18 September 2018

More on Woodman and Woodsman

My examination of the shifting prevalence of “woodman” and “woodsman” and what that implies for how people speak of L. Frank Baum’s character the Tin Woodman brought this comment:

You don't seem to address the difference in the two professions, Woodman vs. Woodsman, though I'm not sure how well you could specify that in the search. But the word usage rates are clearly dependent on such, IMHO.

A woodman chopped and/or delivered firewood (like the Iceman or Milkman or Postman. A "Woodsman" is a forest ranger, naturalist, etc., that specializes in knowing about "the woods" and the failure to realize this difference in professions is what galls some of us - not the slight change to the spelling. Nick Chopper is a lumberjack not a forest ranger.
When did such a distinction arise, and how established is it?

Dr. Samuel Johnson’s 1755 dictionary didn’t include the word “woodsman” at all. And his definition for “woodman,” with citations from his beloved Shakespeare, said nothing about chopping or delivering wood.
Instead, for Johnson a “woodman” was someone who hunted for sport in the woods.

Let’s jump ahead to Noah Webster’s dictionary in 1828. Once again, there was no entry for “woodsman.” And according to Webster, a “woodman” was:
1. A forest officer, appointed to take care of the kings wood.
2. A sportsman; a hunter.
It would be good to check an American dictionary from the 1860s when Baum was a boy, because that would be the best reflection of usage when he was learning the language. But I couldn’t find one on the web.

So let’s jump again to the 1903 edition of Chambers’s Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language, published close to the time of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, albeit in Britain. It included a subentry for the word “woodsman”—but defined that word simply as a synonym for “woodman.” As for “woodman,” for the first time we see the word defined as Baum used it—but alongside the older definitions: “a man who cuts down trees : a forest officer : a huntsman.”

Finally, the 1913 edition of Webster’s had separate but overlapping entries for the two words. A “woodsman” was “A woodman; especially, one who lives in the forest.” A “woodman” had a more detailed definition, including all of the earlier meanings plus a new one:
1. A forest officer appointed to take care of the king's woods; a forester. [Eng.]
2. A sportsman; a hunter.
3. One who cuts down trees; a woodcutter.
4. One who dwells in the woods or forest; a bushman.
Today’s Merriam-Webster website shows how the popularity of the two terms has flipped: the entry for “woodman” points to “woodsman.” As for the definition of the latter term, the site says: “a person who frequents or works in the woods / especially one skilled in woodcraft.”

The Oxford Dictionaries site likewise has overlapping definitions. Woodman: “A person working in woodland, especially a forester or woodcutter.” Woodsman: “A person living or working in woodland, especially a forester, hunter, or woodcutter.”

The Collins Dictionary site offers the added complication of different entries for American and British usage, but the definitions still overlap. Woodman:
1. a person who looks after and fells trees used for timber
2. another word for woodsman
3. obsolete: a hunter who is knowledgeable about woods and the animals living in them
1. a person who lives or works in the woods, as a hunter, woodcutter, etc.
2. a person at home in the woods or skilled in woodcraft
Thus, there never appears to have been a widespread understanding that the two words have distinct and different meanings, with “woodman” meaning a woodchopper and “woodsman” meaning a forester. What’s more, the way Baum used the word—to mean someone who made his living chopping down trees—came late to the standard dictionaries of English.