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have one's head so denuded was to be made a sub-
ject of derision (2 Kings ii. 23). In Jeremiah
(ix. 25; xxv. 23; xlix. 32, marg.), a common
term of reproach for the Arabian nations is, l the
men with shorn-off whiskers ' (Gesenius). So the
Sanskrit munda, shorn, hornless (from mund, to
shave), a baldpate, means also low and mean.
The Gaelic maol, without horns, bald, is also
i foolish, silly ; ' maol-ckeannack, bald-headed,
stupid, sheepish ; Irish maol, shaved, bald, also
obtuse, humble, a servant. Compare the Eng.
word ' dod,' ' Doddyd, wythe-owte hornysse, De-
cornutus, incornutus' (Prompt. Parv.) ; of trees =
lopped of its foliage, decomatus ; i dodderel,' a
pollard ; ' doddypate ' or ' doddipoll,' a blockhead
or numskull ; - 1 Frisian dodd, a simpleton. We
may also, perhaps, compare ' to contemn/ Lat.
contemno, temno, which is the representative of the
Greek Umno (refiva)), to cut off; and the Greek
verb koldzo (fcoXafo), to check or chastise, coming
from kolos (koXos), docked, clipped, hornless.

1 ' Doddy-poll was originally applied to a person who had his hair
cut very short, or to a tonsured priest.'

Atkinson, Cleveland Dialect, b.v. ' Dodded.''

( 46 )



Words, like photographs of our friends, have a
natural tendency in process of time to fade and
lose the sharpness of their outlines. Many, which
once on a time conveyed to the mind a distinct
and vivid picture, lose their chief characteristics
after a while ; and thus, as the lights grow dark
and the shadows grow pale, a word becoming quite
general and undefined in its meaning assumes an
inexpressive aspect of colourless monotony, like
one of those blanched and pallid likenesses which
have ceased to interest us. It is only with effort,
and by holding the word, as it were, in a favour-
able light, that we can trace again the imprint of
individuality which formerly it possessed. Of the
multitudes of such dulled and exhausted words
which are stored up in the crowded album of faded
pictures which we call a dictionary, we will bring
out one for examination in the present chapter.
We will take the word ' try,' in such a sentence
as i Jack is trying to skate' — a use of the word,

TRY. 47

by the way, which appears to be quite modern ;
for often as it occurs in the authorised version, it
is never found with a dependent infinitive in the
sense of attempting to do a thing. The verb here
is so simple and transparent in its mere auxiliary
position, that we would not expect it to have been
impressed once with a graphic and full-toned
significance. Let us see if we can revive the

To 'try' is the French trier, (Pro v.) triar (to
pick, cull out), (0. It.) triare, (It.) tritare (to
triturate, sift, examine), from (Lat.) tritare, fre-
quentative of terere (to thrash).

The original meaning therefore of i to try,' or,
according to the old phrase, i to try out,' was to
separate the grain from the straw and chaff by
thrashing and winnowing, to distinguish the
worthless from the good ; then, in a secondary
sense, to sift out the truth by examination, to put
to the test, to make assay or experiment of, to
attempt. 1

Accordingly, in our pattern sentence the full
and fundamental meaning would be, Jack is dis-
criminating, or learning by experience the differ-
ence, between skating and not skating — distin-

1 "With ' trial' = affliction, &c, cf. the very similar word 'tribu-
lation.' Trench, Study of Words, Lect. II.
Milton speaks of a life

* Tried in sharp tribulation, and refined
By faith and faithful works.' Far. Lost, xi. 63.

48 TRY.

guishing what is from what is not in his power

— and following up the discovery thus made by a

correspondent effort, perhaps a painful one.

The word is frequently used in its primary sense

in old writers, e.g. —

' Euentilare, to winnow or trie in the wind. 1

Florio, New World of Words, 1611.

' The wylde come, beinge in shape and greatnesse lyke to

the good, if they be mengled, with great difficultie wyll be

tryed out, but either in a narowe holed seeve they wyl stil

abide with the good corne,' &c.

Sir T. Elyot, The Governor. Bk. II. c. 14 (Richardson, Diet.)

