Austen OED (Oxford English Dictionary) Assignment (100 points)
One of the most amazing things about the OED is that it can tell you not just what a word means and how we use it now, but what a word meant and how one used it at just about every point in that word’s long history. For this assignment, we’re going to look at a few words that Austen uses in Sense and Sensibility, and we’re going to get a sense and sensibility of what their various connotations were in her day. Then, as we read her novel, we’ll keep track of where the word we’ve chosen occurs and how its use might express the relationship between literature, society, and the law.
1. Pick one of the following words used by Austen in Sense and Sensibility, and note too its various forms. Look your word up in the OED, which you can access here through your CSUC login:
2. Write a few paragraphs, using quotes from the OED , describing the etymology, various meanings, and connotations of your chosen word to which Austen might have had access or recourse. In other words, what had that word meant up to the time Austen was writing? What possible meanings or shadings of it might she have had in mind? Try to avoid pasting huge chunks of the OED into your prose; weave its definitions and etymologies into your own story of the word’s history and importance and various shadings.
3. Post your paragraphs here, as a response.
4. While reading Sense and Sensibility, keep track of the instances of your chosen word. You will need this information in order to complete the next assignment, Austen Legal.
43 thoughts on “Austen OED”
For the Austen OED, I chose the words judge/judgement.
When “judge” is used as a noun, the etymology of the word is that of Anglo-Norman descent from “jug, jugge, jugie, juggie,” and late the Middle French “juge”. The earliest mentions of the word come from Hebrew in Ancient Israel, where they used the word “sopet” in the 6th century and that post-classical Latin changed to “iudic” in the second half of the 12th century to describe an officer invested with temporary authority. In 1170 AD, the French defined “juge” as meaning “arbitrator”. Some of “judge”‘s various meanings are “The supreme arbiter”, “God or Christ”, “A leader in Ancient Israel”, “any person who makes a judgement or decision”, “an umpire”, and finally “A public official who resides over a court of law”. In Austen’s time, “judge” in a phrase could be used to mean something that one defines for oneself (An example from 1817 states: “I can be no Judge of what the habit of self-doctoring may do”). I expect that in “Sense and Sensibility,” if “judge” is used as a noun this will most likely be the meaning that Austen implies.
As a verb, the word “judge”, also Anglo-Norman in its etymology (jugger, juggier), and then later Old and Middle French (juger, jugier), typically means the action of what the noun “judge” does. In the etymology, the earliest use of the verb was in 1100 AD, in the context of “condemning (a person) to punishment or penalty”; “to decide or conclude that (some action should be taken); and to award or assign (something) judicially or officially to a person”. In the second quarter of the 13th century, it was also used to define ruling and governing over someone or something. Various modern definitions include “To form or pronounce and opinion”, “to infer”, “to determine, tell”, and “to assess contestants”. During Austen’s life, the verb form of “judge” meant pretty much the same thing it does today.
Lastly, the word “judgement”, a noun, has the etymology deriving from the same Anglo-Norman and French meanings as that of its judging buddies. During the end of the 11th century, the word meant “judicial decision, or the act of making or announcing such a decision”. By the 14th century, it had expanded to define judgement by God, decrees, general judgement and particular judgement, and “a sentence proceeding from diving authority”. Definitions today are: “The ability to make considered decisions”; “discretion, good sense, wisdom”; “Only in expressions denoting irrationality,the idea of being too frightened, worried, etc., to think clearly”; and “the just or fair treatment to which a person is entitled”. Austen, while writing “Sense and Sensibility”. may have used judgement in legal phrases such as “Your Lordships can no more legally revoke the judgment now it is passed” (written in 1775); or in the fact that the narrator or another character has good sense and wisdom, with phrases like “To want of judgment than to wrong design” (written in 1785). Also written in 1785 is the phrase that claims that to be out of judgement is to be irrational: “her Ladyship to all appearance out of her judgment”. Austen, from what I’ve read of her, seems to like using the negative connotations of words, and we will most likely see this term of “judgement” used in “Sense and Sensibility”.
I chose the word “acquit”. The only definition I have known of the word up until now is to be cleared of allegations or charges. As a noun, etymology of the word originated after the Anglo-Norman and Middle French aquit, as well as the Middle French acquit, which the OED elaborates on with the following: “12 cent. As acuit in Old French, earliest in sense ‘payment’; French acquit ).” The word is comparable to “post-classical Latin acquitum tenure not liable to certain taxes (12th cent.), sort of toll (14th cent.), Occitan †aquit (1509). Circa 1779 it could have meant “receipt”.
As an adjective, the OED describes the etymology as a “strong past participle variant of ACQUIT v.” It is defined as “That has been acquitted; cleared of or free from (blame, liability, harm, etc.).” As a verb a much longer etymology is given for the word in the OED, as follows: “Anglo-Norman and Old French, Middle French aquiter, aquitter, acquiter, Anglo-Norman and Middle French acquitter, Old French acuiter, Old French (Flanders), Middle French aquitter, also (by analogy with verbs in -ier ) Anglo-Norman acquitier, Anglo-Norman and Old French aquitier, Middle French aquittier(French acquitter ) to liberate (a country), to redeem (one’s life) (both c1100), to redeem (a pledge) (second half of the 12th cent.), to make good (a promise, oath, obligation, etc.) (second half of the 12th cent.; 1209 used reflexively, with the beneficiary as indirect object, in aquiter a quelqu’un ), to prove oneself worthy (second half of the 12th cent., used reflexively), to pay back (a debt) (a1174; a1225 used reflexively in aquiter de , and now only in this construction), to release (a person) from a specified debt (beginning of the 13th cent.), to declare (a person) not guilty of (a charge) (a1210 or earlier; frequent in legal use), to pardon, absolve (a sinner) (13th cent.), to reimburse (a person) (1268 or earlier), to release (a person) from (an obligation) (end of the 13th cent.), in Anglo-Norman also to exonerate (a person) (c1170, used reflexively), to free, release (a person) (c1225 or earlier), to discharge, carry out (a task) (c1230 or earlier), to pay (a person) in kind (end of the 13th cent. or earlier) < a- A-prefix5 + quite , quitte QUIT adj. Compare post-classical Latin acquitare to warrant (11th cent.), to discharge of an obligation, to reimburse (12th cent.), to pay a debt (13th cent.; 15th cent. in a British source), to acquit (an accused person) of a charge (13th cent. in a British source), (reflexive) to clear oneself of a charge (frequently from 12th cent. in British sources).”
The following definitions contained in the OED are just some of many. These particular definitions I chose to include here because they were the ones that seemed to be used actively nearest to the time (both prior and following, within a century) Austen’s novel was published. The list:
• To relieve (a person) of an obligation; to release from a duty, prior undertaking, etc. Now rare and arch.
• To perform (a duty for which one has personal responsibility); to fulfil (an office or its functions); to carry out or successfully discharge (a role, task, or commission).
• To pay off (a claim, debt, or liability); to redeem (a pledge); to make good (an obligation). Also in extended use: to compensate for.
• To relieve (a person) of an obligation; to release from a duty, prior undertaking, etc. Now rare and arch.
• Law. To free (land, services, etc., granted to a person or institution) of prior claims or obligations. Chiefly in to warrant, acquit, and defend at WARRANT v. Additions. hist. (translating charters) in later use.
• To discharge oneself of a duty, responsibility, or office; to perform a task, accomplish a commission, etc.
Based on the given definitions and the fact that Sense and Sensibity falls under the genre of romance, if I were to make an educated guess as to which ways she might have used the word acquit, I would imagine that the term is used as a personal acquittal of one’s duties and responsibilities (perhaps something along the lines of “It is not my business who my sister fraternizes with, therefore I acquit myself of the task of being her chaperone,” or “You are not my keeper, sister; I acquit you of your duty to worry about me”). Perhaps it is an eligible bachelor, esteemed with serving in some prestigious or respectable movement or organization, such as the military, and has successfully carried out his duties and was honorably discharged, or, acquitted. It might even be that one acquits themselves of the conscious inhibition of their desire for one they love. Finally, acknowledging that there is to be a connection between law and British novels, perhaps the term is used in reference to “freeing land, services, etc., granted to a person or institution of prior claims or obligations.”
The word I chose for the Austen OED was “witness”.
It seems the earliest use of the word “witness” was as a noun in Old English (“witnes” or “gewitnes”). It was probably first used around 950. There were also uses of the word in Old High German (“giwiznessi”) and Middle Dutch (“wetenisse”). In its first uses, it meant “knowledge, understanding, wisdom”. There is also a second meaning and use around the same time, meaning “attestation of a fact, event, or statement; testimony, evidence” as well as “evidence given in a court of justice”. Interestingly, it was used quite frequently in the Bible, using both these and other meanings. Most commonly, it seemed be used to mean “testimony”.
The meaning and use varies slightly through time, but remains consistent in its origins. One of the more interesting uses is of “eyewitness”, which starts around 1225. More specifically, it meant “one who is or was present and is able to testify from personal observation; one present as a spectator or auditor”. Both Shakespeare in his play “Henry VI, Pt. 1” in 1623 and Marlowe in his play “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus” in 1604 used the word in this way. While there is definitely a relation to the law with this meaning, I can also see it carrying a social connotation. Because of this, I believe Austen might use “witness” like this as well.
