The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

text /

Initial thoughts on text… when I’m thinking about a word I usually start with it as a ‘centre’ and work my way out, or around, imagining it as the centre of a web of other words – getting a sense of its full meaning and implications and variety through context (conTEXT).

text –> context –> subtext -> pretext…

So text starts as the written word, with implications of authority and permanence… then grows to define not only that with which it deals directly, but also that around it… and then to add nuance, shading, detail – and even doubt.  (Now I’m thinking of Allan Fotheringham’s oft-used saying, “fuzzify the mudification”.)

And what does the dictionary say?

Text: from texere (Latin: to weave)… but as usage has developed, with much tendency to invoke authority and the establishment of the definitive.  The emphasis is heavily on biblical scripture as defining text – or at least giving it its weight relative to lesser patches of common writing, wherever they may spring up.  Purity creeps in there, too.

(In addition to the OED online I am also consulting my favourite dictionary: my grandmother’s 1927 edition of Funk and Wagnall’s New Standard Dictionary of the English Language, which is only very slightly smaller than the table it sits on and smells like the stacks in an old library.  The two are essentially in agreement, but Grandma’s dictionary is more exciting – sometimes I find things she tucked between the pages.  Rumour has it she hid money in there, too, but this may have been purely a ploy to promote literacy among her clan.)

Question to consider – what does textile have to do with text?  Well, there’s the obvious root in texere… which makes each a form – or result – of weaving.  A textile is “such as may be woven”.  Which, if text derives from the verb to weave, means that words are textile – aren’t they?

1 comment

1 Erin Gillespie { 09.17.09 at 6:25 am }

Funk and Wagnalls, a classic! I’m also impressed with your grandmother’s technique to get you to use the dictionary;-) I love the fact words are woven to create a product (expressed thought) through texere. It evokes images of a tapestry. Erin

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