"gun play"?

Amy West medievalist at W-STS.COM
Sun Jan 3 16:40:20 UTC 2010

>Date:    Sat, 2 Jan 2010 10:33:03 -0500
>From:    Robin Hamilton <robin.hamilton2 at BTINTERNET.COM>
>Subject: Re: "gun play"?
>From: "Dave Wilton" <dave at WILTON.NET>
>>  The MED has many examples of the martial sense of play in Middle English,
>>  plei(e sense 4. Ex. from Lydgate's "Siege of Thebes" (a. 1450): "This was
>>  the play and the mortal game Atwen Thebans and the Grekys."
>>  Most of the Middle English cites continue this trope of conflating warfare
>>  and sport. I can't find any examples of compounds like "swordplay" or
>>  "shieldplay" (lindplegan) though.
>Most of the LEME cites seem to relate to writers like Cicero who would be
>better known in the Renaissance than in the Middle Ages, and predominantly
>relate to gladiators and gladiatorial games.  Is it possible that "sword
>play" and "sword player" are re-introduced to English at this point, and
>thus independent of the earlier forms?  With "swordplayer" initially being a
>term specifically applied to gladiators, and later extending its meaning to
>take in swordsmen in general?

I'm going to shoot from the hip and say no. There are only 1 or 2
English fencing guides (in verse) from the 1400s, but they're not
relying on Latin (and no, I haven't looked to see if they use "play"
or "swordplay". I haven't read them.) But you can see that the use is
there in OE and I think that the Middle English examples Dave Wilton
has dug up show the continued use. In the later German and Italian
manuals of the 1500s we do see the influence of Latinate learning and
Renaissance ideas of science and geometry, but not in the earlier

I think the LEME results are skewed towards showing Latin influence
because of what's in their database.

--- Amy West

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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