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THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF MUTATION IN VERBAL SIGNIFICATION.
THESE may be summed in the following par
1. When the name for a class of beings comes in process of time to indicate a circumstance or peculiarity connected with them: as, Heathen or Pagan to denote Idolater; Scythian, Goth, Turk, Tartar, Vandal, &c., to denote barbarity and cruelty; or any person remarkable for these qualities; Jew, to indicate any one remarkably false and overreaching, &c. &c. Here a hundred instances might be given, all agreeing as to genus, but differing as to species.
2. When names, originally descriptive of office, agency, &c., come to be merely obscure titles or empty compliments: as, Duke, Marquis, Count, Earl, Lord, Knight, Squire, Mr., Sir, Madam, Lady, Miss, &c. &c. All such words may be compared to the Roman emperors, who were great whilst living, but who acquired deification by death; (and if the body be dead without the spirit, so surely is a word without the meaning ;) only this business of deification has been rather too abundant in the supply to keep up the value of the commodity; and such titles as Lord, Knight, Doctor, &c., are becoming ticklish distinctions.
3. When old names remain, though that to which they were originally applied, and of which they were descriptive, has ceased, or has been superseded by
something else: as, paper, originally the name of an Egyptian flag or leaf; volume, i. e. something rolled up—a scroll: Burg, Burgh, Burrow, was originally a fortification or fortified place; province, originally signified a conquest, or country gained by successful
Words of this description are very numerous. 4. When words, expressive of action or quality, are appropriated to objects as common or proper names. This is the most prolific origin of verbal multiplication or vocabular augmentation; for thus an indefinite number of nouns are produced by few verbs and adjectives: thus, fact, feat, fight, fit, &c., are all originally one word; and thus the names of many animals and natural objects, as well as of metaphysical entities, are resolvable into one adjective, or one verb; which one adjective or verb is so exceedingly diversified in spelling and pronunciation, partly by design and partly from accident, as to seem not one and the same word, but a great multitude of separate and independent words: hence, one of the causes of tautology, inanity, obscurity, and absurdity, so often observable in the speeches and writings of
5. When a word shifts from a primary to a secondary meaning, or, when it passes over to a concomitant idea, or from the cause to the effect, or vice versa. N. B. This is essentially the same as No. 1, only in a more comprehensive form to prevent mistake.
6. When a word is employed metaphorically; for the very term metaphor, as also trope, (figure does not,) imports a changing or turning of the word to another use than that which it originally had.
N. B. Many words have lost their literal and retain only their metaphoric import or use; many have passed back from their metaphoric to a literal, or more properly, to an unmetaphoric application.
VERBAL DIVERSITIES AS TO RANK OR
As the members of a community range in different classes of political rank, so do the words of a language. There are here, also, high and low and middle classes. On these distinctions a few remarks will suffice.
1. A large class of the lower orders of words has been already indicated; for those gross verbal corruptions which have originated with the ignorant and the uneducated, (and which have not descended from Gothic antiquity, when ignorance had the honour of being universal,) are radically vulgar, and permanently doomed to hopeless degradation; for though butchers' and barbers' sons may mount the bench and ascend to the highest station near the throne, their intellectual offspring-their verbal productions, never rise to the dignity of polite usage.
2. Many words are low or vulgar for the same
reason that old-fashioned garbs are so considered; for there is a fashion in language as in other things, and, like that of the world, it is ever passing away. New terms and expressions and modes of speech are constantly displacing the old, which linger among the lower classes long after they have been discarded by those who are at the fountain of influence; and the very circumstance of obsolete words and expressions being found only, or chiefly, among the lower classes in society, stamps their character and seals their fate. Thus the same words, which are very honourable in one dialect of a language and part of a country, are very dishonourable in another; and this forms one of the most obstinate difficulties which the natives of Scotland have to contend with, in speaking and writing English agreeably to polite usage: for as the dialect of the North is older by three or four centu ries than that of the South, persons accustomed to the old-fashioned dialect are apt to imagine that they are keeping the very best company when guilty of employing most vulgar and disreputable expressions. This fact accounts not only for the Scotticisms, but for the vulgarisms so often detected in the productions of those beyond the Tweed, who have written with freedom and energy; as it accounts also, on the other side, for the artificial stiffness and polished feebleness of those Scottish authors who sacrifice all to taste—who dread nothing so much as the imputation of vulgarity, and who covet nothing so much as the reputation of elegant writing. It would be
easy to produce instances; but they might appear invidious; and we have endeavoured to indicate, in the Dictionary, the rank and character, as well as other attributes of words.
We have noticed (and the verb notice is too convenient to be lightly parted with), that many words become vulgar in process of time, merely from being old-fashioned; but old fashions are frequently brought up again; and there is a sort of sentimental archaism raging at present among the lovers of the olden literature, who, ever and anm, cite an obsolete phraseology for the very nonce of showing its whilom beauty, too long suffered to wrinkle unadmired in neglected desuetude. If utility could be put in competition with sentimentality, we would address a word of inquiry, or of exhortation, to these admirers of the antique in literature; but the fit will not last long; for the sentimental passion is extremely inconstant: and though some words that had become both vulgar and obsolete, have been thrown up to the very top of fashionable literature, there is some danger of a reaction, and that many of the happiest phrases of Shakspeare will be hackneyed into contemptible vulgarity.
3. Many words become vulgar, in course of time, in consequence of being associated with gross objects, actions, and ideas; and the notion of grossness is every day becoming more fastidious in a state of progressive refinement. This is one of the most operative causes of mutation in living languages: and it is