' I let all go to losse, and count the as chaffe or refuse (that
is to say, as thinges which are purged out and refused when a
thyng is tryed and made perfect), that 1 might wynne Christ.'
Tyndall, Works, p. 219 (Richardson).

' Alas, now when the trial doth separate the chaff from the
corn, how small a deal it is, God knoweth, which the wind
doth not blow away.'

Ridley, quoted in Palmer's Eccles. Hist, p. 272.

' Gods (temptation) is like the tryall of gold, 1 Pet. i. 7,
which the oftener it is tryed, the purer it waxeth ; the devils,
like that of Manna, which stinketh and corrupteth by tryall.
Gods is like the tryall of the fanne, Matth. iii. 12, the devils
like that of the scive, Luke xxii. 31, which lets goe the flower
and keepes the branne.'

Bp. Andrewes, Temptation of Clirist, p. 11 (1642).

Compare this also, from the works of Isaac
Williams —

' The fidelity of Luke here appears in sad contrast with the
falling away of Demas. . . . Now the trial had sifted the
chaff and the wheat, and they are parted asunder. How awful
is this separation ever going on between the good and the
bad ! ' Sermons on Saints 1 Days, p. 332.

TRY. 49

So ' a try' is an old word for a sieve or riddle. 1
i This breaking of his has been but a try for his
friends ' (Shakspere, Tirnon, v. 1), meaning his
bankruptcy is only a device for distinguishing his
true friends from the false. ' To try tallow ' is,
I believe, still the technical phrase for separating
the fat from the refuse by melting it. This word
was also used especially for the testing and purify-
ing of gold by smelting it in a furnace, and thus
separating it from all dross and baser admixture.
Then in a figurative sense it was applied to the
testing of a man's faith and patience under the
fiery heat of temptation (1 Pet. i. 7). In the Old
Testament Scriptures the Hebrew word tzdrap/i, 2
to melt a metal, and so free it from dross (Ps. xii.
7 ; Isa. i. 25), is often used for the proving and
purifying of the human heart (Ps. xvii. 3, xxvi. 2,
cv. 19; Dan. xi. 35), and our word £ try/ when
employed to translate it in those passages, must
no doubt be understood in its proper and original
sense — ' to sift and separate from impurity.'

* Compare their temptations to a fire which burns out dross
and corruption, and makes the metal purer, and so God may
he said to tempt, " I will sit as a refiuer and purifier of
silver ; " because by this fiery trial the virtues of His children
are made the clearer, their vicious inclinations beiug separated

1 Vide quotation from Holland in Trench, Deficiencies in English
Dictionaries, p. 17.
2 C^ #

50 TRY.

and removed. " When He hath tried me, I shall come forth
as gold."' Bp. Nicholson on the Catechism, 1661.

A comparison of the following verses in our
authorised version, in each of which the word we
are examining occurs, will show conclusively that
the primary meaning was ever present to the minds
of the translators : — Job xxiii. 10 ; Ps. xii. 6,
lxvi. 10, cxix. 140 (marg.) ; Prov. xvii. 3 ; Jer.
ix. 7 ; Dan. xii. 10 ; Zech. xiii. 9 ; 1 Cor. iii. 13 ;
1 Pet. i. 7 ; Eev. iii. 18.

In each and all of these passages there is a
direct reference to the refining of silver or gold
in the furnace, and this idea, though few persons
know or remember it when reading them, is accu-
rately conveyed by our verb ' to try.' So Shaks-
pere, in his lines on the silver casket —

* The fire seven times tried this :
Seven times tried that judgment is,
That did never choose amiss.'

Merchant of Venice, ii. 9.

' Shall I think in silver she's immured
Being ten times undervalued to tried gold 1 '

Ibid. ii. 7.

