Dictionary Gothic

Dictionary Gothic (or) Gŏth’ĭk: noun again

What is gothic? That oft-asked but rarely interesting question… One of the main reasons for its re-appearance may be the there isn’t a mainstream dictionary on the planet that is up to date on the matter. The Oxford expanded may be including text-messenger jargon and redneck slang, but a modern meaning for gothic is no-where to be found.

So what can be found in the pages of our nations’ lexicons? Well, many an obscure and archaic listing, as follows. (If this bores you just skip to the end for my conclusions).

In the 4th century there were a Teutonic (German) people called the Goths with a language referred to as ‘gothic’ (noun), evidenced mainly by a single fragmentary translation of the bible by Bishop Ulfilas (Worldnet 1.7 Vocabulary Helper). The dear Bishop’s effort was probably spurred on by said Goth’s reputation as uncouth, barbarous (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary), rude (Webster Dictionary), and crude (AllWords.com). Even given the tendency for history to be written by the victors, I am not sure I would want to be mixed up with these people; besides they’re extinct (courtesy of the Romans). Still they got in first, and thus anything “of, relating to, or resembling” these folk and their civilisation is also deserving of gothic (adjective) as well.

Dragging ourselves into the middle or ‘medieval’ period reveals that the whole damned [literally] period can be referred to (at least in retrospect) as ‘gothic’ (adj.; American Heritage Dictionary). Which is appropriate at least, given that these were the ‘dark’ ages. However, while medieval may sound cool, it also implies “old-fashioned and unenlightened” (Wordnet 1.7). Then again ‘gothic’ also implies ‘modern’ in contrast to “classical” (e.g. that lovely phrase, ‘modern history’ – are we all confused now?) (Wordnet 1.7)

Given that ‘gothic’ can mean medieval, it is a term also attached to architecture of that period. Well, darlings, I may not be quite that old, but I am fond of anything described as “characterized by pointed arches, rib vaulting, and a developing emphasis on verticality and the impression of height” (American Heritage Dictionary). I am definitely a “slender vertical pier [peer],” though I don’t know about those “counterbalancing buttresses” (Ultra Lingua).

Gothic also refers to “painting sculpture, or other art forms prevalent in northern Europe from the 12th through the 15th century” (American Heritage Dictionary). Such art is “characterized by a tendency towards realism and interest in detail” (AllWords.com). (Whereas I have a tendency towards delusion and am easily bored; hence this piece is based entirely on online dictionaries).

From a slightly later period we inherit the ‘gothic’ font (15th – 18th centuries; Wordnet 1.7). Derived from Greek lettering with “some Latin and some invented letters” AllWords.com). A style encouragingly described as “heavy and ornate” (Wordsmith), “dark” and “angular” (ODLIS), also called “black letter” (Ultra Lingua), and typically lacking serifs [seraphs – eh]. All you dark webmasters ought to swap to it today! (If only for the sake of the source code.)

Now things get interesting with a form of literature that only a dictionary could call “contemporary” (18th century; AllWords.com). Gothic fiction relates “the experiences of an often ingenuous heroine imperilled, as at an old mansion, where she typically becomes involved with a stern or mysterious but attractive man” (AllWords.com). Well, heroINE aside, I am not at all keen on ‘ingenuous’, look it up folks, it’s not flattering. Less specific definition are more applicable including phrases such as “scenes of terror and gloom” (American heritage) “eeriness and mystery” (Wordsmith), and “the grotesque” (Ultra Lingua). I was particularly fond of the phrase “with chillingly sinister overtones, intended to evoke irrational fear” (ODLIS). Including, of course, our friends Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights etc… Notibly a sun-category of ‘romance’ not ‘horror’.

The literature is so named as it is seen as having roots (according to the authors at least) that are medieval rather than classical, the first example being Horace Walpole’s (1764) novel – ‘The Castle of Otranto, a Gothic Story’ (every true Goth should have a copy) (American Heritage). Gothic styles of fiction and architecture were particularly popular throughout the Victorian era, as witness a great deal of the tall forbidding building of this time, and the novel ‘Dracula’.

Thus to the seriously un-hip (counter-culture-wise) gothic could mean; archaic, modern, German, romantic, scary, detailed or perpendicular. Still, the informed reader would see how a certain dark romanticism and an attraction to the styles or the ornate past rather than the sterile mass-produced present, are certainly implicated in all things goth. On the other hand, come on boys, up-date these dictionaries!

Gothic (noun/adj. hybrid): of, relating to, or having the characteristics of a subculture devoted to dark thoughts and ideas, and characterized by forms of life-style, dress and art that are archaic, decadent or morbid; a reaction against control, conformity and unwarranted optimism.

Goth (noun): a person belonging to the gothic subculture.

Any of y’all got a better definition? I’ll email the best one to the folks at my favourite online dictionaries and see what they do… and I promise to post their responses here!