Shakespeare · Word of the week

Word of the week: concordance

Concordance: it’s both an abstract noun (something you can’t see, hear or touch) and a concrete noun (something you can see, hear or touch). An alternative description for a concrete noun is “something that you can put in a wheelbarrow” (though it might need to be a very big wheelbarrow).

The abstract meaning of concordance is simply agreement or consistency. If different groups of scientists come to the same conclusions based on their research, there is concordance. That’s how it is with the research into climate change. There is concordance among over 90% of scientists (and by that I mean professional scientists, people who “do science” for a living, not politicians, journalists or people working for oil companies) that climate change is real, man-made and that we need to do something about it soon.

The concordance that you can put in a wheelbarrow is a book, cross-referencing words from a large body of work, or (according to the Oxford English Dictionary)

An alphabetical list of the words (especially the important ones) present in a text or texts, usually with citations of the passages concerned or with the context displayed

I say that you can put this kind of concordance in a wheelbarrow but have never done so. The only concordances I have used have been on computers, to look up words from Shakespeare and from The Bible. I used this one for Shakespeare and have just been looking at this one for the Bible. I wanted to check, in the latter, something that I had heard but never confirmed: that among all the animals mentioned in the Old and New Testaments there is no reference to cats. There are dogs, camels, horses, snails, rabbits, sheep and lions, but no cats. (And no kangaroos either, I’ve just checked, but that’s no surprise.)

Last month, prompted by all the 400th Anniversary events (which I wrote about here and here) I checked out the Shakespeare concordance for the first time in many months, and can confirm that the word cat appears in 17 of the plays (and in “The Rape of Lucrece”).

Another appearance of the word “concordance” appears in Stephen King’s novel “Misery”, which I read last week. In Part 1, Chapter 24 the author Paul Sheldon, having agreed to write a new novel featuring his character Misery Chastain, tells mad Annie Wilkes (played by Kathy Bates in the movie) what he needs.

At last he said, “I’ll need all the Misery books, if you’ve got them, because I don’t have my concordance?”
“Of course I have them!” she said. Then: “What’s a concordance?”
“It’s a loose-leaf binder where I have all my Misery stuff,” he said. “Characters and places, mostly, but cross-indexed three or four different ways. Time-lines. Historical stuff …”
He saw that she was barely listening. This was the second time she’d shown not the slightest interest in a trick of the trade that would have had a class of would-be writers spellbound.



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