A student just came to my office and asked about the history of the word “gentleman” – did I have a good definition?

I assumed that he had looked up the word in a number of dictionaries (I checked, he said he had). I recalled reading something about the history of the word recently. It was by C.S. Lewis, but I could not remember where I’d seen it. I have a number of C.S. Lewis books on my shelf,

cs lewis bookshelf

and I quickly began to scan through them trying to recall where I’d read it. I wasted about 5 minutes on this before doing what I should have done to start with and google “C.S. Lewis + gentleman”. There it was: top of the heap.

The blogger gave the source as “Mere Christianity”.

The Complete C.S. Lewis

Complete C.S. Lewis

Well that book is on my shelf. And for an academic, merely quoting the book is insufficient. I want to know which line of which page it’s on. I want to find that section in my own copy of “Mere Christianity”.

So I started scanning through my own copy of “Mere Christianity”. This is not a short book. In fact, it’s a collection of talks, 4 series of 10 talks each, collected into 4 books with each talk being one chapter. Couldn’t find it anywhere. By now, this was really bugging me: where the heck is this passage from? Might the blogger be mistaken? Might it be from another book, and not from “Mere Christianity” at all?

There are people like this: they just can’t rest until they have nailed that quotation or passage: the line, the page, the book, the year published, etc. For academics, it’s a valuable tendency, but it can be expensive time-wise.

Fortunately, there’s the Internet and Google. I could have saved myself 30 minutes of fruitless thumbing through a book if I’d just clicked on the second link in my search results. This is to a website which hosts the entire text of “Mere Christianity” online. Type “gentleman” into the “search in this page” box and bingo! The passage I’m looking for is right there in the preface (no wonder I didn’t find it). Total time taken, barely a minute.

1:30. You do the math.