Sunday, September 21, 2008


I think that my own last post threw me so much that it's taken me this long to recover. The thing with language is that, apparently, you can never get through it. You try to pin down one tiny aspect and does it reward you for your efforts? No. It leads you on to further conundrums.

This was the little passage that stymied me:
"a small turret corbelled out at parapet level, usually at the corners of a tower."

Never mind that I probably don't properly know what a parapet is. Let's just stick with 'corbelled' for the nonce. (And, yes, I used
nonce deliberately, as it's probably yet another word I will have to research.)

Anyway, I think we can somewhat deduce this. From the above passage, I think we can picture a rounded tower, coming out of square walls. I have no idea how they go about doing this, but at least I have an image. So let's go to a stricter definition:

corbelled: to provide with or support by corbels

So, inevitably, what's a corbel?

Basically its a bracket. It's typically used to support an arch or a cornice. And no, I don't know what a cornice is either. Is this blog really going to be bogged down in architecture? Well, I suppose there are worse fates. We can think of it as something that holds something else up.

The most interesting thing is that 'corbel' has this basis in Middle English, taken from old French. It is completely apt for T. H. White's novel, as the Arthurian period is based in the Norman, ie, French invasion. And corbel apparently comes from the word corp, which means raven. Because the corbels reminded someone of the shape of a raven's beak.

I always love when a somewhat ornate word turns out to have very homely beginnings. Someone saw the shape and thought, "that reminds me of a raven!"

Hope no one minds if I stay in White's universe for a long time, because there are an awful lot of words that I've been glossing over.

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