OR COMPASS? - WHICH IS CORRECT?
V. Wor. Bro. I.J. Nathan G.L.
is a question that has concerned a number of members but a simple answer
cannot be given. There has been a suggestion made that the plural form came
into common use when the mariners compass was invented.
The word compas has been recorded as having been used in the 14th
century. Three examples are:
1340 "craftily casten with a compas"; 1387 "made the first compas"; and in
1391 by Chaucer who wrote of the "poynt of my compas".
In 1551 this sentence was recorded "haue a payre of compasse aptelye made
for to draw the circles." In 1570 a mathematical text had "geometrie
teacheth the vse of the Rule and cumpasse." Swift wrote in 1745 "to fix one
foot of their compass wherever they think fit." As recently as 1845 Emerson
wrote "defined by compass and measuring wand."
Earliest uses of the plural form have been recorded in the 16th century.
In 1555 "we took owre compases and beganne to measure the sea coasts"
and an example from 1594 "how to make with your compasses a perpendicular
line to fall from any point given another right line." Milton wrote in
Paradise Lost in 1667 "in his hand he took the golden compasses to
circumscribe this universe."
mariners compass first appeared in 1515 "Some the anker layde . . . . one
kepte the compass and watched the our glasse." In 1552 this was recorded
"ane skypper can nocht gyde his schip without direction of his compas."
at least four verses of the Old Testament compass appears in its singular
form. Isaiah 44:13 "The
carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth
it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compass . . . . "Other
references are Exodus 27:5, Exodus 38:4 and Proverbs 8:27.
Early masonic rituals do not show any marked preference for either form.
Prichard's Masonry Dissected of 1730 uses the singular four times and the
plural once. Three Distinct Knocks published in 1760 has the plural form
seven times and the singular twice. Jachin and Boaz which appeared in 1762
shows a slight preference for the singular over the plural by five to four.
the United States some jurisdictions use compass and there are also masonic
clubs known as square and compass clubs.
After reading this far it would be a bold reader who would say one or the
other was correct. There is,
however, a criterion of correctness for the modern New Zealand constitution
mason and that is how the word appears in our Book of Constitution and
As it always appears as compasses then as far as our working is
concerned compasses is the correct form.
Published from the proceedings of The Waikato Lodge of Research, No. 445
A.F. & A.M. New Zealand.