Shakespeare actually seemed to use the word quite a few times and in various ways. For instance, in 1616 in “A Winter’s Tale”, “witness” was used to mean “one who is called on, selected, or appointed to be present at a transaction, so as to be able to testify to its having taken place”. The first use of witness in this way seems to be around 1122. Other famous authors have used the word as well like Chaucer using “witness” in the “Parson’s tale”. In this use, it meant “referring to, usually introducing, the designation of an authority for a statement”. This meaning, however, is not common.
The use of “witness” as a verb began later than its use as a noun, but has a meaning very similar to its origin. It is typically used to mean “to bear witness to (a fact or statement); to testify to, attest; to furnish oral or written evidence of”. This is the typical association people make with the word “witness” because it is so commonly used in courts. However, I don’t necessarily think that Austen will use witness in this way in “Sense and Sensibility”, as the books seems to be focused more on “social” laws rather than the court of law. But there are plenty of other interesting associations, especially that of its religious connotation. This is seen not only in its common use in the Bible, but in other texts with religious themes, like Milton’s “Paradise Lost”.
The word “evidence” originates in Middle English and from there appeared in the French and Latin languages. As a noun it emerged as early as 1300 (euydens), and it was first seen to mean “example, instance…to take an evidence” (OED, 2015) in a religious context. From this time forward, the definition of “evidence” saw several variances, but it remained close to its original intent and was seen frequently in a religious framework.
In the 1380s, the word “evidence” began to take on a slightly different connotation as referring to more judicial language. The definition shifted at that time to “Ground for belief; testimony or facts tending to prove or disprove any conclusion” (OED, 2015). This definition or understanding of the word was used all the way until the late 1800s. Appearing not long after the secondary definition for “evidence,” the sense of the word gained further depth, though in the same strain of thought, with the 1393 expansion meaning, “An appearance from which inferences may be drawn; an indication, mark, sign, token, trace” (OED, 2015). Chaucer used the word in this way in his “A Treatise on the Astrolabe” as did Daniel Defoe, famed author of Robinson Crusoe, in “A System of Magick” centuries apart.
Finally, a definition developed first in 1503 gives an even more formal and legal flare to the word “evidence.” The definition states: “Information, whether in the form of personal testimony, the language of documents, or the production of material objects, that is given in a legal investigation, to establish the fact or point in question. Also, an evidence = a piece of evidence. Phrases to bear evidence, give in evidence, give evidence” (OED, 2015).
I chose these particular definitions of the word “evidence” (n) as I felt they would most apply to what Austen was writing at the time. Characters could undoubtedly use the word “evidence” in any manner of these definitions.
There are also several definitions for “evidence” as a verb, the first of which appeared in 1610. The definitions which would most apply for Austen’s work are “Of things: To serve as evidence for; to attest, prove” and “To give evidence or indication of; to indicate, manifest” (OED, 2015).
The word “evident” as a noun was first recorded in 1382 to mean “(With mixed notion of 2) of tokens, vestiges, etc., or of states or conditions: Obvious to the sight; recognizable at a glance” (OED, 2015) which I found to be a probable usage for Austen’s intent. One further definition which appeared in 1393 that I thought was likely applicable to the way in which Austen used the word “evident” is “Clear to the understanding or the judgment; obvious, plain” (OED, 2015).
Etymology: < Latin ēvident-em, in same sense, < ē- out + vident-em, present participle of vidēre to see. Compare French évident.
With the use of this active form in passive sense compare ‘to look (well or ill)’, German aussehen to appear, lit. ‘to see out.’ Late Latin had the passive ēvidēri to be evident.
My word of choice for the Austen OED assignment is evident. Not evidence or evidently, but evident. The etymology of this word is Latin and for the most part legal in nature. But also recalls, in definition, Locke’s writing’s on the senses and evidence. When something is evident it is more than just likely or probable. It is a known fact. Like its counterpart’s evidence and evidently, evident is a sort of proof positive when speaking of something. Should a situation arise and an outcome evident, it is known to occur. Evident often speaks of those things that you can see, smell, taste, touch and hear.
Definitions for evident breakdown as follows;
• Of physical objects: Distinctly visible; conspicuous (obs.)
• (With mixed notion of 2) of tokens, vestiges, etc., or of states or conditions: Obvious to the sight; recognizable at a glance.
• Clear to the understanding or the judgment; obvious, plain.
• Having preponderating evidence. Of a remark: Obviously true
• Of a sign, testimony, etc. Indubitable, certain, conclusive.
• Something which serves as evidence; specifically in law, a document proving a person’s title to anything; usually in pl. title-deeds.
Oxford English Dictionary gives examples of the word evident in its form and use as having morphed up until about the year 1874 as used to conclude evidence in Scientific Law. Since then changes in meaning of the word or additional connotations have yet to occur. Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility was written in 1811. In regards to its usage in this novel, evident will play the role of proof of outcome or character as well as truth. Since Austen’s novels often include some misunderstanding about a person’s character, as well as worth or purpose of actions and deeds, through reading, the motives of the characters will become evident as well as the misdeeds or misconceptions of others. Austen once said “let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.” Evidence that her characters good character shall triumph perhaps over the less romantic marriage agreements of her time? And indeed evident that Sense and Sensibility is truly a romantic read if they can overcome such loveless legal process of their time.
The word “proof”, a derivative of the word “prove”, comes with a history that dates back to the second half of the twelfth century. Originally it had roots that dealt with the ability to be the “thing that proves a statement, evidence or argument establishing a fact or the truth of anything” (OED), including “a witness (12th century), evidence determining the judgement of a tribunal (13th century/ earlier Anglo-Norman legal use), test, also ordeal (mid-13th century), experience (1265), probate (late 14th century), operation to check the correctness of an arithmetical calculation (late 15th century)”. (OED)
The word appears to be French in origin, it’s parent word a verb, making “proof” the formal variation noun that comes from it. More interesting, I think, though, is a second historical reflection of the word, that shows “prove” having more to do with physical evidence. According to Oxford’s English Dictionary, the French word “espreuve” was a “jewel used to test food for possible poisoning” (1360). So too was the word used as “a piece of work produced as a test denoting a piece of work produced by an apprentice in order to be admitted to a guild as an acknowledged master” (early 15th century). I feel like this is a turning point for the word that allows for a physical sight of evidence, yet it also has a bit of a tainted description as it allows for personal judgement, which we have seen doesn’t exactly choose correctly.
Some of the many definitions of “proof” reflect legal terms, like “Something that proves a statement; evidence or argument establishing a fact or the truth of anything, or belief in the certainty of something; an instance of this.” or “Evidence determining the judgment of a tribunal. Also spec. (a) a document or documents so attested as to form legal evidence; (b) a written statement of what a witness is prepared to swear to; (c) the evidence given and recorded in a particular case.” But another fun, and rather interesting definition relates the word “proof” to mathematics, as in “a MATHEMATICAL proof” or “A sequence of steps by which a theorem or other statement is derived from given premises.”
Austen may not have used the word “proof” or “prove” in the same sense a high school math teacher may, but it is clear that she would have had a solid understanding of the word meaning that there was a mechanical approach to obtaining the truth. I think the idea of a stone being used to detect poison is interesting and would be a great twist on a mystery, or within a Royal court in the midst of crisis, to be unearthed (no jewel-pun intended).
This is William Cervantes, by the way 🙂
For the OED Assignment I chose the word testimony.
As a noun the word testimony stems from the old Northern French term testimonie. This term contains similar roots to the Latin word testimonium which meant a letter of recommendation given on behalf of the member of a holy order. It may be because of the religious origins of the term that the first use of the word testimony was biblical in nature and referred to the arc of the covenant (ark of testimony). The term next appeared in the mid 1400’s in polychron to refer to personal evidence in the phrase “Hit hathe somme testimony and wittenesse”. In the 1500 and 1600’s the term takes on two distinct meanings. It can mean a written certificate or some other form of proof (that supports a fact) such as in the phrases “They that goe by land in Italy, must bring a Testimonie of Health called Boletino, before they can passe or conuerse”(1617 F. Moryson) or “To smell of sweate, the testimony of labour”(1601 W. Cornwallis). The other use of testimony is as an open attestation or acknowledgement which was often religious in nature. This stemmed from the use of testimony from the 1300’s as it ceased to be used as often to refer to the law off God and it instead referred to decrees such as “A Hind let loose, or an historical representation of the testimonies of the Church of Scotland” (1687 A. Sheilds). Both of these definitions continued into the 1700’s. It was used as a form of proof in The Life and Strange Adventures of Robinson Crusoe ín the line “He shew’d all the Testimony of his Gratitude that he was able” (1719 Defoe) and as a form of decree in the line “the two first that sealed their Testimony with their Blood were William Robinson..and Marmaduke Stevenson” (1720 W. Sewell). In the 1800’s testimony continued to refer to these two things as well as a declaration of disapproval or condemnation. Though the first example of this is in a bible passage from 1582 it does not become common until 1818 after which it appears in several sources from the 1800’s. All three of these meanings are apparent in modern English.
The verb form of testimony has the same etymology as the noun form and began in the 1300’s. As a verb it means to bear witness to but it seemed to be less used after the 1600’s. An example of it is in “I salute you both..and will testimonie to the integritie” (1611 C. Tourneur). Most uses of testimony as a verb could be replaced with the word testify (which means to bear testimony).
Based on the time and social structure in which Austin was writing I would expect testimony to mean a form of proof. It would probably be similar to the example from Robinson Crusoe where it is used in the context of a social engagement as evidence of gratitude. It also may mean evidence of love and loyalty regarding the two daughters and their mother.
