Cuneiform Tablets, OED and Bootstrapping

From: Patrick Rourke (
Date: Mon Apr 29 2002 - 12:03:24 EDT

> As I read about these ancient clay tablets and the great
> quantity of them that exist I began to wonder as to what
> information about observations of the night sky in ancient
> times survive. For example, are there any observations
> of comets that could be tied in with the object that we now
> know as Halley's comet? Or, when a new comet appears
> in the present day sky and its orbit is calculated and it is
> said to return once in every 3000 years or so, is it possible
> to find it being observed in ancient times and that observation
> recorded on clay tablets?

O. Neugebauer, The Exact Sciences in Antiquity (Providence, R.I., 1957).
O. Neugebauer, A History of Ancient Mathematical Astronomy (3 Vols.)
(Berlin-Heidelberg-New York, 1975).

and most importantly

Neugebauer,O. ed. Astronomical Cuneiform Texts (3 Vols.) (Springer-Verlag,
New York, 1983)

> So, the system of what English words mean holds
> itself up by its bootstraps!

Natural/human languages are so "bootstrapped" as well as being ambiguous,
that's part of what distinguishes them from codes (e.g., computer
languages). While the purpose of the OED is in fact to be a descriptive
dictionary (on "historical principles"), it is often used as a prescriptive
dictionary. This is because natural languages are defined by consensus, and
descriptive dictionaries are excellent guides to consensus.

Patrick Rourke

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.2 : Mon Apr 29 2002 - 12:50:57 EDT