Thursday, June 11, 2009

SKYWATCH FRIDAY – The Raveled Sleave of Care (Lake Erie)


As I watched the setting sun illuminate the ragged edge of this cloud, a phrase from Shakespeare drifted into my head: “sleep knits up the raveled sleeve of care.” I went online to find which play it was from (Macbeth) and discovered a linguistic puzzle that will appeal to any SWFers who are also "wordies." If you have the time and inclination, do read on, but it’s entirely optional.


Here, from www.phrasefinder.org, and the archives of the Columbia Journalism School online, Language Corner. Brush Up Your Shakespeare, Act III, Raveled Sleave, with an "A."
Find the misspelling: "Sleep, as Shakespeare wrote, knits up the raveled sleeve of care." No, not "raveled," though it can be spelled differently. The error, a very frequent one, is "sleeve." Macbeth wasn't talking about the arm of a garment; it wouldn't really make sense. He was talking about a tangled skein, of silk or other material, which makes perfect sense. And for that, the spelling - which the original author used, correctly - is "sleave." It's an obsolete word now, but spelling it right is still the way to go. Many readers may dismiss it as just another typo (a NEXIS search shows it's a frequent typo for "sleeve"), but those who know better will smile.

I questioned the notion that a raveled sleeve of a garment wouldn't "make sense." I think part of the question stems from Shakespeare’s use of the word raveled, which, like sleave, is also pretty obsolete these days. So I checked out the definition of "ravel" in several online dictionaries, as well as my own hardcover Webster's, and found something very intriguing: ravel mainly survives in contemporary English usage in unravel, which would appear to be its opposite, but not so according to the dictionaries. Every entry for ravel listed unravel among the synonyms for ravel! Here's a sample entry from www.thefreedictionary.com.

rav·el

v.tr.
1. To separate the fibers or threads of (cloth, for example); unravel.
2. To clarify by separating the aspects of.
3. To tangle or complicate.
v.intr.
1. To become separated into its component threads; unravel or fray.
2. To become tangled or confused. (from www.theefreedictionary.com)

So it seems to me that since both ‘ravel’ and ‘unravel’ can mean the same thing, a raveled sleave might be thought of as part of an unknit garment, while a raveled sleeve might simply be part of a garment in need of repair. In fact, I once had a raveled sleeve on a favorite sweater, back in my student days. But rather than knitting it up (which, admittedly, it made no sense to even try), I just covered it with a pair of iron-on suede elbow patches. In the end, in spite of the peculiarities of the English language, what really matters in this quotation is what Shakespeare wrote, and that was, according to experts, undoubtedly "sleave."





To view more skies from all around our beautiful planet, or to join in, visit SKYWATCH. Live links after 2:30 p.m. EST time or 19:30 GMT

31 comments:

bobbie said...

First of all, your photo is beautiful.

Secondly, I love that you care enough about language to research this so thoroughly. And I love that you did, so I don't have to. You have explained it so well. Thank you.

Sylvia K said...

Yes, the photos are exquisite! The colors gorgeous and like Bobbie, I love the caring research you do and was fascinated by what you found! In other words, I'm so delighted to have found your blog so early in my blogging life. And you do enrich my life in many ways, each day! Thank you!

Lin said...

isn't english fascinating. love your sunset photo

Sue said...

Deborah, thanks so much for such a detailed, and fascinating discussion. I haven't read Macbeth since high school (although I've seen it performed many times since then), so really had not thought about the spelling or precise meaning of "sleave/sleeve" (although I was aware of the meaning of "ravel" -- reminiscent of the flammable/inflammable conundrum).

Ruth said...

Words are so interesting. Thanks for the commentary. And the Lake Erie sky never looked more dramatic and beautiful.

Maria said...

I agree, the sunset photo is simply gorgeous! Thank you for sharing!

barb said...

As a writer, I'm not surprised you'd research the words! Do you remember Billy Hammett? (He use to participate in One Single Impression.) Yesterday he commented about "lost-positives" on FaceBook... Words such as "disheveled" and "disgruntled" and how a person can't really be sheveled or gruntled, can they?

I loved your mallard ducks! So adorable! And so many! Congratulations, Auntie!

Kathy said...

Those photo's are great. Love those colors. =)

fourwindsphotojournal said...

It looks like the lake is on fire. Pretty.
My husband loves to research words, too. Isn't it odd that we say words and phrases all the time without the faintest idea where they came from?

Carletta said...

Lovely!
I like the expanse of the uncropped first one.

My post is here: Carletta’s Captures.

Your EG Tour Guide said...

Beautiful skies, Deborah, and a fun read about "ravel."

Guy D said...

These photos are outstanding.

Have a great weekend
Guy
Regina In Pictures

SandyCarlson said...

I enjoyed that very much. Thanks for restoring the spelling and the sense. Beautiful alongside the image.

Etymonline.com is one of my favorite online resources for word meanings. i am going there now to unravel ravel!

srp said...

Since ravel and unravel seem to mean the same thing.. it makes sense that sleep untangles that twisted skein of silk thread we call our daily lives knitting all the unruly pieces together.

OH... and I really love the sky too! :-)

PJ said...

As a knitter I'm VERY familiar with unraveled. To see raveled all on its own is very strange. So, ultimately either sleave or sleeve completes the thought. A very thoughtful posting.

Robert V. Sobczak said...

I wish I could read more Shakespeare and see more such sunsets!

Rose said...

Beautiful!

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Deb, the Photo is beautiful....

I love your interest in words and their meaning. Seems as if the more I learn--the more confused I get. ha..

Hugs,
Betsy

magiceye said...

gorgeous image and thank you for the explanation

Eric(NL) said...

Both pictures a re great, nice Skywatch entry!!

Have a nice Skywatch Friday

Greetings NL

roentarre said...

Wonderful image in deed. Great sky and cloud formation

Dee said...

Very interesting! I just love your posts- I always learn something cool!

Denise said...

Fantastic! Wonderful blog, I look forward to coming back.

Small City Scenes said...

Gorgeous photos, great colors.
Fun topic with 'sleeve' and 'sleave'. Ravel and unravel is like thaw and unthaw. Meaning the same. LOL MB

April said...

Beautiful and spectacular sunset! And lovely pictures of Lake Erie!

I would like to read more Shakespeare...thank you for the wonderful line from Macbeth.

Aleta said...

Oh, how I enjoyed this post. Thanks for doing the research and you just might inspire my muse to pen it into poetry, between the words and the pictures ~ it's all a lovely art. Thanks! Hope you have a great weekend.

Wren said...

Words are fascinating. I love how language changes over time: sleeve/sleave, ravel/unravel.

The photos are lovely, and you did your own raveling to bring the two threads together.

Arija said...

All a bit like the tangled web we weave when first we practic to deceive. Yhe English language being what it is, can be eithr crystal clear or deliciously obscure.
NB Your skywatch photos are great.

Quiet Paths said...

Wonderful, wonderful words. Don't you love language? And beautiful photos to go with them. Super post, Deb.

Kevin said...

What a beautiful sunset. Great job on the exposure!

vincibene said...

Fantastic picture!