I am trying to find a term (single word or brief phrase) that describes a particular kind of "fact" that people often say. I think that "factoid" is close, but that it doesn't contain enough implied doubt about the truth of the "fact" (and is a little disputed in its usage).

Here is a description of the "facts" I am referring to and would like to have a term for:

  1. Most importantly, they strive to have a kind of counterintuitive nature or aspect, sometimes "shock value"
  2. It's probably safer to assume that they are false until proven true (see first point), especially when evaluating them against common sense or general knowledge
  3. They often contain the word "actually". They could be presented as "Did you know..." sentences
  4. They are akin to overly-shared Facebook posts with questionable legitimacy
  5. They might have begun as a complex truth, but, when presented in short form, they are misleading or no longer true (either because they cannot be shortened, or the speaker did not understand the long form and now believes something false that was not originally there)
  6. Some news outlets try to compose these types of sentences for their headlines, even though the body of the article reveals the truth (and makes me frustrated that the news outlet was unethical enough to title the article in this manner)

At the risk of inciting debate, here are some examples of these types of sentences:

  1. "Actually, Diet Coke is worse for you than regular Coke." (possibly an example of point #5 above)
  2. "Actually, drinking caffeinated drinks dehydrates you." (have also heard with 'carbonated')
  3. "Working out is actually bad for you."
  4. "Electric cars actually harm the environment."
  5. "Everything you see in the world is actually on a 10-15 second delay."

Please refrain from arguing about the truth of these particular statements- I only provide them as examples to show the type of sentence I'm talking about. I hear sentences like these all the time, but I don't know how to describe them or lump them all together succinctly.

The next time I have a friend walk up to me while I'm tying my shoes and say something stupid like, "Actually, tying your shoes makes them fall off more easily," I want to be able to say, "No, that's just a ________________,"* and keep tying my shoes.

*it doesn't have to fit the blank in that sentence exactly

  • 2
    You might consider filling in the blank with "popular delusion"—in the tradition of Charles Mackay's excellent book, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions (1841). Or you could go low-key with "folk myth."
    – Sven Yargs
    Sep 6, 2016 at 19:07
  • 1
    "Rumor", "old wives' tale", ... Sep 6, 2016 at 19:08
  • Notice that the discourse marker actually, occurs in all of these examples. It can appear as an adverb, or comma-delimited by itself. Sep 6, 2016 at 20:34
  • Actually, #1 is true, at least for many people.
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 6, 2016 at 22:43
  • @HotLicks That's possible, and probably the subject of some intense debates. These types of statements I'm describing could turn out to be true, but one aspect about them is that, at least initially, they should be received cautiously due to their opposition to common knowledge or sense. A diplomatic response to one may be, "Oh, really? That's very interesting! I think I'll find out more about that because I've never heard it before."
    – elmer007
    Sep 7, 2016 at 13:50

8 Answers 8


It sounds like an urban myth to me.

Urban Myth: a humorous or horrific story or piece of information circulated as though true. (Google Online)

"No, that's just an **urban myth****...." as per the OP

  • I think that these statements probably commonly fall under the "urban myth" heading, but it's not quite specific enough for what I'm after. Thanks!
    – elmer007
    Sep 7, 2016 at 13:28

Mythinformation (or sometimes myth-information) would fairly neatly fit your description:


NOUN Information which is widely held to be true but which is in fact flawed or unsubstantiated; common knowledge based on hearsay rather than fact.

Origin: 1960s; earliest use found in Science. From myth + information, probably punningly after misinformation. (Oxford Dictionaries)

So, from your example, you could say:

No, that's just [a piece of] mythinformation.

It's not a very common term, but I think it would be pretty easily understood.

  • And what if the thpeaker has a lithp? Sep 6, 2016 at 21:20
  • @DavidHandelman I thought about mentioning that; I think the emphasis could be different, and even if it's mis-heard as mis-information, it would still be a fairly accurate representation of the OP's point.
    – 1006a
    Sep 6, 2016 at 21:58
  • +1 @1006a I like this term, and I actually came across it while researching this question, but it lacks slightly in conveying that an aspect of the "information" is counterintuitive. In other words, it covers a broad range of statements, from "You catch a cold by going outside without a jacket" to "You're actually awake while you're asleep" (the second one being the specific subtype that I'm looking for)
    – elmer007
    Sep 7, 2016 at 13:24

A QI Fact (recognisable in UK if not abroad)

In reference to sort of facts on the television show QI. QI comes from Quite Interesting and QI's creator John Lloyd said that he started collected interesting and unlikely facts just for small talk and for curiosity and then created a game show out of it.

