Monday, February 11, 2008


I have scoured various ordinary dictionaries for 'unclarity', a word used by The Archbishop of Canterbury as part of his apology, for not making himself clear in his recent pontifications on Sharia Law. It is a word so obscure that my search does not yield any answers. I think that sums up for me, the attempt that Rowan Williams made to allay the fears of his critics.

And excuse me, Mr Archbishop, m'lud, but did I hear you suggest that other religious groups needed your intervention on their behalf. If not, could you expand on this germ of unclarity.


Vincent said...

Let me then quote from the online OED (to which I get free access via my library card number):

12. a. The OE. use of un- with substantives (see 2e above) survived very fully in ME., not only by the retention of old forms but by the introduction of many new, which continue to multiply in the later periods of the language. From the beginning the nouns have been almost entirely restricted to those of an abstract nature, so that forms with suffixes are numerous. In OE. and ME. the commonest of these is -ness (occasionally -dom and -ship); subsequently -ation, -ity, and -ment are frequent, as in the following selection of miscellaneous examples.
Florio (1611) has a certain number of casual formations, as unacknowledgement, unartness, unbrittleness, undwellingness, uneloquence, unfrailness, etc. Ash gives unadequateness, uncommensurability, -ableness, unfrugalness, unliableness, unorganicalness, and various others.
Recent formations include: unaccentuation, unamaze, unamazement, unbook, unclarity, uncomfiness, uncountry, uncrackability, uncreditworthiness, undeath, undeathliness, undecrease, undeviation, uneducation, unenlightenment, unfreshness, unfulfilment, unglamorousness, unimportancy, unintelligentsia, uninterruptability, uninvolvement, unlight, unmeritocracy, unpriggishness, unrepose, unsurprise, unwettability.

Vincent said...

PS more from the same source:

1934 WEBSTER, *Unclarity. 1936 Mind XLV. 503 Prof. Reichenbach's discussion of material, formal, and tautologous implication..suffers from the same unclarity. 1980 ‘J. LE CARRÉ’ Smiley's People v. 54 ‘Vladimir telephoned the Circus at lunch-time today, sir,’ Mostyn began, leaving some unclarity as to which ‘sir’ he was addressing.

ZACL said...

What a lot of fun you had with this really detailed reply. A certain Stephen Fry would concur with your academic approach to language, as do I.

Lightly analysing your information, it would suggest that Rowan Williams is well versed in communication elements of days of yore, rather than reaching out to people in parlance of today. On the other hand, it is possible that the dear AB set out to raise eyebrows, and test out as to who was truly listening!

ZACL said...

Not sure if this is how commenting works. I may need advice on this process.

I can see I shall have to revise my thinking about the unclarity of our language. :)