Posts Tagged ‘language’

he sword’s impact on our language and our customs remains, long after it has become irrelevant in our daily lives.

Men still shake hands with their right, or sword hands, to show that they are empty. When escorted by a man at formal events, a woman holds his left arm, so as not to encumber his sword arm. Military officers still receive a sword as part of their commission.

So much for formal customary. But what about daily language? Look at the following terms:

Cloak and Dagger. Cavalier. Swashbuckler.

As modern people, well all know what these terms mean:

Cloak and Dagger: pertaining to, characteristic of, or dealing in espionage or intrigue, especially of a romantic or dramatic kind.

Cavalier: n. – a gentleman; adj. – haughty, disdainful, or supercilious. Behaving in an off-hand manner.

Swashbuckler: 1) a swaggering soldier, or adventurer; daredevil. 2) An adventure story, novel or movie.

But where do they come from? Maybe that’s answered best by looking at how someone might have defined these terms a few centuries ago:

Cloak and Dagger: the twin companions of any well-dressed man when out and about in the streets, and often the only tools he had available to defend himself from ambushers. [The fencing master, Achille Marozzo, even includes a chapter on fighting with the cloak and dagger in his 1536 treatise, Opera Nova.]

Cavalier: a knight or mounted horseman.

Swashbuckler: a swaggering soldier or roustabout, so named for the sound of his sword and buckler scraping against each other on his belt as he walks.

The words themselves have survived into the modern era, but divorced from the martial culture that produced them, their original meaning has become obscured. This is even truer of expressions. The metaphor “the thrust of the argument” is readily clear. But an argument isn’t a physical thing (usually!), so you can’t really thrust with it. Therefore, the idea of driving forcefully through someone’s verbal defense is meaningful only because we can envision the connection to swordplay.

On the other hand, the threat “to beat the daylights out of you” makes absolutely no literal sense, no matter how we parse it. That is, until we realize that it has a 15th c origin as “letting the daylight into you”; which was a colloquial way of threatening to run someone through with a sword or knife.

Of course, these are just a few examples of how the martial culture of the Western world influenced one of its younger languages – English – and that influence is felt long after those martial arts had become extinct

This was the idea behind the name of our press. After all, anyone in the publishing field knows that a freelance is:

a person who works as a writer, designer, performer, or the like, selling work or services by the hour, day, job, etc., rather than working on a regular salary basis for one employer.

But how many know that this grew out of the older definition:

a knight or professional man-at-arms, with full armour and horse, who contends in a cause or in a succession of various causes, without personal attachment or allegiance.

Of course, the modern definition served our purposes admirably – authors work with their publishers in precisely a freelance capacity, and all four of the press’ founders are or have been freelancers themselves. But there was also the appeal of a reference to a forgotten part of our culture hidden in plain sight – precisely what the reconstruction of lost martial arts is all about, and precisely what we are trying to reveal by publishing ancient treatises and new scholarship.

So Freelance, it is, with all that implies!

(Besides, Clotpol Academy Press was already taken.)

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