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Subject Literature

Period 1 - 999 CE
1000 - 1999 » 1000-1099

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780470657621.2012.00002.x


“Keyword” is not yet an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary , so I have to make do with “key” and “word.” There's nothing mysterious about the role of “word” in the title of this book, but “key” requires some commentary. Far down in the OED entry for “key” – at the end of the eighteenth and last subdivision – appears “key-word,” which designates “( a ) a word serving as a key to a cipher or the like; ( b ) a word or thing that is of great importance or significance; spec . in information-retrieval systems, any informative word in the title or text of a document, etc., chosen as indicating the main content of the document” ( OED , s.v.). The earliest written use of “key,” which is cæg in Old English (hereafter OE), pronounced through Alexander Pope's time to rhyme with “day,” “way,” and “tea,” is dated by the OED to c . 1000. The citation is taken from Pastoral Care , a book for priests and bishops written by Gregory the Great (d. 604) and translated into OE during the reign of King Alfred (d. 899). The text asks: “To what purpose do we expound upon and enumerate the keys, unless we also reveal, in a few words, what they preserve?” ( Hu nytt rehton we nu & rimdon ða cæga, buton we eac feawum wordum ætiewen hwæt hie healden ? Sweet 1871, vol. 1: 178–9). The image of the key was introduced into Gregory's text by the translator. The Latin source reads: “ Sed quid utilitatis ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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