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Word origin of CALIBER
Posted: 12 November 2010 09:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 46 ]
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Sorry if I touched a sensitive nerve, languagehat! It was not my intention in any way to impugn your (or anyone else’s) professional competence. Nor am I qualified to do so, even if I wanted to (which, I repeat, I don’t). I claim no superior knowledge, nor am I smug about my ignorance. To paraphrase a famous role model for those seeking knowledge, the only thing I’m sure of is that I know very little about anything.

All I said was that lexicographers seem to be much like the rest of us, i.e. occasionally gullible, occasionally careless, occasionally inventive when at a loss, and occasionally less than totally honest.  I wholly accept that it must take an enormous amount of knowledge and effort (and, I would add, some inherent ability) to become a competent professional etymologist - or a competent professional of any kind. What I regret - not with respect to etymologists particularly, but to all professions - is that a lack of professional rigour can survive years of (ostensibly) rigorous training, and that a want of integrity, if it exists (few of us, after all, are saints), can not be remedied by any amount of schooling.

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Posted: 12 November 2010 11:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 47 ]
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Dave Wilton - 12 November 2010 05:24 AM

I’m taking a course in “Historicizing Shakespeare’s Language,” and a huge number of articles by noted Shakespeare scholars repeat the claim that he was a great neologizer. Yet, when I looked into the research behind this claim, I found there was virtually none (a couple of articles written a decade ago that show equivocal results is about it). Furthermore, fifteen minutes with the online OED starts to blow holes in the claim. Not only is the claim wrong, it’s easy to disprove. (Shakespeare was clearly a highly skilled user and adopter of neologisms, but there is scant evidence that he was a great coiner of words. And many of those he might have coined were unsuccessful, dying a quick death and found nowhere else but in his works.)

It’s always struck me as stretching too far to give Shakespeare the whole credit for inventing the words first found in his works anyway: it’s just as plausible that they were all words in common use by the gang over a quart of ale down at the Mermaid after work, which no one else but Bill bothered writing down for posterity.

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Posted: 12 November 2010 01:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 48 ]
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That’s part of it. Also, sources like the OED have given priority to Shakespeare over other writers in the past (it’s not the case anymore; the lexicographers have become much more rigorous). It used to be if they had two cites, one from Shakespeare and another from someone else, the Shakespeare cite made the cut. Also, more obscure writers were simply not looked at for cites—less of a problem now with digitized texts and searching. These old biases are still reflected in the dictionary.

(Which is not to say that what Mr. Murray, et. al. accomplished was not a stupendous feat of scholarship and that the OED has not always been a superb dictionary. Just that it has its foibles like any human endeavor.)

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Posted: 29 November 2010 01:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 49 ]
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The Anglo-Norman Dictionary has an entry for the word CALABRE which it defines as a “siege-engine”—ref. Meanwhile in southern France, a very lengthy poem written written in the 13th century in the Occitan dialect of southern France has the word CALABRE more than a dozen times meaning a machine for launching large stones. The poem is about the battles to suppress the Albigensian Heresy in southern France. The poem in the Occitan original is downloadable at Archive.org.

This Norman and Occitan CALABRE = “seige engine” word is another potential source for the later “calibre” word. Regardless of whether this 13th word went on to be the one and true source of the 15th/16th century “calibre”, it demonstrates that “calibre” doesn’t need an Arabic fatherhood conjecture to account for its emergence.

As mentioned earlier, 12th century Latin has the word “calibrum” meaning an iron or steel neck-collar used for putting a prisoner in chains (the word very likely derived from “calibe” meaning steel). Once again regardless of whether this “calibrum” is the true source for the later “calibre” word, it shows that European “calibre” is not strictly in need of Arabic conjecture.

The Arabic conjecture, that ‘’qalib’’ = “shoemaker’s mold or last” is the origin for “calibre”, is terribly deficient from the point of view of substantive historical context. Around the time of emergence of “calibre” in French, French was borrowing plenty of military terms from Italian, and Italian sea merchants were doing business with Arabic speakers in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the summaries in nearly all the English dictionaries say explicitly that the French calibre was certainly borrowed from Italian. But that has the deadly problem that the French is attested more than a century before the Italian. The English is attested more than 50 years before the Italian. The Spanish is found a decade or two before the Italian. Another deadly problem is we’ve no historical documentation at all to explain come an Arabic shoe-maker’s last came to be the European “calibre” word.

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Posted: 29 November 2010 03:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 50 ]
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But that has the deadly problem that the French is attested more than a century before the Italian. The English is attested more than 50 years before the Italian. The Spanish is found a decade or two before the Italian. Another deadly problem is we’ve no historical documentation at all to explain come an Arabic shoe-maker’s last came to be the European “calibre” word.

For a more modern term, the dates would certainly be “deadly” problems, but not for medieval documentation, especially early medieval as these are. Remember that dictionaries typically record the date of the manuscript, not the date of composition, and it is not uncommon for the date of composition to predate the manuscript by a century or two. Also, given the rarity of manuscripts from this era, large gaps are to be expected. Discrepancies measured in decades can usually be ignored as “noise.” (And even for modern coinages, it is not unheard of to find an antedating of a term in newly digitized material that pushes back the first date of use over a century.)

