Where Did the Term “Tall Tale” Come From?

Where Did the Term “Tall Tale” Come From?

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Tall tales are folk stories that are wildly exaggerated for the enjoyment of the audience and are sometimes used for the purpose of bragging rights. For example, when fishermen boast about the fish that got away. Tall tales are meant to be lighthearted and fun. Usually the one telling the story makes it sound like they were a witness to such outrageous events. Many tall tales make reference to both real and imaginary individuals from the America’s early frontier.

It is hard to pin down where the actual term “tall tale” came from. Tall refers to the truth being stretched in the story. It shows up as early as 1788 in a text titled The American Museum; however, “tall story” was actually the preferred term in the 1800’s.

The term “tall tale” became popular in the early 1900’s, which does roll off your tongue much better than “tall story”. One of the reasons tall tales grew in popularity at this time was because of tall tale postcards. These postcards started in the 1920’s and became widely prevalent in the United States. Makers of these cards would use trick photography or other visual perspective tricks with paint to make people, animals or other objects look huge in proportion to everything else.

Even today, there are tall tale speech contests. If stretching the truth is something you are really good at, you could win cash or other prizes for it! So, what is your favorite tall tale? Ours would have to be the giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan and Babe his blue ox.