apocryphal = archetypal? unbelievable?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Feb 8 04:12:24 UTC 2010

At 10:59 PM -0500 2/7/10, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>So, Larry, you're saying that in this sentence "apocryphal" is replaceable
>by "too good to be true"?

Essentially, yes.

Here's the first sense for "apocryphal" in the OED:

Of doubtful authenticity; spurious, fictitious, false; fabulous, mythical.
a. orig. of a writing, statement, or story.

And note these two early cites, not that different in kind from
what's going on with Sgt. York, I reckon:

1678 BUTLER Hud. III. i. 492 If but one word be true..In all th'
apocryphal romance.
1868 FREEMAN Norm. Conq. II. App. 569 The tale has a somewhat apocryphal sound.

If you don't like "almost too good to be true" as a paraphrase, would
you settle for "almost mythical"? ("fabulous" in the etymological
'fable-like' sense would be even better.)


>I think "too good to be true" is even more of a stretch than
>something catachrestic like "archetypal."
>Having seen the movie (and read Beaumont's article) a number of times, I
>don't think "apocalyptic" fits the context at all.
>On Sun, Feb 7, 2010 at 10:50 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>wrote:
>>  ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>  -----------------------
>>  Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>  Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
>>  Subject:      Re: apocryphal = archetypal? unbelievable?
>>  At 9:35 PM -0500 2/7/10, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>>  >At least that's what it looks like:
>>  >
>>  >1971 Roger A. Beaumont  "Images of War" in _Military Affairs_ (Feb.) 6:
>>   [A]
>>  >whole series of films came out of Hollywood [in 1941]...generally disposed
>>  >to American's [sic] girding its psychological loins for the coming shock
>>  of
>>  >battle...[including] "Sergeant York," the almost apocryphal story of a
>>  >pacifist turned war hero.
>>  >At the time of writing, Prof. Beaumont was "Associate Director of the
>>  Center
>>  >for Advanced Study in Organization Science and Assistant Professor of
>>  >Organization Science at the University of Wisconsin, University Extension,
>>  >Milwaukee."
>>  >
>>  >Much as I'd like to believe it means "apocryphal," I just can't do it.
>>  >
>>  >
>>  I'll take the devil's advocate position.  The sense is it's *almost*
>>  too good to be true, truth being stranger than fiction, etc. etc.,
>>  and since "too good to be true" = apocryphal, there you go.  QED and
>>  all that.
>>  LH
>>  ------------------------------------------------------------
>>  The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
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