origin: middle english

  • <p> <b>Me:</b> *buys journal on Amazon*<p/><b>Amazon:</b> look at all these other journals you can buy<p/><b>Me:</b> but this one has 160 pages and i don't know what I'm even planning to do with it.<p/><b>Amazon:</b> But look, this one is a Canterbury journal.<p/><b>Me:</b> Canterbury, like the Canterbury Tale. Like Geoffrey Chaucer? I could be the next Chaucer. I could fill that entire journal with iambic pentameter. Maybe even using Middle English. I could totally do that.<p/><b>Amazon:</b> I don't think you can actually do that. Who even reads Middle English anymore?<p/><b>Me:</b> Shut up Amazon, I have to find a reference book for writing in Middle English. Either help me out or get out of my way.<p/><b>Amazon:</b> Actually, I think I have just the thing to help you with that.<p/></p>

If mayhap looks to you like a relative of its synonym perhaps, you’re right—the words are related. Both ultimately derive from the Middle English noun hap, meaning “chance” or “fortune.” Mayhap was formed by combining the phrase  "(it) may hap" into a single word. Hap in the phrase is a verb essentially meaning “to happen,” and the verb hap comes from the noun hap. Perhaps came about when per (meaning “through the agency of”) was combined directly with the noun hap to form one word. Today, mayhap is a rare word in contrast with the very common maybe and perhaps, but it does show up occasionally.

cool things about the history of english

- In old english the letter thorn (equivalent to modern day theta or eth) was written þ, but over time the way the letter was written changed so by middle english, the sound “th” was written with a Y. So when you see “ye old shoppe” the “ye” is actually pronounced “the”.

- In early modern english there were formal and informal second person pronouns. English has lost the informal “thou/thee”. This phenomenon occurred first in the north american colonies. Interestingly, the portuguese colony brazil lost its informal second person pronoun (tu) as well and only uses the formal você (this might be the case for spanish too but idk).

- What we refer to as irregular verbs in english actually used to be the standard. Only the verbs we use most often have failed to switch to the new system of conjugating verbs in english.

- Because English has had so many influences from other languages it has many synonyms. For most words of germanic origin you can find a latin-derived synonym (kin/family, lucky/fortunate). There is also the well known distinction between anglo-saxon roots of animals (cow, sheep) and the norman french roots of the words for the meat from those animals (beef, mutton). 

“Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages),
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.”

- Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales

So you want to read Middle English lit?

In honour of it soon being the Harrowing of Hell - the greatest episode in Piers Plowman, maybe tied with the dreams within dreams - here is my fun and somewhat irreverent guide to the big names of Medieval English literature. They’re in a subjective order of ascending difficulty when reading in Middle English, but when in translation, it’s similar except Gawain is easier and Piers Plowman is basically just as hard. Onwards, to knights and strange religious dream poems feat. weird Biblical apocrypha.

  • Morte Darthur (/other spellings/Works) by Thomas Malory - More fun than could be expected from a huge book (if you get the bright red complete works edition) written like a five year old tried to spell more modern English. Malory’s prose Arthurian stories have everything you might want from an epic - knights, fights, magic, the chosen one being too good for this world, Gawain recognising Lancelot from how he rides a horse - and some you might not - incest, doomed love affairs, accidentally killing people and starting all-consuming feuds.
  • Various medieval drama - Medieval plays, usually short and part of a cycle that was performed around a city for a special occasion, basically encompass the Bible from creation to the apocalypse. Don’t say they didn’t think big. There are anthologies of some of the best bits and you can find them online too (try the York cycle for a starting point). There’s weird comedy with Lucifer stealing God’s chair and jokes whilst Christ is being nailed to the cross. Really.
  • Geoffrey Chaucer - The big name. I’ve not specified a work first because it depends. Obviously there’s The Canterbury Tales, which true to its name is separate tales told by fictional pilgrims. Some are very dirty (try the Miller’s Tale if that’s your interest). Or read The Wife of Bath’s Prologue because she had a fun life. If you like Greek stuff/the Trojan War/Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, try Troilus and Criseyde, though it is quite long and you will get pissed off at Pandarus. Or if you like a crazy narrative involving retelling part of the Aeneid and also flying on the back of an eagle trying to explain physics to medieval people, go for my personal fave House of Fame.
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by (imaginatively) the Gawain poet - SGGK is a fantastic story told in a cinematic style, but it is also quite tough Middle English so good to read in translation first. Read it for the great descriptions or for the part where Gawain keeps having to kiss the Green Knight as part of a weird deal they made.
  • Piers Plowman by William Langland - On the surface, Piers Plowman doesn’t sound like much fun. A huge medieval dream poem in alliterative verse which features complex theology and dreams within dreams that are less heist-based than Inception. Once you read it, you’ll discover it still isn’t great fun, but it is also is, because it’s incredibly weird and features Christ jousting the devil in Hell.

