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? 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Sherd By Any Other Name?

SpellCheck agrees with me. But what do we know?

Shard. S-h-a-r-d.

A piece of broken pottery or glass; a fragment.

But now I see it spelled sherd. S-h-e-r-d.

SpellCheck underlines it in red, and to me it has the not-quite-right look of a word with an errant letter.

My style books are no help. The APA (American Psychological Association) style guide, which I use to write most of my education papers, doesn't list the word. MLA (Modern Language Association), in which I write my literary papers), doesn't seem to address the word. The formidable Chicago Style Manual, which I use to write history papers and travel guides, doesn't list it.

Even my AP (Associated Press) Style Book, which I use for newspaper writing and which has explanatory listings for when to use shake up (v.) or shakeup (n., adj.) and calls for a hyphen in mo-ped, contrary to Webster's New World College dictionary, is silent on the spelling of shard/sherd.

Google to the rescue in the form of the National Geographic Style Manual! The listing says to use sherd when writing in the archaeological sense of potsherds or sherds of pottery; use shard for all other senses.

So ... if I break a flower pot I bought at Wal-Mart yesterday, I pick up the shards. If I find a broken flower pot in what a century ago was a dump site, I excavate the sherds.

Love it.