Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Learning | Trebuchets

Guys in armor ready to launch a soccer/foot ball with a trebuchet in Orléans, France. Photo from Charles Hutchins' photostream on Some rights reserved.
One of the great benefits of reading extensively is the chance to encounter new words, and new contexts for words we have already heard.  For example, take the word "trebuchet." I think the only use I remember seeing for the word is as the name of a font. In fact, it is this font. Our standard font for this blog is called "Trebuchet." Our blogging team chose it because it looks clean and it's easy to read. I wondered about the origin of the name, but never really pursued the matter. 

Then I happened upon the term during an exciting chapter in Jeff Hirsch's Magisterium.  

I should back up and tell you about this book, which is a science fiction story that takes place in the twenty-second century.  A customer told me he thought I would like the book, so I checked it out. I was immediately drawn to the main character, sixteen year old genius  Glennora ("Glenn") Morgan.  Her mother left when she was six. She leads a lonely existence with a father who tinkers obsessively on a project in his workshop. Her main sources of comfort come from her studies (she does extremely well in school, and dreams of traveling to a distant planet,) her devoted cat, and her best friend Kevin. But Kevin's been acting different lately; he seems to think that the authorities are lying to the public about what's on the other side of the Rift, a forest border that protects them from a wasteland. 

I don't want to give too much of the story away, but Glenn and Kevin must flee across the Rift. They are pursued; at one point, the enemy sets up a framework with a thing that looks similar to a catapult--which turns out to be a trebuchet. 
So, I won't spoil the story, but I will tell you that reading the book only made me want to read more books by Jeff Hirsch. I hope Magisterium turns out to be part of a series.

I told my son I had just learned the meaning of "trebuchet." He was quite surprised that I didn't know it was an ancient weapon. If it had been short enough to be a Scrabble word, I might have looked it up sooner. If only I had bothered to ask him, he could have told me. 

I don't yet understand why this font is called Trebuchet. I don't see a visual resemblance to the weapon.  Maybe the inventor of the font just liked the name, or liked ancient weapons. Or maybe it is named after a person with the surname Trebuchet.  If I find out, I'll let you know.

If you would like to learn more about trebuchets and catapults than I could possibly tell you, you might like to read William Gurstelle's The art of the catapult : build Greek ballistae, Roman onagers, English trebuchets, and more ancient artillery.

Hmm..."onagers?" Those are weapons? I thought they were animals in the horse family....

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