Myth and Misconception
Phil Dragonetti writes:
One of the things that bug me about English usage is the use of a”cute” word instead of the proper word. One such “cute” word is “myth”…[which] many use … instead of the word “misunderstanding” or “misconception”
I received this comment while I was writing a post for my teaching site. The headline I’d given my article was “The Myth of Make-up Work.” Phil’s comment challenged me to see if I could come up with something else that would convey the same meaning. I changed it to “No Such Thing as Make-up Work.”
The OED gives two general definitions of myth:
1. A traditional story, typically involving supernatural beings or forces, which embodies and provides an explanation, aetiology, or justification for something such as the early history of a society, a religious belief or ritual, or a natural phenomenon.
2. A widespread but untrue or erroneous story or belief; a widely held misconception; a misrepresentation of the truth. Also: something existing only in myth; a fictitious or imaginary person or thing.
Headline writers are not likely to abandon the use of such a useful word as myth: it’s short, it alliterates with a lot of common words, and it conveys a sense of something that is not true. This use of myth does seem to be applied to just about anything and everything:
10 Big Myths about copyright explained
Ten Myths About Affirmative Action
Top 10 Myths About Thanksgiving
The Myth of Mental Illness
The Myth of Alzheimers: What You Aren’t Being Told
James Webb: Diversity and the Myth of White Privilege
All About Digital Photos – The Myth of DPI
Myths about Pregnancy
Myths about Aging
Myths about Alcohol
When Joseph Campbell called his book The Power of Myth, he wasn’t thinking of “untrue or erroneous” beliefs. He was thinking of universal spiritual truths that shape our lives. Maybe it would make sense to lighten up on the use of myth as a synonym for mere “error.”
Here’s a selection of other words and terms that convey the sense of something that is not true, or not completely true:
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