Similarly, to c put a person to the test/ or to
'test' him, meant originally to place him in the
test, which is an old word for the crucible or melt-
ing-pot of the refiner, wherewith he assayed the

TRY. 51

quality or value of a metal submitted to him (It.
testo, Lat. testa, an earthen vessel). 1
Those who have

* Beguiled with a counterfeit,
. . . which, bei:
Proves valueless,' 2

which, beiug touch'd and tried,

and whose virtue, therefore, has failed under the
test or fiery trial, carrying out the figure, were
called c reprobate ' — a word properly applied to
metals which do not stand the proof, and are
therefore condemned as adulterate, or rejected as
spurious (Lat. reprobus), 3 e.g. —

1 Keprobate silver shall men call them, because the Lord
hath rejected them.' Jer. vi. 30.

This comparison of trials or afflictive dispensa-
tions to the fierce action of fire, which exercises,
nevertheless, an ameliorating and purifying virtue,
by consuming whatever of worthless may be mingled
with the good, is common to many languages.
For example, Kidd, in his work on China (p. 44),
tells us that the Chinese symbol meaning < to
refine metals ' is ' compounded of ho, fire, and keen,
to separate, which exhibits both the act of

1 Cf. It. coppellare, * to refine or bring gold or silver to his right
and due test or loye ' (Florio), from copjoella, a cupel or melting-

2 Shakspere, King John, hi. 1.

3 Eastwood and Wright, Bible Word-Book, sv. It translates
Gk. ddoKi/xos, opp. to doKifios, and So/ct^udfw, which latter is the word
for trying and proving a metal, &c, in 1 Cor. iii. 13 j 1 Pet. i. 7, &c.

52 TRY.

separating the dross from the pure metal, and the
agent (fire) by which that separation is effected ;
the moral use of which, collated with that beauti-
ful passage, 1 " He will sit as a refiner's fire," is
illustrated in the (Chinese) phrase, " to try men's
hearts," by afflictive events or prosperous circum-
stances ; that is, to test human character by means
of providential dispensations.' 'Another symbol
is formed of metal and to separate. This is expres-
sive not only of refining metals in the furnace, but
of man undergoing a trial for the purpose of
proving and benefiting him : whence it is used
to denote experience, maturity, expertness, but
whether in a good or bad sense depends upon the
context ' {Id. p. 45).

' By many a stern and fiery blast
The world's rude furnace must thy blood refine.'

Keble, Christian Year.

The same idea is beautifully developed in Miss
Proctor's well-known poem of ' Cleansing Fires ' —

1 Let thy gold be cast in the furnace,
Thy red gold, precious and bright ;
Do not fear the hungry fire,

With its caverns of burning light :
And thy gold shall return more precious,

Free from every spot and stain ;
For gold must be tried by fire,

As a heart must be tried by pain ! '

Poems, i. 63.

1 Mai. iii. 2, 3.

T RY. 53

These lines, and still better the following —

1 The fettered spirits linger
In purgatorial pain,
With penal fires effacing
Their last faint earthly stain/

Poems, ii. 190.

bring out in a very clear and striking manner the
connection and ultimate identity of the words
' fire,' ' pain,' l penal,' ' pure/ and c purgatory,' all
of which have sprung, philologists tell us, from
one and the same root — the Sanskrit root pu (to
purify). For hence come (1) Lat. purus, ' pure,'
pur go (i.e.,pur-igo), Ho cleanse/ ' purgatory ' x (the
place of cleansing) ; (2) (Sans.) puna, punt, (Lat.)
punire, (to make pure, punish — cf. castigo, to make
chaste, chastise), Gk. poine (jroivrj), Lat. poena,
'pain/ 'penal/ (Goth.) /on (gen. funins) = fire;
(3) Gk.pur (irvp), (A.-Sax.) fyr, 'fire.'

Max Miiller quotes from the ancient Sanskrit
Hymns, entitled the i Atharva-Veda/ an address to
the God of Fire — * The prophets carry thee as the
Purifier (pavitram) : purify (puniM) us from all
misdeeds ' (Chips, vol. iv. p. 228).

And how true it is that fires, which seemed only
to punish, are overruled and made to purify and
refine — that the fiery heat of pain, persecution,
and temptation, if entered into, and borne, with a

1 With the penal fires of pwrgatory compare,

'Infectum eluitur scelus, aut exuriturigni.'

