St. George? Total legend.

Marcus Lodwick’s The Gallery Companion: Understanding Western Art describes Saint George as “a totally legendary saint whose existence has been in doubt since the fifth century”.

The flavours of both totally and legendary have – for me at least – shifted markedly through informal usage, interfering with the intended tone. Reading the line, I was (totally) distracted by the phrase totally legendary, even though the relative clause (“whose existence has been in doubt…”) and general context left no doubt as to its meaning.

Raphael - Saint George Fighting the Dragon

painting by Raphael

In common currency totally is like absolutely: often more a general intensifier or expression of hearty agreement than anything necessarily to do with totality or absoluteness. An example from the GloWbE corpus: “Seems totally harsh for them teachers huh?”

Legendary has been weakened by loose usage to the point where almost any degree of renown or achievement may be granted the description; similar trends with legend and its spin-off ledge(bag) – peculiarly Irish, I think – complete the inflationary effect.

The following (mildly parodic) fictional dialogue may serve to illustrate:

This bus driver is always on time – such a ledge!

Absolutely.

Remember the time she gave us chocolate?

Yeah, that was totally legendary.

Completely. Hey, is that Saint George you’re reading about?

It is.

Didn’t he, like, slay the dragon?

Yeah.

What a legend!

Totes!

I mean like existentially.

Right.

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16 Responses to St. George? Total legend.

  1. Harry Lake says:

    Just don’t get me started on ‘iconic’, grrr….

  2. Alan Ryan says:

    Hi Stan,

    Always enjoy reading over your material.

    I was slightly thrown by the use of existentially in the conversation, producing a smile. Very good.

    Cheers,

    Alan.

  3. Joy says:

    Didn’t they mention how awesome the driver was, too, to give them chocolate?

    And that St. George is so very unique?

  4. Stan says:

    Harry: A journalistic cliché of such repute as to be almost ico—no, I can’t say it.

    Alan: Thanks very much. I think the fictional listener was slightly thrown by it too.

    Joy: Another few minutes’ dialogue and those usages would likely appear. Epic, eh.

  5. John Cowan says:

    I would have written entirely legendary, which I think doesn’t have the problems of totally legendary, and pushes the reader to the right sense of legendary.

  6. Hah! I don’t hear “legendary” at all in Chicago and environs; it’s “epic” over here! Or if it totally didn’t happen (dude), it’s an “epic fail.”

  7. Very nice information!

    Thanks, and congratulations for your blog!

  8. Stan says:

    John: Yes, that would sidestep the problem, as would wholly legendary.

    4thEstateX: Epic is creeping in here too, and seems to be all over the internet. I don’t know if these looser senses of legend and legendary are common elsewhere, but they certainly are in Ireland.

    cardifflanguages: You’re welcome, and thanks for your visit.

  9. Look on the bright side – at least people aren’t legends in their own lunchtime like they used to be.

  10. John Cowan says:

    For a long time legendary meant primarily ‘dead’, as in the legendary Elvis Presley. Nowadays, of course, people are dead to fame while still alive, as their 15-minute timers expire.

  11. Stan says:

    projectechoshadow: Legend. Thanks for letting me know.

    Sarah: True. It’s the lunches themselves that have become legendary.

    John: In some cases it takes even less than that; witness the recent headline describing a footballer as an “Instant Twitter Legend”.

  12. I had a one word email from a client yesterday.

    You’ve guessed, haven’t you? Yes, it said “Legend”.

    He is far too modest to be saying he is a legend in any sense of the word. I don’t think saying I’ll get the work done this week makes me one.

    I think he means thank you.

    I feel very uncool now.

  13. Stan says:

    The Proof Angel: I think you’re right: in that context it essentially means thank you, but with more than average appreciation. It’s nice to be on the receiving end of such an expression, but I wouldn’t add it to the CV just yet.

  14. darkwalker40 says:

    A very interesting blog. :)

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