Sunday, November 13, 2016

"Zettelkasten" in Grimm's Wörterbuch

Grimm's Wörterbuch is one of the most interesting early dictionaries of German. Its origins go back to the first half of the nineteenth century and gives a good indication of how German words were used in the eighteenth's century. Here is the entry for "Zettelkasten:"
Zettelkasten, m., kasten zur aufnahme von zetteln, z. b. von theaterzetteln: S. Hensel familie Mendelssohn 3, 22, zumeist aber von alphabetisch geordneten zetteln mit notierungen oder auszügen aus literar. oder wissenschaftl. werken od. ä.: leben des Quintus Fixlein, aus funfzehn -kästen gezogen Jean Paul w. 3, 3 H.; die hier angedeutete schaffensart wird vielfach getadelt, so von Immermann 20, 36 B., von Fr. Th. Vischer altes u. neues 3, 388; Hebbel III 7, 397 W.
Meaning:
box for keeping of slips, like playbills, see Hensel, The Mendelssohn Family 3, 22; but usually [it means] alphabetically ordered slips with notes or excerpts from literary, scientific, or similar works. The Life of Quintus Fixlein, Drawn from fifteen Zettelkästen. The way of working here indicated is often criticized, like in Immermann 29, 36, in Fischer's Old and New 3, 388, in Hebbel, iii, 7 397 W
So "Zettelkasten" already has negative connotations in the early nineteenth century.

What can we learn from Grimm about "Zettel"? They were originally called "Zeddel" which simply meant small pieces of paper (slips). The word derives from the Italian "cedola," which came from the Middle Latin "cedula" and ultimately from the older "schedula." The Latin "scheda" or "scida" means torn off strips of paper [must mean "papyrus, I think}. It all originally come from the Greek "σχίδη."

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