I just saw some sports figure – I don’t remember who, but I do remember that I didn’t recognize the name – described as “legendary”. It either saddens or maddens me, depending on my mood, to see the constant cheapening of language in this advertising age we live in. Nobody living is legendary; I cannot think of a single person in the world today that could remotely be deserving of such a term. One of the requirements for being legendary is having legends arise about one’s life. Wouldn’t you agree? When someone is alive, one can ask him or her if some story about him or her is accurate and get the facts. That would reduce this figure to the level of, at best “historical” and at worst, to “used to be famous”. Nearly anyone in sports comes much closer to the latter than the former. Surely, there is no one currently active in anything who is much more than “famous” or “prominent”. Next time someone uses the term “legendary” in my presence, I plan to challenge him to recount one of the legends surrounding that person. If the story is factual and verifiable, then we are dealing with history, not legend.
Of course, “historical” has been cheapened as badly as “legendary” has. Nowadays, it seems that “historical” is applied to something as trivial as a company painting a little color onto a two-dollar bill and selling it for $10. (Have you seen those recent ads?) Companies such as the Franklin Mint and others are constantly selling nickels and dimes for several dollars each (along with certificates of authentication!). It is clear, from the continued success of these companies, that there is no limit to the gullibility of the American public. Some of the people we vote for would bolster the same argument. Mark Twain based a number of story lines on the willingness of the public to believe the fantastic and to buy snake oil in large quantities. It would seem as if the desire to be deluded is so entrenched that it has given rise to both strange moments in history and to fictional tales which are cherished. In short, the gullibility of the American public is legendary.