Sword Terminology: Commonly Misused Words and Phrases

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Jake Priddy
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Sword Terminology: Commonly Misused Words and Phrases

Postby Jake Priddy » Sat Apr 02, 2016 9:22 am

In HEMA, it is a given that the nature of what we do attracts a certain kind of “nerd.” Anyone who carries into adulthood a love of archaic systems of combat and weaponry has more than likely been in love with some version of fantasy for as long as they can remember. From Conan comics to King Arthur books to playing Dungeons & Dragons as children, escapism forms an important developmental stage in fostering interest in historical martial arts.
Some of us continue to engage in this escapism – video games, Game of Thrones memorabilia, LARPing, SCA membership – the list goes on, and all of these are fine activities, but they have a place and purpose distinct from HEMA.

I think one of the wonderful things about HEMA is that at its core, there is an indelible academic element. HEMA seeks to take all of our childhood exposure to myths and fantasy and bring to the fore the “real life” basis and applications as they existed in our world, in a time we can no longer get back.

Because of this, it is vital that as a culture, we maintain a level of academia in our conversation. HEMA is growing, and not just as a popular hobby or sport, but as a legitimate field of academic inquiry. Professional historians, translators, curators, smiths, hoplologists and writers are all a vital part of the emerging conversations, and like any professional field, there is a vocabulary that goes along with that.
In order to foster that degree of professionalism and educate amateurs and new practitioners in this field of study, here are a few common terms and phrases that are either misused or simply inapplicable in terms of HEMA; while this list is hardly exhaustive, they do seem to worm their way in to otherwise legitimate historically based conversation:

Bastard Sword -- Falsely used as a synonym for "longsword," The bastard sword (14th c. Fr. epee de batard) is more properly a type of sword that could not be easily categorized as either an arming sword or longsword at the time, having some of the features of both. In records from 1540, it is classified as a distinct type. The synonym originates improperly from 19th century antiquarians who lumped all swords of greater blade length together.

Broadsword – Often misused term for a 9th-14th century arming sword. A broadsword is correctly a categorical term for a 17th century military sword, differentiated from swords made with other purposes in mind (smallswords, dress swords, etc.) The misnomer became common due to 17th century antiquarians comparing blade widths of arming swords to the military swords of their day.

"Chainmail" – This covers chainmail, scalemail, platemail, and any other fantasy term for various types of armor involving something covering/supported by mail. Mail (or maille) is its own thing; from a simple coif to hauberk to full suit of armor made from interlinked rings of metal. There are types of armor that involve mail pieces, or use mail as supplementary protection, but they are not (scale/plate/anything else)mail. I’ll leave it to the harness experts to sort out the proper terms for individual typologies.

Claymore – a 17th century Scottish basket-hilted broadsword, made famous during the Jacobite Revolutions vs the English. Often misused as a term for the large 14-16th c. Scottish war sword. Claymore is the Anglicization of the Gaelic claidheamh-mór (great/broad sword) and the term does not pre-date 1678. The proper term for the medieval Scottish war sword is claidheamh dà làimh (Two-Handed Sword).

“Florentine” – Misused as a catch-all term for “wielding a weapon in each hand.” While there is some argument for the existence of a specifically Florentine school of fencing style, the misconception probably originates from an illustration in the Hutton manual of a man wielding a case of swords with the caption “a Florentine.” There are a number of various schools of fencing involving using two weapons; stylistically they are not lumped together under a general term of "Florentine" as a type.

“Live Steel” – Mostly misused as a term for steel training swords or simulators to differentiate them from other types of “fake” swords – LARP boffers, SCA rattan, etc. The problem is, feders and blunts themselves are still to a degree, “fake.” Live steel refers specifically to a real, sharp, unsheathed blade with all that entails in its use, ability to do lethal damage and need for a level of caution above and beyond any simulator.

Shortsword - Often misused in fantasy in order to falsely equivocate any sword with a shorter blade length than an arming sword. There are a number of distinct types of swords with smaller blade profiles, from the Roman Gladius to the Anglo Seax, none of which share any kind of typology in form, function, time period or use. However, in his 1599 Paradoxes of Defence, George Silver does use the term "short sword" in differentiating smaller cut and thrust swords of his time from longer rapiers and longswords. It should be remembered that Silver's use is completely comparative to those swords of his day (i.e. Silver's "short swords" were still about the same length as arming swords, and not comparable to the gladius or seax.)

“Sword and Board" – Improper term for fighting with a sword and shield/ buckler, taken from LARP and/or SCA shorthand. The term is not historically accurate, nor is it proper in any context outside of those venues.
If you or someone you know uses any of the above (or can think of any that need added to this list), please pay attention to your vocabulary when discussing HEMA.

Language is important; it can either elevate a field of study, or consign it to perceptions of vulgarity or fringe interest. If you want to have a voice in a community, you must at the very least sound informed and well-versed in its terminology.
Last edited by Jake Priddy on Sun Apr 03, 2016 9:31 am, edited 6 times in total.

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Matthew Brown
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Re: Sword Terminology: Commonly Misused Words and Phrases

Postby Matthew Brown » Sat Apr 02, 2016 9:44 am

I thought claymore was used to properly define both the Scottish greatsword, as well as the basket hilt side sword, and the only difference between the two was the time period.
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Jake Priddy
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Re: Sword Terminology: Commonly Misused Words and Phrases

Postby Jake Priddy » Sat Apr 02, 2016 9:58 am

Matthew Brown wrote:I thought claymore was used to properly define both the Scottish greatsword, as well as the basket hilt side sword, and the only difference between the two was the time period.


