Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Good Tast in Dictionaries . . .

The online etymological dictionary that I link to in my sidebar is intended only for stopgap purposes. For instance, it tells me that the first use of "stopgap" is from 1684. What's a "stopgap"? According to 'my' online Merriam-Webster, it's "something that serves as a temporary expedient." A "temporary expedient"? Isn't that redundant? Is there such a thing as a "permanent expedient"? Aren't all expedients meant to be temporary?

Anyway, in short, a "makeshift." ("Hey, that's two letters longer than 'stopgap,' so whaddeya mean 'In short'? And now, you've got to define it, too!" -- Editor. "Okay, I will." -- Jeff) While we're at this, let's click on "makeshift." Let's see . . . oh, here it is: "a usually crude and temporary expedient." Uh-oh. There's that redundancy again . . . sort of a re-redundancy.

And "crude," too? Yeah, these online stopgapping makeshifts are crude. So, let's turn from such makeshifting stopgaps and look at a real dictionary: the OED.

That's the Oxford English Dictionary.

Despite the title, this dictionary is not solely about the elevated English spoken at Oxford. It aims to be a universal dictionary of all the words in the English language, so -- as you can imagine -- there are many volumes. I use the more convenient two-volume 1971 edition in compact form with four micrographed pages per compact page and a magnifying glass to make the tiny font legible. If you tire of that tedious method, you can use the a photocopier's enlarging function and photocopy the pages with the word that you're checking.

I looked up "taste." If you recall, our online dictionary yesterday informed us that taste in the "Sense of 'aesthetic judgment' is first attested 1671." Surprisingly, it was right about this. Even more surprisingly, look at OED 107 (column B) to see who first used it this way:

"1671 Milton P. R. iv. 347 Sion's songs, to all true tasts excelling Where God is prais'd aright"

There's that "tast" again. Anyway, deciphered, this says that John Milton's Paradise Regained, which was published in 1671, uses "taste" in Book 4, Line 347 in the sense of "aesthetic judgement." It then also helpfully provides the instance: "Sion's songs, to all true tasts excelling Where God is prais'd aright."

If I recall, that's Christ responding to Satan's offer of 'wisdom' -- a recapitulation of the original temptation. Christ replies that God's word offers all the wisdom needed. You can find Paradise Regained online and read for yourself (Book 4.195-364).

So . . . all of my effort yesterday only expended itself in the redundancy of proving that Milton was the first to use "taste" in the sense of "aesthetic judgement." Everybody knew that already. He used it in 1671, the first recorded usage that way.

Unless he first did it in 1667 . . .


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