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A legend is a genre of folklore that consists of a
narrative A narrative, story or tale is any account of a series of related events or experiences, whether nonfiction Nonfiction (also spelled non-fiction) is any document A document is a written Writing is a medium of human communication Comm ...

narrative
featuring human actions, believed or perceived, both by teller and listeners, to have taken place in human history. Narratives in this genre may demonstrate human values, and possess certain qualities that give the tale
verisimilitude In philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Metaphysics, existence, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Philosophy of language, l ...
. Legend, for its active and passive participants may include
miracle A miracle is a supernatural event that seems inexplicable by physical laws, natural or scientific laws. In various religions, a phenomenon that is characterized as miraculous is often attributed to the actions of a supernatural being, (especiall ...

miracle
s. Legends may be transformed over time, in order to keep them fresh and vital. Many legends operate within the realm of uncertainty, never being entirely believed by the participants, but also never being resolutely doubted. Legends are sometimes distinguished from
myth Myth is a folklore genre Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the tradition A tradition is a belief A belief is an Attitude (psychology), attitude that something is the ca ...
s in that they concern human beings as the main characters rather than gods, and sometimes in that they have some sort of historical basis whereas myths generally do not. The
Brothers Grimm The Brothers Grimm ( or ), Jacob Jacob (; ; ar, يَعْقُوب '' Yaʿqūb'', gr, Ἰακώβ, ''Iakṓb''), later given the name Israel Israel (; he, יִשְׂרָאֵל; ar, إِسْرَائِيل), officially known as the ...
defined ''legend'' as "
folktale
folktale
historically grounded". A modern
folklorist Folklore studies, also known as folkloristics, and occasionally tradition studies or folk life studies in the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, ...

folklorist
's professional definition of ''legend'' was proposed by Timothy R. Tangherlini in 1990:
Legend, typically, is a short (mono-) episodic, traditional, highly ecotypified historicized narrative performed in a conversational mode, reflecting on a psychological level a symbolic representation of folk belief and collective experiences and serving as a reaffirmation of commonly held values of the group to whose tradition it belongs.


Etymology and origin

''Legend'' is a
loanword A loanword (also loan word or loan-word) is a word In linguistics, a word of a spoken language can be defined as the smallest sequence of phonemes that can be uttered in isolation with semantic, objective or pragmatics, practical meaning ...
from
Old French Old French (, , ; Modern French French ( or ) is a Romance language The Romance languages, less commonly Latin or Neo-Latin languages, are the modern languages that evolved from Vulgar Latin Vulgar Latin, also known as Popular o ...
that entered English usage circa 1340. The Old French noun ''legende'' derives from the
Medieval Latin Medieval Latin was the form of Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share ...
''legenda''. In its early English-language usage, the word indicated a narrative of an event. 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. By 1613, English-speaking
Protestant Protestantism is a form of that originated with the 16th-century , a movement against what its followers perceived to be in the . Protestants originating in the Reformation reject the Roman Catholic doctrine of , but disagree among themselves ...
s began to use the word when they wished to imply that an event (especially the story of any
saint In religious belief, a saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of Q-D-Š, holiness, likeness, or closeness to God. However, the use of the term ''saint'' depends on the context and Christian denomination, denominatio ...

saint
not acknowledged in
John Foxe John Foxe (1516/1517 – 18 April 1587), an English historian and martyrologist A martyrology is a catalogue or list of martyrs and other saints and beatification, beati arranged in the calendar order of their anniversaries or feasts. Local mar ...
's '''') was fictitious. Thus, ''legend'' gained its modern connotations of "undocumented" and "
spurious Spurious may refer to: * Spurious relationship In statistics Statistics is the discipline that concerns the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data. In applying statistics to a scientific, industrial, or ...
", which distinguish it from the meaning of ''
chronicle A chronicle ( la, chronica, from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its pop ...

chronicle
''. In 1866,
Jacob Grimm Jacob Ludwig Karl Grimm (4 January 1785 – 20 September 1863), also known as Ludwig Karl, was a German linguist, philologist, jurist, and folklorist Folklore studies, also known as folkloristics, and occasionally tradition studies or ...

