Words are fascinating: but they can often be very frustrating. in historical records we find words which are no longer used in ordinary conversation: they have become archaic or they have found a home in obscure leg-al jargon. Manor court records are full of them; so are inventories attached to wills and so are legal conveyance.
One transcribes documents of the 16th and 17th centuries intending:; later to look up the words one does not understand. But where? An ordinary house dictionary (Collins, Chambers, Concise Oxford) sometimes throws light on the problem: e.g. lessoin? and 'escheat' are two words comrr1on to manor records. the normal dictionaries have no problem with escheat' for it in still in use in legal circles; 'essoin' They take or leave - Chambers takes it, the Oxford leaves it. Names of objects of domestic inventories, again, may be in or out -- words like maslin, flasket, skeel, broche, andiron. It is most infuriating to find some there, some not. But they are hardly words which we need today. We need to know them, however, to understand domestic and social conditions in the days of Charles I or Charles II.
Where to go? There are specialised books serving the local historian which the local library may have; but it is a question of luck. One thing, however, which our libraries possess is the OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY (O.E.D.) in its 20 volumes. There is enough room here for every old and unusual word to be included and its variations of form examined. Our library at Alcester is fortunate to have in stock the most recent set of the O.E.D.
Do we realise just how fortunate Britons are to live in a country which produces such masterpieces as the Oxford English Dictionary, the Dictionary of National biography and the Ordnance Survey maps?
A few yards to a library and there they are, waiting for us. Being a local historian isn't really that tough.!
Spring 1991 Index
© Alcester & District Local History Society 1991