Wednesday, 14 September 2005

Goodbye to 2½ million quotes

In a few days time my three months’ subscription to the online Oxford English Dictionary will expire, and I haven’t really been making enough use of it to make it worth while subscribing for another three months.

I shall miss it, though.

I never actually felt impelled to seek out the recondite kind of information like that involving Jane Austen which I mentioned in an earlier post about the OED, but it was comforting to know that I could have found it if I had looked, and I have spent some happy hours strolling among some of its winding and overgrown paths leading nowhere of any importance.
How shall I bid it farewell? I think perhaps by extracting the answer to a totally pointless question: How heavy is a batman?

Typically, the OED’s answer is comprehensive and fascinating, if you’ve not got a lot to keep you busy:
As everyone knows, a batman is “an oriental weight varying greatly in value according to the locality; it is equal to the Persian man or the Anglo-Indian maund”.
But of course it depends on where you are, and when. In 1599 HAKLUYT stated quite clearly “Euery bateman here [i.e. Babylon] maketh 7 pound and 5 ounces English waight”, but in 1740 THOMPSON & HOGG observed that “Their weights [at Khiva] are the great batman, equal to eighteen lb. russian, and the lesser batman, nine and a quarter. Then, in 1852 MCCULLOCH brought hot news from Constantinople to the effect that “6 okes [i.e. about 16 lbs.] = 1 batman”.

What richness is here! No wonder that nowadays some hanker after more colour and less dreary consistency; the writer Paul Jennings spoke for many of us when he admired an ancient Hebrew system of weights and measures, under which 1 silloth was equal to 5½ (or sometimes 6¾) ephahs.

I really shall miss the OED.

[...but see HERE and many subsequent posts.] 

2 comments:

Corey Vilhauer said...

I shall wear a black band for this loss.

Tony said...

Sarcastic swine.