By Teleporting Goat

2019-02-06 14:48:58 8 Comments

"To draw" originally meant "to drag, pull", and it's pretty easy to make sense of the many meanings of the verb with that in mind.

Draw a sword, draw a card, draw water from a well, draw breath, a drawer, withdraw, ...

Even for the most farfetched ones, I can see the figurative stretch. But not for the main meaning of the verb.

What does "to produce artwork" have to do with pulling or dragging?

btw I'm not sure if I cann technically call it a semantic shift if the original meaning is still in use.


@KarlG 2019-02-06 16:23:10

Emerging ca. 1200, draw in the graphic sense comes from drawing some implement or material — pen, pencil, chalk, etc. — across an appropriate surface:

Draw thanne by thi rewle a lyne fro the hed of aries to the hed of libra.— Equatorie of the Planets, Ms. Cambridge, Peterhouse 75, ca. 1392.

(A rough translation into modern English, from the comments: "Draw then using your ruler a line from the head of Aries to the head of Libra.")

@p.s.w.g 2019-02-06 23:33:29

For those of us who don't read Middle English, could you provide a translation?

@jkf 2019-02-06 23:49:20

@p.s.w.g "Draw then by the rule a line from the head of Aries to the head of Libra"? IANGC (i am not geoff chaucer), but that's my guess.

@mcalex 2019-02-07 05:06:02

@jkf possibly 'your' rule

@Rowan Ingram 2019-02-07 10:39:35

"thi" is aalmost certanly "Thy". Texts like this are written as an instruction to a student, so the familiar form of the 2nd person pronoun would be used. "Draw then, by your rule(r?), a line from the head of Aries to the head of Libra."

@Teleporting Goat 2019-02-07 10:46:43

I think that's the reason, but what''s weird to me is that the object shifts completely. You "draw a picture", "draw a pattern", you don't draw a pencil or chalk. When you draw blood, breath or conclusions, the object is still what you "pull", but for a picture it's not.

@KarlG 2019-02-07 10:57:15

@TeleportingGoat: That which is drawn, line, drawing, design, etc. is still the direct object; the ink, pencil, or chalk is the means. But you can still say, He drew the pencil rapidly across the paper.

@jkf 2019-02-07 16:29:33

@mcalex Agreed!

@Mason Wheeler 2019-02-07 16:50:29

@p.s.w.g It's not particularly difficult in this example; just read it out loud, phonetically, and you're 90% of the way there.

@KarlG 2019-02-08 11:28:40

@MasonWheeler: Which is why I didn't bother to transcribe into modern orthography.

@enharmonic 2019-02-06 18:00:15

There is not really a significant semantic shift, given that to produce a "drawing" one must still drag/pull the pen/pencil/chalk across a surface. The real issue is the appropriating of physical metaphors[1] for digital artifacts (window/file/folder/drawing)[2]. This also occurs when referring to digital representations as their physical counterpart (such as when a user might say they are "viewing the drawings of DaVinci" online, when they are, in fact, viewing digital representations of photos of the drawings). This has led to any type of visual representation in digital form to be referred to as if it were the original, physical thing itself, such as when a program that produces a visual output consisting of lines is referred to as a "drawing". This is not specific to "draw", but occurs across a wide range of terms.[3]

[1]: see chapter 2.2

[2]: see chapter 1.2

[3]: see the lists of terms

@Florrie 2019-02-06 19:05:44

I feel your argument is sort of similar to the "C'est n'est pas une pipe" idea; that is, the photo of a drawing created by DaVinci (or rather the digital representation of that photo) is not, in fact, the original drawing, but it does convey the drawing. You wouldn't point at the arrangement of pixels on the screen and claim you possessed the original artwork; but it would nonetheless "be" the art that DaVinci created. Although, in any such case, this topic is not really related to the question at hand; this is a separate, interesting discussion, but not what the asker was asking about.

@enharmonic 2019-02-06 19:19:27

@Florrie yes, I did have the "C'est n'est pas une pipe" idea in mind, but not for the purpose of philosophy as such, but for the purpose of showing how the term "drawing" is used in contexts where no dragging or pulling has taken place in reality (which begs the OP's question of how that term has come to mean "produce artwork"). Historically, the only way to produce a drawing was by pulling/dragging, but with computers, artworks can be produced without any true "drawing" (pulling/dragging) taking place, yet they are still referred to as "drawings" because of the referred/referent blurring.

@Teleporting Goat 2019-02-07 10:47:58

To me there is a shift on the object. You draw a picture, not a pencil. See my comment on KarlG's answer.

@Teleporting Goat 2019-02-07 10:49:00

And I really don't think there's an issue when it gets digital, physical metaphors for digital things or action are very, very common.

@Aaron 2019-02-07 17:02:45

@enharmonic wrote "Historically, the only way to produce a drawing was by pulling/dragging" Actually, if I recall, before the removable-type printing press was used, people would carve an entire page into a block and have a stamp that represented that page. This allowed rapid printing long ago, but since it was detailed and very time consuming work in a time when many people did not benefit from books, it was only done for very important texts which needed to be mass produced, such as religious or classics. These did include pictures, though they were probably not called drawings.

@alephzero 2019-02-07 18:11:19

@Aaron they were called "engravings" which comes direct from the Greek "to draw a picture" (as does "graphic"). But the Greek verb "to drag or trail something" is a completely different word.

@Lambie 2019-02-07 19:55:12

Ceci n'est pas une pipe. Yes, a representation of something is not the thing in itself. A signifier is not a referent, semiologically speaking.

@Aaron 2019-02-07 21:29:16

@alephzero Thank you for that. I would edit my previous comment if I could based on your assertion that engravings were considered drawings (perhaps because the cutting tool was drawn), though unfortunately I cannot now. The rest of my comment still stands though, as it relates to enharmonic's claim about historical pictures.

@enharmonic 2019-02-09 18:40:46

@teleporting-goat I agree with you; if the OP had framed his question that way, I would have answered differently.

@Barmar 2019-02-11 19:28:20

There's nothing particularly special about appropriating it for the digital medium. It's little different from the desktop, window, or trashcan metaphors. Or dialing a push-button phone.

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