Virgil, JEn. Lib. VI. 742.

54 TRY.

faithful and unswerving heart, will be made unto
us, not only an effectual means of deliverance from
bondage and oppression, but even of furtherance,
and advancement to heights hitherto unattainable,
we may learn from the history of the Three Holy
Children. When they were i tried as the gold in
the fire,' and their faith and allegiance to God
were tested in the glare of the seven-times heated
furnace, so far from destroying them, it became
to them the very presence-chamber of their God,
wherein He revealed Himself to them sensibly, as
He had never done before ; it served but to burn
away the bonds with which they were before held
fast, for whereas they were cast in bound, they now
walked about loose; and eventually it restored
them unharmed, so that all men marvelled, many
were turned to believe in Him that had such
power to save, and they themselves were pro-
moted to very great honour. When they called,
therefore, upon the whole creation to join them in
their song of thanksgiving — that earliest anthem
of Te Deum — well might they address that con-
suming element above all, which, in their hour of
sorest need, had sheltered them in a canopy of
flame, and say, " ye fire and heat, bless ye the
Lord ; praise Him, and magnify Him for ever ! '
Accordingly the lesson which this word ' trial ' has
for us in the fulness of its meaning, as literally
exemplified in the case of the Three Children, may


be drawn out in these words of the wise Son of
Sirach — i My son, if thou come to serve the
Lord, prepare thy soul for temptation. For
gold is tried in the fire, and acceptable men
in the furnace of adversity.' 1 For though, in
the words of another apocryphal writer, ' He hath
not tried us in the fire, as He did them, for the
examination of their hearts, neither hath He taken
vengeance on us,' yet, ' the Lord doth scourge
them that come near unto Him, to admonish them.' 2
' But the souls of the righteous are in the hand
of God, and there shall no torment touch them.
And having been a little chastised, they shall be
greatly rewarded ; for God proved them and found
them worthy for Himself. As gold in the furnace
hath He tried them, and received them as a burnt-
offering. And in the time of their visitation they
shall shine.' 3

If, as may be conjectured, the word ( search,'
though itself of quite another origin, 4 has been ap-
proximated both in form and meaning to the Old
English c searce,' a sieve, it would afford a close
parallel to the words ' try,' to sift, ' try/ a riddle.
Compare the French c sasser, to sift, searce ; ' ' sas,
a ranging sieve, or searce ; ' tamiser, to searce, to
boult, to pass or strain through a searce' (Cotgrave).

1 Ecclus. ii. 1,5. 2 Judith vii. 27. 3 Wisdom iii. 1, 5-7.

4 From the Fr. ckercher, It. cercare, Lat. circare, to go around,
from circus, a circle.


' The men of Bercea would not receive Pauls Doctrin
before they had tried it : and how did they try it ? It is said
that they searched the Scripture.

II. Smith, Sermons, p. 145 (1657).

They sifted and examined the apostle's
statements, and only accepted them when they
had been passed through the scarce of Scrip-

■ Let vs search deepe and trie our better parts.'

Sir John Beaumont (d. 1623), The Miserable
State of Man.

6 To sift, to search, also to chuse or cull out,' is
Florio's definition of the Italian cernere.

The synonymous word in Latin yields us our
verb ' to discern ' (Lat. dis-cernere), meaning origi-
nally to sift apart, or separate by riddling, the
good from the refuse. 1 A person who is careful
in thus making a difference, who knows how to
discriminate in doubtful cases, refusing the evil
and choosing the good, is said to have ' discretion '
(Lat. discretio). Fuller, in his ' Church History,'
says of a certain legendary story of doubtful
credit, that it ' calleth aloud to the discretion of
the reader to fan the chaff from the corn ; and to
his industry, to rub the dust from the gold which

1 Compare the Sp. cernir, to sift meal, cierna, the flower or
best of anything; It. cerna, a culling or choosing out; Lat.
cribrum, a sieve, whence Fr. cribler, to sift, our ' garble.' Akin
is the Gk. krino> to separate, distinguish between good and bad,
decide, try ; Sans. Jcri, to separate. But see Pictet, i. 203.


