Ampersands, Cecil

I thought someone had saved me the trouble of writing, when I saw a post titled “Something or other D&D”. The way the ampersand (&) appeared in the typeface, it looked a lot like “e”.
Now, that’s not surprising. Although the word, “ampersand”, has a boring English background as a corruption of “and per se and”, the symbol “&” in all its hundreds of manifestations is always a version of the Latin word “et”, meaning “and”.
Romans used “and” every bit as much as moderns do, so one could say they et their way across the Mediterranean and Europe. If they’d reached America, they’d have crossed the Andes, too.
Their beautiful and logical language gradually vanished from the Earth, like all beautiful and fine things. For a long while a bastardised form of Latin remained in use in special situations, “dog Latin”. Much Latin entered our language, in digested and sometimes half-digested forms.
So it was that when those supermen of the period 1400-1800, the English mariners who brought Science and Christianity to the world at large, wrote in their journals at the end of the day what they had achieved that day, they would often record that they had guided their ship from point A to point B, a certain distance, by D.e.D. reckoning. D and D stood for English words, “Distance” and “Direction”, and “e” stood for good old Latin “et”.
Probably around about the same time, as weapons became more accurate and deadly, the word “dead” enjoyed yet another extension of meaning, as in “dead accurate” and “dead right”. A champion gunner could prove his status by making you quickly dead. An argument that stopped yours in its tracks was “dead right”. So, “D.e.D. reckoning” began to be confused with “dead reckoning”, some special, clever kind of calculation that would always come up with the right answer.
D.e.D. reckoning was nothing of the sort. Theoretically, if you know your starting location, direction and how far you’ve travelled, you know exactly where you are. Alas, mariners of that period had rough compasses, lousy chronometers, and a log instead of an odometer. I mean, they threw something heavy, that would barely float, over the back of the ship, with a rope attached, and tried to calculate speed from how long it took for a measured length of rope to be pulled overboard. This method did not take into account wind speed, currents, the extent to which the pulling of the rope also pulled the log, etc. etc.
But it gave them a figure for speed, which combined with an equally doubtful figure for elapsed time gave a result for speed, and combined with a rough figure for direction this gave them a new position.
D.e.D. reckoning, mates ! Really bad, but really a hell of a lot better than nothing.
Of course, if you were in visual contact with the shoreline, there were better options, involving triangulation, such as Captain James Cook excelled in. And if it were a known and mapped shoreline, well whackydoo ! You could leave D.e.D. reckoning behind, until next time you had to turn your ship towards the blue unknown.
I’ve seen D.e.D. with the explanatory full stops in journals of the time and can’t understand how these funny other ideas have taken hold.

Interestingly, bibliophage wrote a staff report on that very phrase. The distance-et-direction derivation is not one of the theories he found in his research, which found a citition of the ‘dead reckoning’ in the Oxford English Dictionary dating from 1608. I’m sure many of us would be very interested to see the details of the period navigation records showing the d.e.d. terminology.

That said, I’m a bit doubtful: the convention of converting abbreviations to acronyms is, from what I’ve seen in other bits of research published here and elsewhere, much more modern than that …

…except in Hebrew.

But there are other problems. Why “direction” and not “bearing” or “heading”? Why an “e” instead of a perfectly good ampersand? (And the use of “deduced” seems unlikely, too.)

Just saying.