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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sun 16 Jul, 2006 8:05 pm    Post subject: "Double-Edged Sword"         Reply with quote

Does anyone else think that the figure of speech about something being a "double-edged sword" is silly? I know this is a very trivial matter, but now that I know more about historic European martial arts, I rather dislike this expression as being entirely inappropriate. A sword has two edges so that you can use both to better injure your foe, rather than cutting him and yourself at the same time. How then did this expression enter the English language?
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Addison C. de Lisle




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PostPosted: Sun 16 Jul, 2006 8:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I actually had this conversation with my English teacher, but as I recall it didn't lead anywhere as, in his opinion, swords are "evil and nasty"...and at the time he said it he was holding in in front of my English class with one hand on the blade WITHOUT GLOVES EVEN THOUGH I ASKED HIM NOT TO TOUCH IT WITH HIS BARE HANDS... Evil

BTW, I did have permission from both my teacher and the principal of the school to have it at the time, I didn't just show up to class with it Wink
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sun 16 Jul, 2006 8:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree it doesn't make any sense when one looks at it carefully. There might be some contexts we are not aware of when the expression was first used that may have made sense then.

Might make sense if one was holding a double edge sword that was all blade and no handle: trying to cut with one might mean risking cutting oneself ! Although one could say the same about holding a blade when halfswording where cutting oneself could be a problem if the blade was too wide, too sharp and without gloves on ? I doubt very much that this is related though ! Confused

Craig do a search I think this was commented on before in a Topic a while back: I don't think we found an answer then, but the expression didn't seem to make much sense then either according to what was posted.

Is there a dictionary of English expressions giving their " actual " meanings or origins ? Maybe GOOGLING Double edged sword ???

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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George Hill




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PostPosted: Sun 16 Jul, 2006 8:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think there was something in the Bible about it?


EDIT:
Hebrews 4:12For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Revelation 1:16In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword.

Psalm 149 :6 May the praise of God be in their mouths
and a double-edged sword in their hands,
7 to inflict vengeance on the nations
and punishment on the peoples,

Hmm... That's all I can find. But I could have sworn there was more.

To abandon your shield is the basest of crimes. - --Tacitus on Germania


Last edited by George Hill on Sun 16 Jul, 2006 8:35 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sun 16 Jul, 2006 8:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Craig do a search I think this was commented on before in a Topic a while back: I don't think we found an answer then, but the expression didn't seem to make much sense then either according to what was posted.


Ironically, I assumed that there would be no one silly enough to start a topic on this save for me, so I didn't bother to check to see if someone else had wrote about it. Apparently, I was wrong. Wink

Quote:
Is there a dictionary of English expressions giving their " actual " meanings or origins ? Maybe GOOGLING Double edged sword ???


The Oxford English Dictionary would have the "actual" meaning (by "actual" I assume you mean "original") of the expression if we know it. However, there is no dictionary that has the origins of figures of speech or information on when exactly a particular word originated, because we simply don't know. We can have ballpark estimates based upon the lingusitic origins of a word, such as "sword" originating from Old English, and we can track the earliest surviving written example of a word, but that's about it.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sun 16 Jul, 2006 8:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Since my first language is French I always find it funny how many expressions there are in English that one uses and is understood as to intended meaning but that nobody seems to be able to explain, if asked, exactly what it means and mostly why ???

Without being obnoxious about it the French language is / was traditionally the language of diplomacy, at least in the 18th /19th centuries because it is a language of precise meanings when employed in the " classical " way. ( Current slang or bad usage exclude. ) In other words, a well structured French sentence will leave almost no room for double meanings or confused perceptions of intent. Also, it follows that in French " Puns / Jeux de mots " or litterally play of words is considered a HIGH form of humour because double meanings are hard to do in French.

OOOOPS: Sorry for the little detour around the main topic.

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!


Last edited by Jean Thibodeau on Sun 16 Jul, 2006 9:45 pm; edited 1 time in total
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C.L. Miller




PostPosted: Sun 16 Jul, 2006 9:16 pm    Post subject: Re: "Double-Edged Sword"         Reply with quote

Craig Peters wrote:
Does anyone else think that the figure of speech about something being a "double-edged sword" is silly? I know this is a very trivial matter, but now that I know more about historic European martial arts, I rather dislike this expression as being entirely inappropriate. A sword has two edges so that you can use both to better injure your foe, rather than cutting him and yourself at the same time. How then did this expression enter the English language?


