Sunday, March 18, 2012

Part Two: A Sherd is a Shard is a ... Huh?

Something to ponder when you're on the pot ... or on pot ... or contemplating going to pot. :-)

Wanna know what the primary meaning of shard (preferred spelling) or sherd (secondary spelling) is, according to the Oxford English Dictionary?

Hint: It has nothing to to do with broken pottery.

 I. A cleft, gap.

 1. A gap in an enclosure, esp. in a hedge or bank. Now chiefly dial.

The OED gives examples from literature going back to 1000 A.D.

Wanna know what the second meaning of shard is, according to the OED?

Hint 2: Still has nothing to do with broken pottery.

2. Used by Spenser for: ? A dividing water.

[Yr.] 1590   Spenser Faerie Queene ii. vi. sig. R7,   Vpon that shore he spyed Atin stand, Thereby his maister left, when late he far'd In Phædrias flitt barck ouer that perlous shard.

Wanna know what the third meaning of shard is, according to the OED?

Hint 3: Still has nothing to do with pottery.

3. A gap or notch in the blade of a tool. dial.

Finally, we come to the fourth meaning of shard, according to the OED:


 a. A fragment of broken earthenware. spec. in Archaeol., a piece of broken pottery. Phrase: to break, etc. into sherds : to reduce to fragments, break beyond repair. Cf. potsherd n. and adj.   and Old English crocsceard. Sherd is now established as the normal Archaeol. spelling.

So ... according to all of this, wouldn't the actual meaning of shard seem to be the gap or the hole left in the pot when it breaks apart? 

How did we come to assign to a fragment, the absence of which causes a shard, the term for the absence? 

Isn't that a bit like calling a doorway the door? 


AnneB said...

But don't we call a doorway a door?

Anne said...

Hmm. Really good question!

Especially as I tried to think of other examples and couldn't. A window, for instance, can refer to the opening in the wall or to the pane of glass covering the opening.

Maybe it's a matter of emphasis. In the case of shard, the first three meanings were about the gap and only the last was about the fragment that once filled the gap -- and I had never heard the word shard used to refer to a gap.

In the case of door, the OED lists this as the first meaning and give examples going back to 1000 A.D.:

a. A movable barrier of wood or other material, consisting either of one piece, or of several pieces framed together, usually turning on hinges or sliding in a groove, and serving to close or open a passage into a building, room, etc.

The use of door instead of doorway is the second meaning given in OED -- and its use is first documented in 1382. The examples given sound poetic (one is Shakespeare), as though the writer wanted to use doorway but needed a one-syllable word.

Here's an example given:

1757 tr. J. G. Keyssler Trav. III. 89 On the left-hand as one enters the door.

Maybe it's just me, but the picture which forms in my mind is of one actually entering into the door itself -- too much Alice in Wonderland and Chronicles of Narnia, I'm sure! -- and I want to add the second syllable to make it say doorway.

Maybe it's also a regional usage?

By the way, the last meaning of shard given in the OED is "the scale of a dragon."

Love it!