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Sherd or Shard?

August 15, 2012 by Lucy Greenwood   Comments (0)

Lucy Greenwood 9/08/2012

Microsoft office puts a red squiggly line under the word sherd but not under the word potsherd. Now, I have heard many people including Archaeologists call bits of broken ceramics pot shards. It was only last week however, I used this term and was hastily corrected and informed that they were not shards they were indeed sherds.

So what is it sherd or shard and does this apply to both glass and pottery? Surely they are shards of glass? So, I take a break from writing coded numbers on the many ceramic pieces (of which I am sure there are more than 1000 so far) and look to the Oxford English dictionary to solve this dilemma.

 

Definition of Sherd-n also Shard-n :  A fragment of broken earthenware. spec. in Archaeol., a piece of broken pottery. Phrase: to break, etc. into sherds : to reduce to fragments, break beyond repair.

 

Simply put, if you break a plant pot tomorrow you will have to clean up all the broken shards of pot. Come and dig up broken pots on an archaeological excavation and these then become potsherds.

 

It would appear that no straight forward answer can be given for the reason why Archaeologists use the term potsherd, derived from the old English “Crocsceard” to describe broken bits of pot. My personal thought is that it has become a perpetually used typo originating from the days of the antiquarians. Indeed, looking at NGram,

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=sherd&year_start=1700&year_end=2000&corpus=0&smoothing=0

the word has been creaping into literature since around 1790 and with an explosion in the use of the word from the 1920s until the present day.

I would love to hear if anyone has any further information on this subject as I fear I may have only scratched the surface of this particular quandary.