[b-hebrew] lexicography

Dave Washburn dwashbur at nyx.net
Mon Nov 17 01:25:35 EST 2003

On Sunday 16 November 2003 22:08, Karl Randolph wrote:
> Dave:
> Your examples in English do show up exactly what I mean.
> For example, “strike”, especially when one looks at the history of the
> term, refers to an action. It is the motion of one object towards another
> irrespective of whether the objects make physical contact or not. That
> action is shown in the swing of a bat in baseball, the swing of the baton
> in the hand of a band’s conductor, the motion of sails towards the deck as
> sailors lower sails to protest bad conditions.

Lame at best, contrived at worst.  A pitch can be a strike whether the batter 
swings or not, so that negates the idea of "motion of one object toward 
another."  A conductor can start a band as easily by nodding his head or 
pointing as by "the swing of the baton" (I've done it all 3 ways) and no 
matter how many exegetical back-flips one does, the word in that context 
means "start," not any notion of "swing."  It's fascinating how far some will 
go to try and bolster a sagging theory that simply doesn't fit the facts.

> It is also an example of how languages shift meanings, such as including
> the result of when two objects, after moving towards each other, try to
> occupy the same volume; in the narrow confines of a particular ball game,
> where if the ball thrown by the pitcher traverses a certain restricted
> volume where it should be easiest for the batter to swing, would be counted
> as if the batter had swung his bat and missed; and where the term is taken
> out of its original context and applied to a new context, so just as a ship
> where the sailors struck the sails is dead in the water unable to travel
> and trade, so a company whose workers have struck it is unable to
> manufacture and trade. Though these accretians over time obscure the core
> meaning, it is still recognizable if one looks for it.

It's only "recognizable" if one is thoroughly committed to an untenable 
theory.  Striking sails has nothing to do with objects in motion toward each 
other; in fact, it provides another example of polar opposite meanings when 
we put it in contrast with "strike up a conversation."  (Who waves what at 
whom to get two objects in motion in this phrase???)  Face facts: there is no 
"core" meaning.  Somewhere off in the forgotten past the word may have had 
only one meaning, or it may not.  We don't know.  All we can do is go with 
what we observe in actual usage, and in actual usage there is no such "core" 
meaning, all of this (and Mark Eddy's) reaching notwithstanding.

> Your example of “bad” shows a dialectal and/or argot use by a small
> minority within a population. The majority recognize and understand that
> argot usage, but don’t use it because it is considered bad form. Should the
> minority usage ever become mainstream, then we have an example of language
> shift.

I'm not sure where you live, but in America it *has* become mainstream in 
major parts of the country.  These comments could almost sound racist, but 
I'll let that pass.  In any case, the fact of "language shift" clearly 
indicates that words don't have "core meanings" because if they did, then 
such shift would be virtually impossible, especially in the case of usages 
that are polar opposites.  So I thank you for demonstrating my point.

Dave Washburn
Insert clever quote here (or not)

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list