Sunday, 27 December 2009

Speak like a Saxon #21: Christmas

'Merry Christmas!' - gesælige cristesmæsse! ["ye-sail-ee-yuh krist-es-mas-uh"]

What to do at Christmas time? Rejoice and be merry like the Anglo-Saxons! God Almighty sought out this world and dwelt among us. Like Christians today, the Anglo-Saxon Christians celebrated the incarnation of God at this time in the deep midwinter, remembering God's immeasurable mercy and salvation. As one Anglo-Saxon writer (in a tenth-century sermon) said: 'In these days the king of all kings and the ruler of all rulers came to this world from heaven out of love for us". God made man, who in turn was to die and be raised again to everlasting life was as much cause for celebration then as it was now.

'Let's rejoice and be merry' - Utan we blissian and gefeon ["oot-an wey bliss-ee-an and ye-fey-on"]

'Then Mary gave birth to her son, wrapped him in swaddling bands and laid him in a manger' - þa cende Maria hio sunu, and hio mid claðum hine bewand and on binne* alegde ["thaa ken-duh Mar-ee-a hee-o sun-oo and hee-o mid claa-thum hee-nuh be-wand and on bin-nuh a-ley-duh"] (This is from Vercelli Homily 5)

'Glory to God in the highest!' - Wuldor sie Gode on heannesse ["wul-dor see-yuh Go-duh on hey-aa-ness-uh"]

* Yes, that's right. Bin.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Speak like a Saxon #20: pets

What will you choose as your four-legged, furry friend? Will it be the old faithful hound or the kitty (like one Old Irish scholar who loved his cat so much the puss featured in a poem)? A goat? A sheep? A minipig?*

'There's not much meat on that' - þæt hæfð lytel æte ["that haf-th loot-el ate-uh"]

'This is my house-chicken' - þeos is mine hamhenn ["they-oss iss meen-uh haam-hen"]

'Come here, Athelstan!' - Cum her Aðelstan! ["Cum hair Ath-el-stan"]

'Heel!' - Hela! ["hey-la"]

'No Ethel, you take the dog for a walk' -Ne Eðel, nimst þu docgan to gaenne ["Ney eth-el, nim-st thoo dog-an toe gaa-en-uh"]


Thursday, 3 December 2009

Speak like a Saxon #19: in the office

I paraphrase an unknown tenth-century Anglo Saxon sermon-writer here: laziness leads to disease; hard work to salvation*... something to bear in mind while you're sitting at your desk 'working' away and eyeing up the biscuit tin for longer than is really necessary. Assuming you are working, though, you'll be needing some Old English phrases to describe your day. Some geniuses put together an Old English computer glossary a while ago, and we're all hugely indebted to them ( .

'My computer has crashed. I can't do anything' - Min searowundor forbrecede. Ic mæg nanwuht wyrcan. ["Min sey-arr-o-wun-dor for-breck-e-duh. Itch may nan-wucht woor-kan"]

'Where has the internet gone??!' - Hwær cwom eormengrundwebb??! ["H-warr kwom ey-or-men-grund-webb"]

'We have a virus' - We habban wælwyrm ["wey hab-ban whale-woorm"] (this technically means a 'slaughter-worm'!)

'Hail the webmaster/webmistress' - Wes þu webba/webbestre hal ["wess thoo web-ba/web-es-tre haal"]

* written in Vercelli Homily VII. NB this doesn't, of course, take into account salvation by faith (see Romans 3:21-31)

Speak like a Saxon #18: wearing all your clothes at once

Grendel was miserable when he had to traipse, outcast, through the cold, rimy, dingy fens, and so would you be too. Appropriate clothing is the key. Grendel and his mother hadn't heard of dressing for the weather, but you can keep out the chilly blasts with lots of nice furs and woollen stockings.

