ImPRoper usage

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Jeff Morosoff, Asst. Professor of Public Relations, Hofstra University

I’ve always been intrigued by words–their origins, evolution, and usage. But the words hero, genius and legend have become such frequent adjectives that they may have lost their true meaning.

“Genius” and “legend” are terribly overused. Genius is defined by Webster as “1) a strongly marked capacity or aptitude; 2) extraordinary intellectual power as manifested in creative activity; and 3) a person endowed with transcendent mental superiority.” On some level that Steve Jobs or Alfred Hitchcock were geniuses, but recent sightings of the word “genius” include describing the likes of Eminem, Tiger Woods and the Three Stooges’ Curly Howard! Writes Dr. Billy Tao in Geniuses, Prodigies and Savants, “Genius is the highest level of attainment in any particular field of human endeavour…Geniuses imply much greater depth and calibre in knowledge, wisdom, creativity, experience, personalities, maturity of thought, and a host of other valued human qualities…Their greatness and achievements must also pass the test of time.”

“Legend” has been so overused it makes me a little crazy. Are Paul McCartney or Usain Bolt legends, as they’ve been called during these Olympics? The world’s most successful songwriter and the world’s fastest man, yes; yet a legend is defined as “an unverified tale.” Why are so many artists and athletes referred to as “legends” these days? Maybe the overuse of the word is an example of how meanings can change. I like my legends, however, to be the kind who rob from the rich to give to the poor, thank you.

Celebrities and athletes are often called “heroes” as well. In the heat of competition, a game-winning touchdown or home run may qualify, but it seems we call too many people heroes. When soldiers die or are hurt in times of war, some cynics believe the word is used as propaganda designed to sooth the masses. But when we apply the term to firefighters, cops and anyone who helps or defends others under difficult circumstances, I’m OK with it. Those who are brave enough to put themselves in harm’s way usually deserve to be called heroes. Your thoughts?

One thought on “ImPRoper usage

  1. Abdul

    It is possible that time has come to lower our standards giving these words a whole new meaning. It is also possible that writers are just as caught up in the whole celebrity worship to where it is now commonplace to use such terms to describe famous people. Either ways, I feel that words like genius, hero, and legend are losing their essence.


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