Lordynges, Ich wold invite ye to celebraat the monthe of Aprille, the ferthe of the yeere, as a feste yn honour of swich tonges that are dede! Usen ye the hasshe tagge #whanthataprilleday to marken swich poostes and sondry tweetes.

Taken ye joye yn Oold Englissche and Middel Englische, or al swich langages wiste as “auncient” or “dede.” Usen ye Latoun or Hebrewe if ye wisshe. Oonly tagge yower poostes whan ye hem hath writen, so that yower felawes mighte hem enjoye!

Listen

This was left in the kitchenette in my office (actually not that unusual). So I posted it because it amused me, @theflashisgone requested a translation, and I thought I might as well also record me reading it, because Middle English is fun. 

Audio above, translation below! Sally forth and make ye your own medieval gingerbread!

Literal transcription, just updating spelling (except where there is no modern equivalent for the word) and annotating:

Take a quart of honey and seethe it[1], and skim it clean; take saffron, powder[ed] pepper, and throw thereon[2]; take grated bread, and make it so chargeaunt[3a] that it will be leched[3b]; then take powder[ed] canelle[4], and strew it thereon enough; then make it square, like as thou wilt leche it; take when thou lechest it, and cast box leaves above, stuck thereon, on cloves. And if thou wouldst have it red, colour it with saunders[5] enough.

[1] sethen, verb: literally ‘seethe’ - ie, bring to the boiling point

[2] ie, ‘throw [them] on/in it’

[3a-b] chargeaunt, adj: usually ‘hard, pressing, burdensome’ - in this case, presumably, literally ‘pressed’; lechen, of food, to cut/slice, and leched or y-leched is the past participle, ie, sliced. Therefore chargeaunt that it wol be y-lechyd = firm enough to be sliced.

[4] canelle, n. Cinnamon. I’m still convinced that, contextually, either this or saffron must mean ginger. Or maybe you’re just meant to assume that you add lots of ginger because it is so obvious.

[5] saundre, n. Technically this means sandalwood or the powder of sandalwood - presumably red sandalwood in this instance - but I believe it could also just mean any food dye.

So! If I wanted to actually translate it:

Take a quart of honey and heat it until it is clear, skimming off any residue. Mix in saffron and ground pepper. Mix with bread crumbs to a texture firm enough to slice, then sprinkle with cinnamon powder.  Press into a tray until it is firm enough to slice. When it’s sliced wrap it in box leaves with cloves inside (presumably you may substitute grease-proof paper for box leaves!). Food dye may be added to reach the appropriate hue.

… and presumably add ginger at some point. And, you know, adjust all the quantities (since they shift a lot over time) just to get ‘a good texture that slices well’. Probably just think of it like making muesli bars: so long as you can press it reasonably firmly into a tray and it holds together when sliced, you can vary the rest of the ingredients to suit.

(It probably doesn’t need to be added that this is a very hoity-toity recipe. How many medieval peasants had access to saffron and sandalwood? Show-offs.)

Miri It Is
Mediæval Bæbes

“These are the knights of summer and winter is coming.”
– Catelyn Tully Stark, A Clash of Kings

Translation of the original Middle English:
Merry it is while summer lasts
With birds’ song;
But now draws near the wind’s blast
And weather strong.
Ei, ei, what, this night is long!
And I with very great wrong
Sorrow and mourn and fast.
Sorrow and mourn and fast.

BOOKS FOR SALE!

So, I am a history student and I have discovered that - at the end of this semester - I have too many books, if there is such a thing. I have to move out of my current accommodation at the end of June and there is only so many I can move into my new room (as it’s significantly smaller). 

