A short rant on the etymology of the word LEGEND, as borrowed from Eric Partridge

I love words. But I’m one of those people who gets upset if you say irregardless. I have no right to, other than to point out that the only difference between regardless and irregardless is that one is correct and one is not, and if you can’t tell the difference, that’s too bad.

One Christmas, my step-dad gave me A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (Eric Partridge, 1983); it is yellow and fading from direct sunlight, thick and angry, and starts something like this:

If he wishes to be in a position to understand words in their fullest implications and subtleties, in their nuances and most delicate modifications, he will do well to study the list of suffixes and then the little less important list of prefixes; lists that are themselves etymological. By the way, the prefixes and suffixes are my own idea; the list of compound-forming elements (this list, too, is etymological), that of an eminent and humane, practical yet imaginative French philologist, the late M. Albert Dauzat. Like his, my list is confined to the learnèd elements: where he omits such elements as are English words recorded in the dictionary itself. My list, however, is more than twice as long as his and, in treatment, much more spacious, for Origins differs considerably from the Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue française. (p. xiii)

I am sorry to be such an ass, but what little I’ve learned from this big book makes me feel like a prince in certain circles, and compensates for other areas in my life where I am inadequate, or loathsome.

Today, I am celebrating the word LEGEND. Get a cup of tea or a large stout, and cozy-up.

Of all the words I’ve come across in this book, LEGEND has the most derivatives. That is to say, the most words come from the word LEGEND.

Consider for starters: legendary, lectern, lection, lesson, lector, lecture, legible, legion, legionary, legume, leguminose, ligneous, lignite, lignose, lignum…collect, collection, collective, collectivism, collectivist, collectivity, collector, coil…

It seems that the notion of LEGEND comes from the Latin legere, “…to gather (esp fruit), hence to collect…ML collector, adopted by E. L. colligere becomes OF coillir, whence ‘to coil,’ to gather together, esp a rope.” (p. 346)

It goes on and on, really…

Diligence, election, elegant, eligible, elite, intellect, intellection, intellectual, intelligent, intelligentsia, intelligible, neglect, neglectful, negligence, predilection, prelect, privilege, sacrilege, select, selection…logic, logical…and I’m leaving lots out, still.

All this to say: some may pooh-pooh legends as tall-tales, synonymous with urban myths. But the truth is, the word LEGEND is the source of so many commonly used English words: from legumes to apologies, analogies, eulogies.

In some ways, it’s a compilation of everything we’ve gathered and collected: knowledge is what we know now. LEGEND is what lives on.

For all the jerks like me who want to protect language from changing, to keep it right, it will change irregardless, as soon as it leaves the lips and carries on the winds.


Note: I went online hunting for more on LEGEND. I didn’t turn up much of anything. Some things are better found in books, with yellow pages and stuffy authors, who did it all in life before search engines.

Categories: humor

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11 replies

  1. I’m trying to think which of your qualities may be loathsome but am coming up short; irregardless, I enjoy this entry so much that currently right now, I am laughing heartily… You did it. I am hooked on your blog now. It is one of the first things I do in the morning, reading your blog, getting coffee ready. Damn you.


  2. I am familiar with language purists! I tend to screw it up, twist it around, change grammar to suit sound play or emphasize points in my work. Drive editors crazy! I like this piece, the history surrounding. REGARDLESS, words are interesting…..


    • Yes, something like “you need to know the rules first if you want to break them.” Who knows…thanks for chiming in with your thoughts Lennon! Enjoy your weekend. – Bill


  3. I chuckled while reading your post as I remembered a friend who takes a machete to the English language just to drive me nuts. He also uses the word “irregardless” and insists “through” is always interchangeable with “thru”. English is not our first language; a fact he uses to excuse himself but he also has little use for commas which are pretty much cross-cultural. His wife and I tried to explain the sexiness of the semicolon to him recently and his response was that we needed to get out more. Some people are simply destined to stay in caveman grammar mode.


    • That’s awesome! I was actually thinking about a post on the semi-colon, and how it feels too “stuffy” to me, even though it has its obvious uses. Now I run on my sentences with wild abandon…hey your English is wonderful for an ESL writer! I am relearning French now and it is blowing my mind. But I need my mind to exercise a bit as it’s getting fat and lazy…have a great day and thank you for reading, and commenting! – Bill


      • Well I was born here but no English was spoken in my house until I had kids of my own. I first began speaking English in school around age 4 or 5; he has a similar story. For some strange reason he has an accent and won’t use a comma to save his life. I’m 39 years old so I’d like to think I’ve had plenty of time to work on the English-thing.

        I studied French for four years. Understand it better that I speak it. It’s a beautiful language. Enjoy the re-conditioning. 🙂


  4. I was just posting about that knowing-the-rules-before-you-break-them thing myself. Thank you for letting me know about that book in plenty of time to add it to my Amazon wishlist before my birthday. I’m always stunned when professionals of my generation or older say “irregardless,” although the legitimizing influence of popular usage is winning this battle — it’s showing up in dictionaries now, qualified as a “dialectal non-standard.” I’m reminded of a joke from childhood in Pittsburgh:
    Did you hear that they’re renaming Three Rivers Stadium “Irregardless?”
    No, why?
    Because it’s beside The Point!


    • Love that joke: I didn’t grow up in Pittsburgh but only lived there a year (wish I were there again myself). Love the joke…and I do hope you’re joking about adding this book to your wish list. It’s good for killing big spiders maybe, but I haven’t cracked it open in years. Maybe I ought to! It’s funny, but I think I recognize you from the South Side – not sure – were you there in 1993-94 by any chance? Thanks for reading, and I’m looking forward to following your posts now, too! Enjoy the rest of your weekend. – Bill


  5. I am not sure I will be able to write again knowing you have a close eye on my words….. Irregardless, I guess I will anyway. : )


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