Recently, I listened to the Heroes and Legends course from The Great Courses. At one point, the author said a word which he defined as something along the lines of "Popular (and often exaggerated) conception of a historical period". I think he specifically mentioned the old west and said that it really only lasted about a lifetime (but he might have mentioned Medieval Europe, too). I don't remember the word he used, however. What is it?

  • 1
    Perhaps he talked about its mythology? We usually say something is a "mythologized" version of events. Cf. hagiography.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 16:45
  • Seems like going back to the place he used that word would be a simple solution :-), but idealization seems quite possible.
    – ScotM
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 16:49
  • Tall tale? They are usually exaggerated stories of familiar settings like the Old West.
    – ermanen
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 17:11
  • I'm thinking I've heard such a word, but it's not coming to me. "Saga" is about the best I can come up with.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 17:16
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    @ScotM The lecture series is 12 hours long and I wasn't sure of where he first used it. I actually was able to take an extremely lucky guess and find the spot, but it took a half hour to find. Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 17:25

3 Answers 3


Listening to the relevant lecture again, the term he uses is "imaginary", but contextually it qualifies as jargon for literary criticism. He is not using it as an adjective, however, but as a noun. There is a "Wild West imaginary" and a "Medieval imaginary."

  • Here's to lucky guesses! It seems like an appropriate specialized use of imaginary.
    – ScotM
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 17:28
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    @ScotM It was a heck of a guess: I have no way of telling what chapter I'm listening to at when listening in iTunes. Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 18:35

Perhaps the romanticisation of the Old West.

A Guardian chat article includes;

The hard core love of guns came with the romanticisation of the "Old West" which was more legend and hype than fact.


The two words that come to mind for history are:



1 A traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but not authenticated:


idealization from idealize:


[WITH OBJECT] (often as adjective idealized)

Regard or represent as perfect or better than in reality:

  • The problem, though, is that this includes things which are often anything but an idealization: such things include the idea that Puritans, who were actually comparably permissive about sexuality, were more fastidious than the Victorians. Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 17:08
  • thesaurus.com/browse/conception?s=t
    – ScotM
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 17:14

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