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Threshold, OE translation
Posted: 23 April 2007 07:02 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I’m updating the entry for threshold and the translation of one of the cites in the OED is vexing me. I can translate the vocabulary, but it is making no sense. (I’m probably not using the correct sense of some words and screwing up the conjugations and declensions.)

The line is from Alfred’s c.888 translation of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy:

Se ilca [sc. Godes miht] forwyrnð þæræ sæ þæt heo ne mot þone þeorscwold oferstæppan þære eorþan.

Any help?

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Posted: 23 April 2007 07:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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A translation is given in Bosworth and Toller Dictionary of Anglo-Saxon, p.327: “the same restrains the sea that it may not overstep the threshold of the earth”.

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Posted: 23 April 2007 07:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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This is from the modern English rendering of King Alfred’s translation by Samuel Fox, available at http://www.yorku.ca/inpar/Boethius_Fox.pdf

“The same [i.e., God’s power] warns the sea that it may not overstep the threshold of the earth, but he has so fixed their [sic, “its” would seem more logical] limits, that it may not extend its boundary over the still earth.”

Edit: pipped by jheem!

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Posted: 23 April 2007 09:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Coincidentally, today I looked up the etymology of “lintel” in the OED and was somewhat surprised to find that it came from an old French word for “threshold”, also that one of the meanings of “threshold” is given as “lintel”, although marked “erroneous”.  It does seem strange and confusing that the same word can apply to both top and bottom of a doorway.

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Posted: 23 April 2007 09:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Thanks. I’ll use the Fox translation provided by Dr. Techie. That more closely matches the Old English wording than the Boswell & Toller one.

Regarding lintel, another citation that I’m using is an Old English translation of Exodus 12:22 where threshold is used. The passage from the KJV:

And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood that is in the basin.

I’m not so sure it’s “erroneous” as much as threshold in early use can be defined as “doorway.”

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Posted: 23 April 2007 10:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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In the Wycliffe translation, “threisfold” is used in the place where KJV says basin.

21 Forsothe Moises clepide alle the eldre men of the sones of Israel, and seide to hem, Go ye, and take a beeste by youre meynees, and offre ye fase; and dippe ye a bundel of isope,
22 in the blood which `is in the threisfold, and sprynge ye therof the lyntel, and euer either post; noon of you schal go out at the dore of his hows til the morewtid.

This would seem to possibly be a mis-translation (or a misguided comma) from the Vulgate:”

21 vocavit autem Moses omnes seniores filiorum Israhel et dixit ad eos ite tollentes animal per familias vestras immolate phase
22 fasciculumque hysopi tinguite sanguine qui est in limine et aspergite ex eo superliminare et utrumque postem nullus vestrum egrediatur ostium domus suae usque mane

(limen, liminis) being the word for doorway/threshold -> qui est in limine -> “which is in the doorway” but what’s the referent of the which? Wycliffe & KJV both say it’s the blood, but does that really make sense.  Who am I to question?(^_^)

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Posted: 23 April 2007 10:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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N.b. that I quoted Fox’s full sentence, but obviously the passage cited in the OED corresponds to the part before “but” only.

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Posted: 24 April 2007 09:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Myridon - 23 April 2007 10:09 AM

Wycliffe & KJV both say it’s the blood, but does that really make sense.  Who am I to question?(^_^)

The blood of the lamb is “painted” on the “doorposts” as a sign for God to “pass over” and not visit the houses of those so instructed to paint their doorposts.  I’ve never heard it as threshold, but I suppose it could be.  The Hebrew at that point is hamezuzot which is plural and most translations assume that it is the two side posts (which the KJV seems to render pretty literally).  FWIW, the Hebrew with transliterations and English translation can be found at the ORT Bible site.

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Posted: 24 April 2007 05:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Coincidentally, today I looked up the etymology of “lintel” in the OED and was somewhat surprised to find that it came from an old French word for “threshold”, also that one of the meanings of “threshold” is given as “lintel”, although marked “erroneous”.  It does seem strange and confusing that the same word can apply to both top and bottom of a doorway.

