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form of this whole class, should have been given not with dabble but with dab, and it is properly repeated with dip. It does not, however, illustrate the original use of the etymon, for its preserved application is the restricted meaning "to baptize;" precisely the same departure from the primitive sense that some modern forms exhibit.
It must be carefully observed that Dr. Webster makes a distinction between affinity and the possession of a common origin. The exact character of this distinction will be evident by an illustration. Suppose that, in the lapse of ages, a common climate and a common diet had produced a likeness of physical characteristics between two species of animals, and that there were instances of individuals conforming outwardly more with the other race than with their own, and all this without any mingling of blood; they would be akin, or an affinity would exist between them, notwithstanding their origin was entirely distinct. Affinity is, with Dr. Webster, mere physical resemblance or literal coincidence. The only possible interpretation of many of
. his remarks shows this. The words I have begun to criticize will furnish an example.. Says Dr. Webster, Introduction, p. Ixxiii. :
"The governing principles of etymology are, first, the identity of radical letters, or a coïncidence of cognates, in different languages; no affinity being admissible except among words whose primary consonants are articulations of the same organ.
“ Second. Words in different languages are not to be considered as proceeding from the same radix, unless they have the same signification, or one closely allied to, or naturally deducible from, it."
These principles have the aspect of being purely restrictive. To the first thus considered, there can be offered no objection. But in its application Dr. Webster shows that he means to include the complementary propositions, that all words having the same radical letters in different languages, and much more in the same language, are, therefore, akin to each other; and that there are words thus akin, which do not have a common origin.
To Webster's second principle it is possible, with sufficient ingenuity, to attach a true meaning. Could we be thoroughly acquainted with a whole train of antecedents and consequents, and fully comprehend all their relations, we should see that the peculiar character of the last of the series is “naturally deducible from its radix.” Could we be admitted into all the arcana of nature, we should no longer feel surprise at the peculiar characteristics of any of her productions; and yet we do constantly observe diverse appearances in the same individual object; so that, if our judgments of the existence or non-existence of identity or affinity were to be determined solely by similarity or dissimilarity of physical constitution, they would not rarely prove incorrect. Webster, indeed, appends these remarks, hardly tending to the same effect. He says : " And on this point much knowledge of the primary sense of words, and of the manner in which collateral senses have sprung from one radical idea, is necessary to secure the inquirer from mistakes. A competent knowledge of this branch of etymology cannot be obtained from any one, or from two or three languages. It is almost literally true, that, in examining more than twenty languages, I have found each language to throw some light on every other.” Webster looks not beyond a comparison of vocabularies. He is obliged to rely upon imperfect, and often erroneous definitions. No acquaintance with the literature of most of the affiliated languages clears up the darkness amid which he is forced to grope. The obvious sepse of Webster's second principle, and its intended sense as shown in the etymologies, is, “ A word, bearing a signification so remote from its supposed radix as not to be easily deducible from it, is not to be regarded as proceeding from it.” Taken as a principle in cases of doubt, it is of great value. It enables us to form an opinion probably true where there is no other ground for judgment; but this is all. The successive changes of the radical idea may be so great that the derived sense is by no means obviously deducible from the radical meaning; and, again, there may be an identity of elements and a sufficient resemblance of meaning to make an identity of origin very plausible, whilst there is no affinity, employing the term in its proper sense to denote sameness of origin. . I repeat, that identity of existing elements—and in a mere comparison of vocabularies, existing elements cannot be distinguished from radical elements -identity of existing elements in two words, and closely allied meanings combined, do not constitute a safe proof of affinity, whilst, in the absence of opposing testimony, they do amount to a high degree of probability. Dr. Webster's error is in assuming this probability as proof; and his weakness is in his scanty knowledge of the historical connection of different forms. The only sure ground to rest upon is a thorough investigation of the history of words, and the deduction of the specific laws of change in the several varieties of condition. The general laws of change Webster was acquainted with ; and he was undoubtedly correct in the vast majority of inferences that he drew from a comparison of vocabularies.
To return from a consideration of principles to their application, as examples shall serve us. As the etymon of dab, Webster gives Fr. dauber, adding or from the same root. It has the elements of dip, dub, and tap, Gr. Túto, and of daub.” This last statement will in itself admit of two interpretations; first, these several words are but different fashionings or mouldings of the same identical elements,elements separately inorganic, lifeless, worthless matter, having a living existence, a vital power only in union, together constituting a unit; and that all these fashionings are one and the same entity ; secondly, each element is an independent existence, with a power of its own, uniting in various modes with other elements; and that each mode or act of combination constitutes a distinct word, — distinct, not only in being henceforth an entity by itself, but distinct in not owing its genesis to any other word. The first interpretation is not the sense intended by Dr. Webster ; for, after declaring identity of elements, he intimates doubt of a common origin, or membership, in the same family; for, to go no further for proof, identity of elements between dip and tap is here asserted; but, in giving the etymology of dip, the Gr. Túrio, Eng. tap, is only doubtfully claimed “ to be of the same family," and apparently for the sole reason that its signification is, in Dr. Webster's view, not quite near enough to demonstrate identity of origin. And, if Dr. Webster is in doubt of the identity of dip and tap, whilst he does claim for them identity of elements, he cannot be thought to maintain that dab and dip are identical, when he simply asserts identity of elements. Let it be distinctly noticed that the French dauber is the only word that he claims to be from the same root; and we see the reason in his second rule, for he found in his French dictionaries dauber defined “to strike with the hand,” or in equivalent phrase ; and this alone of the words compared seemed sufficiently allied in signification with dab “ to be considered as proceeding from the same radix.” We are, therefore, forced to accept the second interpretation, an interpretation which supposes a theory of language unphilosophical and baseless,-unphilosophical and baseless, because inconsistent with the history of man and the functions of his intellect. Certain theorizers do not seem to comprehend that words are but the bodies of ideas and their relations; and the sum of the independent powers of the elementary sounds of a word is no more the word itself, than the aggregate of the properties of its various elementary particles is the living human body; that a word, in its functions, is as distinct from mere sound, as is an animate body from mere matter ; and that the life which they each have, is not of themselves, but is given unto them. It is not denied that certain sounds have a superior fitness for the expression of certain classes of ideas; but it is an analogous truth that the vital power selects only definite kinds of matter for the constituent elements of the diverse parts of the human organization. With such theorizers Dr. Webster's account of the origin of language, in his Introduction, does not seem to harmonize; and yet this doctrine of the identity of elements is in agreement with their views, in which case it is to be rejected. If any one deny that such is the doctrine, if he have logic enough left, he may see that this denial takes from the doctrine what little of significance it might have had before. In either case, the insertion of words identical in elements, but of different families, is of no advantage, and but uselessly swells the size of the book.
