Though untrustworthy by their very nature ("A rumor goes in one ear and out many mouths," cautions an ancient Chinese proverb), rumors can be factually true ("Rumor is not always wrong," answers Tacitus, the Roman historian). The defining characteristic isn't falsity per se, but the absence of verification.
While similar in that and other respects to urban legends (indeed, on occasion it's difficult to tell the two types of folklore apart), rumors differ from legends in that the former don't typically take the form of a narrative, while the latter always do. Folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand: "A legend is an actual story of doubtful truth, whereas a rumor is just an unverified report."
Such a report may consist simply of unverified statements, opinions represented as facts, a nugget of truth misunderstood or misrepresented to the point of falsity, half-truths purposely exaggerated, or outright, intentional lies.
Sociologists have identified three main types of rumors:
- "Pipe dream" or wish-fulfillment rumors, expressing the wishes and hopes of those who circulate them.
- "Bogie" or anxiety rumors, expressing the fears of those who circulate them.
- "Wedge-driving" or divisive rumors, motivated by aggression, prejudice, or hatred on the part of those circulating them.
Managing the Grapevine
Excerpts from a lengthy article by Dr. Jitendra M. Mishra exploring many facets of rumors and hearsay and their practical implications.