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noun [countable and uncountable]

the principle that a thing which exists as a result of something that happened in the past can later be used in a different way

'The future of the Olympic Stadium will remain uncertain until after the London Games after the body responsible was forced to delay a final decision over its legacy.'

The Telegraph 15th May 2012

If you were to look up the word legacy in an English dictionary, then the first definition you'd be likely to come across would talk of money or possessions that are passed on when a person dies, and suggested synonyms would be words like inheritance or bequest. A 'secondary' sense of legacy might then extend this to the idea of something, either an abstract concept or a concrete object, that lingers on after a person dies or continues to exist after its original purpose has ended. It's this latter idea that, in the context of the Olympics in London this year, has temporarily brought the word legacy very much into the limelight.

way before the first foundations of the 80,000 seater Olympic stadium were laid, there was talk of what the legacy of this and other constructions would be

Way before the first foundations of the 80,000 seater Olympic stadium were laid, there was talk of what the legacy of this and other multi-billion pound Olympic constructions would be. This was not just a case of fortuitously stumbling across a new use for these buildings when they were finished with, or flogging them off to the highest bidder, but forward planning to such an extent that the long-term function of buildings (and their impact on the surrounding environment) would be a significant criterion in the initial design process. This then raises legacy to the status of a principle – rather than leaving it to chance that anything constructed would 'come in handy' later, there should and would be a definite plan for post-Olympic use. A key player in this principle is a dedicated agency known as the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC). Founded by the mayor of London, the LLDC has a development strategy in place for what is now known as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which, according to the LLDC's chief executive, will become "… a new piece of London that's owned and shaped by the community in and around it … a place of practical benefit for the surrounding community – a place to take your children swimming at weekends, go to school, walk your dog or go to a festival in the summer." (www.londonlegacy.co.uk).

Whether and to what extent these ideals will be realized in practice still remains to be seen. In the meantime, legacy is undoubtedly a buzzword in contemporary British English as the Games organizers strive to learn from the various successes and failures of previous hosting nations and keep their original promises.

Background – legacy

Over a number of decades now, the word legacy has taken centre stage at four-yearly intervals, as each new Olympic nation attempts to capitalize on the social and economic benefits of hosting the games and avoid the possibility of investing millions in buildings and infrastructure which turn out to be white elephants. In such contexts, the word legacy is often used as a noun modifier, so in connection with the 2012 Games there's talk for instance of legacy solutions/propositions. Olympic legacy is not always material – for instance the logistical success of the 2008 Beijing Olympics appears to have bolstered the Chinese government's image and boosted domestic support, so could therefore be said to have left a political legacy.

The word legacy first appeared in English in the late 14th century and derives from Latin legatus meaning 'ambassador' or 'delegated person' (in relation to a will). Over time its meaning subsequently shifted to refer to 'property left in a will'. With the advent of computers in the 20th century, legacy also converted to use as an attributive adjective, and in this sense describes software or hardware that has been superseded but is difficult to replace because it is used so widely.

For teachers

Would you like to use this BuzzWord article in class? Visit onestopenglish.com for tips and suggestions on how to do just that! This downloadable pdf contains a student worksheet which includes reading activities, vocabulary-building exercises and a focus on verb and noun collocations and phrasal verbs.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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Read last week's BuzzWord. Drug driving.

This article was first published on 9th July 2012.

Open Dictionary


a form of location that involves the underwater detonation of a bomb which causes sound waves that are picked up by ships

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