List..the Word II
Bill Long 11/6/05
Thus far we have seen that list can connote either a border in general, a hem or border to fabric or a fillet or annulet on a Greek pillar. But we are just getting started. Let's continue.
List as Something "Made of List" or the Fabric Itself
Charlotte Bronte could say: "Her quiet tread muffled in a list slipper." And other examples speak of "list shoes," "list cushions" or a "list carpet." Such objects were made of the "list" or borders to the fabric which remained after the fabric had frayed. Often these were mismatched or of odd colors, despite the fact that they still had some durability in them. Thus, to wear "list slippers" or "list shoes" was a sign of extreme frugality.
But list can also refer to the garment or fabric itself and not simply the border around it. As early as 1300 in a book describing the birth of Jesus, we have: "And bond him with aliste." Or, from 1398: "Chyldrens..lymmes (limbs) been bounde wyth lystes and other couenable bondes that thei been not crokid." Shakespeare, too, used list in this way in the Taming of the Shrew: "With a linnen stock on one leg,/ And a kersey boot-hose on the other,/ Gartred with a red and blew list."
This meaning of list as a strip of something was picked up in several quotations, such as Sidney's quotation from 1586: "His horse was of a firie sorrell, with blacke feete, and blacke list on his backe." List as strip (or stripe) is also evident in a 1646 quotation: "The Assse having a peculiar marke of a crosse made by a blacke list downe his backe, and another athwart." Or, from Captain James Cook's late 18th century Voyages: "The blue cat..having a fine blue tinge, with a beautiful red list down its back." So, on the meaning of list as a strip, we have the three words list, strip and stripe as synonymous.
Within the Lists
The notion of list as boundary seems to be behind the the phrase "within the lists" which is an enclosed space in which "tilting-matches or tournaments were held." In this sense a list may be defined as "The palisades or other barriers enclosing a space set apart for tilting: hence, a space so enclosed in which tilting-matches or tournaments were held." Well, here we are brought not only "within the list" but into the world of "tilting," which may lie behind the notion of a ship's "listing." When a ship "lists" it means that it "tilts." Tilting is the action of tilt, meaning a "charging on horseback with lance against an opponent, or a mark." This can also be called jousting, which is known further as "justing." When one "tilts" at an opponent, one tries to knock them off balance. And if you are being knocked off balance, you tend to "incline from the vertical or horizontal." You "slope" or "slant." And this is also a meaning of the verb tilt. The ship slants. The ship tilts. The ship lists. See Dick run.
Returning to list, then, Chaucer can say: "Cambalo That faught in listes with the bretheren two For Canacee." Or, Malory, in his Arthurian stories: "Blamor..tooke his hors at the one end of the lystes, and sire Trystram atte other end of the lystes." Shakespeare uses the word in Richard II: "On paine of death, no person be so bold..as to touch the Listes, Except the Marshal." So a person can be within the lists, can touch the lists or can enter the lists. From 1831: "The Royal Society..contained few individuals..capable of..entering the lists against his...assailants." Or, it can be used figuratively to express any kind of battle in which a person may engage. From 1647: "The King, loth to enter the List with the Clergy about too many matters."
List as Listening or Lusting
Obsolete is the noun usage of list as hearing or listening, even though a cute reference to list as one's ear comes from Chaucer: "He smoot me ones on the list." Or, from More (1535): "And with his fist, Upon the lyst, He gave hym such a blow.." But the verb is still used frequently as a short form of "listen." From Milton's Comus: "List, list, I hear Som far off hallow break the silent Air." Or, from Shakespeare's A & C: "Peace, what noise? List, list..Hearke." RW Emerson could write in his poetry, "Great Napoleon Stops his horse, and lists with delight."
Let's close this essay with the meaning of list as pleasure, desire, inclination or lust. Let's begin with a more familiar usage and then backtrack into its impersonal usage. The KJV of John 3: 8 has "The winde bloweth wher it listeth. Or, connecting the word list (desire) with lust, from 1563: "The Bishop of Rome...did in all the West Church...what he lust." Or, from 1616: "Thou mayst make sale of it to whom thou list."
But list also means to be pleasing to and is used impersonally, such as me listeth (it pleases me) or him listeth (it pleases him). This shows a Germanic origin (es schmeckt mir gut) and was used, for example, by Spenser (1590): "When him list the prouder lookes subdue," which means "when he is pleased to subdue his prouder looks." Or, from 1633: "When me list to sadder tunes apply me." We do not have many impersonal verbs so used in English today; thus I would imagine we woudl use it sparingly.
This doesn't exhaust all the uses of list in English, but it shows that the constellation of concepts from border, to fabric, to the border that encloses a space to a "border" fillet to the narrow strip that results (a border is usually a narrow strip), to a tilt, which leads to slanting/listing to a list as we might conceive of it (the connection seems to be that the list is a rather narrow "strip" of names, or tasks, to do) to listening to pleasing someone to lust all tend to emerge from the same word. Thus, can't you see how much more fruitful it is to go beyond mere "lists" of legal realists or young evangelicals? I would much rather lose myself in the deeper convolutions of list.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long