Originally, a short, humorous tale. Now, the term commonly refers to single episode narratives, regarded as true and commonly concentrating on an individual.

animal tales:

Stories (narratives) told as conscious fictions in which the characters, though they speak and behave like human beings, are animals. These animal characters are commonly stock types. For example, in many Native American traditions, coyote is regarded as an exploitive, impulsive manipulator. In African American tales, rabbit is type cast in the same role. The tales are most often moralistic (‘‘don’t be greedy’’) or etiological (why the frog has no tail) in intent.

belief tales:

Legends or personal experience narratives that are told with the purpose of validating a particular folk belief.

cautionary tales:

Stories whose plots embody a message cautioning against the consequences of particular kinds of behavior.

culture hero:

Character in myth who finishes the work that brings technology (usually symbolized as fire), laws, religion, and other elements of culture to humans. Culture heroes may take over the business of creating order out of chaos where a Supreme Creator left off. The culture hero serves as a secondary creator or transformer of the universe. He/she transforms the universe by means of his gifts into a universe in which humans can live. In some myths, the culture hero cleanses the universe of things that threaten human existence: monsters, cannibals, or meteorological phenomena.


A group of tales that focuses on a central character, plot, or theme.


Fictional narrative ending with a didactic message that is often couched in the form of a ‘‘moral’’ or proverb.

folk history:

Accounts based on perceptions of historical events rather than on written documentation or similar media.


traditional customs, beliefs, stories (tales) and sayings of a community, passed down through generations largely by word-of-mouth. Term coined by folklorist by W. J. Thoms to replace earlier popular antiquities.


Highly formulaic and structured fictional narrative that is popularly referred to as ‘‘fairytale’’ and designated by folklorists as Märchen or ‘‘wonder tale.’’ Term coined by folklorist Stith Thompson. Stories passed down through generations, usually through word-of-mouth, within a community or culture. Most of these stories originate in popular culture and contain the cultural memories, ideals and philosophies of their communities.


Story (narrative) told as truth, set in the historical past, and that does not depart from the present reality of the members of the group.

local legend:

Legends derived from and closely associated with specific places and events believed to have occurred in those locales.


A body of traditions and knowledge on a subject or held by a particular group, typically passed from person to person by word of mouth. (tree lore, plant lore, child lore weather lore…)


Narratives that explain the will (the intent) and the workings (the orderly principles) of a group’s major supernatural figures. Myth is set in a world that predates the present reality.


Romantic tale.


Tale, narrative, lore.

tale type:

Standard, recurrent folk narrative plot.

tall tale:

Fictional narrative often told as a firsthand experience, which gradually introduces hyperbole until the audience realizes by the conclusion that the tale is a lie.


Beliefs, ideas, customs and practices passed down from generation to generation within a community. These include religious or ritualistic practices and often trace their origin to certain folktales, legends or myths.

tree lore:

A body of traditions, stories and knowledge on trees, held by a particular group, typically passed from person to person by word of mouth.


Version of a story.

© Piero Fornasetti.

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To put together the glossary I used Green T. The Greenwood Library of American Folktales. Four Volumes. 1944-2006.