Sunday, 30 September 2012

Speak saxon: Charters and parting words

I visited the wonderful  Sir John Ritblat Gallery  at the British Library yesterday (free - it's fantastic - you should all visit). In the middle of the maps, Beatles paraphernalia and really, really old Gospel fragments, is an unimposing-looking post-conquest charter from the king to Christ Church, Canterbury. The details of the charter don't interest me here (that's for the chancery-fanatics to do). What I do want to tell you is a lovely way to say goodbye. The  charter is in Latin and Old English, and both versions end with simple but beautiful parting words:

God eow gehealde

(God keep you (plural))

["God yay-ow yu-hay-ald-uh"]


Next time you say goodbye to some dear, old friends: try it.

(here's the link to the Sir John Ritblat Gallery: http://www.bl.uk/whatson/permgall/treasures/index.html)



Saturday, 15 September 2012

Speak like a Saxon: Internet dating

So, in this world where we're incapable of talking to new people to see whether we would, in fact, like to have a 45 minute cup of coffee with said new face. We resort to weeks of sending banal, faceless emails before that final 'would-you-like-to-grab-coffee-or-something-only-if-you're-not-too-busy?'.

If The Husband's Message (Exeter Book, folio 123) is anything to go by, the Anglo-Saxons were infinitely better at sending these kind of messages than we are. The story goes that a man, pledged in love to a woman, is exiled. He sorts out his issues, possibly dispatches enemies, and sends a messenger to fetch the lady. As a final encouragement (before a convoluted passage with lots of runes in), he says to her:


                              Nu se mon hafað
wean oferwunnen; nis him wilna gad,
ne meara ne maðma, ne meododreama,
ænges ofer eorþan eorlgestreona,
þeodnes dohtor, gif he þin beneah

(Now that the man has overcome his woes/difficulties/troubles, he has no lack of joy, or horses or treasures or mead-joy, or of any noble treasures upon the earth, if he possesses you, prince's daughter)

 ["Nu say mon haf-ath way-an ofer-wun-en; niss him wil-na gad, nay may-ar-a nay math-ma, nay meod-oo-dray-ma, eng-es of-er ay-orth-an ay-orl-ye-stray-on-a, thay-od-nes doch(like in Scottish 'loch')-tor; yiff hay thin (use a voiced 'th' like in 'this') be-nay-ach"]

That's got to be better than "let's get coffee"...

Some points to learn:
  • Overcome your difficulties (no wimps here)
  • Keep it optimistic (talk about unbounding joy, mead, treasures etc)
  • Flattery doesn't do any harm
  • Maybe cut back on the possession bit a little - it doesn't go down so well these days...