News releases from publicists come in waves by snail mail, e-mail and that ancient technology the fax machine. By rough estimate, at least half concern the latest CDs, concerts or club appearances of legends:
…the legendary _____________(fill in the blank)
…a legend of the (piano, drums, bass, trumpet, oboe ____________(fill in the blank).
Let’s consult a dictionary. The one in the answers.com dictionary will do; it essentially agrees with the definitions in the Random House and Webster’s dictionaries and adds an interesting usage note.
leg·end (lĕj’ənd) n.
a. An unverified story handed down from earlier times, especially one popularly believed to be historical.
b. A body or collection of such stories.
c. A romanticized or popularized myth of modern times.
2. One who inspires legends or achieves legendary fame.
[Middle English, from Old French legende, from Medieval Latin (lēctiō) legenda, (lesson) to be read, from Latin, feminine gerundive of legere, to read.]
USAGE NOTE Legend comes from the Latin adjective legenda, “for reading, to be read,” which referred only to written stories, not to traditional stories transmitted orally from generation to generation. This restriction also applied to the English word legend when it was first used in the late 14th century in reference to written accounts of saints’ lives, but ever since the 15th century legend has been used to refer to traditional stories as well. Today a legend can also be a person or achievement worthy of inspiring such a story–anyone or anything whose fame promises to be enduring, even if the renown is created more by the media than by oral tradition. Thus we speak of the legendary accomplishments of a major-league baseball star or the legendary voice of a famous opera singer. This usage is common journalistic hyperbole, and 55 percent of the Usage Panel accepts it.
I’ll try to keep the wisdom of the Usage Panel in mind the next time I read a news release or a liner note about some 23-year-old singer who is a legend. If she’s a female singer, she is, of course, a legendary diva.
There’s no perbole like hyperbole.
Bill Kirchner says
Thanks for debunking one of the most overused words in jazz (and performing-arts) flackery. Another is “genius”. Ever notice that jazz has more “geniuses” than any other music?
Ken Dryden says
In addition to the overuse of the term “legend” in jazz publicity bios sent to me, I’ve noticed more than a few don’t bother to check the spelling of the much better known artists with whom their clients have played. It is hard to take someone seriously if a p.r. person claims that “John Smith played with Lou Tabakin (sic) and accompanied Sara Vaughn (sic).”