In my experience, people who don’t do carpentry are easily confused over terminology concerning carpentry, thus monks and other translators of Latin (not you Bayard) may not have had a good handle on what they were talking about here. For that matter, carpenters nowadays among the trades are the least conversant with the names for the parts, pieces, and things they work with. For example, there’s a term strongback, which is a beam that supports joists, typically in the middle of the span; there is also a perfectly good synonym from French which I can never remember, even though it’s equally common. Plumbers and electricians are very proficient with terminology. But, anyway, the AHD says lintel was an unattested alteration (by the French) of the Latin word limin or threshold. I don’t know much about Roman or ancient French architecture, but I think the idea was that with brickwork, absent a bricked arch, you put a cross-beam of wood over the doorway. Perhaps there was no really good name for such an item so they borrowed the word for the thing directly underneath the beam, that being the threshold. Apparently, in limine means “in the doorway” in Latin but the word literally means (modern English) threshold, the thing across the bottom of the doorway that is raised to some extent off the ground. The phrase ex eo superliminare must refer to the lintel (the header) or the part above the doorway which is in an opposite position from the limen or threshold. So in Latin, the word for lintel probably was superlimin, and perhaps the French just didn’t like saying it that way.

Unlike the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons engaged mainly in post-and-beam construction (all wood) with plaster in-fillings ("Tudor" style construction). The lintel or header is not a terribly important feature, or is a non-existant feature, in this scheme because the upper beam usually runs the entire length of the wall, or for as long as is feasible with the materials available. If the actual lintel is below the main beam (but above the door) it supports very little weight. In brick construction, by contrast, the lintel is short and used directly over the door to suport the brick, so it is truly a separate feature requiring a separate name. It also supports a great deal of weight, and much attention would be given to it’s construction. When the English got around to building things out of brick, I suppose they borrowed the pre-existing French term, lintel.

It strikes me as unlikely that the Anglo-Saxons were confused about the difference between a threshold, a doorway, and a lintel, but because Latin, and obviously the Bible, were the absolute authority, the translators faithfully translated the words as literally as possible. Thus, since apparently in Latin a threshold also meant a doorway, so too in Anglo-Saxon. Perhaps the Latin text refers to the blood in the doorway literally because the basin was considered to be in the doorway. Perhaps it is a mis-translation of the Hebrew (or Greek?). In any case, the purpose, as I understand it, of a threshold was to hold back the threshings because it was a pretty messy operation, yet you still needed a doorway to get into the room. Probably the actual, functional threshold was something high enough you had to step over it, say one to two feet high. But what was a threshold? The form þeorscwold must comport with German Tuerschwelle and maybe English speakers decided “thresh-hold” made more sense for a door-frame so took out the “w”. I don’t know. It’s possible that the “wold” portion of the word indicates a more primitive origin, perhaps a somewhat enclosed outdoor area. It would be an issue of technology just if, when, and how the operation went from outdoors to indoors. Wasn’t the early way of doing it a matter of threshing and then winnowing by the wind? In which case the “wold” portion was simply a flat area surrounded by mounded earth, that mound or berm being the referent in Dave’s first quotation above. Latin’s limin similarly moved from the meaning of a border between fields to the concept of a door sill and then apparently to the opening itself. Too many questions, not enough answers.

As an aside, subliminal means below the threshold of consciousness, so it still carries the sense of a barrier, as opposed to portal, which refers to the opening itself.

As an illustration of the difficulty with terms in the construction field, where workers are supposed to be more concerned with getting things done than talking about it, a co-worker refers to a shovel in Spanish as “una pala”. He also calls a cement trowel “una pala”, but if I don’t understand it he clarifies it as “una palita como esta” (with gestures).

[ Edited: 24 April 2007 09:44 PM by foolscap ]
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Posted: 25 April 2007 05:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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In any case, the purpose, as I understand it, of a threshold was to hold back the threshings because it was a pretty messy operation, yet you still needed a doorway to get into the room.

