Bardic nomenclature

Jed O'Connor joconnor at
Mon Sep 4 09:23:25 PDT 1995

     Fair greetings to all from Jed Silverstar (fantastical names, like 
simple devices, are often heraldic evidence of pre-statutory antiquity--I 
retain mine with great satisfaction), bard of eighteen winters in the 
Society, presently Kingdom Minister of Arts & Sciences in his native 
Trimaris. I am a writer of poems and songs original in both tune and lyric, 
and am creditable with one of the earliest vinyl albums of original works 
written specifically for the SCA audience, Merlin's Song, published in 1981. 
A second album to be entitled Phoenix may or may not see the light of day 
some year or other. I am also the inventor of Trimarian calypso, a fusion of 
Carribean rhythm, latin accent, and Ogden-Nashian wordplay. Though highly 
educated with an understanding and appreciation of medievalia, I am not 
exactly an authenticity maven. 
     Mundanely, I am a 2 1/2-degree brownbelt in rhetoric and composition, 
currently  underemployed and overworked as a writer/editor for the 
continuing education arm of Florida State University known as the Center for 
Professional Development. Although I have great interest in the divine 
Chaucer,  all things Arthurian, and the folktales of all lands, my poetic 
tastes and products more nearly resemble those of British poets circa 
1775-1875, particularly Coleridge. I regard John Ciardi's How Does a Poem 
Mean as the best book yet written on the art of euphonious poesy. 

     I see that we have not been on-line a single week without debating our 
terms. As a rhetorician, I realize the importance of  building a common 
language; as an SCA veteran, however, I also believe we will never settle 
for one set. Regardless of origin and historical proprieties, the words 
"bard" and "bardic" are now terms of longstanding tradition within the 
Society, and have developed indissoluble associations with all forms of 
wordcraft and musical performance. They are useful touchstones easily 
communicated and understood by nearly all the membership, and (apologies to 
our Welsh brothers and sisters) easier in their single-d form to spell and 

     Because the word "bard" is as useful an SCA coinage as "Laurel," 
"Pelican," "autocrat," "feastcrat," "?-crat," "shire," "barony," "duke," 
"count," "gentle," and so on, (most of which have no purely historical 
pedigrees outside of Society contexts) the term will not and need not 
disappear. Let us, therefore, regard "bard" as an established umbrella term 
peculiar to the Society, and encourage the follow-up question: "What manner 
of bard are you?" THEN we can delve into the divisions and terminologies 
delightfully peculiar to each culture. 

     For example: If the new or average-knowledge member were to ask Yaakov, 
"What manner of (SCA) bard are you?" he or she would receive the answer, "I 
am a HistoricalTerm1 and HistoricalTerm2, which is to say, a poet and 
story-teller of late thirteenth century Cairo" (politely ignoring the exotic 
nature [to him] of the historical term "bard" entirely). Ask the same 
question of Tangwystyl, in whose culture the term "bard" has specific 
meaning, and she may say pleasantly a la Miss Manners, "Kind gentle, you are 
mistaken. I am no bard, but a noble Welshwoman schooled in both crwth and 
telyn, known to the English as crowd and harp. How like you my music?"

      Rather than confronting people on their ignorance of your culture 
(which may not be readily apparent to others anyway--especially newer 
members who may develop a nasty taste for all performers by your overhasty 
rebuff), you can honor their interest in your craft and educate them at the 
same time in a courteous interchange. 

     Regarding terms for recorded speech and music, I am not enamored of 
"bard in a box" (invoking enslaved Keebler elves) any more than I like the 
old contortionist fantasy coinages, "firedragon/firechariot/firesteed" for 
car, "pocket dragon" for cigarette lighter, "elventorch" for flashlight or 
"elvenscribe" for that more recent anachronism, the typewriter, and lately 
her successor, the PC. "Telephone" (in Greek, far-sound)  used to bother 
SCAers enough that they substitued "farspeaker," the English version of the 
contemporary German "versprecher" instead.  Why they thought the 
German-English was any better than the Greek, I've no idea.  

     The word "cassette" was used in Middle French and meant "little box" 
which seems to me pretty unobjectionable on all counts as does "cassette 
player." While letter-abbreviations such as "CD" are pretty modern, terms 
like "album" (literally a white/blank tablet),  "disc," or "music/musical 
disc" have sufficient antiquity in their derivations to avoid jarring my 
ears, at least.

     Hokey smokes! I'm sounding more like Cariadoc by the day--no doubt, he 
is among our companion subscribers and I'll be hearing from him shortly. 
Time to contemplate my navel at the nearest lamasery, I guess. As a hopeful 
note to all bardically-inclined types, by whatever names they eventually 
choose, I will add before closing that Thomas of Tenby, the Ansteorran KMAS 
is also a bard, though he has never told me what species. Perhaps he would 
like to join the conversation.


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