The Violence of Two Words
At the Assizes in Salisbury in 1631, a prisoner threw a brickbat at the judge, and it narrowly missed. The judicial response to this contempt of court was gruesome and can be described as judicial murder. What exactly did the prisoner do? The Shorter OED defines “brickbat” this way: “a piece of brick, esp. one used as a missile; fig. an uncomplimentary remark.” (I recognize of course that looking into a twenty-first century dictionary does not do much to determine the usage of a seventeeth-century word, especially when as here the word was not even in English but in Law French. But I digress.)
As violent and harsh as the judicial response was, it still appears different based on how we resolve what might seem from our vantage point to be a verbal ambiguity. Was the prisoner executed for attempted murder? Or was the prisoner executed for an oral retort?
I thought of that ambiguity this morning when I was looking up the word potshot. It seemed like the right word for a sentence, but I wasn’t certain, so I went checking. The Shorter OED gives three senses. The first was hunting for food (a shot for the pot), which meant one didn’t have to foll
Article from Latest – Reason.com