Category Archives: fandom

heraldic heresy, the afterthought

The Society for Creative Anachronism keeps a registry of coats-of-arms adopted by members, for two reasons: to ensure uniqueness, and to head off the grossest faux pas (cluttered design, offensive symbolism, implied claims to be the Lost Dauphin …). Having registered my shield — whose central motif you may be able to guess — I can say with confidence that it will not be mistaken for any other (within SCA at least), and that the SCA’s collective heraldic judgement, honed over many years by hundreds of serious people, finds my design-sense tolerably sound. An institution that can be trusted to certify these points is a good thing.

In the case that started the furore, registration of the device would (I believe) imply that the badge also fits the criteria. Separate certification of the badge, then, would be redundant — a double cost for the registrant, duplicated work for the heralds (both now and in checking for similarity to future entries), and a waste of a hundred bytes in the record-books, all to certify what is already established.

It occurs to me belatedly that some see registration less as certification than as permission, an attitude inherited from traditions where the privilege of such display is a mark of favor from the Crown. (In the SCA, any bozo can register a coat of arms, but it’s not called “arms” until the bearer is formally ennobled by some prince.)

(It so happens that Scotland, which may be the only place where unauthorized armorial display is prosecuted, is also home to some of the best heraldic style. I won’t argue here whether it’s necessary to embrace the bathwater along with the baby. Switzerland also has excellent style, at least in civic armory; I don’t know about the laws there.)

To display arms, then, is to assert not only this emblem is unique to me and this emblem is well-designed but also I have permission to display such an emblem. If the culture considers prohibition to be the default state — not as an unfortunate practical necessity to maintain the standards of taste and uniqueness, but as a good thing in itself, a matter of “honor” forsooth! — then that third claim is the one that counts, and to make it falsely is not a mere technical infraction but an affront to decency.

The College of Arms also registers names, on similar principles: a registered name needs to be grammatical (in some language), not too similar to another registered name or that of any prominent historical figure, not a claim of supernatural origin or powers, and like that. I would ask, if the discussion were still open, whether use of an unregistered name is equally dishonorable.

heraldic heresy

I happened to see a “demo” in a park by a branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism. (A “demo” is a small event designed to get public attention, as opposed to one where everyone present is expected to dress and behave cod-medievally.) I stopped to say hi, and mentioned that twenty years ago I was active as a book-herald: designing coats-of-arms and checking them for sufficient difference from others previously registered. This datum was received with excitement, as the local shire has no book-herald; so I indicated that, although I have no desire at all to play the SCA game, I’d happily make available such expertise as I have.

I joined the shire’s mailing-list as well as that of the kingdom heralds, and within a month caused an uproar. Warning: unexplained SCA heraldic jargon ahead. Continue reading

in memory

Dan Alderson once made a map of nearby stars by mounting little colored spheres on threads strung between holes in two sheets of heavy clear plastic.

It occurs to me that, taking the stars in pairs, he could use half as many threads; each would be oblique and therefore longer, but none would be twice as long as the straight threads.

Such a design would be error-prone in execution, and thread is cheap. But I think Dan would chuckle at the suggestion.


Anita Rowland, a blogger who linked to this humble effort several times in its more energetic first year, died of cancer in December.

(If I were still in the habit of reading blogs, I might have known that before now.)

saw me coming

Friday I happened to pass a bookstore (believe it or not!) and found A Gateway to Sindarin by David Salo. It’s a few years old now; I wonder how I missed it.

After overviews of the history and writing systems, there’s a list of 248 sound-shifts from proto-Elvish to Common Eldarin to Lindarin (Telerin) to Old Sindarin to Middle Sindarin to Classical Sindarin to the Third Age and various dialects. Wow. The accedence paradigms are surprisingly complete, though Salo remarks that no second-person verb endings are attested (he used a reasonable analogy to invent them).

Criticisms: Breaking up the word list into common words and three lists of proper nouns (echoing the index to LotR) is a strange choice. I would like to see some discussion of Salo’s methodology.

— My handle on Wikipedia and a few other places is Tamfang, intended to mean copper beard. The first root is attested only (so far as I know) in an early version of The Chaining of Melko. The canonical words for copper (according to Salo) are urun (metal) and rust (color), but these don’t appeal to me; so I postulate that a form related to tambe survived in some language east of the Misty Mountains.