almost of necessity will cleave to matters of such
antiquity' (vol. i. p. 23, ed. 1868). Many other
instances might be adduced of words which, having
a primitive signification of winnowing, separating,
or dividing, have come to be used in ordinary
language in the sense of examining, trying, un-
derstanding, or perceiving. For example, if we
say one is a man of science, of skill, or of intelli-
gence ; i science ' (Lat. scientia, knowledge) is from
scio, to know, which is from Sanskrit root k'hd, to
divide, seen also in the Greek verbs keid, kedzo,
to cleave ; 1 ' skill ' is the 0. Norse skil, separation,
discrimination, Dan. skille, to sever, put asunder. 2
To skill in Old English means to matter, or make
a difference, as well as to know or understand ; in
some of the provincial dialects it signifies to hull
oats ; and spelt skile, it means to separate. While
' intelligent,' from the Latin intelligere {i.e., inter-
legere, to pick out here and there), is applicable
to a person who exercises judgment in select-
ing, and putting this and that together. A
schoolboy who is quick in construing, in picking
out the verb and the nominative and dependent
genitive, when dispersed over a long and involved
Latin sentence, might be accurately described as
i intelligent.' With ' skill ' we may compare the

1 Ferrar, Comparative Grammar, vol. i. p. 71.

2 Scale, shell, skull, shield, and inauy other words are con-

58 discuss.

Sanskrit word patu, skilful, coming from pat, to
divide (originally j^cirt, Lat. par(t)-s)}

In Hebrew, bin, to separate, means also to dis-
cern, distinguish, understand, or know ; and the
participle ndbon means intelligent, skilful. Simi-
larly, Lat. video, to see, akin to Gk. vid-ein
(fiSelv), Ger. wissen, our l wit,' Sans, vid, to know,
probably signified originally to separate or dis-
tinguish one thing from another. Compare Lat.
divido, to divide. In Hebrew, bdqar, to cleave, in a
secondary sense means to inspect, consider, think
upon. In the passage Psalm cxxxix. 3, rendered
by Gesenius, ( Thou hast searched me in my walk-
ing and in my lying down,' the verb in the ori-
ginal implies ' Thou hast winnowed me,' — zdrdh, to
winnow, then to shake out and examine thoroughly.
Beside this we may set our word c to discuss,'
coming, as it does, from the Latin verb discutio
(dis-quatio), to shake asunder. Its proper signifi-
cation is to separate and loosen by shaking, to
disentangle and clear a subject by getting rid of
the extraneous matter with which it has been
encumbered. Spenser uses the word in its primi-
tive sense —

'All regard of shame she had discusV {i.e., shaken off).

Faerie Queene, III. i. 48.

In old medical writers it means to disperse

1 Ferrar, Comparative Grammar, vol. i. p. 337.


humours. Holland tells us that a decoction of
Parthenium is good ' to discusse all inflammations '
(< Translation of Pliny,' vol. ii. p. Ill, 1635).

Our verb ' to canvass ' meant originally to sift
or examine by passing through canvas.

1 Wening it perhaps no decorum that shepheards should be
seene in matter of so deep insight, or canvase a case of so
doubtful judgment.'

General Argument to the Shepheard's Calender.

Compare Fr. ' berner, to vanne or winnow corn,
also to canvass or toss in a sive ' (Cotgrave).

Somewhat similarly, Lat. putare, to think, comes
from the adjective putus, pure, unmixed, clean,
and this from the root pu, above. It meant first
to expurgate or cleanse from all superfluous ad-
mixture ; then to clear up a matter, to reckon up
and balance an arithmetical account, as we speak
of clearing fractions, or liquidating accounts; then,
of mental operations, to distinguish clearly.