Had Dr. Webster boldly asserted the identity of dab, dub, dib, dip, dape, dive, &c., his position could not be successfully attacked. In the several ideas, as in the words, nothing is discernible but the same substance differently moulded ; mere variations of mode, not distinct existences. One evidence of the identity of dab with dip is found in the several appellations of a water-fowl; " the diving dob-chick,” dabchick, dip-chick, didapper, and dive-dapper. Another is found in the uses of its diminutive dabble, which Webster regards as of a common origin with dip. That it is a diminutive in reality as well as in form becomes evident in considering its use, whether the child in years is spoken of as dabbling in water, or the child in wisdom as dabbling in metaphysics.
Dabble, v. i., has for its second definition, “ to do anything in a slight or superficial manner; to tamper; to touch here and there.” Two distinct uses are here given as one,-a mistake of Johnson. “To do anything in a slight or superficial manner,” or perhaps better, to make slight essays at something, as Walpole affirmed that a certain painter “ dabbled in poetry too,” is one thing; and, “ to tamper,” or make impertinent charges, as when Atterbury charged Pope with dabbling with the text of Shakspeare, is quite another. Webster quotes from Atterbury to illustrate this usage, overlooking the fact that the first member of the definition is not synonymous with the others. He adds, as a third definition, “ to meddle; to dip into a concern;" showing at once the lack of precision, clearness and purity of expression. The expression is different from the first member of the preceding definition, but the distinct idea to be defined is not apparent.
Webster gives the participle dabbling, but not dabbled. To give either participle with a repetition of definitions is alike useless, or if with only a small portion of the definitions, as is sometimes done, is worse than useless. Webster's is not the only dictionary that might thus be pruned of thousands of articles with gain. When a true adjective arises out of a participle, as noted (e.g., a noted character), it should be given as an adjective, with an enumeration of its senses as such.
Dr. Webster proposes as the derivative of Dalster,
Dalster, “Qu. from adapt, with ster, Sax. steoran, to steer.” Is it conceivable that a term of common life exclusively, should have arisen from a root belonging to a learned language, and scarcely used except by persons of some reading, with the addition of a very rare suffix from another dead tongue? To say nothing of the improbable modification of the Latin element, where can a well-authenticated instance of hybridism parallel with this be found ? Conjectures are not to be excluded from etymology. Indeed, in this domain, without conjecture a large amount of what is probably true cannot be reached. But the etymol. ogist must first establish his principles by historic investigation; and cases that he can neither refer to a principle, nor adduce evidence for their supposed anomalous changes, he must leave, however reluctantly. And he will sometimes be wrong, when his conjectures accord with established principles. In this department, principles—the principles I now mean of literal changes and equivalents--in many cases only show that a relation may exist, whilst in particular instances the history of a term proves the possible relation does not exist, so that some of the best conclusions of to-day, resting on mere probabilities, may be overthrown by some discovery to-morrow. But this conjecture of Dr. Webster has the support of no principle; is a bare forced derivation, and far from being an evidence of a happy gift of divination. He would have done better, as in the case of tapster and punster, to have said nothing. The plausibility or the probability of the following conjecture is left to any that are disposed to consider it. The st may be of merely accidental insertion, --such insertion of insignificant letters dialectically, or for euphony, or by a false analogy, being no unusual thing, -and the whole suffix ster, then, simply denotes the agent; and as a tapster is one who taps or draws, and a punster one who puns, so a dabster is one who, by continuing to dab at a thing (dab is an intransitive as well as a transitive verb), is able to hit the mark. In these words (and perhaps teamster is like them), ster is distinct from the suffix in songster and spinster. Youngster is a case different from either.
Dactylet, after the example of Todd, is defined simply " a dactyle." Here, and elsewhere, usually, I think, except when it is employed in its primary, physical sense, as in gosling and stripling, there is an omission to note the peculiar term of expression given by the diminutive form. It seems to me that the peculiar shade imparted to each word, in the case of our few diminutive forms, should be pointed out, whether it is the idea of tenderness, of derision, or of sportiveness, which latter modification is essentially the one here: