old wives' tale

An old wives' tale is a well-known belief that is actually just superstition. One old wives' tale you may have heard warns that if you swallow chewing gum, it will stay in your stomach for years.

Bits of advice, warnings, and general community wisdom sometimes turn out to be old wives' tales. These include simple superstitions, like "don't open an umbrella indoors," and easy to believe advice like "if you shave, the hair grows back thicker" or "you'll get arthritis if you crack your knuckles." The term old wives' tale uses the oldest meaning of wife, "woman," and is actually quite derogatory. It comes from the tradition of mothers scaring their children out of unwanted behavior.

Definitions of old wives' tale
  1. noun
    a bit of lore passed on by word of mouth
    see moresee less
    type of:
    lore, traditional knowledge
    knowledge gained through tradition or anecdote
Cite this entry
  • MLA
  • APA
  • Chicago

Copy citation
DISCLAIMER: These example sentences appear in various news sources and books to reflect the usage of the word ‘old wives' tale'. Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of or its editors. Send us feedback
Word Family

Look up old wives' tale for the last time

Close your vocabulary gaps with personalized learning that focuses on teaching the words you need to know.

VocabTrainer -'s Vocabulary Trainer