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Popular College Urban Myths

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Urban Myths or Legends

According to an online diction, an urban myth is "a humorous or horrific story or piece of information circulated as though true, especially one purporting to involve someone vaguely related or known to the teller."

These are stories you a probably familiar with, and every location has variations of a similar story. You have heard about the attacker who appears in the back seat of a moving vehicle, unbeknownst to the driver. The ghost of a female hitchhiker lamenting a lost love or her children. The asylum escapee who guards areas popular with teenagers looking for a private place.

I've come up with a few that were popular - and perhaps still are - around college campuses. Of course, these have probably been passed around anywhere people have gathered, workplaces for example. I am certain you have heard a variation of these.

I'll try to offer an explanation of why these may have started and the lesson to be learned from these stories. In reality, even though these may be myths, there is some truth in them. And a reason they are passed on.


Pull Tabs for a Dying Youth

One of the things I personally noticed - around the dorm and in classroom hallways were these legal-sized envelopes taped to the wall. Above was a sign that read: "My name is J...and I have a rare kidney disease. I need you to leave your tops from soda cans so I can afford an operation that will save my life."

The envelopes were usually filled to the brim - what small space there was.

One student laughed "I'm not too sure about this. Why don't they just ask for the entire can? Why just the tabs?"

Which of course, made sense. And the stories were usually the same, a sick youth - some times from another country, that needed a life-saving operation. And this procedure was going to be funded by small pull tabs.


Pull Tabs Continued

Well this is something that probably started out as a joke, but many have fell for it. It does sound credible since aluminum if a recyclable material and does have some value.

However, when one looks at the number of pennies it would take to support someone on a dialysis machine, it can provide some perspective.

One site talks about how the Ronald McDonald house actually started collecting such items, due to the popularity of the story.

Perhaps it came about when someone wanted to test the gullibility of the populace. Maybe someone wanted to measure social altruism. Who really knows.

It exists now as a prank that seems to be passed on and is often used as a discussion started in sociology or psychology classes.


Cougars Hunting

This story usually focuses on the adventures of a young man - while away on a Spring Break vacation. During his time off from school, he visits a local drinking establishment and meets the company of an older woman. The two hit it off and then head back to the young man's hotel room.

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In the morning, the man wakes up and relishes the evening he spent with the cougar - who is nowhere to be found.

As he moved toward the bathroom, he stares at the mirror in absolute horror where the phrase:


is written in lipstick.


Cougar Mary: Some Interpretations

Most of you may be familiar with the reference made with the term cougar: an older woman who prefers the company of men (more than eight years her junior), usually for sexual activity.

The reason for this story should pretty straightforward, and that is to discourage promiscuity. Sexual mores are pretty standard, regardless of the times. And this story is designed to scare people into seeking out partners that might do them harm.

Spreading AIDS (or any disease) knowingly is a criminal offense - a felony in many states.

No one wishes to acquire a social disease - particularly one that might be potentially fatal.

Certainly, there are people who would perpetrate a crime of this nature on others. Either because they are bitter and jaded themselves about catching something - or because they are just very sick individuals who can't control their own frustrations.

The Welcome to the World of AIDs story sounds very probable as well, and may encourage young men (and women) to be cautious when they go out in another country, or even to their local bar.


Brush Your Teeth

This one was first told to me by an acquaintance who talked about something that happened when his professor went to either Belize or Nepal with his wife.

The couple came back to their hotel room one day and found a large number of items missing. They had been burgled. They filed a report with the local police who came and investigated and took their information. Unfortunately, there was little that could be done since there were no witnesses and as these crimes go, are lower on the priority scale.

However, the couple's toiletries were left and even though it was lying out in the open, the camera was not taken.

The couple finishes their vacation and then when they get back to the states, they take the film to be developed.

A couple of days go by and they pick up their photos. The thieves took several pictures, some of which included photos of the toothbrushes the husband and wife had been using. The photos showed the devices being placed in various positions which included the rectums of the bandits.


Dirty Toothbrushes

Well, just a note for some of the younger readers: there was a time when if you wanted to take pictures, you had to have a camera and a film. You would have to turn these into a developer - who processed the film into the photos. Sometimes this procedure could take several days - even a week.

The probability of this happening is very unlikely. I have heard about of variations of this story from someone who knows someone it happened to. The location is always a foreign country and it is usually the toothbrushes that remain - (and perhaps some other personal items as well which were abused in similar manners). Sometimes the toothbrush is used to clean the toilet. At other times bodily substances are added to the mouthwash or liquor bottles. The point is that the visitor is left feeling uncomfortable after discovering their vacation was not only interrupted by a burglary, but other violations occurred.

This is one of those stories that seems to amuse rather than provide any other purpose. There could be citizens who don't want foreign tourists in their country perhaps. Maybe this could be a warning to people to secure their belongings more safely.

The likelihood of someone trying to spend time committing a crime in a hotel room and being concerned with doing mental and emotional damage of this nature seems unlikely. Most criminals would want to go in and then get out as quickly as possible.

Besides, I'm sure the idea of inserting a stranger's toothbrush into your orifices is something that doesn't sound too appealing. Even to the most degenerate person.

Trailer for the 1998 film, Urban Legends

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Finn


John Hansen from Gondwana Land on October 17, 2020:

Hi, Fin, thanks for sharing these urban myths. I have seen collections of ring-pulls and wondered why they were collecting them and not the whole can. I assumed it must have been because they took up less space.

The cougar one sounds a possibility if someone was very bitter. (Oh your description of a cougar is a little wrong. You wrote “ (more than eight years her senior)” whereas his should be “..eight years her junior.”) Good article,

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