'This cap is made from hare'- þeos cæppe is gearwod of haran ["they-oss cap-uh iss ye-aar-wod off haa-rran"]

'I fear no hailstones' - Ic þracie nan hagolstanas ["Itch thratch-ee-uh nan hag-ol-stan-as"]

'My cape is thick' - Mine hacele is þicce ["Min hack-el-uh iss thick-uh"]

'My tunic is not short' - Min cyrtel nis lytel ["Min cur-tell niss loot-el"]

Sadly, there was no gortex footwear back in the day....

'Oh! there is snow in my shoe!' - Eala! Ic hæbbe snaw in mine calce! ["Ey-al-a! Itch habb-uh snaw in meen-uh kal-kuh"]

Angelcynn has an interesting article on Anglo-Saxon clothing here:

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Speak like a Saxon #17: less than a month until Christmas

It’s less than a month until Christmas. Are you ready?

Have you got everything planned? What about a Christmas tree? A recent report proved that real trees are more environmentally friendly than the plastic ones.* Which is lucky really, since the Anglo-Saxons didn’t have plastic. They didn’t have Christmas trees either, for that matter, since the Tannenbaum was a Victorian fad stolen from Germany. But, details aside....

‘We have a proper Christmas tree’ – We habban geradlic Cristesmæssetreow [“way hab-ban ye-rad-litch Krist-es-mas-uh-tray-ow”]

‘You have a fake Christmas tree’ – þu hafast leas Cristesmæssetreow [“thoo haf-ast lay-as Krist-es-mas-uh-tray-ow”]

‘Our Christmas tree is environmentally friendly’ – Ure Cristesmæssetreow is middangeardfreondlic [“oo-re Krist-es-mas-uh-tray-ow iss mid-an-yay-ard-fray-ond-lic”]


Monday, 23 November 2009

Speak like a Saxon #16: when you've got to go...

When you've got to go, you've got to go. Whether you're looking for the smallest room in the house; the little girls' room or the ladies, here's what you need:

Gangpytt - ["gang-pu*tt"] (* this is the where you say an "u" sound but make your lips round)

It means quite literally the 'pit where you go'. Nice.

So, if you're looking for the toilet, you might want to ask:

'Where's the place to go?' - Hwær cwom gangpytt? ["hwar kwom gang pu*tt?"]

And once the gangpytt is full, it needs to be cleaned. That's when you call for the:

Gangfeormer! ["gang-fey-or-mer-uh"]

It's not just a toilet cleaner but, a "goings-farmer". To be crude, a s**t shoveller, perhaps. These two words, gangpytt and gangfeormer, are real, bona fide Angl0-Saxon words. I don't think it was until the Normans came along with their courtly sensibilities that we got all prudish and started calling it the 'privy.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Speak like a Saxon #15: The weekend beckons

You've got two whole days off before you have to start working again. That manuscript you've been copying for years can just wait. As can the money-counting for the thegn, the weaving and the hunting. For two days, you're going to have a weekend! But what to do...

'Let's sit and do nothing' - Uton we sittan and nales don ["oot-on way sit-an and naa-less don"]

'Let's eat turnips' - Uton we næpas abrucan ["oot-on way na-pas a-broo-can"]

'Let's sing psalms' - Uton we sealmas singan ["oot-on way say-alm-as sing-an"]

You get the idea. Here are some more words you might like to fill in the gaps with:

Uton we..... gan/gamolian/sacan - 'Let's go/grow old/fight' ["oot-on way gaan/ga-moh-lee-aan/sack-an"]

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Speak like a Saxon #14: The rains came down...

