Some people just love to use the dictionary as a stick to beat others with. “It’s in the dictionary!” is perhaps a yardstick, and “It’s not in the dictionary!” is more like a nightstick or baseball bat.

I think you will understand if I shindle back at that attitude.

No, scratch that. I think you won’t understand. Because I doubt you know the word shindle. And I’m not intending to be obnoxious or condescending; I just know that shindle is not in common use. At all.

But it’s in the dictionary!

Well, it’s in dictionary. I mean, “It’s in the dictionary” is like “It’s in the cookbook.” Which cookbook? We’re not talking about legislation or holy scripture, or even house rules for nuns. Anyone with sufficient resources can assemble and emit a dictionary; it just happens that there are only a few dictionary publishers that have had the resources to become quasi-canonical. Merriam-Webster is one; it has several different versions available. Oxford is another, and it, too, has various versions.

Shindle is not in any of Merriam-Webster’s dictionaries. But it is in the Oxford English Dictionary.

It’s kind of funny, isn’t it, that shindle would be a word no one knows or uses? We know shin, of course, and there are so many similar-sounding words: swindlebrindle, handle, trundle, bundle, candle, kindleshingle

Shindle has nothing to do with any of them. As far as we can tell.

The OED definition is clear and to the point: “Origin and precise meaning unknown.”

It’s also tagged as “Obsolete. rare.”

So… is this another owsell? Not quite. There is one quote in support of it, from the Ancrene Riwle:

Nis þet child folitoȝe þet schindleð [a1250 Nero schrepeð, a1250 Titus scratteð] aȝein & bit oðer ȝerde.

You will see that they have modernized the spelling, so that schindleð is read as being the old way of writing shindleth, which in the English of our times would be shindles, third-person singular present indicate of the verb shindle. Not that anyone has ever written it as such in earnest.

You can look up a modern translation of the Ancrene Riwle. It’s also called the Ancrene Wisse; it’s a guide for anchorites. Which means it’s sort of like house rules for nuns – actually it’s a guide for women who became religious hermits. It was written somewhere in the 1200s. Here’s one translation:

And is not that an  ill-behaved child that scratches again and bites the rod?

(Notice that the word for ‘rod’ in the original is ȝerde, which is the source of Modern English yard; at that time it meant a stick, and now it means a measurement that was named for the length of a stick, so to refer to the measuring stick we have to say yardstick.)

The next two sentences give a little more context:

But the good child, when beaten, if his father bid him, kisses the rod. And do you the same, my dear sisters, for so your Father commandeth you, that you kiss, not with mouth, but with heart-love, those whom he beateth you with.

I have some… thoughts about the person who wrote this. They are not happy thoughts.

But anyway, it seems that this word means ‘scratch’. Or something like that. As when someone tries to beat you with authority and you don’t just take it. Perhaps the person objects to a dictionary’s including a word that seems to accord respect to a set of people the person wants to feel free to continue to disrespect – then they manage to discern between dictionaries and choose the authority they want: “Webster’s will let anything in which is why I’m sticking with the OED print edition.

Y’know, maybe you shouldn’t use the OED – or any dictionary – as a yardstick to beat others with. You might get shindled.

One response to “shindle

  1. The concept of emitting a dictionary…. HAAAA!!!

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