It has been a while since we served up a “Word Wednesday” feature, so let’s return to it by considering another entry in the book Coined by God: Words and Phrases That First Appear in the English Translations of the Bible , the combined work of Stanley Malless and Jeffrey McQuain (W.W. Norton, 2003).
Our selection today is the word “legacy”, an oft-used word today which never made it into the main English translations of the Bible. About this common English word Malless and McQuain write (pp.49-50):
LEGACY: (noun) anything handed down by a predecessor; bequest
One of Wycliffe’s major linguistic legacies is the infiltration of the English language with many loanwords from the Vulgate Latin of Jerome’s Bible. His literal borrowing of legacy, however, led to a semantic as well as a translational dead end.
The noun appears in a section of 2 Corinthians where Paul exhorts the faithful to become ‘ambassadors of Christ’: ‘Therefore we are set in legacy [legacie]…for Christ’ (2 Corinthians 5:20). ‘Ambassador’ would be the English translation of Jerome’s word legationem (from the verb legare, ‘to send an ambassador’), but Wycliffe chose to stay with the Latin. Consequently, legacy was dropped from the 1388 Wycliffite version, never to appear again anywhere in the Bible, and its literal meaning of ‘legateship’ became obsolete by the end of the eighteenth century.
Today, traces of that earlier coinage survive in delegate, but the most common legacy has been in the sense of a figurative bequest. This the first annual Hurston/Wright Legacy Award was recently announced to honor published writers of African descent. …But perhaps Shakespeare said it best in All’s Well That Ends Well: ‘No legacy is so rich as honesty’ (III. v.13).