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obsolete words

Oct 30, 1995 05:26 PM
by Jerry Hejka-Ekins


When I was computerizing "Esoteric Buddhism", "The Key to
Theosophy", and other theosophical books, I came across a list of
terms that seemed obsolete. I don't recall most of the words on
the list at the moment. (The list is at home, and I'm writing
from work.)

I'd expect, though, that as time passes, more and more words get
obsolete, so we could have a growing list. Your familiarity with
"The Secret Doctrine" and your having looked up all the
unfamiliar words in it during you studies would make it harder
for you to distinguish obsolete words from those in common usage,
since you know what the terms mean. For a new Secret Doctrine
student, aren't there English terms that a new student has to
unnecessarily look up, terms that are no longer in common usage
and easily replaced by some contemporary term?

 I'm still interested in seeing your list and the substitutes
that you would propose, though I would be opposed to substituting
obsolete words with more contemporary ones, even if there are
obsolete words. But as I had mentioned, I don't recall ever
running across any. However, if necessary, I would not be
opposed to following the queue of some editors of Shakespeare's
plays who will add a contemporary synonym in a footnote, yet
leave the original text untouched. I will admit that there are a
lot of obsolete words in Shakespeare's plays, but remember, he
wrote 400 years ago and lived in a very different world. I know
that things have also changed in 100 years, but nother like the
last 400. At least HPB wrote after the beginning of the
industrial revolution (abt. 1827)--that was the most important
cultural change that has changed our language. The enlightenment
(abt 1700) comes second. The scientific revolution (1859) comes
next. HPB would have been writing in the middle of the above
mentioned scientific revolution, but besides the more technically
scientific terms (like atom), most normal daily household words
had already changed or were not affected in the first place. As
for "atom," perhaps a footnote might be in order at best.

>So far, I have not found a single instance where a word has
>changed so as to cause any confusion in reading the SD. Have
>you? Examples please. Can you give me some examples of
>misleading words in the SD, and how they are misleading?

This is a different situation now. I'm talking about where an
*English* word has dropped out of usage and can be readily
replaced with a newer word. I'm not talking about an English word
that has had its meaning changed since the late 1800's, so that
the modern meaning is different than in Blavatsky's day and her
use of the word is therefore misleading. This has happened too,
and would be another area to consider changing or annotating
future editions of books. An example would be with the term
"atom", if it means something different now than in Blavatsky's

 I can't think of any "English" word that she uses that has
dropped out of usage. If there was one, I would be more inclined
to note and define it in a footnote rather than replace it. Once
an editor begins to replace words, she is rewriting the text, and
it is no longer HPB's. I would no more consider doing that than
would I rewrite Shakespeare into contemporary English. Such an
act would destroy the cultural context and his puns (an important
element in his humor) would no longer work. I hope that 300
years from now, editors will treat HPB's writings in the same
manner as they do Shakespeare's, or any other sixteenth century
 As for words that have changed meaning (such as atom); I
would treat them the same way, though I would try to be mindful
of not insulting the intelligence of the reader. On the other
hand, I wonder what the level of education is now-a-days. I
recently saw a history book (published for Americans) with a
footnote explaining who Jesus Christ was. Ages ago (it seems)
when I went to public school--certain assumptions were made about
what was common knowledge. Even though my schooling was in a
Jewish neighborhood, no one ever had to ask who Jesus Christ was.

Jerry HE

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