The Grumpy Old Copywriter: You Kids Wouldn’t Know ‘Legendary’ If It Slapped You in the Face

Thaddeus Van Haltren

The Grumpy Old Copywriter: legendary in some quarters.

When I was breaking into the business back in the early 1900s, copywriters were taught to choose their adjectives with care. For example, when writing a radio ad for Dr. Bush’s Kumyss Sparkling Milk in 1922, I spent two-and-a-half hours debating whether to describe it as “delectable” or “luscious.”

Somewhere along the way — probably during the lawless ’60s — this lesson was lost. Copywriters began using adjectives without regard for their subtle shades of meaning. The same goes for the rest of society. Remember when “awesome” was reserved for those events and sightings that were truly awe-inspiring, as opposed to socks?

Which brings me to the word “legendary.” Merriam-Webster provides two definitions: “told about in a legend” and “very famous or well-known.”

Ethel Merman: Now we're talkin'. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons.)

Ethel Merman: Now we’re talkin’. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons.)

Last week, I came across a billboard touting “legendary Daltile wall and flooring tile products” as well as the website of a data center service provider claiming to provide “legendary service.” Now, no offense to tiling manufacturers or data center service providers, but nothing they ever make or do will ever be “told about in legend.” And being classified as legendary requires exponentially more fame than is possible for businesses like these.

With that in mind, I’ve compiled a brief list of legendary people and things. Feel free to consult this guide the next time you’re trying to decide if someone or something qualifies as legendary:

  • The vocal stylings of the late Ethel Merman
  • The 1927 Yankees
  • The Loch Ness monster
  • Each of the lead actresses in “The Golden Girls,” with the exception of Rue McClanahan (I just wasn’t a Blanche fan)

The bottom line: Just like any other adjective, “legendary” has a specific meaning. Don’t get lazy by using it willy-nilly in your copywriting. Or even while texting with friends.

Thaddeus Van Haltren founded The Hired Pens in 1931 and now serves as our senior copywriter emeritus. His current accounts include Moxie soda and Heinz Mince Meat.

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