The J>E dictionaries I've consulted translate 迷信 as "superstition", but cross-checking in Daijirin the definition doesn't seem to explicitly reference the supernatural, instead referring to the lack of a scientific basis for the belief.

Can you use 迷信 to refer to a myth in the sense of a widely held misconception (like, "a duck's quack doesn't echo"), or is it limited to things like "black cats are bad luck"?

If you can't use 迷信 for the first kind of myth, what word would you use instead?

  • to be clear (see ssb's answer below) I'm using the duck's echo as an example of a myth that is NOT a superstition.
    – momerathe
    Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 16:25
  • 2
    I'm reminded of a particular 迷信...
    – user1478
    Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 19:39

2 Answers 2


I'm not a total expert on this and as a non-native I urge you not to take this as a final authority, but here's what my research is showing me:

As a broad category of these kinds of beliefs, we have 俗信{ぞくしん}, or old beliefs, legends and traditions stemming from customs and religions of yore that have maintained some sort of presence in modern times. Note that this just refers to old beliefs and customs; it does not make a claim about whether or not they are true or illogical. This includes things like omens, fortune telling, taboos, things related to various forms of sorcery, fairies, spirits, and what have you, as listed in the dictionary. A lot of these may be clearly false, but the word itself refers to the fact that they are from older societies (as in a part of 民俗). This could refer to the English idea of superstitions, but it might be more appropriate as folklore or something like that.

迷信【めいしん】, however, does make claims: it refers to those 俗信 that are patently false. This is what we refer to as superstition. It has no basis in fact and runs contrary to actual evidence. Wikipedia lists this as the English superstition as well.

Then these both fall under the [言い伝え]{いいつたえ} or 伝説{でんせつ} label, which are general legends passed down from generation to generation.

Note that 迷信 doesn't carry any supernatural or other connotations like that explicitly or exclusively, but it can. It can be any old belief that doesn't follow logic or evidence.

And here's a big list of them just for kicks.

Common misconceptions like duck echoes and whatnot might or might not be rooted in old folk beliefs. That much I don't know, but it's possible that they might be referred to as 迷信. A native's perspective there would be appreciated. It's probable that this kind of thing would be referred to as 誤解 though, or misunderstanding. alc supports this. It seems you might be using "superstition" in English to refer to all kinds of myths. After all, I wouldn't refer to believing that a duck's echo doesn't quack as being superstitious.

  • May not be relevant but in Chinese 迷信 is very loaded word, implying the holder of such beliefs is stupid and "unenlightened". It is often used to make fun of anybody believing in any sort of religion, no matter "superstitious" or not, and is used in relation to the Marxist idea that religion is the tool of oppression.
    – ithisa
    Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 17:31

I'm not a native speaker either, but my intuition on 迷信 is that of "superstition" specifically rooted in some historical belief of the (super)natural. But acquiring more figurative meanings over time is a very common linguistic phenomenon, and as snailboat's link confirms, modern mistakes can also be called 迷信 by native speakers.

OTOH, I've seen 誤った俗説 as a translation for "common misconception", specifically in the context of recent history (ie, overturning a belief that developed over the past century). And I think your myth example of a duck's quack having no echo would fit that category as well. I can't cite exactly where I saw it, but I can narrow it down to one of two books that I've read recently:

  1. 南京事件の日本人 / 笠原十九司; or
  2. 言語学の諸相 : 赤塚紀子教授記念論文集 / 久野暲, 牧野成一, Susan G. Strauss編

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