Is there an English term for the sense some people have that something "must be true" because many people talk about it, for example, a politician being corrupt or the Mayan 2012 event?

The closest I can think of is "herd behaviour" or "crowd psychology" but that describes more the effect than the cause.

  • 1
    That's just the way culture works; consider Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. – John Lawler Dec 21 '12 at 20:12
  • Related: Source amnesia – Kit Z. Fox Dec 21 '12 at 20:12
  • I think the phenomenon OP refers to probably doesn't really exist to any significant degree. For example, it's not so much that there are lots of people who believe[d] the world was going to end yesterday. It's more that there are lots of people who believe that lots of [other] people believed that. – FumbleFingers Dec 22 '12 at 0:10
  • @FumbleFingers: That sounds plausible, but I didn't claim that lots of people believe it, just that some people believe it because others talk about it. – Gnubie Dec 22 '12 at 13:11

There are a few things that could apply here.

You could be looking for the word consensus:

1 a : general agreement : unanimity b : the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned 2 : group solidarity in sentiment and belief

Or you could be looking for the logical fallacy Argumentum ad populum:

Argumentum ad populum
In logic, an argumentum ad populum (Latin for "appeal to the people") is a fallacious argument that concludes a proposition to be true because many or most people believe it. In other words, the basic idea of the argument is: "If many believe so, it is so."

This type of argument is known by several names,1 including appeal to the masses, appeal to belief, appeal to the majority, appeal to democracy, argument by consensus, consensus fallacy, authority of the many, and bandwagon fallacy, and in Latin as argumentum ad numerum ("appeal to the number"), and consensus gentium ("agreement of the clans"). It is also the basis of a number of social phenomena, including communal reinforcement and the bandwagon effect. The Chinese proverb "three men make a tiger" concerns the same idea.

You could also find the word or phrase you're looking for in that definition.

  • 1
    "Bandwagon fallacy" sounds good, thanks! – Gnubie Dec 22 '12 at 13:12
  • "Three men make a tiger" is the closest to what I had in mind, but sadly it's not in English. – Gnubie Dec 22 '12 at 13:43

I would suggest several: urban legend, popular lore, and common myth.


Groupthink. “Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that can occur in groups of people. Rather than critically evaluating information, the group members begin to form quick opinions that match the group consensus.” —About.com


Truthiness approaches the term you are looking for. See especially definition two at Merriam Webster Online:

2 : "the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true" (American Dialect Society, January 2006)

  • But it's not that they wish it to be true. Rather, they assume it to be true because others talk about it. – Gnubie Dec 22 '12 at 13:13
  • Yes, that's why I used 'approaches.' There probably isn't an exact match for what you want, so some flexibility will be needed. The phrase 'consensual reality' might also prove useful here. – Wayfaring Stranger Dec 22 '12 at 15:15
  • This is what first occurred to me too. Even though it's more about the quality of the thing that makes it convincing, rather than the fact that lots of people talk about it... but the reason lots of people get talking about something in the first place is either because it sounds inherently truthy, or because of a higher command (e.g. a dictator (or celebrity) makes a declaration and people fall over themselves to promote it in order to gain favour. Something is either *truthy", or thee winner of a "popularity contest" or, conversely, 'fear mongering'. – Esco Apr 21 '19 at 8:24

This may not be it, but may be related: the "Big Lie." The phrase was coined by Adolf Hitler and refers to the propaganda technique of telling a lie so "colossal" that no one can believe it's a lie.

  • @Boofus: This assumes a third party intentionally creates and spreads the misinformation. – Gnubie Dec 22 '12 at 13:15

The phrase "fifty million Frenchmen can't be wrong" is sometimes used for this purpose. It derives from a 1927 song of that title.

For slightly more information on it (and a discussion of this type of reasoning): http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Argumentum_ad_populum

  • And 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong too. – Gnubie Dec 26 '12 at 21:53

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