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!


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?


What a legend!


I mean like existentially.


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.



  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. cardifflanguages says:

    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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