What with all the living in huts without double-glazing and damp-proof-courses, the Anglo-Saxons probably got quite wet quite a lot. But that's no reason to be down. Oh no. When the rains fall and the floods rise, know that they'll go away again sooner or later. Life is cyclical, and so proclaim this line (pilfered straight from the poem The Battle of Maldon) in defiance:

Se flod ut gewat! - 'The flood went away*!!! ["say flohd oooooot ye-waat"]


* well, technically it's translated as 'the flood went out', but that doesn't sound as good.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Saxon Phrase of the Day #8: It's windy

It’s been blowing a gale today: leaves flying everywhere; bits of tree falling off everywhere and poor little birds (and people) getting blown about by the wind. In fact, our word ‘windy’ comes straight from the Anglo-Saxons. Here’s a little ditty translated for the ears of the Old English speakers out there:

‘North-wind doth blow, and we shall have snow, and what will poor robin do then (poor thing)?’

Norðanwind bleow, and we habban snaw, and hwæt þonne do earm fugel (earm þing)?

[“North-an-wind blay-oh, and way hab-ban snaw, and hwat thon-nuh doh* (*as in “dough”) ay-arm foo-gel (ay-arm thing)”]

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Saxon phrase of the day #7: energy

Perhaps the Anglo-Saxons had it easier than we do now. Even if they didn't have solar panels or snazzy wind turbines, at least there were watermills and more wood-burning stoves than you could shake a stick at (or a log, for that matter).

'Our power is green. It comes from the mill' - Ure cræft is grene. Hit cumað of þæm myle ["oor-uh kraft is gray-nuh. Hit kum-ath off tham moo-le"]

Monday, 16 November 2009

Saxon phrase of the day #6: elevenses

It's not quite time to delve into the cauldron of boiling mystery meat that Ethel's cooking for lunch, and breakfast was a long time ago. Your stomach rumbles like the thundering viking hordes. What to do? Biscuits!

'Give me the biscuit' - Gif me þone brædhlaf ["Yif may tho-nuh bred-hlaff"]

'Where is the biscuit tin?' - Hwær cwom brædhlafcæpse? ["Hwar kwom bred-hlaff-cap-suh?"]

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Saxon phrase of the day # 5: birthdays!

It's your friend's birthday today! Assuming some time had passed since the Synod of Whitby (where they argued for hours and hours about how to count days) and you were calculating the calendar the same as your friends across the road, you might know just the right day to wish them a happy birthday, saying something like this:

Gesælig gebyreddæg to þe ["yuh-sail-igh ye-bur-ed-day toe thee"]

(thanks to Ms Hilditch for this one - her 18th birthday I think was the first occasion on which this was used)

Friday, 13 November 2009

Saxon phrase of the day #4: man flu

For as long as there have been men and women, there have been differences between men and women, including differences in how they cope... It's likely that even the Anglo-Saxon woman, thirteen children round her feet, spend a good deal of time mopping the brow of her disease-ridden husband:

'He has man-flu' - He hafað mannadle [hay haf-ath man-ad-luh]

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Speak like a Saxon #13: Illness

The Anglo-Saxon period, like many historical periods until now, was a pretty rubbish time to be ill. For a start, no-one really knew what was wrong with you, and if your local 'doctor' or 'leechman' had to guess, he'd probably say it was elves. To help you get better there'd be some herbs, some communion wafers, a bit of walking in circles, maybe some wool and quite a bit of mumbo jumbo.

Things the doctor might say to you:

'What is it?' - Hwæt? [hwat]

'Have you got water-elf disease?' – bist þu on wæterælfadle? [bisst thoo on wat-ter-elf-ad-luh?] (a real disease, apparently - check out Bald's Leechbook if you don't believe me)

‘Go to a maiden’ - ga to an mædenman [gaa toe ann maid-en-man] (she'd then sing something at you. This was also in the pukka Anglo-Saxon medical book)

‘Sing this many times...’ - Sing þis manegum siþum... [sing thiss man-ay-um see-thum]

Things you might say to the doctor:

'I am injured! stupid vikings!' - Ic hæbbe awierdnese!!Dysige wicingas! [Itch hab-buh a-wee-urd-nes-uh! Doo-siy-uh wee-king-as!]