According to the OED 2015, the word “case” pronounced “keis” in Britain and America has several different meanings. I found it is most often used as a noun, stemming from the Latin word “cassus” meaning fall, or falling. The fall this term refers to what we would call an accident, chance, or occurrence. I was surprised to find the most frequently used definition for the noun actually means grammar, or some form “…of noun, adjective, or pronoun which expresses a varied relation in which the word may stand to other words in the sentence”(OED 2015). Some other definitions of the noun “case” are a container used to hold or display objects, or in the use of the phrase “case char” it refers to autumn spawning season. According to the information listed on the OED, “case char” has been used to describe changes in autumn weather up until the 1800s, so it is entirely possible Jane Austen may use this term to depict changes in weather throughout the novel. Finally, the verb definition of this word means either to surround something, or put forward something in a hypothetical manner.
Some other notable uses of this word can be seen in several well-known phrases pulled directly from the OED 2015, including:
o “Out of case” – in poor condition, now only with reference to tobacco.
o “As the case may be” – (when referring to two or more alternatives) according to the circumstances
o “On the case” – actively engaged in an investigation, especially a criminal investigation
o “All a case” –one and the same, all the same thing.
o “Case of Conscience” – a matter in which a conflict of principle resolved by the application of moral rules, or (in later use) one’s sense of what is morally right.
After discovering all the various definitions and phrases that coincide with the word “case”, I feel confident making the assumption that Sense and Sensibility may use this word several different ways. Some examples of this might be “As the case may be foggy at this point Miss, we will surely find you a suitable man to marry” or “She has a terrible case of consumption.” The first example is referring to an authority figure or chaperone telling a young woman that no matter the circumstances they will find her a proper suitor, and the second example is referring to a woman with a terrible illness.
For my OED assignment, I chose the term “witness.”
Witness, in regards to the noun form of the word, has meant multiple things over the ages. It appears to have originated in it’s earliest form in 950ad as “witnes,” which meant at that time knowledge, evidence, or testimony. It was not until what appears to be around 1300 that the word “witnes” became a noun for “one who gives or is legally qualified to give evidence upon oath or affirmation in a court of justice or judicial inquiry” (OED 2015). In it’s earlier years of origin, it would appear that since witness was not used as a noun for a person, but rather the knowledge itself, then at one point in between then and 1300, someone decided to call those who had “witnessed” something, those who held the “knowledge and evidence.” More so, it was almost as if these witnesses became the knowledge and evidence. We can also bring up the use of witness in the form “to stand in witness.” This was used in 1516 to most literally mean “to act as a witness” (OED 2015). An example would be, “The king..rehablis the said Johne and Johne to stand in preif and witnes.” The connotation would seem, for the noun form of the word witness, generally neutral, with a level of trust and expectancy from the higher powers or courts that would use them (Or in the case of the knowledge, it).
Witness, in regards to the verb form of the word, meant most literally “To bear witness to (a fact or statement); to testify to, attest; to furnish oral or written evidence of” (OED 2015). In Austen’s time, to witness still meant just that. Austen would have written about characters and people “witnessing” things much like people witnessed in the early 14th century did. In this sense, witness has neither a positive or negative connotation to it that would depend entirely upon what was “witnessed” (Although, I would imagine with the cases that are usually written about, witness has a negative connotation along with it).
I would argue that with what I now understand witness to mean and have meant, that Jane Austen would have meant it more so in the sense that a witness is someone who sees things first hand, and that to witness is to bear first hand the fact of something, to later bring in front of a judge. I believe this will become important, as back in the day we did not possess the same technology as we do today, and witnesses words and testimony were everything. Should the judge trust the witnesses’s testimony to be correct, that would be the case. I believe that Austen wants this to be apparent in her stories.
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For this assignment, I chose the word “suspect.” At first I was unsure whether to look at the noun or verb form. After a Google book search of Sense and Sensibility, I found that Austen uses the word suspect in its verb transitive form in nearly every instance. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “suspect” means “To imagine something evil, wrong, or undesirable in (a person or thing) on slight or no evidence; to believe or fancy to be guilty or faulty, with insufficient proof or knowledge; to have suspicions or doubts about, be suspicious of.” Another definition is “To imagine or fancy something, esp. something wrong, about (a person or thing) with slight or no proof: with various const. expressing that which is so imagined.”
Although the word is the same, it is sometimes spelled differently in historical books. In the OED, other spellings are “susspeck” or “suspek” and often contain an “-it” suffix at the end for past tense. For example, some writings are “suspekit” instead of the current spelling “suspected.” The etymology for this word is very interesting, for it seems to originate in more than one ancient language. In Latin, the word “suspicĕre” means to “look up, look up to, admire, esteem, (chiefly in past participle) to suspect,” and the word “specĕre,” means to look. In Sanskrit, “spaç” means to see. In Old High German, “spehôn” refers to the act of spying or espionage.
According to the OED, the earliest written instance of “suspect” is in the Acts of Parliament, recorded in 1483-1484. The following line is cited in Act 1 Rich. III c.3 (heading): “An Act for baylyng of persons suspected of Felony.” I looked it up and baylyng seems to refer to the act of boiling or boiling someone to death. I find it fascinating that the earliest instance of “suspect” is in legal terms regarding punishment for a crime. Another legal text includes the word “suspect” in Accounts of the (Lord High) Treasurer of Scotland, reported by J. B. Paul to have been written in 1502. The line involved from II. 328 is “Certane personis that wer suspeckit of murthur.” Again, the source refers to suspected people in legal terminology. Another early version appears to be in a story titled “Lancelot of Laik” in 1500, although there was very little information on that text. The line states, “But he the Iug, that no man may susspek, Euery thing ful Iustly sal correk.” This usage is very difficult for me to understand, but it seems to be a similar instance of people judging others without certain proof. It does seem to be used in religious contexts as well by Thomas Fuller, a clergyman, and in John Strype’s Ecclesiastical Memorials. It becomes more common in the 16th and 17th centuries by famous writers such as William Shakespeare (appearing in many of his plays) and John Milton in Paradise Lost. By occurring not only in legal and religious texts but also in popular stories, Jane Austen would have had definite exposure to the word “suspect” in very much the same way we use it as a verb today.
I chose to take on the word “witness.”
The earliest usage of the word “witness” was in c950 to mean “Attestation of a fact, event, or statement; testimony, evidence; evidence given in a court of justice” and “One who gives evidence in relation to matters of fact under inquiry; spec. one who gives or is legally qualified to give evidence upon oath or affirmation in a court of justice or judicial inquiry.” This word first appeared as a verb around 1300 to mean “To bear witness to (a fact or statement); to testify to, attest; to furnish oral or written evidence of.” As I looked through the various definitions, I noticed that as a noun, “witness” was used more frequently and had more connotations than in the verb form. What I also found interesting was the strong legal applications that came with this word: “witness-bearer,” “witness-judge,” “witness action,” “witness-box,” “witness chair,” “witness-room,” and most importantly, “witness-stand” (unfortunately, most of these words really didn’t come into plat until the mid to late-1800s and wouldn’t have had an effect on Austen and her writing).
Sense and Sensibility was published around 1811 and this word was definitely in use. What I found interesting about this word is that in all it’s forms both as a verb and a noun, is how many times Shakespeare uses it. There were at least 17 instances where “witness” comes up in his plays and sonnets (only about 2-3 were actually the latter). Austen would have had access to his works and probably knew them well. One of his plays came up at least once in just about every one of the different definitions. So there’s no doubt that she would have been familiar with all forms of the words.
Though I believe that Austen might have seen this word, going off of what little I know about the novel and what I’ve been told, and used it in such a way as to mean someone who is witnessing something or someone who’s going to be a witness in a court of law. We as readers are going to be witnessing the instances in the novel. With that in mind, I have a theory that we’re going to be just as important in relation to witnesses as those in the novel.
I chose the word acquit for the assignment because I felt like this word is one that I would stand out the most to me when doing the reading. Looking up the word I discovered that there were three different grammar uses: noun, adj, and verb.
As a noun the word acquit’s Etymology comes from “Anglo-Norman and Middle French aquit, Middle French acquit (12th cent. as acuit in Old French, earliest in sense ‘payment’; French acquit ).”
Two interesting entires of this word were, “1569: in Minutes Proc. Royal Artillery Instit. (1861) Paid by warrant of the said lord lieutenant,..annexed to the..book together with his acquit.” and “1592: H. O. tr. V. Figueiro Spaniards Monarchie sig. C iiii, To the end to cloke her theft..she elected for her king by forme of acquit Charles Cardinall of Bourbon.”
As an adjective the definition is, “That has been acquitted; cleared of or free from (blame, liability, harm, etc.).”And the Etymology: < acquit, strong past participle variant of acquit v. (see forms at that entry). Compare quit adj. Compare also later acquitted adj.
Two interesting entires of the adjective form were, “1497 in E. Beveridge Burgh Rec. Dunfermline (1917) It was fund be ane assis that Jhone Cragy was acquit of all clamis.”and “1551 R. Robinson in tr. T. More Vtopia Epist. sig. ✠v, I..am herin clerely acquytte, and discharged of all blame.”
