The Birth of “Urban Legend”

The term “urban legend,” according to Wikipedia (citing the OED),

has appeared in print since at least 1968. Jan Harold Brunvand, professor of English at the University of Utah, introduced the term to the general public in a series of popular books published beginning in 1981.

I have news for the editors of the OED and the contributors to Wikipedia: Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) got there first. In “Fun for Clio,” one of the essays collected in The Silence of the Sea (1941), Belloc writes:

Our great urban masses swallow the most fantastic legends and become furious if they hear the absurdity denied. (p. 87  in the Glendalough Press reprint)

In my book, that is close enough to count as the proximate source of “urban legend.”