An old wives' tale, according to Collins, is a traditional belief, especially one which is incorrect.

We might not always want to imply that married women, however ancient, are repositories of traditional erroneous views, so is there an alternative phrase carrying similar meaning?

Sometimes folk wisdom (Collins again) will do, but this doesn't carry the same suggestion of "probably wrong" or scepticism. It works, in my opinion, in the context of traditional cooking tips in a question at cooking.se (where I suggested it as an alternative), but I can't see it being a universal replacement.

  • It’s the “tales” part that lends the skepticism, so “folk tales” would be better than “folk wisdom”. You could use scare quotes around “wisdom” though.
    – ColleenV
    May 12 at 15:41
  • Urban myth? Faulty assumption? Debunked tradition? Plain wrong? May 12 at 15:45
  • 1
    @YosefBaskin at least some of those suggestions would be worth a vote as an answer
    – Chris H
    May 12 at 15:53
  • @ColleenV that's a good one too
    – Chris H
    May 12 at 15:54
  • Also see this question: english.stackexchange.com/q/226484/365490 May 12 at 16:02

The term shibboleth is used with this meaning.

Merriam-Webster defines this sense:


1a: a word or saying used by adherents of a party, sect, or belief and usually regarded by others as empty of real meaning

  • the old shibboleths come rolling off their lips [Joseph Epstein]

and Dictionary.com:

shibboleth ...

(3) a common saying or belief with little current meaning or truth.

  • About as good as you can get. Others that keep closer to the original have to avoid not just ageism but also sexism and, for the matter of that, what I should call 'allotriophobia' (a hostile fear of difference and particularly of people that differ from the general mass.
    – Tuffy
    May 12 at 16:43


Any place you see the idiom "old wives' tale" used, you can insert "myth" into its place.

urban legend

If you're instead looking for another idiom for "old wives' tale," you can readily insert the idiom "urban legend" into its place. While "urban legend" tends to denote newness instead of oldness, what is considered new and what is considered old is relative and is highly subjective.

  • 1
    'Urban legend' is what I was going to post. May 12 at 16:54


From the American Heritage Dictionary definition

a. A body of widely accepted but usually spurious notions about a place, group, or institution: Rumors of their antics became part of the folklore of Hollywood.
b. A popular but unfounded belief.

You may have to rephrase to make it work in place of “old wives’ tale”, but it keeps the sense of oral traditions.

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