As a verb this word is defined as, “To pay the debt of and free (a debtor who has been held in prison); to ransom (a person); (also occas.) to redeem (a thing). Freq. with out in early use.”The etymology is quite long for this one, “Etymology: < Anglo-Norman and Old French, Middle French aquiter, aquitter, acquiter, Anglo-Norman and Middle French acquitter, Old Frenchacuiter, Old French (Flanders), Middle French aquitter, also (by analogy with verbs in -ier ) Anglo-Norman acquitier, Anglo-Norman and Old Frenchaquitier, Middle French aquittier (French acquitter ) to liberate (a country), to redeem (one’s life) (both c1100), to redeem (a pledge) (second half of the 12th cent.), to make good (a promise, oath, obligation, etc.) (second half of the 12th cent.; 1209 used reflexively, with the beneficiary as indirect object, in aquiter a quelqu’un ), to prove oneself worthy (second half of the 12th cent., used reflexively), to pay back (a debt) (a1174; a1225 used reflexively inaquiter de , and now only in this construction), to release (a person) from a specified debt (beginning of the 13th cent.), to declare (a person) not guilty of (a charge) (a1210 or earlier; frequent in legal use), to pardon, absolve (a sinner) (13th cent.), to reimburse (a person) (1268 or earlier), to release (a person) from (an obligation) (end of the 13th cent.), in Anglo-Norman also to exonerate (a person) (c1170, used reflexively), to free, release (a person) (c1225 or earlier), to discharge, carry out (a task) (c1230 or earlier), to pay (a person) in kind (end of the 13th cent. or earlier)”
I have never read Sense and Sensibility, but I have read another of her novels and so I can only predict how I think Jane Austen would use the word within her novel. I believe that she will look at acquit when someone is guilty of a lie, or caught in a tight spot, in order to explain to them that they are free/pardoned. I’m sure there are probably characters that will make mistakes and so she can use the adjective form of acquit to describe her forgiveness for whatever sin may have arisen. At her time the word already had many different forms and probably meant a great deal of things she could bend it towards, but mostly it means to declare someone not guilty/pardon. So I believe that she will adopt this term for her characters’s mistakes and flaws.
The original form of the word “acquit” is the verb, to acquit, which appeared around the twelfth century. It is derived from Anglo-Norman and Old French. Its original meaning was to liberate something or redeem oneself. The concept of “redemption” then extended to also mean to redeem a pledge, or fulfill a promise. It can also mean to fulfill a duty as well as a promise, to carry out a task or office. Acquittal can mean a form of redemption or atonement, a repaying of a moral rather than a physical debt, as demonstrated by this quote from E. Calver’s work, Divine Passions, from 1643: “Thy recantation shall acquit thy crime.” In legal terms, the word takes on a similar meaning, as it means to dissolve prior claims to something valuable, such as property or labor. It is often used in conjunction with or “against” or “from.” This use appears in London’s Town and Country Magazine in September of 1790: “We have . . . acquitted our duty as honest men.” Similarly, acquit may involve simply forgiving or releasing someone from his/her pledge or promise instead of asking them to fulfill it. This idea of fulfilling a promise began to be viewed through a financial lens, and thus came to mean also paying off a debt. A person could also be released from said debt, constituting an acquittal. This association caused the word to also mean a physical release, as from a prison (people were often imprisoned for being unable their debts). It then came to mean clearing oneself of a criminal charge, thus ensuring release from prison or keeping the person from going at all.
Being already acquainted with Austen’s work, I am already aware that her use of the word “acquit” often means to fulfill a duty or position, as it is used in the quote above from a London magazine. Sense and Sensibility was published twenty-one years later, with London serving a prominent function in the story, suggesting that this was possibly a common use of the word in Austen’s life. Debt and “social crimes” are quite often topics of discussions between the characters in all of her novels, leading me to speculate that people will be “acquitted” of both of these misfortunes/misdeeds throughout the text.
I looked at the word “testimony.” “Testimony,” when used as a noun, is derived from the Latin “testimonium”, which refers to the state of acting as a witness. When not used in a religious sense, it tends to refer to some form of evidence. The primary form of evidence to which it refers is the statement of a witness, offered “in support of a fact or statement”; the phrasing is interesting since, rather than simply stating the truth, “testimony” in this context requires that there be some fact to be proven, which the testimony supports. Romantic comedies often rely on misunderstandings and disagreements about events to drive conflict; differing testimonies might be used in furtherance of that sort of story. The OED also offers the definition, “An expression or declaration of disapproval or condemnation of error”; a testimony against certain behavior, perhaps unbecoming off the characters involved in it, might be forthcoming.
The religious sense is a little more interesting. “Testimony” can refer to the “Mosaic law or decalogue,” a straightforward set of rules which are supposed to be followed as law; in fact, one of the definitions of “testimony” is “the divine law.” While said divine law generally isn’t enforced by governmental courts nowadays, there was likely more religious influence on the law while Austen was writing. And regardless of whether the law itself takes religious law into account, religious law can still be treated in a legal sense, with disagreements over guilt and punishments for violations.
It is not exclusively a noun, however. “Testimony” may also be used as a verb, with a slightly different meaning. The first definition is to “bear witness, testify (to)”, a meaning which dates back at least to 1330. That seems a straightforward extrapolation of the noun form; the verb simply means to deliver a testimony. Austen might use “testimony” in a similar context, using individuals as witnesses to some events, rather than having them deliver a testimony directly to someone else. But there is also a more interesting meaning: “To test or prove by evidence.” In that regard, “testimony” sounds less like a component of a trial and more like the whole of one. I doubt that the book will feature much in the way of explicit courtroom scenes; my guess would be that any arguments of fact will take place more informally. They may only require “testimony,” not actual trials.
For this assignment I chose to look at the OED entry on the word “trial.” While there were four entirely separate entries on the word “trial,” but only the primary entry applies to Austen and the time when she lived. This entry’s etymology is Anglo-Norman and was first instanced in the sixteenth century. “Trial’s” entry in the OED features thirteen different sub-entries, several of which fit into the time frame of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.The first definition listed for the word “trial” is the traditional legally connotative form of the word, “The examination and determination of a cause by a judicial tribunal; determination of the guilt or innocence of an accused person by a court” (OED). This definition is the most obvious and most related specifically to law. This definition also predates Austen by several centuries.
Also included in the OED entry on trial are a number of sub-entries which are not specifically referencing anything having to do with the law but are still likely to be used by Austen. One of these entries defines the word “trial” as, “The fact or condition of being tried by suffering or temptation; probation” (OED). This definition for “trial” is the second most commonly used version of the word. This use of the word trial is also rather likely to appear in Austen’s work as “The fact or condition of being tried by suffering or temptation,” tends to lie at the heart of all fiction and storytelling.
The OED also includes the very long definition of “trial” which reads, “Action, method, or treatment adopted in order to ascertain the result; investigation by means of experience; experiment. rule of trial and error: see position n. 2 trial and error, (a) also in non-mathematical contexts, the process of succeeding by repeated trying with or without improvement of method by learning from failures; (b) spec. in Psychol., with reference to the theory that a primitive form of learning results, over a series of trials, from erroneous random responses to a problem being replaced by the correct response, rather than from insight. Freq. (with hyphens) attrib.” (OED). This version of the word “trial” which is essentially the process by which one gains knowledge, while still related to the goal of courtroom, applies the word to a larger context. This form of “trial” may also very likely appear in Austen’s fiction. The section of this definition which reads “investigation by means of experience” (OED), also relates back to our early discussion regarding John Locke and the concept of empirical evidence.
One last sub-entry on the word “trial” in the OED reads, “That which puts one to the test; esp. a painful test of one’s endurance, patience, or faith; hence, affliction, trouble, misfortune” (OED). This entry jumped out at me due to the date listed on the first example of the use of “trial” in this way, 1754, which was less than a century before Austen published Sense and Sensibility. While this definition is very similar to the definition, “The fact or condition of being tried by suffering or temptation; probation” (OED), it is also both more specific and more inclusive. This chronological proximity of the earlier instances of “trial” being used in this way to Austen’s writing of Sense and Sensibility leads me to believe that this somewhat new interpretation of “trial” will likely show up in Austen’s fiction.
For my word I chose the noun suspicion and the verb suspect to learn more about.
According to the OED the etymology of suspicion comes from the Anglo-Norman suspecioun and at an earlier time was suspeziun. A variation of this was the Old French word so(u)speçon along with the Portuguese word suspeição. This gave way to medieval Latin in the form of suspectiōnem and its original form suspecio(u)n which in turn became the word we use today in the form of suspicion. Suspicion came about in the 14th century due to ‘learned’ Old French suspicion or of Latin suspīcio , -ōnem which was the noun of the verb suspicĕre, meaning to suspect. The definition of suspicion varies but only slightly in that they all derive from the basic idea that it is the action of suspecting without significant evidence. One of the more interesting twists on this definition is that it can be used to express a conjecture of something evil or of a wrongdoing. As for the verb suspect, the etymology of it derives from the Latin word suspect which is the past participial stem of suspicĕre which one of its meanings was to suspect. Suspicĕre comes from Sanskrit’s spaç meaning to see and Old High German’s spehôn meaning the action of espying. The definition is closely connected to suspicion only it is a verb rather than noun. Also, it is much more strongly tied to the idea of thinking someone of evil doings. For the most part, to suspect someone is not to think of them as doing something good. It means to imagine something or someone as evil or of doing something wrong without sufficient evidence. It can also mean to have doubts of someone or something.
