to indicate a difference in understanding of the term. If something is doubtful, then it is just doubtful, not "probably doubtful".

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    You're right on both counts. Apocryphal originally meant only of doubtful authorship, but over time, it's meaning has been extended to fictitious, which by now is so well established its even recorded in dictionaries. So the construction "probably apocryphal" simply means "I'm betting this is just a made-up story, but I heard...".
    – Dan Bron
    Apr 17, 2015 at 10:54
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    Can a diamond mod switch the it's and its in my previous comment? That's just plain embarrassing.
    – Dan Bron
    Apr 17, 2015 at 13:36

2 Answers 2


Short answer: apocryphal is routinely used to mean not [convincingly] true.

Although the concepts are intertwined, the definition of apocryphal denotes authenticity not authorship:


1 (Of a story or statement) of doubtful authenticity, although widely circulated as being true:

The connotation of authorship is rooted in the ongoing theological dispute about the biblical Apocrypha:

late 14c., neuter plural of Late Latin apocryphus "secret, not approved for public reading,"

from Greek apokryphos "hidden; obscure," thus "(books) of unknown authorship" (especially those included in the Septuagint and Vulgate but not originally written in Hebrew and not counted as genuine by the Jews),

from apo- "away" (see apo-) + kryptein "to hide" (see crypt).

Some early Jewish and Christian leaders demanded that the followers of their sects avoid the Apocrypha, because they were deemed less trustworthy than their canon of scripture. Faithfulness to the sect's unique truth claims was the primary concern, but authorship was posited as the most important measure of veracity.

In the extended use of apocryphal, authorship does not always rise to the same level for determining authenticity, but a doubtful source always casts some doubt on the reliability of any truth claim.


Apocryphal can rightly be used to cast doubts on the credibility and authenticity of a subject in question, such usages are to challenge the reliability.

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