‘I have a dwarf’ – Ic hæbbe dweorh [Itch hab-buh dway-orch] (also a real disease)

‘I am sick’ – Ic eom seoc(for a man)/seoce (for a woman) [Itch ay-om say-ok(uh)]

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Saxon phrase of the day #3: manners

In five minutes you have to meet the king/your in-laws/the bishop/the French emissary. It's not the moment to try out your new jokes or to be plagued with foot-in-mouth syndrome. This safe phrase will earn you brownie points and can be used in a whole variety of situations:

Wes þu [INSERT NAME HERE] hal - [Wess thoo (INSERT NAME HERE) haal]

It's roughly like drinking a toast to someone and saying "may you be healthy". Very polite, I'm sure.

(N.B. if you're saying it to more than one person, beware: grammar applies! More to follow later...)

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Phrase of the day #2: some wisdom

When terrorists attack (aka vikings) attack and the winter draws in; when the fragile economy crashes and it's all going wrong; remember this:

'This world is going quickly, and the end is nigh!!!!!!. (Panic!)' - ðeos worolde is on ofste & hit nealæcð þam ende ['Thay-oss wor-ol-duh is on off-ste and hit nay-a-lac-ath tham end-uh']

(this is what a famous Anglo-Saxon called Wulfstan wrote to his people in the early eleventh century).

Friday, 6 November 2009

Saxon phrase of the day #1: the price of things

There wasn't time for a whole lesson today, so here's a quick phrase for the intrepid time-traveller.

Have you ever wondered how much things cost in the ninth-century? Well...

'Ox horn is worth ten pennies' - Oxan horn bið tien pæninga weorð [Ox-an horrn bith tee-en pen-ing-a way-orth]

There. Now you know.

(for other interesting facts, check out the Laws of Alfred and Ine:

Monday, 12 October 2009

Speak like a Saxon #12: Existential Angst

Who am I? What on earth am I doing here? Is there a point? What is it? What’s over there? What if I just....? Our Anglo-Saxon ancestors were just as worried about their raison d’être as most graduates today. When someone asks ‘what do you do?’ does your heart sink down below your wool-clad knees into your leathery, festering boots? Here are some phrases that might help the conversation go a little better...

'I sit lamenting' - Ic reotugu sitte (for the ladies) / Ic reotig sitte (for the men) [Itch ray-oh-tuu-gu/ ray-oh-tig sit-tuh]

'I am looking for something' -Ic secce hwæthwugu [Itch sech-uh hwat-hwug-u]

'I can’t think of any reason in the whole world why I shouldn’t be miserable' -Ic geþencean ne mæg geond þas woruld for hwan modsefa min ne gesweorce [itch ye-thenk-i-an nay mayg ya-yond thas wor-uld for hwan mod-sef-a min nay ye-sway-orch-uh]

'The winehalls festered and decayed!!!' - woriað þa winsalo [worr-i-ath thaa win-sal-o]– (oh alas! those sceattas we all believed king Athelflathlnoth had hidden away were a lie! What to do? Our economy is ruined!)

In the end, of course, everything is pointless anyway. As one Anglo-Saxon said:

þis lif is læne [thiss lif iss laynuh] – 'this life is transitory' (as in, ‘eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die’ and so on).

What’s more:

wyrd bið ful aræd [wuu*rd (*say this sound as an ‘i’ and pout at the same time. Just about works...) bith full a-rehd] – ‘fate is completely predetermined’ OR ‘s**t happens’*. It does indeed.

(* I am incredibly grateful to Dr R. Dance for this wonderfully concise translation).

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Speak like an Anglo-Saxon #11: Dating, tenth-century style

Unless the cloistered life calls you to live out your days in the comfort of the nearest monastery/nunnery, you might be starting to think about finding that special someone to make your bread/hunt some viking for you. When you’ve got your ale-goggles* ready, here are some gems to get you started:

“With what hasty hands I would rush into your embraces and with what eager lips I would kiss not only your eyes, ears and mouth but indeed the individual joints of each digit of your hands or feet, not once but many times”

Quam citatis manibus ruerem in amplexus paternitatis uestrae, et quam compressis labris non solum oculos et os, sed etiam mannum uel pedum singulos digitorum articulos, non semel, sed multiores oscularer.