While suspicion has been and continues to be used to describe an innocent thought, such as ‘I had a strong suspicion my brother was at Burger King’ the connotation of the word generally implies a more sinister thought, which is shown by the examples chosen in the OED to show how the word has been used throughout the centuries. I would guess that this would be reflected in the way that Jane Austen would use the word, such as if a character has suspicions of another’s motives or words and suspects them of being dishonest. It will probably also be used to show a guess about a theory of how something may have happened that the characters have to conclude from insufficient evidence. Suspect, having this same connotation of having done something bad rather than good, will probably be used in the same manner. It will probably be used when a character thinks that someone else has done something they consider to be bad.
For this Austen OED assignment I’m going to focus on the word “testimony.” Although all of these possible word choices have potential for some interesting topics within the text, testimony interests me the most because I know that gossip is a big part of Austen’s books. Word of mouth was the primary means of relating information at this time, so people’s words were probably looked at as even more important than they are today. I have a feeling that in “Sense and Sensibility” people will probably be judged by their word, certain “testimonies” will be taken very seriously (whether or not they are reliable), and these will have drastic affects on the outcome of the story.
The first entry in the OED for testimony is a noun. As far as etymology, the word appears to derive from the Latin “testimonium” which means, “a letter of recommendation given to a candidate for holy orders testifying to his piety and learning; also, a certificate of proficiency given by a university, college, professor, etc.” This seems to be pretty much in line with the definitions that have persisted in the English language. There are many examples in the OED that seem to essentially coincide with this definition, although the religious connotations seem to have given way to the legal implications of the word as we near the time that Austen was writing. The fact that it was specifically “a letter of recommendation” in the Latin sense is probably what persisted into Austen’s time.
The first definition that the OED provides for testimony as it is used today is, “personal or documentary evidence or attestation of a fact or statement; hence, any form of evidence or proof.” Here we see that the word has taken on a very legal nature, going as far as to say that testimony is “any form of evidence or proof.” This is interesting because I think of testimony as strictly someone’s word, most commonly associated with law, but not exclusively. I think that Austen could potentially use this word to mean someone’s word outside of a legal setting, although I could be wrong. Developing on that point, I find it interesting that testimony has come to be basically synonymous with evidence.
Like the Latin definition, some of English definitions do refer to religion. Testimony was sometimes used to describe “divine law.” Here we probably see the Latin root coming back to the forefront, but this type of usage seems to have tapered off before the time Austen was writing. During the 18th and 19th century, more often than not, the definitions have strictly legal implications as “any object or act serving as proof or evidence,” or “a written certificate; a testimonial.” Obviously we have clear legal connotations that are associated with the word, but there is one other significant usage that seems to coincide with Austen’s era, and potentially her implementation of the word in “Sense and Sensibility.” This is the use of testimony as “an expression or declaration of disapproval or condemnation of error; a protestation.” This seems to be outside the legal connotations of the word which is interesting because it applies to everyday life, rather than the confines of the courtroom. Or, it is another example of law infiltrating the common vernacular as we have already seen. Perhaps we will see the word used in this more colloquial sense, rather than within the religious, or legal frames of connotation.
I chose the words evidence/evident/evidently
The noun evidence has stemmed the verb evidence, the adjective evident and the adverb evidently. These other terms are all closely linked to the noun evidence.
The noun evidence is the first word to appear in Middle English, approximately around 1300 A.D. During Jane Austen’s time, it most likely meant “that which manifests or makes evident”, a definition that is close to its use today. It was also used with the preposition “in” such as “in evidence”: “The sister whose presence she had relied on was not in evidence” which means that the subject in question is “actually present; prominent, conspicuous.” The term also already had clear legal uses during Austen’s time, used in sentences such as “To find proper evidence for convicting the offenders.” (1792 , J. Almon Anecd. Life W. Pitt (8vo ed.) I. iv. 58) This means that Austen likely not using the words without being aware of the legal connotation.
The verb evidence appears much later, around 1610, and means “To serve as evidence for; to attest, prove” which can mean that a person, object or circumstance is evidencing one’s innocence or guilt. A person who is evidencing can also be considered a witness, which is interesting.
The adjective evident (Which may also be a used as a verb, similarly to the verb evident), appears around 1382, and generally means “Obvious to the sight; recognizable at a glance.” A sentence that would have been seen in Austen’s time is “Of which [small-pox] she bore evident marks.” (1806, Med. & Physical Jrnl. 15 443). Other definitions imply that the noun that is “evident” must in a way have evidence associated with it, and most often than not, visual evidence.
Finally, The adverb evidently, which appears around 1374, follows a similar trend, and is used with verbs which have evidence attributed to them, “All the substances hitherto examined..have evidently appeared to be compounded of one or more of these elementary principles.” (1794, R. J. Sulivan View of Nature I. 435)
I predict a few possible circumstances in which these terms may be used. From my past experience with Jane Austen novels, I have noticed that her characters have a tendency to jump to conclusions when confronted with superficial evidence. There may be thus circumstances in which the characters see something and jump to some outrageous conclusion, only to be proven wrong later in the novel.
These words may also be used when a character is judging a person or a situation for the first time. They may mention what is “evident” to them, or what is “evidently” happening. This could be used to underline the fact that it is only what is distinctly visual when making an initial “judgment” (See, I used another legal word). Either way, these words are incredibly versatile and I “suspect” (again) that there will be quite a few instances in which they are used.
I wrote a three paragraph response and it didn’t send, kicked me out of the post and now I have to respond a second time from scratch. So I am doing this in three parts. Testimony.
Originating from the latin testimonium noun. Pronounced tɛstɪmənɪ. The word is first referenced biblically, then it breaks out to reference a form of evidence provided be either a person or document.
Hey Zeth, I’m sorry to hear this. One thing I’ve learned over the years is always to type things up in a separate, saveable format, and then paste them into a facebook thread, wordpress site, etc. Sorry you had to learn this the hard way, like I did!
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It was forced used biblically in 1382, “The Mosaic law or decalogue as inscribed on the two tables of stone.” (OED) This would suggest that the biblical use is more like the testimony of God or his demands upon man. Testimony in this case references the idea of an ideal person. In 1475 the word changes to mean, “Personal or documentary evidence or attestation in support of a fact or statement; hence, any form of evidence or proof.” Though not yet in its final form this is the point when the word seems to separate from a strictly religious meaning and focus to a more wide ranged concept of evidence. This definition is far more applicable to a modern world but in Austen’s time both could very well have been used with equal attention. The final real transformation of the word is in 1582, “An expression or declaration of disapproval or condemnation of error; a protestation.” This more modern change, relatively speaking, adds to the word in a way that it adds more then just a more legal definition. This suggests the word has a meaning of strong convections.
While Austen could use any of the meanings listed above to represent her use of testimony I will assume that the most common forms of the word to be used more of a legal format. This would be using the word as a persons sworn word or document as well as strong convections.
I chose to examine the word “acquit”, as a verb. The OED lists noun and adjective forms of the word as well, but I will leave them out because the OED has almost no information on them, and by doing a quick word search of the novel using Gutenberg I saw that the verb form dominates.
The OED etymology traces the word back to the Anglo-Norman and Old French languages, and some of its ancestral forms include the Old French acuiter, the Middle French variants aquiter, aquitter, and acquiter, and the Anglo-Norman/Old French acuitier. Our contemporary use of the word as a verb tends to refer to legal exoneration, a meaning that sees echoes in some of these early forms. For example. the OED notes the Middle French aquittier (French acquitter) which meant “to liberate (a country)” and “to redeem (one’s life)” around the 11th century, and “to redeem (a pledge)” and “to make good (a promise, oath, obligation, etc.)” around the 12th century. The OED notes an explicitly legal meaning being adopted to its French and Anglo-Norman forms as early as the beginning of the 13th century.
The OED tracks, rather amazingly, fifteen definitions of the word, categorized into seven groups. Despite the nuances of this word, general semantic categories seem to jump out. All of the definitions except for 6a and 6b deal very generally with the fulfilling of duty, obligation, or responsibility in one way or another. Moreover, many of the examples that the OED gives us of the word’s use at or around the time of Sense and Sensibility’s publication adopt a legal or at least semi-legal tone. Definition 5b, for example, is labeled as a piece of legal terminology explicitly, meaning “to free (land, services, etc., granted to a person or institution) of prior claims or obligations”. 7a and 7b, while not labeled as legal jargon explicitly, also carry clear legal connotations; their definitions are, respectively, “To clear of blame or responsibility for, exonerate; to declare not guilty of a formal charge or accusation” and “To clear a person of a formal charge or accusation; to exonerate”. I haven’t read Austen, but I can imagine that these legalistic definitions have figurative potential that Austen would make use of. For instance, the example chosen for definition 7a reads, simply, “To acquit him wholly of the charge.” The example, taken from Harriet Martineau’s The loom and the lugger, a tale. part 1 (1833), seems to imply a legal context considering how narrowly the word is often defined (and from the explicitly legal uses of the word in the other textual examples), but it’s easy to imagine the word “acquit” and “charge” being used deliberately to give an interaction between two people a (perhaps ironic) tone of formality and legality, even though the exchange is not literally happening in a court of law.
