Monday, January 10, 2011

Brief - But Legendary!

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.  


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  2. I would have to agree with you David. Most persons described as 'legendary' are likely only legends in their own minds. I love your last sentence. Perfect!

  3. Yep....gotta agree with your post entirely! I get very frustrated by just about all of those ads on radio and TV about the "great opportunities if you ACT NOW!"
    Ambulance chasers that tout representing clients in personal injury cases....then they just settle out at a low rate with the Insurance Companies.
    Who is so stupid that they want to "buy a star to be named for a loved one"? Business must be good, because the rate went up from $49 last year to $57 this year!
    And these "EXPERTS" on finance, real estate, or any other thing that they have supposedly gotten rich on. Yep, they are so proud that they made a fortune that they are willing to "let me in on their secrets for free"!
    My Momma was raised a simple ole country girl and used an old expression: "That makes my ass wanna chew tobacco!" ( Her way of saying: That gripes my ass"!)

  4. I disagree. I think people can be legendary. Like John Wooden, legendary UCLA basketball coach. Or other people in other fields who have done amazing and/or groundbreaking things and who have lived long enough that fact is embellished. They're historical AND legendary. I do agree that the term is used too loosely nowadays, like "love."

  5. I deleted my earlier comment due to editing issues, partly thanks to Blogger, so here is what I intended to post (now that I've regained my composure):

    No argument from me, David. I agree with the thoughts you expressed in your essay, especially

    "It either saddens or maddens me, depending on my mood, to see the constant cheapening of language in this advertising age we live in."

    The integrity of the English language has been eroding for some time now, but I wonder how much of it is just the result of natural evolution. In any society, dialects create subtle--and obvious--differences in usage and meanings of words, and the more dialects there are, the more profound the changes in the core language may be. I suppose the dialects at work in America today include textspeak, the language used in music and the media, even the slang used by our young people amongst themselves as a result of exposure to music and the media.

    As I get older, I find it's difficult to keep up with a lot of the cultural changes I encounter, and changes in language are particularly poignant for me. I'm sensitive to changes in our language I perceive as "wrong" because my education was heavy in English studies--grammar, composition, and literature--amd much of what I hear is contrary to the rules of English I learned. For example, consider the word "impact":

    I learned it as a noun--
    "The legislation had a profound impact upon our lives,"
    --not as a verb--
    "The legislation impacted our lives profoundly."

    I wince when I hear or read the second instance of usage because the writers and media journalists who use it should know better, in my opinion.

    Because I was taught to be accurate in my writing when I was young, that tendency has persisted to the present. Whilst I strive to be accurate in my writing, it's not always so, and I become disappointed in myself as a writer because I do know better.

    When you mentioned Mark Twain, I immediately thought about the proposed rewriting of some of his work; whose work will be next and where will it stop? I could go on and on, but will spare you that today.

    All I can do is offer my hotheaded opinions, then get on with my life because, at the end of the day, nothing I say will change anything, anyway.

    So it goes.

    Thank you for offering such wonderful food for thought, David; you keep me thinking, and that's always a good thing.

  6. @BETH – Thank you. I don’t think it is the person himself (or herself) that pulls the ‘legend’ bit – it is admirers or sportscasters or columnists who can’t be bothered to come up with the correct term when wanting to praise someone.

    @DAVE – You are quite right about the irritating and annoying and surely false ads. Have you seen the one where the world is made perfect if you wear a plastic arm band for – what? - twenty bucks or something? But my real point is not about ads, it is about the bastardization of the language because people are allowed to write or broadcast without bothering to learn what words actually mean – some just "sound good".

    @MIZANGIE – Sorry, I disagree, and I think you are proving my point. It takes nothing from Wooden or anyone else to say that the person was great, rather than legendary. "Great” is a fantastic, top-of-the-line word; of all the kings of England only one – Alfred – has ever been called “The Great.” I will bow to your expertise in football and agree that Wooden was all that you say – visionary, paradigm-changing, innovative, whatever. But he was not legendary. No one that I know of has ever called Washington (for instance) “legendary” even though there actually ARE legends about him (the cherry tree, throwing a dollar across the Delaware or Potomac or whatever river). Robin Hood is legendary. King Arthur is legendary. All that you say of Wooden is demonstrable fact – that may make him great or even unique among men, but not legendary. A legend is “a story coming down from the past; especially one popularly regarded as historical although not verifiable”. If any football player were to be called legendary, I’d propose George Gip – more is believed about him than is actually known. But I would not actually call him legendary. Perhaps Davy Crockett might be regarded as legendary, or Billy the Kid. King Arthur and Robin Hood are perfect examples – they may be based on historical figures or may not, their names were certainly not Arthur or Robin Hood, and many deeds attributed them are exaggerated, fictional or performed by someone else. Also the legends arose LONG AFTER they are said to have lived, and contain much data that was not true at the time of their supposed existence. Paul Bunyan is a legend. John Wooden is not. I am disagreeing about the meaning of the word, not about the achievements or personal qualities of Wooden.

  7. @MARGE - You had me worried there, I thought maybe you were reacting to my not-very-nice dig about using 'template' and 'unique' in the same sentence on your site - and that you removed it because your sweet nature asserted itself, despite my desserts. And by the way, I have begun writing even my lengthier comments in Word and then pasting them here, because I am far less quick to regain my composure than you, I suspect.
    I tend to like some of the noun to verb words, but in general I agree with you. Textspeak is fine in its place. Sometimes I think I would settle for the end of “between Mary and I” and “equally as”. And would concede the use of celibate to mean chaste as I have already (because I found I couldn’t help it) conceded the use of ‘hopefully’ to mean ‘it is hoped’. You will notice also I am woefully inconsistent in distinguish between double and single quotes, and truthfully it is because I am not always perfectly clear when to use which.
    I saw that about Mark Twain – it is outrageous – and yet any half-talented rapper can publish the offending terms willy-nilly. Don’t get me started. Ah, the lure of cosmetic change – more good would be done by funding the putting of one underprivileged black kid into a superior school – or teaching him to read and really understand Twain, n-word and all, than all the editing of an historical classic one could achieve.
    And I, for one, appreciate your care with the language.

  8. My take is only a bit off the beaten path. It's the word "famous". Somehow along the line, it has been used instead of "infamous". Who blurred those lines anyway? And now most of the general public doesn't even get the difference. Sad day in DryGlutch, isn't it.