What is the difference between lore and folklore? What are the best examples where to use one and not the other?


Lore is an Old English word that means something like body of knowledge or the knowledge that is taught, which means it has been in the English lexicon for nigh on a thousand years.

Folklore, on the other hand, is much more recent. It was famously coined in 1846 by William Thoms, a British writer who was particularly interested in antiquities, including myths, fairy tales, and other sorts of oral traditions.

Folklore is related to lore, as you might expect, because folklore is exactly that: the lore of the folk. In other words, folklore is the body of knowledge that constitutes the myths, old wives' tales, legends, and other cultural foundations of a group of people.

Folklore can be contrasted with herb lore, for instance, which is the body of knowledge concerning the means of cultivating and using plants for medicinal purposes.

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Lore is a rather "dated" term for the "corpus of knowledge" in any particular area. It is still used today, but often in a slightly facetious way (the "arcane lore of software gurus", for example).

Folklore has survived as a somewhat "idiomatic" usage that's so common people often think of it as a single unit, so they don't register the "lore" component as archaic in the vocabulary sense.

But the referent of folklore itself implies "accumulated wisdom from the past" just as much as "...from ordinary folk, rather than recognised specialists and experts". So although there's a sense of the past in the word's meaning, the word itself doesn't sound particularly dated.

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  • urban dictionary == folklore? – Matt E. Эллен Jul 30 '11 at 14:30
  • urban dictionary == Folkjokeopus most of the time. I've probably learnt more from Roy Harper than the website anyway - certainly enjoyed him more over the years! :) – FumbleFingers Jul 30 '11 at 14:44
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    Good answer, except that I would not say the "lore" is an archaic term. It is still actively used. For instance, "computer lore" is a fairly common term, as are "legal lore" and "political lore". For these areas, "lore" tends to be wisdom derived from true (or apocryphal) stories in the specific field. – Jay Elston Jul 30 '11 at 16:46
  • @Jay Elston: If you think these are "normal" usages, I can't argue with your perception. But to me they're either slightly, or totally, facetious. – FumbleFingers Jul 30 '11 at 17:53
  • @FumbleFingers -- do a search on those terms -- I think you will find that the word lore is still being used in a serious manner in many web articles and recent books. – Jay Elston Jul 30 '11 at 19:16

Folklore is also a discipline of study, in which the word folklore refers to informal and traditional cultural practices within a particular group, including things people say, do, and make.

Even though this thread is old, folklore is misrepresented a lot, so I wanted to put that out there.

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