Even more interesting to me was definition 6a, which reads: “Originally: to meet standards of good conduct (as befitting a person of a specified kind); to act well (in a specified field or circumstance); to prove oneself worthy. Also (later chiefly): to conduct oneself (in a specified manner); esp. to behave or perform (well)”. While not a legalistic definition at all, it seems to invoke the title, Sense and Sensibility. I often see the novel categorized as a comedy of manners, which leads me to anticipate themes addressing class and social standing. This seems to leave open the possibility that she would find use for a form of “acquit” that expresses standards of behavior appropriate for a higher social class. The given example, from H. J. Morgan’s Sketches Celebrated Canadians published in the Quebec Mercury in 1808, reads “He acquitted himself an able judge, distinguished by the most eminent rectitude and unwearied assiduity.” Morgan is using the word, whether sarcastically or not, to make some sort of observation about this person’s self-assessment of the refinement of his character, which seems to find use in a comedy of manners. It’s also interesting – but probably coincidental – that the given example speaks of a “judge”, placing us back into the thematic realm of the law and legal proceedings.
“But suspicion of something unpleasant is the inevitable consequence of such an alteration as we just witnessed in him”.
There are a number of ways to use the word witness, both as a noun and a verb. I am interested to see how these meanings have changed over time, as well as to examine how Jane Austen may have intended to use the word in her novel Sense and Sensibility.
Many of the connotations of the word witness, which comes from Old English witnes , (more frequently gewitnes,) have become obsolete over the years. When Austen published Sense and Sensibility in 1811 it is unlikely she intended to use the obsolete definitions of the word, but because the meaning has adapted in small ways, and has not completely changes all together, it would be best to examine the word at all stages of its existence, before delving deeper into Austen’s intended use.
Knowledge, understanding, wisdom.
Knowledge, understanding and wisdom are all traits still directly tied to the character of a reliable witness. While these traits haven’t changed of a witness, the above quote from 1482 demonstrates how the word’s usage has changed. No longer do we say ‘persons of witness’ when describing reliable sources of information, instead we simply refer to a reliable source on a given matter as a witness. That witness now gives a testimony, but in 1739, that witness could give a ‘witness’.
as seen in:
Monk of Evesham 27 His owne seyng that he had tolde before to a few persons of wytnesse [orig. perpaucis arbitris].”
a. Attestation of a fact, event, or statement; testimony, evidence; evidence given in a court of justice.
b. In some versions of the Bible: = testimony n.
A witness is synonymous with a testimony, but as late as circa 1400, a witness could supply a witness of events.
as seen in:
Brut ccxxxii. 319 He was bound by othe afor notaries in presence and witnes of tho kynges.”
As early as 1739, the current use of witness can be cited, as it is used in the following quote.
“1739 Bp. J. Butler Serm. in Wks. (1874) II. 221 They are to make their choice, and abide by it: but which soever their choice be, the gospel is equally a witness to them; and the purposes of Providence are answered by this witness of the gospel.”
Testimony by signature, oath, etc. (witness of , witness hereof, witness whereof, etc.)
As stated above one of the current meanings of the word witness is synonymous with ‘a testimony.’
as seen in:
1658 Sir R. Hutton’s Yng. Clerks Guide (ed. 8) i. 240 In witnesse whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal.
Here, we begin to see a shift in the word witness, as it applies to the role a witness plays in a court of law. In the next couple of definitions, we see now that the witness is called so explicitly. His/her testimony is to be regarded as the truth, as he/she has close association with events, or circumstances that others do not have.
4.One who gives evidence in relation to matters of fact under inquiry; spec. one who gives or is legally qualified to give evidence upon oath or affirmation in a court of justice or judicial inquiry.
One who is called on, selected, or appointed to be present at a transaction, so as to be able to testify to its having taken place: spec. one who is present at the execution of a document and subscribes it in attestation thereof.
Austen might have had access or recourse to each of these definitions, and for this reason, the word can be used in a number of creative ways. The things I am most excited to find are the uses not strictly pertaining to the past or present legal definitions of the word witness. Much like we noticed in Shelley’s Frankenstein, authors often find clever ways in which to use words, something I hope to witness in my reading of Sense and Sensibility.
I chose to look at the word witness. It is pronounced “wɪtnɪs” and appears to originate as early as circa 950 ad as a noun. The verb usage has come later, with its earliest usage originating around 1300 a.d. The etymology, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, say “In some Middle English texts forms of the type wittnes (= witnesses) may be inflected forms of witne v.”
The nound and verb usages of the word witness. Defining it as a noun makes it an “Attestation of a fact, event, or statement; testimony, evidence; evidence given in a court of justice.” Expanding and simplifying this definition allows us to define it with “The action or condition of being an observer of an event. AS a verb, it is defined as “to testify to, attest; to furnish oral or written evidence of.” It can also relate to “a document: To furnish formally attested evidence of.”
I expect Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility to approach the use of the word much like we would in today’s society. It may be used in describing someone seeing an action relevant to the novel’s plot. It could be used in the court of law, in which a lawyer calls to the stand a witness. Such a witness could be asked what they witnessed also. Approaching the word in these ways utilizes both connotations.
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Testimony: Pronunciation: /ˈtɛstɪmənɪ/
Etymology: < Latin testimōnium: see testimonium n. Compare Old Northern French testimonie. Definitions; 1 Personal or documentary evidence or attestation in support of a fact or statement; hence, any form of evidence or proof, 2. Any object or act serving as proof or evidence, 3. A written certificate, a testimonial. Obs., 4. Open attestation or acknowledgement; confession, profession. Obs. or arch. except in Evangelical circles. Phr. to give one’s testimony, 5. spec. An expression or declaration of disapproval or condemnation of error; a protestation. (OED).
The word testimony was first seen in scriptural language, seen in the 1400’s, “he veyle, that hongith before the arke of testymonye”. This passed on towards biblical references which then vastly morphed into personal statements seen as early as 1526, “Itt ys also written in youre lawe, that the testimony of two men ys true. [Bible (Tyndale) John viii. 17]”. (OED) Most of the 1500’s, the words testimony was closely related to Bible phrases and biblical relations, however nearing the beginning of the 1600’s, the word had strong connections to law and evidence, furthermore connecting the word to proof. A true testimony could, in fact, offer proof—proof leading to evidence which normally meant a case. Nearing the 1800’s the word proved to be a “declaration” or “expression” (OED).
Due to the face that “Sense and Sensibility” was published in 1811, it is safe to conclude that Austen most likely had the term “testimony” meaning personal statement, or expression of witness.
I also did some research on “acquit.”
Although the noun form is currently obsolete, it is listed as being used at least until 1779. In a diary entry by John Adams, published in 1865 in Works : with a life of the author, acquit is written perhaps with the meaning of the French acquit, meaning “receipt.” “A boat came on board to-day with a custom-house officer, to examine and give an acquit.” I found this use interesting because of the proximity of it’s use in comparison to when Jane Austen published Sense and Sensibility in 1811. I am curious to see if the noun form will be used and whether it will liken to “receipt” which itself historically has a meaning closer to “receival.” What I find interesting about the potential usage of this noun is that the party that ‘gives’ the acquit is perhaps recognizing that ‘something’ has been transacted or even potentially that ‘something’ has been transferred to the party that “acquits.” This brings me to the use of “to acquit,” the verb form of the word. The OED traces it’s usage back to the 1100’s as meaning both “to liberate” (a country) and “to redeem” (a pledge). Later, in the 12th century, we get “to make good” (a promise, oath, obligation, etc) and by the 13th century we have the more modern usage of “to release” (a person) from a specified debt. In a courtroom setting we would perhaps rather use the word “charge” in replacement of “debt” but essentially the usage would be the same and the OED lists both meanings as occurring within a century of each other. Later, in the 13th century we also see the word used in terms of sinning, as being the verb “to pardon, absolve” (a sinner), another meaning that arguably survives in courtrooms today alongside “to remove a charge”. “To acquit,” as an action that removes debts and sins is the way we understand it today, but thinking back on the obsolete noun form and its relationship with the transference of debts and payments, we can question where the charges, debts, etc are going. If like in the case of the noun, the one acquitting is issuing proof of payment then are they not also absorbing that debt into themselves? Perhaps so. Consider if for instance the public is unhappy with the acquittal, they may seek recompense with the authority that had done the acquitting, the authority then bears some responsibility, it is not simply destroyed. In regards to Austen’s Sense and Sensibility I would find it interesting to not only trace the sage of acquit but to see if she exhibits as flow of “charges” from acquitter to the acquitted.
I chose the word acquit. I chose this word because I am unfamiliark with it and wanted to know more about the word so that when we read Sense and Sensibility I will be able to understand this word in its context. The only time I have ever heard this word is watching SVU on TNT. When searching the word, I found that its etymology is after Anglo-Norman and Middle French aquit and also Middle French acquit and is elaborated as “12th cent. as acuit in Old French, earliest in sense ‘payment’; French acquit” Acquit is also compared to post-classical Latin acquitum tenure not liable to certain taxes (12th cent.), sort of toll (14th cent.), Occitan †aquit (1509).
