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The following passages are from R. A. Lafferty's 1960 short story "Adam Had Three Brothers":

Willy McGilley, the oldest of the Wrecks (they now use Gentile names), has an old baked tablet made of straw and pressed sheep dung that is eight thousand years old and gives the true story of their origin. Adam had three brothers: Etienne, Yancy, and Rreq. Etienne and Yancy were bachelors. Rreq had a small family and all his issue have had small families; until now there are about two hundred of them in all, the most who have ever been in the world at one time. They have never intermarried with the children of Adam except once. And not being of the same recension they are not under the same curse to work for a living.

[. . . .]

They have been separated for many years. The three children were reared by their father under the recension and curse of Adam. One is a professor of mathematics, but I doubt if he can figure odds as rapidly as he could when he was one year old. The middle one is now a grand lady, but she has lost the facility of picking track winners in her dreams and much else that made her charming. And the oldest one is a senator from a state that I despise.

I looked up the word "recension" in the online OED. The most relevant senses seem to be 2a "The revision of a text (esp. a theological text); a particular form or version of a text resulting from such revision" and 2b "In extended use". Indeed, some of the citations under 2b seem similar to the Lafferty quote:

1835 I. Taylor Spiritual Despotism ix. 388 We are the creatures of that recension of Christianity which happens to be current in our times.

1859 I. Taylor Logic in Theol. 331 There is no new recension of the worship of the ancient Church.

1909 Burlington Mag. Nov. 73/1 Dissatisfied with the effect, Cariani in his final recension attempts to concentrate the design by cutting down the canvas on the right.

1952 F. G. Roe Victorian Furnit. xi. 93 The ‘Sutherland Table’, a Victorian recension of the old flap table with pull-out supports.

2004 Times Lit. Suppl. 16 Apr. 20/2 Westwood offers kitsch interpretations of classic British dress, including a range of tartan mini-kilts and several stylish recensions of Miss Marple's thornproof Harris tweeds.

What I'm looking for in an answer is a clear definition or explanation of this extended or figurative sense of "recension", particularly as used by Lafferty.

Here are some examples I found in other works by Lafferty:

"The Six Fingers of Time" (1960):

"Do not forget that according to another recension Another made the People from that same slime."

"Name of the Snake" (1964):

"I can see what this might lead to, little priest," Landmaster told him when they discussed the situation. "It might even become bothersome to us—if we ever let anything bother us—if we had not passed beyond the stage where annoyance was possible. So long as you confined your activity to resident Earthlings and humans of that recension, there was no problem. That being so, I do not see how your present aspirations can have any point of contact with us."

"Mad Man" (1964):

The Programmed Persons were in many respects superior to the Old Recension Humans. They were of better emotional balance, of greater diligence, of wider adaptability, of much vaster memory or accumulation and of readier judgment based on that memory. But there was one thing lacking in the most adept of the Programmed that was often to be found in the meanest of the humans. This was a thing very hard to name.

"The Hole on the Corner" (1967):

Homer had a little trouble with the doorknob. They don't have them in all recensions, you know; and he had that off-the-track feeling tonight. But he figured it out (you don't pull it, you turn it), and opened the door.

"Maybe Jones and the City" (1968):

"By our total recall methods we are able to reconstruct the Seven Sin Cities of History, Jones. They are the folk dreams that have also been raucous facts. The selection is one-sided, being out of the context of the old Western Civilization from which most of us descend. But they were such a hopping bunch of towns that (under the old recension) they had to be destroyed: by blast-from-Heaven, lava-flow, earthquake, sinking-in-the-sea, cow-fire, earthquake again and fire, hurricane and tidal wave. They were too hot to last.

"The Cliff Climbers" (1970):

Little Fish-Head was the last of the horse thieves under the old recension. After him there were eleven thousand years when there were no horse thieves. This corresponded to the period when the horses had disappeared from the continent. As the last of the old horse thieves, he stole the last of the old horses.

"The Story of Little Briar-Rose: A Scholarly Study" (1988):

A second more modern version of the story was written by the Brothers Grimm (Jacob who lived 1785-1863 and Wilhelm who lived 1786-1859). The story was in the "Household Tales" of the Grimms' that appeared between 1812 and 1822. It was named Little Briar-Rose (Dorn-Roschen). Though written more than a hundred years after the Perrault story, Little Briar-Rose is of an earlier recension. Using the technique of diffusion and parallelism, the tireless Brothers Grimm, sometimes employing as many as one hundred oral versions of a story from all Europe and the Near East, were able to reconstruct and to date approximately (so they believed) the original stories. They set the date-of-origin of Little Briar-Rose (its most popular name), or Sleeping Beauty (its second most popular name) as being close to, but not before, the year 1000.