War of the Roses books:

The Wars of the Roses by Desmond Seward, Like New, £7.99

The Wars of the Roses: the Key Players in the Struggle for Supremacy by Matthew Lewis, Like New, £8.00

The Wars of the Roses: Peace and Conflict in 15th Century England by John Gillingham, As Good As New, £6.99

The King’s Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort Countess of Richmond and Derby by Michael Jones & Malcolm Underwood, Like New, £25.00

Lady Maragaret Beaufort: Tudor Matriarch by Tudor Times, As Good As New, £3.99

Other History Books:

Mary I: England’s Catholic Queen by John Edwards, As Good As New, £12.00

Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance by Richard W. Unger, Back Pages a bit bent, £9.00

Ale, Beer and, Brewsters in England; Women’s work in a Changing World 1300-1600, Like New, £15.00

The Empress Theodora: Partner of Justinian by James Allan Evans, Like New, £8.99

Theodora: Actress, Empress, Saint by David Potter, Like New, £10.00

The Secret History by Procopius, Like New, £6.99

The Rise of Rome Books 1-5 by Livy, Like New, £6.99

The Ecclesiastical History of the English People by Bede, Like New, £6.99

Middle English Books:

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight trans. by Keith Harrison, As Good As New, £5.99

An Introduction to Middle English by Simon Horobin & Jeremy Smith, As Good As New, £4.80

This sale is UK based only (for now, at any rate) and these prices do not include  postage but that will not add too much onto the overall price.

If you are interested in any of these books please send me a message or an ask and we can go from there! 

Old-Middle-Early Modern English

I have a pet peeve… people calling anything that is not your usual English (aka anything slightly dated), Old English. It won’t do. I even read that Tolkien wrote the Silmarillion in Old English. Just. No. Please.

Shakespeare wrote in Early Modern English. Throwing ‘thou’ ((and affiliates) and random ’-est’ endings does NOT make it right. Even though it’s the right period for these. It’s just weird. 

Here’s a little something for you to see what I’m speaking about: 

Old English – The Wife’s Lament – lines 1-5.

“Ic þis giedd wrece bi me ful geomorre,
minre sylfre sið. Ic þæt secgan mæg,
hwæt ic yrmþa gebad , siþþan ic up weox,
niwes oþþe ealdes , no ma þonne nu. A ic wite wonn minra wræcsiþa.”

I tell this tale about my melancholy self, about my own experience. I who can say I never endured by way of troubles, after I grew up, more than [I do] now, recently or of old. Always I suffered the torment of my paths of exile.

Middle English – The Knightly Tale of Golagros and Gawane – lines 451-455.

“I will noght bow me ane-bak for berne that is borne,
QuhillI may my wit wald.
I think my fredome to hald
As myeldaris of ald
Has done me beforne.”

I will never bow [my back] to any born man, / As long as I wield my own mind/wits, / I intend to keep my freedom / As my elders [forefathers] of old /Have done before me.

Another example of Middle English – 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ – lines 224-227.

“wher is…
Þe gouernour of þis gyng? Gladly I wolde
Se þat segg in syʒt and with hymself speke
Rayson.”

I let you all find out what he said exactly.

Early Modern English – Doctor Faustus (A-text)

“As great as have the human souls of men.
But, tell me, Faustus, shall I have thy soul?
And I will be thy slave, and wait on thee,
And give thee more than thou hast wit to ask.”

The translations are mine. Of course, there is never ONE correct translation - in a group of 10 people, you get 10 different translations.  

Remember: It is better, and safer, to stick to one’s own language. I worked on a story set in fourteenth-century England. Believe me when I say that writing all my dialogues 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ style was not an option. 

So let's get this one straight.

OLD ENGLISH

(also known as Anglo-Saxon) sounds like German. It is the language of Beowulf, Cynewulf, and Alfred; spoken in England until around the 13th century. Both written and spoken forms are impenetrable to a modern reader/hearer without further study. It looks like this:

“Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum, þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon, hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.”

  MIDDLE ENGLISH

sounds like Welsh, and is easier for a modern person to read than to hear. It is the language of Chaucer, who died in 1400. It looks like this:

“Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote the droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,”

  EARLY MODERN ENGLISH

sounds like a broad West-country accent, but is largely understandable in both written and spoken forms (especially with modern pronounciation). It is the language of Shakespeare, who wrote around 1600. It looks like this:

“O for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention!”

FUSTIAN PROSE

is spoken by fantasy characters, and sounds funny interesting. It began to be written in the late 20th century. It looks like this:

“With the bifrost gone, how much dark energy did the All-Father have to muster to conjure you here?”

I just met up with one of my best buddies and he gave me these two gifts ; u; the book is one I saw at an antique shop and wanted really bad but didn’t have the money for, and the little banner he wove by himself! I think I’m gonna use it as part of my future altar ❤