Not strictly related to sf, but… I’ve said in a couple of different contexts that one of the things I’m least interested in as a critic is questions of definition, not least because definitions literally applied always tend to lead to silly conclusions. (Fantasy has to include fantastical elements? So Gormenghast isn’t fantasy, then? Science fiction always needs to embody a scientific idea? So how much non-hard-sf are you excluding? Etc…) Reading Jan Morris’s anthology-history-of-the-university The Oxford Book of Oxford (1978) today, I came across a lovely example of the sort of thing that makes me grumpy, from nearly 750 years ago. As Morris explains the story, picture the expression on the King’s face:
Three Oxford academics were deputed to wait upon Henry III in 1266 to ask permission for a postern gate through the city wall at Oxford. The King (in Latin) asked them what they wanted.
First Scholar: We ask a licence for the making of a gate through the city wall.
Second Scholar: No, we do not want the making of a gate, for that would mean the gate was always in the making and never made. What we want is a gate made.
Third Scholar: No, we do not want a gate made, for a gate made must already be in existence somewhere else and so we should be taking somebody else’s gate.
The King told them to go away and make up their minds. When they returned in three days, they had agreed upon a formula:
We ask permission that the making of a gate might be made. [Ostium fiere in forti esse]
Permission was granted.