The word apocryphal is used today either to describe something that is secret or rare, or of questionable authenticity, the latter being the more common usage. For example, it can be said that this gloss entry is anything but apocryphal, as all of the sources are cited. Even though apocryphal can be used to described information or documentation that is relatively recent, it is most widely used to describe the doubtful authenticity of old writings or documents, where the evidence of its truthfulness may have been lost over time.
Although the word apocryphal as an adjective was first used in 1590, the root of the word, apocrypha (a plural noun) originated from Latin and Greek. From Late Latin, the word apocryphus means secret, or non-canonical. It also originates from Greek: apokryphos meaning obscure; and apokryptein meaning to hide away. Apokryptein is constructed from the prefix apo- (away or away from) and kryptein (to hide), which we can find in the English language as the word crypt.
The word apocryphal was first used to describe writings which held knowledge that was considered too important or too sacred for the general public – hence the root of the word meaning “hidden away, secret”. However, time progressed and it is no surprise that these writings that were hidden away were mostly forgotten. When they had resurfaced, they were so obscure that it was almost impossible to verify their authenticity. This led to the modern usage of the word, meaning “of doubtful authenticity”.
It is also often used with respect to Biblical writings. At the Reformation, the Protestant Party excluded certain books that were included in the Old Testament. This is because they were not originally written in Hebrew and not considered authentic. These books are referred to today as the Apocrypha (note the usage as a proper noun).
The usage of the word apocryphal is still very relevant today. It helps us understand the importance of the validity of information. History can only be passed down to us through the use of documents such as texts, pictures, or recordings. However, it is very uncommon for a historical document to be completely unbiased or unaltered in some way. The farther back we look at history, the more apocryphal it becomes – hidden in obscurity.
It is also important to consider how apocryphal recent information is. Since we live in the Information Age, information is widely accessible to most people. This makes it not apocryphal in the sense of the first definition – hidden away, secret. However, since it is accessible to anyone, much of this information is of questionable truthfulness, making it apocryphal in the sense of the second definition.
"Apocrypha." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2012. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apocrypha>.
"Apocrypha." Oxford English Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2012. <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/9256>.
"Apocryphal." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2012. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apocryphal>.
"Apocryphal." Oxford English Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2012. <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/9258?redirectedFrom=apocryphal>.