No, it wasn’t. This idea that a “threshold” was a piece of wood intended to hold back ”thresh” spread on the floor comes from that celebrated internet hoax, “Life in the 1500s”. See here:

http://historymedren.about.com/od/dailylifesociety/a/bod_floors.htm

There’s no truth in this notion at all. The root meaning of the first syllable means roughly “something to be trampled/stamped on”. It’s cognate with the verbs thresh and thrash.

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Posted: 25 April 2007 05:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Don’t be so quick to believe everyone who loves to debunk.  Someone with a BA from the University of Texas who loves to blog about ‘medieval times’ might not be such a solid source.  The word does indeed refer to the piece of wood placed at the base of a doorway; I remember this coming up in an undergrad course long before the internet came along.  Now, whether thresh (as used in the OED examples below) is a derivation from the OE word for threshold is up for debate, but there is certainly a precedent here.

thrash, thresh, n.2
Sc.
[corrupt. of rash, resh, OE. risc, RUSH n.1]

A rush. Also attrib., thresh-bush, a clump of rushes.

1697 CLELAND Poems 30 (Jam.) Their bare preaching now Makes the thrush-bush keep the cow. 1795 A. WILSON Spouter in Poems & Lit. Prose (1876) II. 335 Green thrashes were strewed on the floor. 1822 R. WILSON Poems, Twa Mice (E.D.D.), Wi’ their teeth green threshes chackit. 1850 J. STRUTHERS Life vi. Poet. Wks. I. p. cxiv, The shelter of a few well-grown thresh-bushes. 1871 H. S. RIDDELL Poet. Wks. II. 127 (E.D.D.) Threshes formed the theekin.

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Posted: 25 April 2007 05:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Except that this use of thresh, which is the only use of thresh as a noun that is recorded in any reference, comes some eight hundred years after the appearance of threshold. It is completely unrelated.

Threshold has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with grain. There are a lot of uncertainties in etymology, but this is not one one of them.

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Posted: 25 April 2007 05:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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The Romans did know a thing or two about architecture. Latin could distinguish between the limen superum ‘lintel, sill’ and limen inferum (or just plain limen) ‘threshold’; limen meant originally something like ‘cross-piece’. The meaning of limen was further extended to ‘door’ and ‘house’, cf. ad limen ‘at home’. Words having to do with doors and doorways: fores (sg. foris, cf. Greek thura, English door), janua, ostium (ostium rectum ‘front door’, as opposed to posticum ‘backdoor’), valvae (sg. valva) ‘leaves of a door; folding door’.

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Posted: 25 April 2007 06:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Oecolampadius - 24 April 2007 09:03 AM

The Hebrew at that point is hamezuzot which is plural and most translations assume that it is the two side posts (which the KJV seems to render pretty literally).

A mezuzah is something which we Jews affix to the doorways of our homes (or any room in the house, for that matter), containing a scroll with a passage from Deuteronomy.  The literal translation is indeed doorpost.  As far as the blood on the doorway is concerned, the commandment was to smear it on the doorposts as well as above the door.

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Posted: 25 April 2007 09:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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foolscap - 24 April 2007 05:30 PM

But what was a threshold? The form þeorscwold must comport with German Tuerschwelle and maybe English speakers decided “thresh-hold” made more sense for a door-frame so took out the “w”.

I haven’t time to check this and don’t have access to a German etymological dictionary, but if “tuerschwelle” in German means “threshold”, then it’s elements are likely to be “tuer” (a door?) and “schwelle” (a step?), which would suggest that “threshold” originally broke down to “thre” corresponding to “tuer” and “shold” corresponding to “schwelle” and has nothing to do with threshing or thrashing.

Edited for typo

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Posted: 25 April 2007 02:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I think the word you’re looking for is Türstufe (literally “door-step").  Schwelle is closer to the English word “sill.” Thus Türschwelle might be more like the sill of the door.

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