Finally, we come to something that is not a musical instrument or a fish or a bat or a drink. It is a good, old fashioned verb. But, just as we don't use the shawm anymore, though the Collegiate is thoughtful enough to include it, so we have abandoned the use of the verb shend. The latter has been discarded, however, for no apparently good reason. All the Collegiate says about it is: "1. archaic: to put to shame or confusion 2. archaic: REPROVE, REVILE 3 chiefly dial a: INJURE, MAR b: RUIN, DESTROY." So, we really don't have much of a clue as to how to use it or if it is still in use, for the "chiefly dial" reference suggests that someone somewhere seems to use it now, but where and in what context we have no clue. Thus, we have to search a little more deeply.
As I spent some time thinking about the full linguistic reach of shend (more below), I was almost overcome with emotion. Here is a word, no longer used, that could have been used to express the complete range of feelings relative to the notion of disgrace or shame. From the middle of the 16th century the participial form of the verb predominated (shent), connoting the idea of being disgraced, but we need to hear the amazing dexterity of this verb before we get to the participle.
A Biblical Thought
Though the first English attestations of shend arose even before the first English translations of the Bible, I think a biblical verse lies behind the concept probed by the word shend. In Ps. 40, the Psalmist expresses his desire that God would deliver him from the hands of his enemies. He utters a prayer to God:
"Be please, O Lord, to deliver me;
O Lord, make haste to help me.
Let all those be put to shame and confusion
who seek to snatch away my life.." (Ps. 40:13-14).
The italicized words capture neatly the vast scope of shend. The OED uses the following words to try to define the term: "put to shame or confusion; confound, disgrace; blame, reproach; to revile, scold; destroy, ruin, bring to destruction." Also, in a milder sense it can suggest "to injure, damage, spoil." Finally, another OED definition has "to disfigure, spoil; to corrupt, infect; to defile, soil." I think you get the picture by now. That little word shend is a term of explosive power which brings under its capacious tent the full panoply of emotions felt by one who has been badly defeated--shame, defilement, damage, destruction, ruin, confusion.
Thus when the participle shent began to predominate in the 16th century, it could be used to include some or all of these notions. Lord Byron, in 1812, could write: "No personage of high or mean degree/ Doth care for cleanness of surtout or shirt; Though shent with Egypt's plague. Actually, the appearance of shent in this context suggests that it is sort of a portmanteau word--shent meaning a combination of "rent" (as in tearing something) and "shorn" (as in being humiliated by a close "shave").
Recovering Shend Today
Now I think you can see how I would like to rehabilitate shend today. I want to bring it back as an all-purpose word to characterize the state of mind and soul of one who has experienced devastating loss. Such a person, in my understanding, would be shent. "The asperities of life shend us all, but some have the grace to incorporate the lessons of the losses into a framework of optimism and hope. Others are simply devastated by the losses and retreat from life into their own solitary caves of anguish." Or, after seeing a person who has experienced great grief or loss, we might say that s/he has been shent by the troubles of life. America needs to recover the vocabulary of anguish, and learning to pronounce the word shend again could help us begin.
I will have to do much better in future essays--on moving through the dictionary, that is...