Acquit, as an adjective or verb, can also be compared to being free of blame, liability and harm. Acquit has been used according to the OED as the following “Gower Confessio Amantis (Fairf.) iii. l. 2458 (MED), As he [sc. Alexander] hath the world mistimed, Noght as he scholde, with his wit, Noght as he wolde it was aquit.1460–4 R. Williamson in Paston Lett. & Papers (2004) II. 18, I have do my dylygens..for þe qwyche I am ryght ille aqwytt. 1497 in E. Beveridge Burgh Rec. Dunfermline (1917) 76 It was fund be ane assis that Jhone Cragy was acquit of all clamis. 1551 R. Robinson in tr. T. More Vtopia Epist. sig. ✠v, I..am herin clerely acquytte, and discharged of all blame. 1576 G. Gascoigne Complaynt of Phylomene in Steele Glas sig. L.iijv, And by the lawde of his pretence His lewdnesse was acquit. 1624 State Papers Earl of Melrose (1837) II. 556 Thay haif abiddin thair tryall, and bene acquate of all crymes. 1674 §6, 137 We may then..see him we censur’d acquit, and our selves doom’d.1716 M. Hale Pleas Crown 190 The Plaintiff brought an Appeal..against another, who was acquit. 1784 J. Reeves Hist. Eng. Law II. ii. xi. 159 He might be acquit of the aforesaid 10l. 1843 G. Brewer Martelli ii. iv. 40 By this prompt agency I stand acquit Of all the danger. 1875 R. D. Blackmore Alice Lorraine I. xi. 88 Hilary Lorraine was quite acquit of Oxford leading-strings. 1914 Southwestern Reporter 164 522/1 They stand acquit of personal liability for the amount of a claim erroneously allowed against the county and paid.”
Other definitions I have found on searching through the web are as follows; free someone from a criminal charge by a verdict of not guilty and to conduct oneself, or perform in a specific way.
The word I chose to look further into was “testimony”. The OED definition is “ Personal of documentary evidence or attestation in support of a fact or statement; hence any form of evidence or proof”. The most interesting part of this definition to me is the defining it as any form of evidence or proof. Emphasis on the word any. The word is derived from Latin testimonium or compared to martyrion in Greek. In English his Latin version is found in the Ten Commandments dated around the 14th century. I could be reaching but an interesting aspect of the definition I thought was the attestation to in support of… I felt this meant like as in a third party, if I think of it in a crime sense the testimony of a witness not directly involved but to support either that plaintiff of defendant.
I couldn’t really figure out the etymology of the word I guess, because I really couldn’t trace exact changes in definition over time. On the OED it stated the closes reference dated in 1805 by J Foster “determined by the testimony of facts”. Compared to the reference above that one dated 1719 in “Robinson Crusoe” “He shewd all the testimony of his gratitude that he was able”. Im not sure in the correlation between these two citations listed on the site. However I think it may correlate because Sense and Sensibility is published in 1811 close to the first reference yet it is based in the late 1700s.
I think the word will be interesting to watch in the work in the idea of who will be providing testimony in the story. Is there a limit on who can testify? And what context, we all are familiar with providing testimony in court. But we don’t usually use the idea of providing testimony in regular everyday trivial ideas, like if I ask my friend to testify for me if for chance my girlfriend asks where I was. Just a side thought. I hope this didn’t just copy the previous posts.
To find the etymology, click…”etymology”! It’s all there for you.
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This word has a number of meanings depending on the part of speech it is used for.
The noun acquit, from acquittance, refers to “a document showing that a debt has been paid; a receipt in full, barring further demand for payment; a written or printed release”. It can also refer to the dismissal of a legal charge or responsibility to carry out some sort of duty; overall it is best summed up by the word “release”. This definition seems to be the most widely-used in Austen’s time judging from the OED example quotes.
The adjective acquit refers to “that which has been acquitted; cleared of or free from blame” and is generally used as a descriptor for someone who has been cleared of criminal charges. While it also seems to have been used to refer to a person’s actions or behavior (IE “his lewdness was acquit”) this usage still assigns responsibility or lack thereof to the person in question, and so it still carries much the same definition today as it did in Austen’s time.
The verb acquit, as in “to acquit”, refers to the act of “[paying] the debt of and free (a debtor who has been held in prison); to ransom (a person); to redeem (a thing)”. In the more commonly used legal context it refers to “clear of blame or responsibility for, exonerate; to declare not guilty of a formal charge or accusation”. While the latter is more familiar to us in the 21st century, it is possible that Austen intended to use it in the broader sense of “freeing” oneself of something, whether an obligation or reputation or whatnot.
Acquit has an interesting and somewhat unexpected history. Its primary definition related to paying off a debt up until around 1210A.D. when it became a pervasive legal term. Coming form Anglo-Norman and Old French, the word originally meant similar things like “redeeming a debt,” “liberating” something, or “making good on a promise.” In essence, it meant to free a person or thing that had been an obligation. This use was first recorded around 1100, so the first legal use of the term came about 100 years later, a relatively short period of time. The transitive use of the verb that follows the most common understanding of the word today i.e. “to clear of blame or responsibility for, exonerate; spec. to declare not guilty of (also †from) a formal charge or accusation” didn’t show up until 1393. The intransitive version of the verb (of essentially the same meaning) didn’t pop up until 1571 or possibly even the 1600s. So, all in all, the definition and form that Jane Austen uses had been in use for around two centuries. The other uses of the word were still in use as well, however, depending on the specific definition and form. Some of them had died out, but others are still in use today.
With that in mind, Austen had plenty of background with the word as a legal term and would have been well aware of its connotation as such. Given the ubiquitous theme of debt in Austen’s novels, the other use would have born substantial relevance as well however… maybe even more than the legal since her novels were not overly known for legal themes, but instead, the tumultuous life of women in her era. There are common themes of debt and women being born into an inferior position to men. Unable to really earn a living on their own, women thus had to depend on men to remain out of debt or poverty. However, debt was also a oppressive concern for many male characters as well. As such, it seems likely that the majority of Austen’s uses of “acquit” would focus on the paying off of debt, or releasing oneself from a particular obligation or oppression. However, it also seems likely that the legal connotation would come up as well, though not nearly as much.
Anna de Boer
The etymology of “evident,” “evidence” and “evidently” is shared among all three words. The background begins with the “Latin ēvident-em, in same sense, < ē- out + vident-em, present participle of vidēre, to see,” and is comparable with the French “évident,” while “late Latin had the passive ēvidēri, ‘to be evident.'” This is further developed and compared to the German “aussehen, ‘to appear,’ or literally, ‘to see out,’ with the “use of this active form in passive sense” it can also have the connotation of “to look (well or ill).”
Evidence began to take on a law related meaning in the early 17th century, or at least as explicitly stated in the OED. It is said to have meant, “Of things: To serve as evidence for; to attest, prove” or “Of persons: To support by one’s testimony, attest (a fact or statement)” (OED). It doesn’t appear to ever have taken on a meaning differently than that which is used in law. However, evidently has its first law related meaning the late 17th century, with the meaning, “by evidence of a deed or document” (OED). Prior to that, its usage is seen as early as 1374 by Chaucer having meant, “so as to be distinctly visible or perceptible” (OED). Unfortunately, I am unable to analyze middle English but the later use in 1477 by Earl Rivers is easier to understand. Rivers says, “Whiche grace euidently to me knowen & vnderstonde hath compelled me [etc.]” (Caxton, OED). It is easy to see that he uses evidently to mean obvious or clear in the passage, with really no relevance to the law.
One of the early uses of evidence by Martin Fortherby in Atheomastix clearly references the law. He states, “The testimonie of neither of them..doth so euidence the matter, as the things themselues doe” (OED). Evidence is not being used here to mean the sort of evidence needed in a law case, but it is still being used in the connotation of having been obvious. Evidence is also thus already being related to testimony, which is very strongly related to the law.
I believe that Jane Austen uses both meanings of “evidently,” because the latter term is strongly related to law regardless of its use in 1374. Evidence is often something that is easily found or “distinctly visible” during case investigations and that is exactly what is found to be evident; I believe Austen will use the word in Sense and Sensibility as a way to put the characters on trial. One character may say to another “It is evident that you are lying to me” in which case, the scenario can be viewed as someone witnessing the evidence they need to come to a conclusion about what happened or how they feel about something that has taken place. I do feel that she will use “evident” and “evidently” a lot more than “evidence,” because there are few non-law related ways to use that word. It would be evident that she is using it to refer to a scenario as a case.
I do think I would prefer to focus on evident/evidently rather than evidence, because I think it will make for a more interesting analysis and will be less obvious.
The meaning of “evidence” may seem obvious, but here’s where the etymology becomes interesting. Because it’s so closely associate with the idea of “seeing,” might this word force us to pay even closer attention to the use of vision as a means of getting closer to the truth or facts?
I chose Trial:
The OED lists four entries, two forms of noun, an adjective, and a verb. The second noun form and the similarly derived adjective form are unlikely to occur much at all in the English language, regardless of the time period; the former is described as “Apparently an ignorant combination of TRI-comb. Form + -AL suffix”, while the later too stems from a combination of the “Latin tri-, stem of trēs, tria three + -AL suffix, after dual.” This noun form is essentially “wrong,” while the adjective form is esoteric, particular primarily to some languages of New Guinea and Polynesia which feature a “trial” form along with the singular, dual, and plural form.
This leaves us with the first noun form and the verb form. The OED puts the etemology of the verb form to the noun form, interlinking them. Indeed, the first example listed (though not the earliest entry) on the page uses trial in a verb form, “1583 Sir T. Smith’s De Republica Anglorum ii. xxiii. 79 The Clarke asketh him howe he will be tryed, and telleth him he must saie, by God and the Countrie, for these be the words formall of this triall after Inditement.”
While the other two forms of trial are directly derived from Latin, the stem in this form does not come from the Latin TRI- stem, and has no association with three. Instead it appears to come from Old French origins (trie-r, “to sift or pick out), with legal associations developed in Anglo-Norman (with no evidence of use as such in continental French.) The –AL suffix remains the same Latin derived form present in the other two entries.
