Posted: 23 May 2007 02:21 AM   [ Ignore ]
Total Posts:  3101
Joined  2007-01-30

I’m reading John Wilkes, The Scandalous Father of Civil Liberty by Arthur H. Cash at present. (Excellent book, I highly recommend it). I came across this passage:

Wilkes had a friend in John Willes, the filazar of Middlesex. .............. The filazar was an officer who issued writs and other papers of the Court of Common Pleas in London.

Intrigued, I checked OED, finding it under filacer, filazer.

filacer, filazer

f. FILACE + -ER2.

A former officer of the superior courts at Westminster, who filed original writs, etc. and issued processes thereon. Also a corresponding officer of the Irish superior courts.

[1432 Act 10 Hen. VI, c. 4 Que null Filicer, Exigenter, ne autre officer desore enavaunt fera tiel entree en ascun seute.] 1512 Act 4 Hen. VIII, c. 4 ยง1 The Felyssour or exigenter in whose offyce suche sute is taken.

(Interesting seeing the move from French to English in legislative language in the first two cites.)

Checking filace I find:


[a. AF. filaz, ad. med.L. filacium, either f. L. f{imac}lum thread, FILE n.2, or perh. shortened from late L. chartophylacium (ad. late Gr. {chi}{alpha}{rho}{tau}{omicron}{phi}{upsilon}{lambda}{gaacu}{kappa}{iota}{omicron}{nu}) place for keeping papers.]

= file, n, 2, 3b

3 (a. A string or wire, on which papers and documents are strung for preservation and reference.) b. esp. one in a court of law to hold proceedings or documents in a cause, etc.; the list of documents, etc., in a cause.

So the word file changed in meaning from the string or wire which held the documents to the documents themselves. I’m sure there are other words which have gone through a similar process, although I can’t bring to mind any examples at the moment. Is there a name for this?


I thought the board might enjoy this passage a page farther on:

When (Johnson’s) Dictionary appeared in 1755 to great and deserved acclaim, Wilkes, in a mischievous mood, wrote a satirical piece about it.................In the Grammar of the English Tongue, prefixed to the Dictionary, Johnson had explained an orthographic principle concerning the letter H: “It seldom, perhaps never,” said Johnson, “begins any but the first syllable.” About this Wilkes commented, “The author of this remark must be a man of quick apprehension, and comprehensive genius, but I can never forgive his unhandsome behaviour to the poor knighthood, priesthood and widowhood, nor his inhumanity to all manhood and womanhood. I do not indeed wonder at so great a scholar’s disregarding a maidenhead, but should he dare to treat the Godhead with neglect?”
Before he was done, Wilkes had used twenty-six words in which H begins an internal syllable. In the fourth edition of the Dictionary (1773), Johnson finally expunged the embarrassing “perhaps never” and added a statement about H that included a dig at Wilkes: “It sometimes begins middle or final syllables in words compounded; or derived from the Latin, as comprehended, blockhead.”

[ Edited: 23 May 2007 03:00 AM by aldiboronti ]
Posted: 25 May 2007 04:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Total Posts:  8
Joined  2007-02-22

Metonymy, perhaps? But I think you have something more specific in mind.

Other document-type words come to mind: a letter, a writ, a wire, a cable. A film, as in “the film Star Wars”.

“File” is interesting because I believe there’s an intermediate step: a “file” is also a case or cabinet that holds documents, rather than the group of documents themselves. I guess you could call the “case” meaning a metaphor for the original “wire” use, since they both hold the documents.

Posted: 26 May 2007 03:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Total Posts:  326
Joined  2007-02-24

Thanks for that last tidbit, Aldi. That’s funny.