Saturday, October 31, 2009

How Peculiar

What a week! For tonight, I'll just do another mini-posting. In a few earlier postings, I mentioned that my dissertation and then my first book was about a Trans-Mississippi regiment, the 28th Texas Cavalry (dismounted).

“A position in this regiment will be one of peculiar honor.” So stated the Texas Republican on 15 March 1862 as the 28th Texas Cavalry was being organized. The writer was not stating that the honor was weird or odd. The word “peculiar” had a somewhat different meaning in the mid-nineteenth century and meant special or distinctive.

1 comment:

  1. Here's another word that has changed usage from mid-nineteenth century. A period outside observer noted that the federal prisoners within the stockade at Camp Ford here near Tyler were (or looked, I can't remember) "mean". From the rest of the context (a description of their raggedness), "mean" meant either "poor, badly off" or "in low spirits, unwell or in a poor state of health," as taken from the Oxford English Dictionary. Instead, one modern historian chose to interpret it that the cowardly Texan on the outside was intimidated by the "mean", as in potentially vicious, men inside. Nothing else in that original passage gave any indication of that feeling.

    It pays to read widely within the primary sources to pick up on a "peculiar" word usage of the time, or at least to develop a sixth sense about when to doublecheck. We've seen too much shifting in definitions of words within our own lifetimes not to realize that it could be just as likely between 150 years ago and today.

    Vicki Betts