The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1587 Thursday, 22 June 2001
From: Stuart Taylor <
Date: Thursday, 21 Jun 2001 12:03:56 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: "What's in a name?"
[In response to SHK 12.1544 Re: R & J Query]
I don't understand the assumption, insisted on by Robin Hamilton and
suggested by others, that in order to substantiate a claim about
language, an example must be documented in a book: that someone, X
number of years ago, said exactly such and such in a particular language
and meant specifically such and such. Who makes up such rules? And
what other kind of history does Mike Jensen think is obtainable and
relevant? How absolute the knaves are. We must speak by the card, or
equivocation will undo us?
Hamilton's syllogism is rather too concrete. And I do not find
convincing his and his friend's dismissals of Farmer's Rabelais reading.
To add to the chain I began:
4. Aramaic: pitra means mushroom
5. French: cepe (from kephas) means mushroom
6. English: The pitra/petra/pierre stem gives rise to not only Peter,
but to the name, Piers, and the word pier (a column or breakwater).
As for Hamilton's claim that the Peter / rock association does "not,
perhaps curiously" hold in Italian. Oh cielo! Per piacere lasciaci in
pace, San Pietro. Il professore ha la testa dura. O dovrei dire "testa
In the related thread about "dick," Robin Hamilton says "Then suddenly
several different slang usages appear. Can anyone think of an
explanation for this?" As we have learned, the explanation is likely
not that "dick" as slang for penis was not in circulation at the time.
Such an apparent lack of printed explicit examples could also be
a) no-one bothered to write it down (there was nothing comparable to
the OED soliciting philologic evidence)
b) it was written down but lost/destroyed (think of scholarship in
classics, et al)
c) a written example is still extant but none of us has located it yet
d) other reasons?
The question of when a word-usage begins in a language may not be
answerable. The (now documented) occurrence of "dick" as slang for
penis in early modern English also does not necessarily mean that the
word's use began then. And the presence or absence of printed examples
says quite little about the association of words with ideas (based on
everyday perceptions) in and across languages. My guess is that such
associations inform the use of words and the eventual occurrence of a
specific word-denotation, long before that specific occurrence.
Again, "What's in a name?"
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