I don't have much of a problem with this expression myself. A sword can injure its user as easily as it can his opponent. A double-edged sword is capable of cutting in two directions and for this reason (and others) one must be careful how one uses such a tool. Anyone making a "double-edged" statement risks injuring him or herself in the attempt to injure another; anyone using a sword risks the same. Someone making a double-edged statement does not intend to injure both parties, he merely risks doing so. A double edged sword is more dangerous in this regard, and makes a more potent metaphor, than one which has but a single edge in that the user must be conscious at all times that the side of the blade facing himself is as sharp as the one which he presents to his opponent.
For the sake of clarity, one might suggest using the expression "cuts both ways" to describe something which injures two opposing parties simultaneously and a "double-edged sword" to describe something capable of doing damage to either.
I think it likely that this expression originated either after the heyday of sword use or with someone more accustomed to using blades as metphors than as weapons, but I do not believe that this invalidates the expression.
I am, however, open to opposing views.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sun 16 Jul, 2006 9:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I see your point, but I'm still inclined to disagree. As someone who has spent some time practicing with long swords, I have never injured myself by virtue of the fact that my sword has two edges, rather than one. I believe that such injuries can occur, but only if one is being a sloppy or careless swordsman, or else has an unfortunate accident that causes this sort of injury to occur. I doubt that there are many, if any, historic European martial artists who have injured themselves specifically because they cut themselves with the double edge, or more specifically, with their short/false edge, assuming that they had their sword aligned for a long/true edge cut. Remember, for the sword to be able to effectively rapidly cover two seperate lines of attack, it is necessary for the wielder to actually strike with the sword in order to enable a "two direction" attack. Thus, since making two different lines of attack is a deliberate, conscious and willed decision, it is unlikely that one will injure one's self in the process, save for the two scenarios I mentioned above.
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Joe Fults




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PostPosted: Sun 16 Jul, 2006 9:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean,

Carefully constructed English documents avoid double meanings as well, unless they are intended. That's why it is now the international language of business. Wink Razz

"Our life is what our thoughts make it"
-Marcus Aurelius

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
-John F. Kennedy
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sun 16 Jul, 2006 10:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Joe Fults wrote:
Jean,

Carefully constructed English documents avoid double meanings as well, unless they are intended. That's why it is now the international language of business. Wink Razz


Well I agree with the carefull part that English can also be used with precision.

Actually, I'm walking to the deep end of the pool here as I am far from an expert on French grammar and to be honest I might be all wrong. Eek!

Different centuries and different countries have the most political and economic clout which has a lot to do with which
language(s) dominate diplomacy, and grammar probably doesn't have much to do with it.

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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Mon 17 Jul, 2006 1:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Actually, if we're being truly nitpicky, most swords that are called double-edged-swords only have one edge. It runs from the hilt to tip and continues right back to the hilt again. I'm still counting just one edge Razz
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Geoff Wood




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PostPosted: Mon 17 Jul, 2006 2:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
Since my first language is French I always find it funny how many expressions there are in English that one uses and is understood as to intended meaning but that nobody seems to be able to explain, if asked, exactly what it means and mostly why ???

Without being obnoxious about it the French language is / was traditionally the language of diplomacy, at least in the 18th /19th centuries because it is a language of precise meanings when employed in the " classical " way. ( Current slang or bad usage exclude. ) In other words, a well structured French sentence will leave almost no room for double meanings or confused perceptions of intent. Also, it follows that in French " Puns / Jeux de mots " or litterally play of words is considered a HIGH form of humour because double meanings are hard to do in French.

OOOOPS: Sorry for the little detour around the main topic.


To continue the detour .... I've heard the same points about precision made about Latin (when I was doing it at school). I assume french is a latin rooted language? Changing position, word endings etc..can completely change the meaning of a sentence. You can do that in English, but generally speaking english is a sloppy language with a lot more redundancy, wherein one can mess about with word order etc.. without (complete) loss of meaning. Maybe that makes it easy to learn, but difficult to always get right (so many irregular 'rules'). Anyone think the name of the language ought to changed to American (more of them than of English speak it as a first language and America seems to contribute more now than does England to the evolution of the language)?
And, may an atheist bible reader contribute ..... for the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil; But her end is bitter as wromwood, sharp as a two eged sword (Proverbs (somewhere)).
still doesn't explain the expression though
Geoff
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Vincent Le Chevalier




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PostPosted: Mon 17 Jul, 2006 3:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Geoff Wood wrote:

To continue the detour .... I've heard the same points about precision made about Latin (when I was doing it at school). I assume french is a latin rooted language? Changing position, word endings etc..can completely change the meaning of a sentence. You can do that in English, but generally speaking english is a sloppy language with a lot more redundancy, wherein one can mess about with word order etc.. without (complete) loss of meaning. Maybe that makes it easy to learn, but difficult to always get right (so many irregular 'rules').


