Palin and Lalia
Theological Terms I
Theological Terms II
Theol. Terms III
Noso and Noce/Nocu
Milton, Book I (PL)
Oo and Ovi
Labors of Hercules I
Oblectation et al.
Dissimulare et al.
Acroama et al.
Tetrous et al.
Commeate et al.
Obsolete et al.
Subtle et al. I
Hesitate et al. (Ovid)
Excoriate et al. I
Excoriate et al. II
Bill Long 12/16/08
When you have a word, like collate/collation, which can mean anything from collections to a gathering of goods for distribution, to textual comparison, to consultation, to a discourse or sermon, to a light meal or to conferring something on someone, you know you have a story behind the word. And that is the case for these two words today. If we understand that the Latin word behind our two words is but one verb, confero, conferre, contuli, collatum, and if we know that the basic meaning of the Latin is to "bring together" or "gather together," we have all that we need to get going.
Let's begin by listing the various meanins that attach to the Latin verb confero, conferre. It can mean "to bring together" or "collect" or "gather" or "contribute" or "connect" or "join" or "consult toghter" or "bring together for joint examination" or "compare." It also means "confer" or "bestow." I love the way that Latin words gradually expand their meaning in different contexts, almost as if the verb is trying to discover itself in its usage. It basically means to "carry" or "bear" or "bring" (fero, ferre) together. But what do you do with things or people when you bring them together? Well, the possibilities are endless; hence the broad reach of the word. Let's look at collate/collation and see the verb at work.
1. It can mean "to contribute"--i.e., things that are gathered or brought together. From 1678: "A shot or collation because every particular Apostle did cast in and collate his Article to make up this Sum [the Apostles' Creed]. Note that confer can be used in the same way: "To conferre every yere a certayn summe...to the byldyng and reformying of all such..placys."
2. Collate means, in Roman law, a bringing together for purposes of division of an estate at the death of the testator/several people who all leave common beneficiaries. I like the definition under collation better: "The throwing together of the possessions of several persons, in order to an equal division of the whole stock; hotch-pot [Latin: collatio bonorum]." From 1828: "In Scots law, the right which an heir has of throwing the whole heritable and movable estates of the deceased into one mass, and sharing it equally with others who are of the same degree of kindred."
3. But why do you bring things together? Well, for a lot of reasons, but one of them is to do so for comparison with each other. And that is another definition of collate/collation. From Bacon in 1612: "To recapitulate, select, and collate the material points of that which hath beene said." From Burke in 1780: "He has visited all Europe..not to collect medals, or collate manuscripts: but...to compare and collate the distresses of men in all countries." One can collate one language with another or collate the events of history and the maxims of science.
4. This collation or comparison, however, is sometimes done to manuscripts in order to correct, emend or establish the best text of an author. I ran into this use of the word when I did some New Testament textual criticism in theological seminary. I would have understood the following sentence: "To collate the whole mass, that is to compare their mutual variations with some common standard."
5. But you can also bring things or people together to give them something. Thus, to collate means also "to confer, bestow, appoint." As early as 1581 the verb collate was used in this way: "That the Empire..by him was collated upon Vespasian." Or, with a little more theological stodginess, from 1717: "The Goodness they are possess'd of is collated by God to them." In this sense, one might also collate an ecclesiastical benefice on someone. "The said Bishoprick was justly collated and given to Nicolas Ridley, D.D."
6. You see the the connection with confer/conference when we see the next definition of collate/collation: "a personal conferring together; consultation; conference, esp. of a private or informal sort." Chaucer's Clerk said: "Yit wol I...that in my chambre, I and thou and sche Have a collacioun." Or, from more recent days: "Baronius and Binnius will in no case allow this for a council, only they call it a collation." The term is useful, a sort of midway term between "chat" and "conference." "After a brief collation, they decided on their strategy for the evening." A more formal collation or conference in the medieval universities was when someone delivered a sort of theological lecture laying down certain propositions without proving them. This might be in the form of a commentary or analysis of Lombard's Sentences or another work.
7. Another reason people are brought together, however, is to hear something. Thus, from the 15th century the word collation meant "a discourse, sermon, homily." From 1494: "He made unto them colacions or exortacions..." Then, from a few years later: "If any Priest came..into the village, the inhabitants thereof would gather about him, and desire to have some good lesson or collation made unto them." One of the celebrated works of the early church was John Cassian's early 5th century Collationes Patrum in Scetica Eremo Commorantium--i.e., Conference or Conversations with the Egyptian Hermits." A reading from the Collationes or from the lives of the Fathers, which St. Benedict insituted in the early Benedictine monasteries, was called a collation. From 1482: "The mene while..hit range to the collation and the bretheren..went thense." The monks could be said to have eaten or drunk after collation (which was before compline--the last of the seven canonical hours...)
8. Finally, the word collation could extend to the meal, generally a light repast, that would take place after the reading collation." From the 19th century: "When I came, I found such a collation of wine and sweetmeats prepared as little corresponded to the terms of the invitation." As with most things in Catholic theology or monastic practice, the amount and type of food that could be taken at a collation was regulated. From 1582: "Where every one taketh a glasse of wine, and a quarter of a manchet (bread), and so he maketh his collatione." The 1885 Catholic Dictionary has: "The quantity permissible at collation has been gradually enlarged. St. Charles..only allows a glass of wine with an ounce and a half of bread to be taken as a collation on the evening of feasting days." But the meaning of the term was not confined to the ecclesiastical sphere. We have this, also from the 19th century: "Here one of the great sheiks resides, who would have prepared a collation for us, and asked us to stay all night, but we only took coffee, and he sent a man with us."
I may not fully have exhausted the word, but I have exhausted my interest at this point. It just goes to show you that if you stick close to Latin roots, and understand really what basic word you have in view, you can see how words can "grow" in their meanings. This is, indeed, helpful as you seek to "massage" the language for your use and others' pleasure today.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long