No, the term first appears in reference to the broadsword, and was retroactively applied to Scottish swords in general via a mistake in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica. The first known occurrence of the term appears as a 1678 battle cry, and in literature, in a 1715 pamphlet:
"a strong handsome target, with a sharp pointed steel, of above half an ell in length, screw'd into the navel of it, on his left arm, a sturdy claymore by his side" - Paul Wagner & Christopher Thompson, "The words claymore and broadsword" in Hand, Stephen, Spada II: Anthology of Swordsmanship (Chivalry Bookshelf, 2002).

It is known that the term itself is a direct Anglicization of the Gaelic; the false equivalency comes from the anachronistic application of the English word. The Gaelic meaning and terminology did not apply to the war sword.

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Re: Sword Terminology: Commonly Misused Words and Phrases

Postby KeithFarrell » Sat Apr 02, 2016 10:25 am

Matthew Brown wrote:I thought claymore was used to properly define both the Scottish greatsword, as well as the basket hilt side sword, and the only difference between the two was the time period.


I wrote an article about the term "claymore" last year: http://www.encasedinsteel.co.uk/2015/02/06/what-is-a-claymore/

Jake has done a good job of outlining the basics of the argument, though :)
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Re: Sword Terminology: Commonly Misused Words and Phrases

Postby Nicholas Smith » Sat Apr 02, 2016 11:37 am

In the main in agree completely with this list, with a single exception, while you are certainly correct about the general use of the term Short Sword, it is not true that the term has no historical basis.

George Silver uses the term to differentiate the English 16th century ( cut and thrust) sword from rapiers and longswords. If I recall correctly he never calls them a side sword, or any other term, he consistently called them short swords, or just swords. I would assume since he uses it casually that it was a term in use in Engand at the time.

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Re: Sword Terminology: Commonly Misused Words and Phrases

Postby Jake Priddy » Sat Apr 02, 2016 11:42 am

Nice catch.
I will edit the entry, but I suspect the common misuse of the term has nothing to do with Silver in the least.

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Re: Sword Terminology: Commonly Misused Words and Phrases

Postby Matthew Brown » Sat Apr 02, 2016 8:18 pm

So, I should probably correct my usage of the word "claymore" then, after reading Keith Farrell's write up.
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Re: Sword Terminology: Commonly Misused Words and Phrases

Postby Jake Priddy » Sat Apr 02, 2016 10:25 pm

Matthew Brown wrote:So, I should probably correct my usage of the word "claymore" then, after reading Keith Farrell's write up.


:shock:
After reading Keith Farrell's write up? Whose thread are you on?? Who alerted you to the distinction to begin with? Who laid out Enlightenment right here before your eyes?

Keith Farrell's write up, indeed.
You hurt me, Matt.

(Yeah, actually full props to Keith, who was much more rigorous in outlining where the entire claymore misconception comes from.)

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Re: Sword Terminology: Commonly Misused Words and Phrases

Postby KeithFarrell » Sun Apr 03, 2016 3:22 am

Jake Priddy wrote:
Matthew Brown wrote:So, I should probably correct my usage of the word "claymore" then, after reading Keith Farrell's write up.


:shock:
After reading Keith Farrell's write up? Whose thread are you on?? Who alerted you to the distinction to begin with? Who laid out Enlightenment right here before your eyes?

Keith Farrell's write up, indeed.
You hurt me, Matt.

(Yeah, actually full props to Keith, who was much more rigorous in outlining where the entire claymore misconception comes from.)


Hehehe. There have been some counter-arguments against the conclusions of this article, posted by people on Facebook over the last year or so, but unfortunately no one has written a proper scholarly rebuttal. I would dearly love to see a scholarly article argue against mine, because then I could learn more about the issue, but unfortunately, no one with contrasting information has bothered to write anything meaningful on the subject.
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Re: Sword Terminology: Commonly Misused Words and Phrases

Postby KeithFarrell » Sun Apr 03, 2016 3:29 am

Jake Priddy wrote:Language is important; it can either elevate a field of study, or consign it to perceptions of vulgarity or fringe interest. If you want to have a voice in a community, you must at the very least sound informed and well-versed in its terminology.


This is a really important point from Jake's original post. My friends and colleagues often become irritated with me when I correct them on points of terminology, for HEMA, business, everyday life in general. However, if terminology is used incorrectly, then the message becomes ambiguous, if not wrong entirely. If we want to conduct conversations meaningfully, and be appreciated as people who know what we are talking about (in any subject area or part of life) then we must use language as correctly as possible.

Of course, it is unhelpful just to be snippy at people on the internet when they use a single piece of terminology incorrectly, and that often has the opposite effect - rather than the person correcting their usage, they will just assume that the corrector is a bit of a dick and was trying to look/sound important and all-knowing. In this regard, soundbites are much less valuable than more in-depth written discussions on the topic, such as Jake's above, or any of the articles covering the term "claymore". Without proper articles and discussions on the topic, I wouldn't have been able to gather information to write my own piece; if all that existed were people being snippy at each other on the internet, then little proper scholarship could move forward.
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