And the brief etymological summaries in the dictionaries do present historical documentation (and we don’t expect them to). That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. In this case, I don’t know. I suspect that there may be a problem with the etymology from Arabic, but the arguments presented so far are not conclusive. Nothing in your methodology suggests that you’ve really looked for it.

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Posted: 29 November 2010 03:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 51 ]
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Once again regardless of whether this “calibrum” is the true source for the later “calibre” word, it shows that European “calibre” is not strictly in need of Arabic conjecture

This appears to be simply substituting one speculative theory for another.  What have I missed?

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Posted: 29 November 2010 03:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 52 ]
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CALIBER is a 16th century word (except for one attestation in 1478 that might possibly be a different word because it doesn’t have a military-related interpretation) and hence what Dave Wilton was saying about medieval manuscripts is mis-targeted.

In the Wikipedia article about Middle French language including 16th century French, it is stated that “many words dealing with military practices (alarme, cavalier, espion, infanterie, camp, canon, soldat) were borrowed from Italian.” With regard to the military word “calibre”, 19th century word-origin folks might’ve guessed that the French was from Italian on the basis that many other French military words were well-established to have come from Italian from around the same timeframe. And then the Italian, having no explanation of its own source, was guessed to be from Arabic. And these 19th century guesses became dogmas, before is was found out that the word was in use in French and English for generations before it entered Italian records. I don’t know if what I’ve just said about the origin of the dogma is the truth, but I believe it might be, and it would explain caliber’s bizarre (I say) etymology in today’s dictionaries.

Here again is how the dictionaries summarize CALIBER. I’m duplicating this from earlier in the thread to counteract an overstatement by me in my last post concerning the Italian.

Merriam-Webster @ M-W.com: Middle French calibre, from Old Italian calibro, from Arabic qālib shoemaker’s last. First Known Use in English: 1567
CollinsEnglish @ Dictionary.com: Century16: from Old French, from Italian calibro, from Arabic qālib shoemaker’s last, mould
AmericanHeritage @ YourDictionary.com: Origin: French calibre, from Italian calibro, from Arabic qālib, qālab, mold, shoe tree, from Greek kālapous, shoemaker’s last.
Concise OED @ OxfordDictionaries.com: mid 16th century (in the sense ‘social standing or importance’): from French, from Italian calibro, perhaps from Arabic qālib ‘mould’…
Webster’sNewWorld @ YourDictionary.com: Origin: Fr & Sp, ult. < Ar qālib, a mold, last, < Aram < Gr kalopodion, shoemaker’s last [Note: ”ult.” admits Italian as the intermediary]
RandomHouse @ Dictionary.com: 1560–70; var. of calibre < MF Ar qālib mold, last < Gk kālápous shoe last. [Note: means “ultimately from"]
Chambers Dict @ ChambersHarrap.co.uk: 16c: from French calibre, probably from Arabic qalib mould.

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Posted: 29 November 2010 03:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 53 ]
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I don’t know if what I’ve just said about the origin of the dogma is the truth, but I believe it might be, and it would explain caliber’s bizarre (I say) etymology in today’s dictionaries.

Then why go on and on about it? You, as you admit, don’t know. You’ve stated the possibility that the dictionaries might be wrong, but you’ve got no solid evidence to conclude that they are so. Please take Eliza’s suggestion and write to the dictionaries about it.

(Again, Wikipedia is not a source used by any serious researcher. It it is a great encyclopedia and very useful for general knowledge questions, but like any encyclopedia is severely deficient when you get into serious research mode.)

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Posted: 29 November 2010 04:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 54 ]
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Dave Wilton - 29 November 2010 03:54 AM

Why go on and on about it? You, as you admit, don’t know. You’ve stated the possibility that the dictionaries might be wrong, but you’ve got no solid evidence to conclude that they are so.

It was stated near the very top of this thread that the OED labels the word caliber as “of uncertain origin” and later in the thread Dave Wilton said “in the case of most of the Arabic origins mentioned in the thread, the OED, for one, does not agree with the other dictionaries, saying that the Arabic origins are problematic. So in these cases there does seem to be some kind of uncritical acceptance going on.”

What I admit to not knowing is why there’s uncritical acceptance going on. I believe I’ve presented solid evidence that uncritical acceptance is indeed going on; the Arabic origin proposition for caliber is highly problematic. But alternative propostions lack convincing evidence too. I wholeheartedly agree with the OED that the word is of uncertain origin. I’m not going to go on about it any more.

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Posted: 29 November 2010 08:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 55 ]
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All I said was that lexicographers seem to be much like the rest of us, i.e. occasionally gullible, occasionally careless, occasionally inventive when at a loss, and occasionally less than totally honest.

Which of course is by definition true, since lexicographers are human beings like the rest of us.  My objection was not to your point but to the fact that you made it in response to the rantings of a crank who acknowledges no authority other than his own superficial investigations, thus lending unwarranted credence to said crank.  Again, I issue the reminder that you are hearing only one side of the story, and that the lexicographers being so amateurishly maligned would doubtless have convincing rebuttals if they had the time and energy to invest in making them.  Advocates of perpetual-motion machines can sound quite convincing, too.

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