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Lincoln Usage

May 2024
1min read

Douglas L. Wilson’s “A Most Abandoned Hypocrite” (February/March) includes a document that may have been written by Abraham Lincoln. When I read the word plat in a certain passage from the document I was carried back in time to my childhood in the 1930s.

Back then, I and all my EnglishScots-Irish relatives and neighbors used the word plat (pronounced as it is spelled) to mean “plait” or “braid” to talk about something we did to our hair to keep it smooth and tidy, or to strips of rags, vines, or leather to make rugs, mats, animal halters, and other items to be used around the house or farm. Later I became aware that plat was never used by my teachers or in the books and magazines that I read to mean “braid” or “plait,” so I forsook plat for “braid,” although I continued to use it in reference to land drawings.

Recalling that usage, I consulted several dictionaries. They give under their first entries for plat the meaning as “plait” or “braid.” (To be sure, their other entries give survey-related meanings.)

Wilson assumes the document’s author, in using the word plat , had in mind a survey-related meaning. However, I believe that the meaning of braid or plait strengthens Wilson’s case for Lincoln’s authorship of this document. The pertinent passage runs: "[Cartwright] must have two sets of opinions, … and to plat them together smoothly presents a task to which his feverish brain is incompetent,”

The author considers the imagery of platting to be “unusual.” But if the braiding or plaiting meaning of plat is assumed, the imagery would not be at all unusual to the general population of that time. Moreover, the idea of braiding two sets of opinions together smoothly makes more practical sense and is more readily understood than the author’s simile of reconciling disparate plats of land. Lastly, bearing in mind that at the time of the document’s publication Lincoln was known to have a surveyor’s knowledge, not interpreting plat as a survey-related term is more consistent with the author’s premise that Lincoln wrote this document under a name not his own expressly to hide his identity.

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