Tenue
Posted: 25 March 2017 04:36 AM   [ Ignore ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3110
Joined  2007-01-30

No mystery here, just a strange misprint in Gibbon. At least I’m assuming it’s a misprint as I can make no sense of it otherwise. Here’s the passage, from Ch. LVIII, footnote 77 of the Decline.

William of Malmsbury (who wrote about the year 1130) has inserted in his history (l. iv. p. 130-154) a narrative of the first crusade: but I wish that, instead of listening to the tenue murmur which had passed the British ocean, (p. 143,) he had confined himself to the numbers, families, and adventures of his countrymen.

Now there is a noun tenue in OED (but no adjective) meaning “Carriage, bearing, deportment; also, costume, ‘rig’. Also transf.” but for the life of me I can’t make that fit with the quoted text. I figure that it has to be a misprint for tenuous. If so, I must say it’s a rather odd error for a compositor to make (and it is originally down to a compositor as the text quoted is exactly the same in my 1962 Everyman edition. Earlier editions I can’t speak to). There again printers are only human and if the error dates back to Gibbon’s original MS (although I think that’s unlikely) it’s more understandable. Do you guys agree that this is a misprint?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 25 March 2017 05:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4632
Joined  2007-01-29

Interesting.  It could, of course, be a misprint, but if so “tense” seems a more likely original than “tenuous.” It could also be the Latin word tenue, the neuter form of the adjective tenuis ‘thin, fine; small, shallow; rarefied,’ but then it should have been italicized (though the lack of ital would be an easy misprint)—and why the neuter?  I’ve occasionally run across similar conundrums in reading old books: words which make no sense in context and are presumably misprints that weren’t noticed in time to correct them (since the original, which might have been reasonably clear a couple of centuries ago, is now unrecoverable).

Profile
 
 
Posted: 25 March 2017 05:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  6502
Joined  2007-01-03

It appears to be original. I’ve found it in a 1788, twelve-volume, edition printed in Dublin. (There are many early editions and versions of Gibbon, and I’m not conversant with its publication history. So figuring out the “original” or even what edition this website is using is beyond me.)

It could be a misprint or even early spelling variation for tenuous, but I think it may also be an archaic French adjective meaning “thin.” From the Latin tenuis, which is where we get tenuous. The OED has this under the entry for thin, adj.:

1530 J. Palsgrave Lesclarcissement 280/2 Thyn skynne, tenue peau.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 26 March 2017 04:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3110
Joined  2007-01-30

Both of you suggesting that it’s an adjective from the Latin tenuis is good enough for me and makes excellent sense in the context. Thanks, guys, I would have found that difficult to figure out without help.

Profile