"Anamnesis" (1992):

"But they aren't creatures of Duffey, they're of another recension."

  • Oxford Dictionaries' definition certainly seems odd, although OED has something which might fit. Could you include your own research, please? It would also help to add when the book was written (which I could look up, but if you're going to edit it anyway...) – Andrew Leach Dec 25 '15 at 10:24
  • @AndrewLeach First published in 1960 according to that ISFDB page I linked to. My own "research" was merely looking it up in my Merriam-Webster Collegiate and the online OED. I originally listen 10 examples of "recension" in Lafferty stories; edited 8 of them out because I thought the post was too long and nobody would read it; should I edit them back in again? By the way, Lafferty was a devout Catholic; I mention this in case "recension" has some special Catholic meaning which is missing from the dictionaries. – bof Dec 26 '15 at 0:12
  • OK, I edited it. – bof Dec 26 '15 at 6:42
  • I would guess that the word's being used with a meaning related to ascension, in a genealogical sense. – Hot Licks Dec 31 '15 at 21:34
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    there was some discussion of this topic on the Lafferty FB group, East of Laughter. Follow this link: Recension talk – user154122 Jan 6 '16 at 15:32
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The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (1971 edition) lists several meanings of recension (presented here without the dictionary's included citations):

1. An enumeration, survey, review. Now rare. (Freq. in 17th c. esp. in Evelyn's works.)

b. A review (of a book). rare—1

2. The revision of a text, esp. in a careful or critical manner; a particular form or version of a text resulting from such revision.

b. transf. A revised or distinct form of anything.

Definition 2(b)—which is extremely broad—seems to be the sense in which Lafferty uses the word recension. The OED finds instances of the word used in this sense going back to 1835 and 1859, both by the same author, Isaac Taylor. The earliest cited source, Taylor, Spiritual Despotism (1835) actually uses the term twice:

But there is yet an opinion of the Lutheran Reformation entertained by those who, using themselves to institute impartial comparisons of religious systems, decline either to accept, or to reject, any particular recension of Christianity, in mass ; and especially, who anxiously desire to see Christianity freed from the bonds of every peculiar version, and given to mankind in its primitive energy.

...

Unhappily, at present, the prejudice prevails which prevents its being seen that ancient books perhaps intrinsically undeserving of perusal, may nevertheless claim attention, in a peremptory manner, as the sources and materials of history. Uninformed of the history of Christianity, we are the creatures of that recension of Christianity which happens to be current in our times.

Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) ignores the generalized sense of recension in its entry for the word:

recension n (c. 1828) 1 : a critical revision of a text 2 : a text established by critical revision

But the much larger Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1986) has the following additional relevant definition:

recension n ... 3 : a revised form of something {started a vogue for sophisticated recensions of ancient myths —Paul Pickrel}

From these dictionary treatments and examples, it appears that the generalized sense of recension emerged early in the word's career in English, and that the generalized sense's tie to recension as a term connected to versions and critical revisions of (especially religious) texts remains influential in determining the contexts in which use of the word seems appropriate. Lafferty's use of recension ventures fairly far afield from that connection; but the connection remains visible in some of the instances that the OP presents. Today most writers might be inclined to use a word such as version, iteration, or incarnation in place of recension as used by Lafferty.

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Recension (from Online Etymology Dictionary)

The Etymology points toward a meaning of "enumeration" or "versioning". Just as texts are enumerated by revisions, people are enumerated by generations. Beyond that, I can see the meaning being stretched to encompass a group of the same kind or descent such as a clan or family.

They have never intermarried with the children of Adam except once. And not being of the same family they are not under the same curse to work for a living.

They have been separated for many years. The three children were reared by their father under the clan and curse of Adam.

It was named Little Briar-Rose (Dorn-Roschen). Though written more than a hundred years after the Perrault story, Little Briar-Rose is of an earlier Generation.

For objects it implies the existence of different versions.

2004 Times Lit. Suppl. 16 Apr. 20/2 Westwood offers kitsch interpretations of classic British dress, including a range of tartan mini-kilts and several stylish versions of Miss Marple's thornproof Harris tweeds.

Homer had a little trouble with the doorknob. They don't have them in all variants, you know; and he had that off-the-track feeling tonight. But he figured it out (you don't pull it, you turn it), and opened the door.

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