Jacob Grimm
described the
fairy tale A fairy tale, fairytale, wonder tale, magic tale, fairy story or ''Märchen'' is an instance of European folklore genre Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the traditions common ...

fairy tale
as "poetic, legend historic." Early scholars such as
Friedrich Ranke Friedrich Ranke (21 September 1882 - 11 October 1950) was a German medievalist philologist and folklorist. His Old Norse textbook ''Altnordisches Elementarbuch'' remains a standard, and all literature concerning Gottfried von Strassburgs ''Tristan ...
and
Will Erich Peuckert Will-Erich Peuckert (11 May 1895 – 25 October 1969) was a Germany, German folklorist. Life Peuckert was born in Töppendorf in Lower Silesia on May 1, 1895. He studied History and ''Volkskunde'' at the University of Breslau, where he delivered h ...
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, 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 BoorHelmut de Boor (born 24 March 1891 in Bonn, died 4 August 1976 in Berlin) was a German medievalist. Life and career Helmut de Boor was the third child of the Byzantine studies scholar Carl Gotthard de Boor. He was educated in Breslau and attended t ...
noted in 1928. The narrative content of legend is in realistic mode, rather than the wry
irony Irony (), in its broadest sense, is a rhetorical device In rhetoric Rhetoric () is the art Art is a diverse range of (products of) human activities involving creative imagination to express technical proficiency, beauty, emoti ...

irony
of folktale; Wilhelm Heiske remarked on the similarity of motifs in legend and folktale and concluded that, in spite of its realistic
mode Mode ( la, modus meaning "manner, tune, measure, due measure, rhythm, melody") may refer to: Language * Grammatical mode In linguistics, grammatical mood is a Grammar, grammatical feature of verbs, used for signalling Modality (natural langua ...
, legend is not more historical than folktale. In ''Einleitung in der Geschichtswissenschaft'' (1928), Ernst Bernheim asserted that a legend is simply a longstanding
rumour A rumor (American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties of the English language native to the United States. Currently, American English i ...
.
Gordon Allport Gordon Willard Allport (November 11, 1897 – October 9, 1967) was an American psychologist A psychologist is a professional A professional is a member of a profession or any person who earns a living from a specified professional activity ...

Gordon Allport
credited the staying-power of some rumours to the persistent cultural state-of-mind that they embody and capsulise; thus "
Urban legend An urban legend or contemporary legend is a genre of folklore Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the tradition A tradition is a belief A belief is an attitude Attitud ...
s" 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.


Christian ''legenda''

In the narrow Christian sense, ''legenda'' ("things to be read n a certain day, in church) were
hagiographical A hagiography (; ) or vita (from Latin ''vita'', life, which begins the title of most medieval biographies) is a biography of a saint In religious belief, a saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of Q-D-Š, holines ...
accounts, often collected in a legendary. Because saints' lives are often included in many miracle stories, ''legend'', in a wider sense, came to refer to any story that is set in a historical context, but that contains
supernatural The supernatural encompasses supposed phenomena or entities that are not subject to the Scientific law, laws of nature. This term is attributed to non-physical entity, non-physical entities, such as angels, demons, gods, and ghost, spirits. It ...

supernatural
, divine or fantastic elements.


Related concepts

Hippolyte Delehaye Hippolyte Delehaye, S.J., (Antwerp Antwerp (; nl, Antwerpen ; french: Anvers ) is a city in Belgium and the capital of Antwerp (province), Antwerp province in the Flemish Region. With a population of 520,504,myth Myth is a folklore genre Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the tradition A tradition is a belief A belief is an Attitude (psychology), attitude that something is the ca ...

myth
: "The ''legend'', on the other hand, has, of necessity, some historical or topographical connection. It refers imaginary events to some real personage, or it localizes romantic stories in some definite spot." From the moment a legend is retold as fiction, its authentic legendary qualities begin to fade and recede: in ''
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is a gothic story by American author Washington Irving Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, 1859) was an American short-story writer, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat of the early 19th ...
'',
Washington Irving Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, 1859) was an American short-story writer, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat of the early 19th century. He is best known for his short stories " Rip Van Winkle" (1819) and " The Lege ...

Washington Irving
transformed a local Hudson River Valley legend into a literary anecdote with "Gothic" overtones, which actually tended to diminish its character as genuine legend. Stories that exceed the boundaries of "
realism Realism, Realistic, or Realists may refer to: In the arts *Realism (arts), the general attempt to depict subjects truthfully in different forms of the arts Arts movements related to realism include: *Classical Realism *Literary realism, a movem ...
" are called "
fable Fable is a literary genre: a succinct fictional story, in prose or verse (poetry), verse, that features animals, legendary creatures, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature that are Anthropomorphism, anthropomorphized, and that illustrate ...
s". For example, the
talking animal A talking animal or speaking animal is any non-human animal that can produce sounds or gestures resembling those of a human language. Several species or groups of animals have developed forms of communication which superficially resemble verbal l ...
formula of
Aesop Aesop ( or ; , ; c. 620–564 BCE) was a Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Euro ...