French is indeed a latin rooted language. However, it's less supple than latin as far as changing word order is concerned. Latin had declensions, which allow to mark the grammatical function of a word wherever it is in the phrase. So technically it could be possible to put the words in any order... Of course there was if I remember well a common order. French has more grammar than English (or so I've been told) so it's still possible to put the words in different order if need be, but certain rules have to be respected. I won't try a guess at how well it would work in English because it's not my first language either ;-)

Concerning the topic, I don't know for sure when the expression appeared but it exists in french as well, so I think it could be old enough. It has more to do with symbols than with actual fight situations, I believe.

Regards

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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Mon 17 Jul, 2006 4:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Vincent Le Chevalier wrote:
Concerning the topic, I don't know for sure when the expression appeared but it exists in french as well, so I think it could be old enough. It has more to do with symbols than with actual fight situations, I believe.

Regards


Maybe the expression evolved where it started out making logical sense at least as an image but got modified over time to be well understood as to meaning but no longer relating to what would make sense with a real physical sword.

I can see were a double edged sword being sharp on both sides would facilitate penetration: Compare a dagger and single edged blade of the same profile. I think there is a slight advantage to a double edged blade in penetration.

The mentioned biblical reference seems to emphasize the added lethality of two sharp edges.

To quote Jeroen:
Quote:
Actually, if we're being truly nitpicky, most swords that are called double-edged-swords only have one edge. It runs from the hilt to tip and continues right back to the hilt again. I'm still counting just one edge


Maybe this makes sense that at some point in time the edge was defined this way: As a single edge ???

With this in mind a double edged sword would have a point towards an enemy and a second point towards oneself: Makes NO sense with a real sword, but in the context of someone wanting to make the point ( Pun ALERT, much to easy in English. Razz ) in a non-literal sense: A situation were the point of the sword would go both ways or where the point could be flipped back at yourself just as easily as pointed away ! Just some creative interpretation: Don't know if this is really the way this expression evolved. Maybe the saying should say a double pointed sword !? But that just sounds awkward and jarring to the ear.

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Geoff Wood




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PostPosted: Mon 17 Jul, 2006 6:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jeroen Zuiderwijk wrote:
Actually, if we're being truly nitpicky, most swords that are called double-edged-swords only have one edge. It runs from the hilt to tip and continues right back to the hilt again. I'm still counting just one edge Razz


I'd agree if the tip were rounded, but I think an abrupt discontinuity (as in a point) may reasonably be taken to be the end of one edge and the start of another. Such a definition seems to work for geometry of polygons and polyhedra. To take it a little further, is an athame considered 'threefold sharp' by adding up both edges and the point?
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Max von Bargen




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PostPosted: Mon 17 Jul, 2006 10:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have strong views on this subject. In John Clements's words in Medieval Swordsmanship: "[The metaphor of a double-edged sword] is a ridiculous misidentification and a highly misleading notion that says a great deal about ignorance of swords. A double-edged sword in no way whatsoever harms the user any more than a double-barreled shotgun endangers the shooter. No sword with two edges will cut or injure someone swinging at something else" and "Double-edged swords do not cut 'both ways.' They only cut one way at a time, the direction in which they are used." His basic sentiment expresses exactly the way I feel about this metaphor, which I hear far too often for my taste. I perfectly understand what the metaphor means, but it is based on a false premise. Even if it would be theoretically possible to cut oneself with the reverse edge of the blade, it would only be a tiny nick that would be inconsequential compared to, say, a blow that cleaved the opponent's arm off.