This, unlike the others, does not have the connotation of its truthfulness bring questionable, just unlikely.

Some examples would be:

Ladybird orgasms last 30 minutes.

Whales can't taste anything but salt.

A newborn baby sucks in air with 50 times the power of an adult.

  • Actually (heh), to those who follow QI on Twitter, a QI fact does have the connotation that its truthfulness should at least be independently verified, because they very frequently get it wrong. (Even on the show, they get things quite wrong very often, but it’s not called out as frequently there as on Twitter.) Mar 18, 2018 at 0:40

How about fairy tale, myth, or old wive's tale?

From Dictionary.com:

fairy tale: an incredible or misleading statement, account, or belief

myth: any invented story, idea, or concept

old wives' tale: a belief, usually superstitious or erroneous, passed on by word of mouth as a piece of traditional wisdom

The OP's example:

The next time I have a friend walk up to me while I'm tying my shoes and say something stupid like, "Actually, tying your shoes makes them fall off more easily," I want to be able to say, "No, that's just a fairy tale," and keep tying my shoes.

The next time I have a friend walk up to me while I'm tying my shoes and say something stupid like, "Actually, tying your shoes makes them fall off more easily," I want to be able to say, "No, that's just a myth," and keep tying my shoes.

The next time I have a friend walk up to me while I'm tying my shoes and say something stupid like, "Actually, tying your shoes makes them fall off more easily," I want to be able to say, "No, that's just an old wives' tale," and keep tying my shoes.

For what it's worth, of these, I prefer old wives' tale.

Note: In the interests of full disclosure, one of the comments on the question mentions old wives' tale, which also happened to be the first phrase that popped into my head. Another comment mentioned folk myth.


Unsubstantiated is the proper term: not established as valid or genuine

  • I like this word, and although it's not enough by itself, I think it's a very good adjective to use when responding to these types of statements. Thanks!
    – elmer007
    Sep 7, 2016 at 13:39

There's no single English word signifying a trite but pithy semi-factual pseudo-paradox. There are terms and titles that skirt the borders of the concept however.

"Believe it or not!" from cartoonist Robert Ripley. Ripley was himself playfully sincere, but the "or not" forewarned of RR's often unrigorous scholarship.

"Commonplace" or "Received Opinion" both emphasize a kind of viral tenacity.

"Clickbait" denotes the gradual disenchantment that online factoids bring.

"Trivia" sometimes is used as a label for such sentences.

  • I really like "clickbait", especially since almost all of these types of sentences could probably be used as actual clickbait online (they just seem wrong, and they're usually about things that people know something about. So, let me just click there and see exactly how my elbow is actually my knee...)
    – elmer007
    Sep 7, 2016 at 13:38


Truthiness is a quality characterizing a "truth" that a person making an argument or assertion claims to know intuitively "from the gut" or because it "feels right" without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts. (source)

In regards to your friend's shoelace claim: That's not true, just truthy.


I should've pointed out that this use was coined just a little over 10 years ago, and isn't entirely widespread nor accepted, but neither has it been rejected outright.

Additional Sources, as requested:
NY Times (more a discussion of the origin)

  • Could you provide an additional source, as it says in the article, Wikipedia has been described as 'truthy' Sep 6, 2016 at 20:43
  • 1
    @BladorthinTheGrey Additional sources (+explanation I'd meant to post as well) have been added. Unless you can think of a specific authority.
    – VampDuc
    Sep 6, 2016 at 20:50

Fake news, according to Cambridge Dictionary:

false stories that appear to be news, spread on the internet or using other media, usually created to influence political views or as a joke

Believe it or not (don't before reading my source) the American Dialect Society, chose fake news as their word of the year for 2017.

Another term, also recently popularised by its use in American politics, is an alternative fact. Collins Dictionary defines it as:

1) a theory posited as an alternative to another, often more widely accepted, theory

2) a statement intended to contradict another more verifiable, but less palatable, statement

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