Aesop
identifies his brief stories as fables, not legends. The parable of the
Prodigal Son The Parable of the Prodigal Son (also known as the parable of the Two Brothers, Lost Son, Loving Father, or of the Forgiving Father) is one of the parables of Jesus in Bible, the Bible, appearing in Luke 15:11–32. Jesus shares the parable with ...
would be a legend if it were told as having actually happened to a specific son of a historical father. If it included a
donkey The donkey or ass is a domestic animal This page gives a list of domestic animals, also including a list of domestication of animals, animals which are or may be currently undergoing the process of domestication and animals that have an exten ...
that gave sage advice to the Prodigal Son it would be a fable. Legend may be transmitted orally, passed on person-to-person, or, in the original sense, through written text. Jacob de Voragine's ''Legenda Aurea'' or "The Golden Legend" comprises a series of ''vitae'' or instructive biographical narratives, tied to the
liturgical calendar The liturgical year, also known as the church year or Christian year, as well as the kalendar, consists of the cycle of liturgical Liturgy is the customary public worship Worship is an act of religion, religious wikt:devotion, devotion u ...
of the
Roman Catholic Church The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with 1.3 billion baptised Baptism (from the Greek language, Greek noun βάπτισμα ''báptisma'') is a Christians, Christian ...

Roman Catholic Church
. They are presented as lives of the saints, but the profusion of miraculous happenings and above all their uncritical context are characteristics of
hagiography A hagiography (; ) or vita (from Latin ''vita'', life, which begins the title of most medieval biographies) is a biography of a saint In religious belief, a saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of Q-D-Š, holin ...
. The ''Legenda'' was intended to inspire extemporized homilies and sermons appropriate to the
saint In religious belief, a saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of Q-D-Š, holiness, likeness, or closeness to God. However, the use of the term ''saint'' depends on the context and Christian denomination, denominatio ...

saint
of the day.


Urban legend

Urban legends are a modern genre of folklore that is rooted in local
popular culture Popular culture (also called mass culture or pop culture) is generally recognized by members of a society A society is a group A group is a number A number is a mathematical object used to counting, count, measurement, measure, and ...
, usually comprising fictional stories that are often presented as true, with
macabre The Triumph of Death in St Maria in Bienno In works of art A work of art, artwork, art piece, piece of art or art object is an artistic creation of aesthetics, aesthetic value. Except for "work of art", which may be used ...
or
humor Humour (Commonwealth English The use of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, which has eventually become the World ...

humor
ous elements. These legends can be used for entertainment purposes, as well as semi-serious explanations for seemingly-mysterious events, such as disappearances and strange objects. The term "urban legend," as used by folklorists, has appeared in print since at least 1968.Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed. 1989, entry for "urban legend," citing R. M. Dorson in T. P. Coffin, ''Our Living Traditions'', xiv. 166 (1968). See also William B. Edgerton, ''The Ghost in Search of Help for a Dying Man'', Journal of the Folklore Institute, Vol. 5, No. 1. pp. 31, 38, 41 (1968).
Jan Harold Brunvand Jan Harold Brunvand (born March 23, 1933) is a retired American folklorist, researcher, writer, public speaker, and professor emeritus of English at the University of Utah The University of Utah (U of U, UofU, or simply The U) is a public ...
, professor of English at the
University of Utah The University of Utah (U of U, UofU, or simply The U) is a public In public relations Public relations (PR) is the practice of deliberately managing the release and spread of information between an individual or an organization (such ...

University of Utah
, introduced the term to the general public in a series of popular books published beginning in 1981. Brunvand used his collection of legends, '' The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends & Their Meanings'' (1981) to make two points: first, that legends and
folklore Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the tradition A tradition is a belief A belief is an attitude Attitude may refer to: Philosophy and psychology * Attitude (psycholog ...

folklore
do not occur exclusively in so-called primitive or traditional societies, and second, that one could learn much about urban and modern culture by studying such tales.


See also

* The Matter of Britain, Arthurian legend *
Legendary saga A legendary saga or ''fornaldarsaga'' (literally, "story/history of the ancient era") is a Norse saga Sagas are prose stories and histories, composed in Iceland and to a lesser extent elsewhere in Scandinavia. The most famous saga-genre is the ' ...
* Lists of legendary creatures


References

{{Authority control Folklore Literary genres Narratology Traditional stories