Densetsu - Etymology and Origin

Etymology and Origin

Legend is a loanword from Old French that entered English usage circa 1340. The Old French noun legende derives from the Medieval Latin legenda. In its earliest English-language usage, the word indicated a narrative of an event.

In 1613, English-speaking Protestants began to use the word when they wished to imply that an event (especially the story of any saint not acknowledged in John Foxe's Actes and Monuments) was fictitious. Thus, legend gained its modern connotations of "undocumented" and "spurious", which distinguish it from the meaning of chronicle.

In 1866, Jacob Grimm described the fairy tale as "poetic, legend, historic." Early scholars such as Karl Wehrhan (de) Friedrich Ranke (de) and Will-Erich Peukert followed Grimm's example in focussing solely on the literary narrative, an approach that was enriched particularly after the 1960s, by addressing questions of performance and the anthropological and psychological insights provided in considering legends' social context. Questions of categorising legends, in hopes of compiling a content-based series of categories on the line of the Aarne-Thompson folktale index, provoked a search for a broader new synthesis.

In an early attempt at defining some basic questions operative in examining folk tales, Friedrich Ranke (de) in 1925 characterised the folk legend as "a popular narrative with an objectively untrue imaginary content" a dismissive position that was subsequently largely abandoned.

Compared to the highly-structured folktale, legend is comparatively amorphous, Helmut de Boor noted in 1928. The narrative content of legend is in realistic mode, rather than the wry irony of folktale; Wilhelm Heiske remarked on the similarity of motifs in legend and folktale and concluded that, in spite of its realistic mode, legend is not more historical than folktale.

In Einleitung in der Geschichtswissenschaft (1928), Ernst Bernheim asserted that a legend is simply a longstanding rumour. Gordon Allport credited the staying-power of some rumours to the persistent cultural state-of-mind that they embody and capsulise; thus "Urban legends" are a feature of rumour. When Willian Jansen suggested that legends that disappear quickly were "short-term legends" and the persistent ones be termed "long-term legends", the distinction between legend and rumour was effectively obliterated, Tangherlini concluded.

The word legendary was originally a noun (introduced in the 1510s) meaning a collection or corpus of legends. This word changed to legendry, and legendary became the adjectival form of legend.

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