The OED lists 13 separate entries for this noun form, and while many have prior use before Jane Austin’s novel, there seems to be two main forms, with remaining forms derived from either of these. The first definition is, “The action or fact of trying or being tried, in various senses of try v.” as in some form of examination or effort, whether legal or otherwise, to ascertain guilt or innocence. The legal form includes the first example cited above, while the non-legal form includes examples such as trial by combat, “Combat in our Common Law is taken for a formall triall of a doubtfull cause or quarrell by the sword or bastons, of two champions.”
The second primary meaning is essentially trial as a form of test, or proof of some form of quality, (such as fitness, truth, strength, etc.) with the first listed example: “The tryall of our faythe, & examynacion or proue of our hope.”
The third definition is also a form of test or determination, though not a matter of guilt, but instead an “[i]nquiry or investigation in order to ascertain something” while the forth is that used in “trial and error” and so on down the line, each successive form meaning some variation on the first two.
With the first two definitions appearing well prior to Austin’s novel, my sense is that trial is likely to be used to mean either the legal sense of a trial to determine guilt or innocence, or some form of ordeal/test.
According to the OED, the word “acquit,” was an Anglo-Norman, Middle French word which meant “to liberate” or “to redeem” during the first half of the 12th century. Then, during the second half of the 12th century, the word took on more specific meanings. It began taking on more legal meanings – the meanings we understand it to mean today. The word, at the beginning of the 13th century meant: “to release a person from a specified debt, to declare a person not guilty of a charge.” The word we understand today is used during a trial and it means someone being freed from criminal charge by being found not guilty.
The word’s various meanings, according to the OED, include:
1. “To dispossess (a person) of something due or belonging to him or her; to deprive of.”
2. “To pay or atone for (an offence, misdeed, etc.).”
3. “To discharge oneself (of an obligation, etc.).”
4. “To forgive or remit (a debt); to surrender or give up (a claim, right, etc.).”
5. “To clear a person of a formal charge or accusation; to exonerate.”
Up to the point when Austen was using the word, it was treated as more of a word that either described a man’s social choices or decisions. In the OED, it points out:
“1751 Johnson Rambler No. 174. ⁋8 My heart, indeed, acquits me of deliberate malignity, or interested insidiousness.”
“1793 in G. Lamoine Charges to Grand Jury (1992) 507 Such a defence, if proved, might..induce a Jury to acquit.”
So, up until the late 1700s, it was only then that people began using the word to describe court trials and it began taking on connotations of the legal system. Austen might have been toying with the gradual use of the this word – a word that use to describe people’s conscious decisions based on their own judgements of another person or such versus a word that was used (in her time) to describe what others judged in a formal court trial. In her literatures, she is known to write about how people judge other people based on only the facts that they collect about the other person. Whether it be gossip or personal confrontation, the person you’re trying to become friends with or fall in love with is the person in trial. You set out to conclude what kind of person he or she may be.
Acquit comes from the Old French verb acuiter, which means “to redeem (one’s life)” or “to liberate (a country).” Our more modern concept of the word originates around the year 1200, when it entered Middle English vocabulary. The earliest use of the word was found in a text called Ancrene Riwle, which was book of rules, or a manual, for anchoresses. Anchoresses are people who, in the 13th century, “retired from the world” and devoted their lives to God. In that text, the word in verb from meant “to pay off (a debt, a claim, or liability); to redeem (a pledge); to make good (an obligation).” Acquit has kept a consistent, similar meaning over the centuries, usually being used to describe exempting, excusing, or freeing someone from future consequences. The word has always concerned justice and judgment, either in the eyes of man or god. An early example of acquit being used in a judicial sense comes from 1465, out of a text called Gregory’s Will that states “I biqueth, to acquite prisoners out of Ludgate and Newgate moost needefull.” In Spenser’s Faerie Queene, written in 1590, acquit is again referring to releasing someone from some debt: “For till I haue acquitt your captiue knight, Assure your selfe, I will you not forsake.” I think Austen might have read Faerie Quenne, so she may have encountered this word in this context.
Acquit has been used in a strictly legal sense since 1396 according to OED. In its earliest legal definition, acquit meant “To free (land, services, ect., granted to a person or institution) of prior claims or obligations. Chiefly in to warrant, acquit, and defend.” Another similar definition that originated around a similar time is “To clear of blame or responsibility for, exonerate; spec. to declare not guilty of (also from) a formal charge or accusation.” Chaucer used the word with this definition in Parson’s Tale, saying “A man may acquyte hym self biforn god by penitence in this world and nat by tresor.” Here we have an example of the word used in the way we see it most commonly today. I think Austen will use acquit in a legal context. Perhaps Sense and Sensibility has a character that hopes to be acquitted of a crime.
Acquit was also used as a noun during Austen’s time, but is no longer used in that form today. From the late 13th century until the 19th century, an acquittance was “a document showing that a debt has been paid; a receipt in full, barring further demand for payment; a written or printed release.” A good example of this usage comes from William Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost: “Boyet you can produce acquittances, For such a summe.” A similar incarnation of acquittance is acquittal¸ meaning, “a judgment or verdict that a person is not guilty of the crime with which they have been charged. Also: dismissal of a charge by a verdict or other legal process.” Acquittal has had this meaning since the 15th century, and is still used this way today.
Austen might use acquit to describe the possible actions a court of law might take on an accused person, or she might use it to refer to a document proving that a debt had been paid.
I know that this post is extremely late, and I don’t expect to receive credit, but I also know we are supposed to continue tracking the word through the Austen legal assignment, so I am posting anyway.
Also, this is Kate Green. I didn’t realize this was the wordpress account that this would attach to, so if anyone reads anything off the attached blog, please don’t be offended. It was not intended for school use.
I chose the word ‘witness.’ As a noun, this word means ‘knowledge, understanding, or wisdom.’ Its etymology is Germanic, with specific references to High German and Dutch. It can be observed in different forms through Old and Middle English. It can also mean ‘a statement of fact, or testimony in a court of law.’ Further meanings include a person’s testimony itself, testimony by signature, testimony in terms of faith as it’s found in the Bible, the condition of being a observer to an event, inward testimony of the conscience (again, as found in the Bible with reference to faith).
As a verb, it refers to the bearing of witness, whether in a court of law, in terms of faith, or serving as a witness to a legally binding contract (such as a marriage).
I believe that Austen will use this term primarily in terms of social interactions. “I witnessed the slight he gave you; it was most unprovoked,” or something of that nature. I don’t foresee an legal connotation, except perhaps that of a marriage, and witnesses to the event. I also think that a witness might be necessary in Austen’s world to prove someone’s good character.
For the Austen OED I chose the word ‘witness’.
When looking at ‘witness’ as a noun, we can find several ways in which the word can be used/ defined. The first being “knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.” When I think of the word ‘witness’ this definition does not come to mind at all- however, the second definition, being “Attestation of a fact, event, or statement; testimony, evidence; †evidence given in a court of justice” does a better job reflecting my initial recognition of the word, and it actually has 4 sub categories. The above was listed under 2a. *2b states “the action or condition of being an observer of an event.” This one in particular stood out for me, especially in regards to Sense and Sensibility. The same goes for 2c, “Applied to the inward testimony of the conscience; after 2 Cor. i. 12.” This entry stands out for me as well, maybe just due to the biblical connection. Finally, entry d takes ‘witness’ into ‘testimony’ land. The Segway into ‘testimony’ territory leads to terms like “ear witness” and “eye witness”, etc. I think it’s interesting how many more terms/ legal terms surface as the page continues. At one point- section 7a and b. the Latin connection teste is referenced below the definition. 7a. “Something that furnishes evidence or proof of the thing or fact mentioned; an evidential mark or sign, a token.” 7b. Introducing a name, designation, phrase, or clause denoting a person or thing that furnishes evidence of the fact or exemplifies the statement. Also as witness, and, in early use, †witness on. (After Latin teste…, French témoin…)” Of course it makes sense that teste is listed under the more legal definitions (testimony). Of all of the categories referring to the noun ‘witness’ these few caught my attention the most.
”Etymology: Old English witnes , more frequently gewitnes , < (ge)wit wit n., i-wit n. + -nes -ness suffix. Compare Old High German giwiȥnessi , Middle Dutch wetenisse . The passage in sense from abstract to concrete is paralleled in French témoin ( < Latin testimonium ). The uninflected plural was frequent in early use; for separate illustration see sense 4.”
When looking at ‘witness’ in the verb sense, the etymology is “< witness n. In some Middle English texts forms of the type wittnes (= witnesses) may be inflected forms of witne v.”
The first entry for ‘witness’ (verb) is “1a. trans. To bear witness to (a fact or statement); to testify to, attest; to furnish oral or written evidence of.” 1b. is “with obj. clause” which I am not exactly sure what this means, even with the quotations following it. 1c. is “with complement (for…or inf.). Obs.”. Finally, 1d. is “ in imperative or subjunctive, as a form of appeal. Now rare.” The entries go further and like before with the noun definitions, the terms become more legal in a sense. Such as “To give evidence of by one’s behaviour; to make evident; to evince” or 2a. “intr. To bear oral or written witness; to testify. Now usually with to or against.” These examples are much more familiar to me.
I could have sworn that I posted this already, but when I look through the posts I can’t find it- posting again just in case*