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Etymology Of Court Essay

1213 words - 5 pages

In this report, I have attempted to display a general understanding of how the word court arrived in the English language and suggest reasons for its evolution. Much of the challenge has been determining what of the information I could present. Length restrictions and the condition set out, to use The Norton Anthology of English Literature as the only source to show the synchronic use of the word, have forced me to take a more narrow approach. Since court is a polysemic word I decided that rather then dwelling on the changes in all of its senses, I would attempt to acknowledge why this occurred. The latter part of the essay is spent discussing how court has branched its meaning to be ...view middle of the document...

He suggests “We should expect that English would owe many of its words dealing with government and administration to the language of those who for more than two hundred years made public affairs their chief concern” (1978, 168-169). By including court in this category we can make some conclusions regarding its evolution. Though the political institution has always existed, its structure is volatile and subject to change. In fact, one of the primary (and perhaps the most important) engines of historical change has been the constant transformation of the political state. Since our lexicon evolves to adhere to our present day needs, the word court has had to alter its implications to suit the political climate of the moment. At one time, using court in the context of a place where people would be found to be innocent or guilty of a crime would suggest a place where a monarch would decide the fate of the accused. A modern day notion of this scenario invests the power to decide the destiny of the individual to a jury, an arbitrarily chosen group of members from society. In both circumstances the court is a part of a function of society that is supported by its government. Its connotations, in these particular instances, denote stipulations, which change the word’s meaning.

The fourteenth century European life was much different than we know today. The ruling body was comprised of a leader: the king, and a small elite. Its duty was to rule and defend the nation. This position earned these courtiers respect in society. Therefore, belonging to the court suggested certain behaviour: to be courteous. In this sense, we are witness to an institution being personified by certain qualities which we admire, as defined, “Having such manners as befit the court of a prince, having the bearing of a courtly gentleman in intercourse with others; graciously polite and respectful of the position and feelings of others; kind and complaisant in conduct to others” (OED, courteous). When Geoffrey Chaucer was writing he employed this adjective, “Curteis he was, lowly, and servisable, and carf biforn his fader at the table...” (Norton Anthology of English Literature (NAEL) 1996, 72). In this quote Chaucer demonstrates how courteous has retained its original meaning. The people reading this in the thirteen hundreds would have made more of an association between courteous and the thrown, however, the implication of politeness has persisted. It is interesting to look at courteous before...

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