(Ok, so this is in Latin and not Old English, but a real-life Anglo-Saxon monk actually wrote this in a letter to his “friend”. It was too good to miss out.)

“Is that a sword in your pocket...?” = Is þæt an seax in þinum pohan...? (the seax, incidentally, is what gave the Saxons their name) [“iss that ann say-axe in theen-um po *ch* (like loch) –an”]

“Quick, it’s 999 and the world’s about to end...” = Hwæt, todæg is 999 (nigon hundrað, nigontig-nigon) ond þisse middangearde bið swiðe læne.
[“H-wat, tow-day iss nee-yon hun-drath, nee-yon-tee-nee-yon ond this-se mid-an-yay-ard bith swi-the lay-ne”]

“Your place or mine?” = þin stow oððe min? [“thin stow oth-thuh min”]

“Your lips are as red as the blood of a slaughtered sheep” = þine lippe sindon swa read swa þa blode deades sceapes. [“theen-uh lipp-e sin-don swaa ray-ed swaa tha blowd day-ad-es shay-ap-es”]

* always drink ale responsibly.

Monday, 19 January 2009

#10: Planning your holiday

It’s the middle of winter and still pretty cold. You’re fed up with the ceaseless drizzle, mizzle and other assorted precipitation. You haven’t seen the sun for weeks on end, and you’ve finally polished off the last of the Christmas food. Time to spend a few happy hours contemplating your next summer getaway. Pilgrimage is probably a safe bet – travel with a purpose and free accommodation along the way. Not bad. Home or abroad, the choice is yours. A few phrases might come in handy in the ensuing discussions...

...but Æthelmod went to Rome in 962 - Æthelmod eode to Rome [‘ack Ath-el-mod ay-oh-duh toe Roh-muh’]

Norway isn’t safe right now – Norweg is deaðbærlic todæg [‘Nor-way is day-ath-bear-litch toh-day’]

We’ll take our own turnips – We bringað ure hamnæpas [‘way bring-ath oo-rruh haam-nap-as’]

...many barbarians in that place - manigfeald hæðene men in þam stowe [‘man-ny-fay-ald hay-then-uh men in tham stow-uh’]

(this is pretty much the same as Foreign Office advice not to travel...)

The boat leaves on Friday – Scip færð on Frigedæge [‘ship fair-th on Frree-yuh-day-uh’]

There are good relics at St Alban’s - Gode reliquias æt sancte Albane [‘Goh-duh rel-ick-wee-as at sang-tuh Albaan-uh’]

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Speak like an Anglo-Saxon #9: Winter

So, it's the coldest day of the year and our boiler has broken, threatening to explode at any moment if we so much as mention the central heating. Consequently, it's freezing. It's about time, then, for some (rather enforced) historical reenactment...

...Huddling round the fire in the hut trying to keep out of the drafts; wrapped in layer upon layer of woolly cloaks, furry hoods and unidentified bits of animal skin...

Min nebb is ceald - My nose is cold ['Min nebb iss kay-ald']

Ond mine fet sindon ceald -
And my feet are cold ['Ond mee-nuh fayt sin-don kay-ald']

þeos fyre is to lytel –
This fire is too small [‘Thay-oss foo-re iss toe lit-el’]

Hwær cwom hatnes? –
Where has the heat (or ‘hotness’) gone? [‘H-wahr kwom hat-ness?’]

Luce seo duru –
Shut the door [‘Loo-ke say-oh duh-roo’]


Astelle wudu in þone pytt –
Put wood in’ hole (well, almost) [‘A-stell-uh wuh-doo in tho-nuh poot’]