origin: middle english

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.

Pet peeve: Shakespeare's writings are not "Old English."

This is Shakespeare.

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended—
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend.
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearnèd luck
Now to ’scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long.
Else the Puck a liar call.
So good night unto you all.
Give me your hands if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

This is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Now wyl I of hor seruise say yow no more,
For veh wyȝe may wel wit no wont þat þer were;
An oþer noyse ful newe neȝed biliue,
Þat þe lude myȝt haf leue lif-lode to cach.
For vneþe watȝ þe noyce not a whyle sesed,
& þe fyrst cource in þe court kyndely serued,
Þer hales in at þe halle dor an aghlich mayster,
On þe most on þe molde on mesure hyghe;
Fro þe swyre to þe swange so sware & so þik,
& his lyndes & his lymes so longe & so grete,
Half etayn in erde I hope þat he were.
Bot mon most I algate mynn hym to bene,
& þat þe myriest in his muckel þat myȝt ride;
For of bak & of brest al were his bodi sturne,
Bot his wombe & his wast were worthily smale,
& alle his fetures folȝande, in forme þat he hade,
        ful clene;
    For wonder of his hwe men hade,
    Set in his semblaunt sene;
    He ferde as freke were fade,
    & ouer-al enker grene.

This is Beowulf.

Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum,
þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,

monegum mægþum, meodosetla ofteah,
egsode eorlas. Syððan ærest wearð
feasceaft funden, he þæs frofre gebad,
weox under wolcnum, weorðmyndum þah,
oðþæt him æghwylc þara ymbsittendra

ofer hronrade hyran scolde,
gomban gyldan. þæt wæs god cyning!
Ðæm eafera wæs æfter cenned,
geong in geardum, þone god sende
folce to frofre; fyrenðearfe ongeat

þe hie ær drugon aldorlease
lange hwile. Him þæs liffrea,
wuldres wealdend, woroldare forgeaf;
Beowulf wæs breme (blæd wide sprang),
Scyldes eafera Scedelandum in.

Only one of these is Old English, and it is the one you can’t read at all. I have read Beowulf, but only in a translation. The other two are Middle English (mostly doable in its original form, if you have good sidenotes or a dictionary), and early modern English (a difficult turn of phrase, but otherwise entirely readable). And let me tell you, after having been staring at Middle English poetry for the past half hour, Shakespeare is dead easy in comparison. Don’t take medieval literature classes, they’ll kill your brain.

And now you have learned a thing! Please stop calling Shakespeare “Old English.”

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

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. 

Okay. I’m officially sick of hearing this done wrong, so all of you pipe down and listen.

‘Thee’ is an archaic form of ‘you’, as you probably know. However, it’s an informal form of address, used only for a singular audience—usually close friends or family. 'You’ is used for either multiple listeners or a less familiar setting than 'thee’.

'Ye’ is the subjective/nominative form of 'you’, just like 'I’ is to 'me’. If the person you’re addressing is the person performing the action, use 'ye’, such as 'ye eat’. (This has nothing to do with 'ye olde ___’, which is a result of the letter y replacing th in writing; therefore, 'the old’.)

The difference between thy/thine and my/mine is essentially the difference between a/an. If the word following begins with a consonant, thy or my is used; if it begins with a vowel, use thine or mine. Thy cat, thine ankle.

-eth endings are used for the third person singular only, such as ‘he maketh’. -est endings are used only with thou/thee, such as ‘thou makest.’



look here it is


If he hem stowned vpon fyrst, stiller were þanne

If he had astounded them before, yet stiller were then

Alle þe hered-men in halle, þe hyȝ & þe loȝe;

All the men in the hall, the high and the low.

Þe renk on his rounce hym ruched in his sadel,

The man on his steed swivelled in his saddle,

& runischly his rede yȝen he reled aboute,

and weirdly rolled his red eyes about,

Bende his bresed broȝeȝ, blycande grene,

arched his bristled brows, gleaming green,

Wayued his berde for to wayte quo-so wolde ryse.

waved his beard, waiting for whomever would rise.

When non wolde kepe hym with carp he coȝed ful hyȝe,

When no man would answer him he coughed very loudly,

Ande rimed hym ful richley, & ryȝt hym to speke:

And stretched himself slowly, and started to speak.

