- I don't know about precision vs. dumbing down, and my existence is so
cloistered that it fails to include much modern Irish, but I think the whole
debate hinges on who uses the word most, to whom, and in what, and whether
our translation will create confusion or not.
The people who use the word 'cloister(s)' most in English are those who
write about architecture. They do so to inform fellow architects of a
particular kind of structure, or to describe such a structure to
tourists/interested visitors. The word usually appears in journals and
This structure/area may be part of a monastery or a nunnery. It is not
usually the whole thing. My ancient Chambers Etymological Dictionary gives:
'a covered arcade forming a part of a monastic or collegiate establishment;
a place of religious retirement, a monastery or a nunnery' then derives the
word from Old French and Latin for 'to shut, close'.
A Faber dictionary of architecture (1993): 'A covered and often vaulted walk
around an open space (or Garth) that is usually square on plan, having a
largely solid outer wall and openings, sometimes filled with tracery, on the
garth. A feature particularly of monasteries, in which it forms a passageway
from the church to the chapter-house, refectory, etc.
IMO, whatever its original meaning or use - and whatever relict usage
survives in special circumstances such as religion-marinated Erin Go Brath -
'cloister' as a noun refers to part of a building/complex, not the whole
thing. As a verb, it means 'to confine', with overtones of uncomfortable but
necessary proximity, possibly secrecy; 'he's been cloistered with the
designers for hours. I wonder what they're cooking up'.
In all the religious, historical, and tourist literature we have translated
over the years, I have always avoided using the word 'cloister' at all, in
order to avoid confusion. If it's a place, then it's a monastery, convent,
nunnery, retreat, college, etc. If it's a covered walk with fancy vaulting
around a courtyard, then that's what I say, one way or another. The
definitions often mean that we have to talk to the author or even ask for
photographs or go for a look - not always practical, I know.
False friends always seem to invite the 'shoe-horn' approach - with
etymology at one's side, a body of loose usage from previous literature
egging one on, and a cosy feeling of technical rectitude, one squeezes the
meaning into the word and leaves the text to limp on - in the assumption
that one will never have to meet it again, a couple of years later, and see
just how crippled it is ....
As a hollow laugh and a reminder to beware of similar-looking words,
especially on Latin roots, the pencil-holder on our kitchen shelf is a posh
jar from Harrods (booty from some pharma-freebie), the label of which
proudly proclaims: 'Home Produced Organic Marmalade guaranteed free of
artificial preservatives'. I should bloodywell hope so - but there's a
couple more in there as well.
- I liked your discussion of this word.
>The people who use the word 'cloister(s)' most in English are those whoIt depends on what you are exposed to in life. I hear the term "cloister"
>write about architecture.
used far less in an architectural meaning than in relation to the practice of
cloistering nuns. In that sense too, it refers only to part of the convent