Saturday, May 15, 2010

An Ordinance About Ordnance


Ron asked about the connection between ordnance and ordinance. Ordnance refers to military materials, stores, or supplies. It might include implements of war such as ammunition, large artillery pieces, missiles, bombs, etc. There was a Latin phrase, ordinantia ad bellum, which may be translated as “things lined up for war.” That, in turn, was based on a Latin verb meaning “to arrange.”

It is significant that the word ordinance also came from the same Latin verb. Ordnance was originally spelled that way, but when it took on the specialized military meaning, the spelling changed as a way to distinguish it.

According to the OED, ordinance now means a public injunction or rule of narrower scope, less permanent nature, or less constitutional character than a law or statute. In the United States, it is usually narrowed to an enactment of a municipal or other local body.

It is instructive to show the gradations of meaning for ordinance as they developed through the centuries.

  • 1180: decision made by a superior
  • 1260: ruling made by person or people with appropriate authority
  • 1263: ceremonial event
  • 1269: arrangement in a certain order
  • 1280: provisions
  • 1330: legislative decree issued directly without parliamentary vote
  • 1340: something ordained by God
  • 1377: machinery, engine
  • 1384: direction, control, management
  • 1385: battle order
  • 1386: appointment to a church office
  • 1390: arrangement in regular sequence
  • 1400: a religious or ceremonial observance, such as the sacraments
  • 1400: an authoritative instruction as to how to proceed or act
  • 1425: methodical arrangement of artistic or literary material according to a plan
  • 1465: large body of troops
  • 1475: material goods, such as furniture
  • 1490: cavalry company
  • 1510: decision of a judge
  • 1548: arrangement of elements of a building in relation to each other
  • 1558: medical prescription
  • 1616: political rank or order
  • 1621: sketch for a picture; arrangement of elements in a painting
  • 1642: a law of secondary power
  • 1676: number and disposition of columns in architecture

SIDEBAR: U.S. Army Ordnance Corps


Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition


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