“What, is þis Arþures hous,” quod þe haþel þenne,

“What, is this Arthur’s house,” quoth the man then,

“Þat al þe rous rennes of, þurȝ ryalmes so mony?

“That all the talk tattles of through realms so many?

Where is now your sourquydrye & your conquestes,

Where is now your pride and your conquests,

Your gryndellayk, & your greme, & your grete wordes?

Your hot bragging, and your boasts, and your great words?

Now is þe reuel & þe renoun of þe Rounde Table

Now is the revel and the renown of the Round Table

Ouer-walt wyth a worde of on wyȝes speche;

Overturned with a word of one man’s tongue,

For al dares for drede, withoute dynt schewed!”

For all dither in dread with not a blow dealt!”

Wyth þis he laȝes so loude, þat þe lorde greued;

With this he laughed so loud, that the king [was] grieved,

Þe blod schot for scham into his schyre face

The blood shot for shame into his flushed face,

& lere;

and churned;

He wex as wroth as wynde,

He waxed as wroth as wind,

So did alle þat þer were

So did all that were there.

Þe kyng as kene bi kynde,

The king, as became his pride,

Þen stod þat stif mon nere.

Then advanced on that man.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, c. 1380s, stanza 14.



(that is the dropped 3 thing)

(and obviously the thorn þ is th, but you already know that right?)

So the yogh is theoretically ‘gh’, which is a guttural sort of gh. Eg, in the seventh line, the green knight 'coghed’ - coughed.

But sometimes it is a w, because when wynn became redundant people generously handed its portfolio over to yogh. And sometimes it is a z because it looks a bit like one and it’s prettier and middle english scribes liked it. And sometimes it is a consonantal y for maybe the same reason? So, “broȝeȝ” = browes (brows),  "þe hyȝ & þe loȝe" could be transcribed either as “the hygh and the lowe” or “the hyye and the lowe” because both pronunciations of “high” were current, and “yȝen”, “eyes”, is “yyen”, that is, the first y is a vowel and the second a consonant. And often it’s a z/s on the ends of words just to help things along.

Now I hope tumblr doesn’t kill my columns but it probably will.

ETA: well, it ate them, but it maintained the distinction between italics and roman, so I’ll just bold the middle english to make it clearer.

The Names of the Hare
Ripped by Axemurderess
The Names of the Hare

Andrew Scott reads: The Names of the Hare by anonymous

The man the hare has met
will never be the better of it
except he lay down on the land
what he carries in his hand—
be it staff or be it bow—
and bless him with his elbow
and come out with this litany
with devotion and sincerity
to speak the praises of the hare.
Then the man will better fare.

But the Fox sprang from him lightly, for he was lighter to foot than he. The Wolf sprang after, and hunted the Fox sore. Their friends stood without the lists and looked upon them. The Wolf strode wider than Reynart did, and oft overtook him, and lift up his foot and weened to have smitten him. But the Fox saw to, and smote him with his rough tail, which he had all bepissed, in his visage. Tho weened the Wolf to have ben plat blind; the piss started in his eyen. Then must he rest, for to make clean his eyen. Reynart thought on his fordele, and stood above the wind scraping and casting with his feet the dust, that it flew the Wolf’s eyenful. The Wolf was sore blinded therewith, in such wise that he must leave the running after him, for the sand and piss cleaved under his eyen, that it smarted so sore that he must rub and wash it away.
—  William Caxton’s 1481 translation of Reynard the Fox, chapter 39 - the fight between Isengrim the Wolf and Reynard, in which Reynard proves that he knows how to fight dirty.
Of þe erth and of þe cley we haue owr propagacyon.
By þe prouydens of Gode þus be we deryvatt,
To whos mercy I recomende þis holl congrygacyon:
I hope onto hys blysse ye be all predestynatt.
Euery man for hys degre I tust xall be partycypatt.

We are made from earth and clay by God’s providence thus we are created to whose mercy I recommend the whole world.  I hope that I will be admitted into his heaven and that every man shall receive what he deserves accordingly.

(Mankind is an English medieval morality play, written c.1470. The play is a moral allegory about Mankind, a representative of the human race, and follows his fall into sin and his repentance. Its author is unknown.)