Double-edged swords were in use for (I would estimate) 2,600 years. While some people may argue with this estimate, I know for a fact that they were in use by the Greeks at Marathon in 490 BC and were still in use at the battle of Agincourt in 1415. I'm pretty sure they were in use for at least a century on either side of those battles (sorry, Agincourt is the latest Medieval battle I'm familiar with). Between those two battles is 1,905 years. No weapon would continue in use that long if it endangered the user significantly, especially since good single-edged blades were also available throughout that period.
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George Hill




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PostPosted: Mon 17 Jul, 2006 10:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

For all that is said, you should still be careful on the backswing. Look at the 'right shoulder' ward in MSI-33. If you were in a fight, and were returning to this ward quickly, pumped to the very gills on adrenaline, you might wack yourself in the shoulder.

And you know, there is the issue of a longsword that cuts both ways... left AND right. Say, you throw a hard middlehau from right nebenhut to left nebenhut, then do the exact same thing the other way without flipping your hands.... IT cuts 'both ways.' Not the user and the enemy, but still in two ways.

To abandon your shield is the basest of crimes. - --Tacitus on Germania
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Max von Bargen




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PostPosted: Mon 17 Jul, 2006 12:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Definitely right. I didn't mean to imply that you can't hurt yourself, I just meant that it's unlikely, and even if you do, I doubt the damage will compare at all to the damage inflicted on an intentional, powerful blow.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to see much of MSI-33 or many other authentic fighting manuals (I'm still new to the martial art), so I can't really understand most of your example as well as I should. But if I understand your example correctly, the swordsman swings his sword one way, and then the other. This actually fits perfectly with what Clements said: "the direction in which [it is] used," since the swordsman is deliberately swinging it in the reverse direction.
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Vincent Le Chevalier




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PostPosted: Mon 17 Jul, 2006 12:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, I've done a bit of research at home and I came up with some things I'd like to share.

I'm a french native speaker, and I only have access to "advanced" dictionaries in french, but given that the expression exists in french as well, I thought it was worth a try. I looked in an etymological dictionary, and found that the first written appearance of the expression in a non-literal meaning dates back to 1756. Unfortunately, the dictionary doesn't give the source... That's the first written occurence, mind you, so it would have been in use a long time before in spoken language (for example, the literal sense was first written in 1672...). At that time, I believe there were quite a few people that were aware of which danger one could encounter with a double-edged weapon. So I don't believe that the expression comes from a misunderstanding of the use of the sword. It would never happen at a time when swords were still in use almost everyday... And mostly by the educated people who were the ones able to write.

In french, the expression is "arme double tranchant". The adjective "double" in french has more than one meaning, but first it meant dubious, twisted, ambiguous in the bad sense. Something that has a hidden purpose. I'm having a hard time explaining that in english, but I hope that you get the idea Wink My guess is that it was the meaning of double that was emphasized in the expression, and got combined with the simple description of a weapon. A double edged weapon has more than a way to harm, and one of those way is not necessarily obvious. I'm not even sure that the expression had a pejorative sense at the beginning. It could have evolved as the term "coup de Jarnac" which nowadays in french only means a treacherous strike, while it was deemed perfectly legal at the time.

I'm not sure that "double" has the same multiple meaning in english. At least, my dictionary doesn't list it, but it's not really sophisticated either. In this case, it could mean that the expression was translated from french at a later date (not entirely unlikely, since as Jean said french language dominated in literature and diplomacy at the time).

I'm sure one could find plenty of expression that evolved to mean something really different from what they describe. We should not be so angry about that one, just because it's about swords Razz I think that if that expression was the one and only misunderstanding about swords that existed, all the members of this forum would be quite happy Big Grin

Regards

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Vincent
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George Hill




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PostPosted: Mon 17 Jul, 2006 12:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Max, Clement's book is considered very dated, and he's far from being the most respected fellow in WMAs. Some like him, some reallly don't. But this isn't the place for big debates over individuals. Actually the unfortunte fact is that there isn't such a place.

Nonetheless, if you want a good look at MSI33 look at the book by Stephen Hand and Paul Wagner. http://chivalrybookshelf.com/titles/swordands...shield.htm
Oh, the updates to this interpretation were published in SPADA 2.
http://chivalrybookshelf.com/titles/SPADA2/SPADA2.html

If you don't want an interpretation, go for this peice. http://chivalrybookshelf.com/titles/I33/I33.htm

Propley the BEST book on the market for the beginner however is Tobler's Fighting with the German Longsword
http://chivalrybookshelf.com/titles/fighting/Fighting.htm

Oh, you can get great prices on these from Amazon.

To abandon your shield is the basest of crimes. - --Tacitus on Germania
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