The verb to ' distinguish ' itself meant once on
a time to prick off, 1 as the markers at the uni-
versity, when calling the roll, mark off with a pin
the students who answer to their names. A man
of ' distinction ' is one separated from the com-
mon herd, and set apart as superior to his fellows.
Compare Heb. ndqad, to prick, mark with points,

1 Stinguo, to prick, is from the root stig, which is also seen
in ' stimulate/ Lat. sti(g)mulus, ' instigate,' ' instinct,' ' extinct,'
'stake,' 'sting,' Gk. stizo, 'stigma,' &c.


also to select or set apart things which are of a
better quality than the rest by marking them
off (Gesenius). In like manner, when we give
special attention to anything that comes under
our notice, affixing, as it were, a mental asterisk
to it, or ticking it off in the tablets of ourmemorj',
we are said to ' mark,' or ' remark ' it, Ger.

To take another case of a word which had
once a sensible image, that now eludes general
cognisance, but which only needs to have a de-
veloping solution applied to it (so to speak) in
order to bring out the latent picture, let us sub-
mit the verb 6 flatter ' to the philological ' bath,'
and note the interesting results of the process as
it grows into a concrete distinctness.

* Flatter,' the French flatter x (to pat, stroke,
caress, flatter) audflater (' to flatter; sooth, smooth;
also, to claw, stroke, clap gently] Cotgrave), (Pro v.)
flatar, is a derivative from ' flat ' (A.- Sax. and 0.
Norse) flat, (0. H. Ger.) A*, (Gk.) pldx (77-Aaf),

1 Placare would probably be in Latin the etymological represen-
tative oi flatter, with a primitive meaning of flattening or smoothing.
"We frequently read of a sea-god in Ovid or Virgil cequora placat, he
smoothes the waters. Compare plac-enta, a flat cake ( = 0. Eng.
Jlathc, 0. H. Ger. flado), pldga, a flat surface, planus for plac-nus,
planca for plac-na, a flat board, a ' plank.' The root is plac or
plag, seen in Gk. plak-s, Fr. plaque and plat, Ger. flach, ' flat,'
jlachen, to flatten. Of the same origin, beyond doubt, and affording
an interesting parallel to ' flatter,' are the words Jlatch, in the dialect
of Cleveland a flatterer, Danish flegrc, Swed. Jleha, Scotch fleech or
flcich, to flatter.


(Fr.) plat (flat), ' Bailler du plat de la langue,
to sooth, flatter ', A metaphor from a dog's licking ■

The form i to flat • is found in Gawin Douglas's
translation of the < JEneid ' (1553)—

* Quhat sliclit dissait quentlie to flat and fene.'

Prologue of the Fourth BoJce.

Accordingly the meaning of the word would
have passed through the following transitions : —
(1) To make flat or even ; (2) to smooth down the
hair of an animal, to lick; (3) to stroke, caress; 1
(4) not to go against the grain, but to humour a
person's weaknesses, to flatter, or as Burns ex-
presses it —

' For G — d sake, sirs ! then speak her fair,
An' straiJc her cannie wi } the hair.''

Tennyson, therefore, would seem to have divined
the true force of the word when he wrote —

1 Then to his proud horse Lancelot turn'd, and smooth'd
The glossy shoulder, humming to himself.
Half-envious of the flattering hand, she drew
Nearer and stood.'

Idylls of the King, p. 165 (ed. 1859).

So ' to stroke ' in prov. Eng. means to soothe,
to flatter (Wright, Prov. Diet.), and * stroker ' is

1 Gk. Karappifa. M. Littre quotes the following instances of
flatter being used in this sense : — ' Ton cou nerveux [d'un cheval] de
sa main fid flatte' (Millev.); * De la main qui leflatte il se croit
redoute' (Voltaire).


used for a flatterer by Ben Jonson. 1 Compare

the following : —

'Campian . . . being excellent at the flat hand of
Ehetorick (which rather gives pats then blows), but he could
not bend his fist to dispute.' 2

Fuller, Holy State, p. 60 (ed. 1648).

1 This is a fairing, gentle sir, indeed,
To soothe me up with such smooth flattery.'

Greene, Friar Bacon (1594), p. 157 (ed. Dyce).

' His [the flatterer's] Art is nothing but a delightful coozen-
age, whose rules are smoothing, and garded with perjurie ;
whose scope is to make men fooles, in teaching them to over-
value themselves, and to tickle his friends to death.'

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