Etymology of Label and Legend

By Xah Lee. Date: .

When you are writing about Keyboard Key Label Printing Technologies, you wonder, when to use “key label” or “legends”.

[see Keyboard Key Label Printing Technologies]

This is when, you need to dive into etymology.

label (n.)

c. 1300, “narrow band or strip of cloth” (oldest use is as a technical term in heraldry), from Old French label, lambel, labeau “ribbon, fringe worn on clothes” (13c., Modern French lambeau “strip, rag, shred, tatter”). This is perhaps, with a diminutive suffix, from Frankish *labba or some other Germanic source (such as Old High German lappa “flap”), from Proto-Germanic *lapp-, forming words for loose cloth, etc. (see lap (n.1)).

Meanings “dangling strip of cloth or ribbon used as an ornament in dress,” also “strip attached to a document to hold a seal” both are from early 15c. General meaning “tag, sticker, slip of paper” affixed to something to indicate its nature, contents, destination, etc. is from 1670s. Hence “circular piece of paper in the center of a gramophone record,” containing information about the recorded music (1907), which led to the meaning “a recording company” (1947).

[2017-02-27 from [etymology of label]]

So, the word “label” came from rags, so to speak.

legend (n.)

early 14c., “narrative dealing with a happening or an event,” from Old French legende (12c., Modern French légende) and directly from Medieval Latin legenda “legend, story,” especially lives of saints, which were formerly read at matins and in refectories of religious houses, literally “(things) to be read,” on certain days in church, etc., from Latin legendus, neuter plural gerundive of legere “to read; to gather, pluck, select” (see lecture (n.)).

Extended sense of “nonhistorical or mythical story,” with or without saints, wonders, and miracles is first recorded late 14c. Meaning “writing or inscription” (especially on a coin or medal) is from 1610s; on a map, illustration, etc., from 1903. To be a legend in (one's) own time is from 1958.

[2017-02-27 from [etymology of legend]]

Now there's not much history of how the word “legend” came to mean inscription on coin, or later maps.

We only learn that it's in 1903.

Found this blog:

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

One Christmas, my step-dad gave me A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (Eric Partridge, 1983)

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.

[A short rant on the etymology of the word LEGEND, as borrowed from Eric Partridge By William Pearse. At , accessed on 2017-02-27 ]

So it looks like “legend” originally came from “gathering”, “collection”.

So, the meaning legend as “key” in charts, seems to came from “legend” on coins or medals, which came from “legend” as in legendary persons or saints, and that meaning came from “gathering” as gathering of stories.