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Fabled vs legendary - difference?

Could you please explain the difference between legendary and fabled?


In a multiple choice I have a sentence:

Wilfred Thesinger, the LEGENDARY explorer once said, ‘We live our lives second-hand’.


Why not fabled?




Feb 3, 2015 7:05 AM
Comments · 4

Legendary implies "larger than life", a person who has or may become the subject of legends, because of what he's done.


Fabled, comes from fable, and a fable is story that may or may be true, and usually told to children to introduce a moral lesson, such as Aesop's Fables.  So a fabled person would be someone like Prince Charming in Cinderella.  He's a nice idea, but he doesn't really exist.

February 13, 2015

Hi Victoria,

As far as I can tell, the two terms are interchangeable. Choosing one word over another simply comes down to a matter of preference. If I were to draw any distinction however, it would be that 'legendary' has more of a sense of grandeur and majesty, while 'fabled' has more of a sense of mystery; I might also add that I prefer the use of 'legendary' for heroes, warriors, people, etc. and 'fabled' for kingdoms, magical realms, etc. A 'fabled underwater kingdom' sounds better, I think, than a 'legendary underwater kingdom'.

February 13, 2015

As a well educated native speaker I would have trouble with that one on a multiple-choice test. If "fabled" were marked wrong I would try to argue about it! I think "fabled" is perfectly good here.

I would however have chosen the "right" answer. (I was always a good test-taker). The reason is simply that in this kind of context, "legendary" is a familiar, hackneyed word. (In this forum, I've learned the word "collocation;" "legendary [achiever]" is a collocation.)

Just for fun, I'm going a Google Books search and the exact phrase "legendary explorer" gets over two thousand hits while "fabled explorer" gets only fifty. The hits sound perfectly good to me: 


"Fridtjof Nansen, a fabled explorer and the first man to ski across Greenland..."

"'Dr. Livingstone, I presume' exclaimed Stanley when he found the fabled explorer..."

"Major John Wesley Powell, who arose out of the frontier Midwest to become the fabled explorer of the Grand Canyon..." is showing me


Fabled: 1. Made known or famous by fables; legendary.
2. Existing only in fables; fictitious.


Legendary: 1. Of, based on, or discussed in legend.
2. Extremely well known; famous or renowned: a legendary talk show host.





February 13, 2015

there is a difference since legends are based however flimsily and loosely on some historical context. They grow out of someone or something true. 

February 13, 2015
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