I. Marc Carlson IMC at
Mon Jul 17 13:37:27 PDT 1995

>At the lastest meeting of our clothiers guild (pradon to the people 
>are opposed to the term)...

Not a problem for me, since that is, in fact, what the organization is
called by your group (and of course, since you were at least discussing
it, I'm perfectly happy).

>...we were discussing this argument that you 
>have been having, and a friend had a question about the use of the 
>dictionary to justify the particular definition of a word, and I felt it was 
>a very good one, so here it goes:  How can you use a dictionary to 
>justify the a word, when there were no dictionaries in the time frame 
>of the society? (the first being written by Samual Johnson, and before 
>this there was no real consenus on the definition of word, their 
>spelling, definition and use varied by district,  kingdom, and even by 
>town)  Our point being that you may have a reference in writing for a 
>period source, but how do you justify that as a common definition, 
>applying it to all countries?

There are several answers to this.

The first is to point out that while, yes, Samuel Johnson *did* indeed write
the first dictionary of the English Language, he did not, in fact, invent the
Glossary.  We have a fair number of these that contain what the Elizabethans
sometimes referred to as "Inkhorn Terms" (or terms so old as to be musty as an
inkhorn).  So we actually have some ideas from those of "Period Terms". 

Secondly, part of the point I have been trying to make is indeed, that you 
can't make such broad terms for the whole of "Period" since the languages 
changed all throughout the time we study.  That's why we should look at and
discuss other terms as well.

Finally, if I may be forgiven for slipping on my Librarian hat for a moment,
We know what terms meant then, the same way we know what they mean today.
Dictionaries are written by taking terms as they are used (most often in
literature or the media) and and collecting these definitions and finally
assembling them into a "Dictionary".  One thing you will notice if you 
spend lots of time purusing dictionaries of MODERN language is that there's
not always a lot of consensus these days either.  If you are ever really bored
some time, take at least five dictionaries, and a list of 10-100 random
words and cross check them for definition and spelling.

One reason that I use the OED as a source is that it at least gives an example
of the context of a word at a particular period, so that you can examine not
only the etymology, but the evolution of the word.  That and it has a fairly
reputable Authority, ie, they have a history of being reliable, as opposed
to some brand new dictionary that might be just as good, or might be full
of garbage.

Does that help any?

Marc Carlson
AKA, Diarmuit Ui Dhuine

More information about the Ansteorra mailing list