Thursday, 5 December 2013

Speak like a Saxon: blame

It's nice to have someone else to blame for the stupid decisions we all make. That time when you called Edwin a turnip-head to his face to see what happened; that Tuesday night when it seemed like such a good idea to go picking apples in the dark with cousin Eofor and you fell in the pond...


Þæt betweonweb het me hit gefremman.

["That be-tway-on-web het may hit ye-frem-man"]

The internet made me do it.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Speak like a Saxon: The internet

The highways and byways are teeming with messengers. All day long and well into the night they're carrying carefully-worded letters; love notes; recipes and paintings of ye cat dressed up like the king. That's right: the interwebs has come to Anglo-Saxon England.

I won't go into the techy detail of how the Anglo-Saxons created new words for foreign concepts here (you'd have to see my MPhil thesis for that and it's quite long). Anyway, here's one option for expressing 'internet':

Þæt betweonweb
Literally, the 'between-web'. Web can mean 'web' or also tapestry, so it's quite a nice word here.

["That be-tway-on-webb"]

Stay tuned for internet-related phrases next time.

*There are probably some of you out there who have your own new old words for 'internet' so do post your suggests in the comments box.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Speak like a Saxon: look up

Compared with the rapidity of change on the earth's surface - hundreds of years of language change, urbanisation, industrialisation and the developments of the nuclear age; the night sky changes very little. The constellations that the Anglo-Saxons stared up at, on a quiet night's walk from the privy to the hall, are the same constellations we see today.

When you're stargazing, try this:

Hwæt! þis is eoforðring.

(Look!* This is Orion**)

[Hwat! Thiss iss ay-off-or-thring]

*(Technically Hwæt is usually used to mean 'listen', but it's a word that means 'pay attention', so you'd probably be ok with this here)
**(Eoforðring translates as 'boar-thong')


Speak like a Saxon: Nice to meet you

When the envoy from a foreign nation arrives in town; when a new warrior turns up; or when you meet a fellow pilgrim on the way to Rome you'll no doubt be needing to ask:

Hwæt is þin nama?

(What's your name?)

["hwat iss thin nam-uh"]

If you need to suck up to said new friend (say, they're the head of a nation you want to build a special relationship with, or someone you really don't want to annoy) you can follow that with:

 þin nama is cynelic.*

(That's an kingly name)

["Thin nam-uh iss koon-uh-litch"]

(Geek alert: fans of the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films might recognise this from a phrase that Aragorn says to the troubled horse in Rohan)


Monday, 9 September 2013

Speak like a Saxon: Goodbye, summer

After our weeks and weeks of glorious sunshine, it seems that summer is hastily making its exit (stage left, pursued by a bear?). This means we're back to the world of miserable Anglo-Saxon weather which is lucky for us as there's far more written in the poetic corpus about the wind, rain, frost, hail, hoar, sleet, snow, mist, drizzle and cold than the sunshine. So to get us started, here's a handy phrase from the Seafarer:

Calde geþrungen / wæron fet mine forste gebunden

(afflicted by cold, my feet were bound with frost)
["cald-uh ye-thrung-en / where-on fet meen-uh forst-uh ye-bund-en"]

Text from Sweet's Anglo -Saxon Reader in Prose and Verse, 1928.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Speak like a Saxon: Fork'andles

I couldn't help thinking about the old fork'handles/four-candles problem the other day, and how our Anglo-Saxon ancestors might have faced a much more troubling version...

Ecgfrithfroth hæfð scip. He cwæð to his wif: Hwær cwom garsecg?

His wif nim wicing ut of huse.  

His wif cwæð to him: Her bið garsecg.

At this point Ecgfrithfroth gets a bit concerned; faced with a spear-wielding warrior man. He's off for a fishing trip and isn't particularly up for a fight...

It's not quite so funny in translation, but here you go:

Ecgfrithfroth has got a boat. He says to his wife, 'Where's the 'Garsecg'?'
His wife takes a viking out from the house.
His wife says to him, 'Here's the 'Garsecg'.

The problem is this:
Gars-ecg = Ocean
Gar-secg = spear-man

ROFL. Or not quite.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Speak like a Saxon: gardening battles

I've been indulging in some guerilla gardening today.* Ok, so maybe no-one's quite sure who owns the land, but at least now it's pretty and it was an excuse to eat cake too. For most people, warfare and horticulture might seem worlds apart, but linguistically there's not much in the way.

Take the word 'Garden', for instance. The poem Beowulf starts:

Hwæt! we Gardena in geardagum...þrym gefrunon

(Hey! We heard about the glory of the spear-danes quite a long time ago).

'Garden' here is a false friend. For the Anglo-Saxons, a Garden (pronounced "gaaaaRr-dane") was a fearsome warrior, a spear-wielding fighter from Denmark, or thereabouts. The Gar- bit of the word turns up in lots of other war words like garheap (band of warriors) and garnið (battle). **

So, next time you're out with your pansies and petunias, try this:

We sindon Gardene

["Way sind-on gaaRr-dane-uh"]

We are fearsome spear warriors from Denmark. Do not mess with us! (well, the last bit is implied at least).

*In honour of tomorrow being Earth Day.
** but maybe not garleac  (Garlic). Who knows?

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Speak like a Saxon: three little words

Valentine's day might be so last month, but it's never too late to say those three little words. Here you go...

ic þe lufie

["itch thay luff-ee-eh"]

I love you.

Speak like a Saxon: faint praise

From the poem Beowulf... Ecgðeow is a praiseworthy warrior. Why? He's brave and renowned in battle and all the rest of it. But what marks him out for particular praise is this: he wasn't guilty of friendly fire. He successfully managed not to take out his own side:

nealles druncne slog heorðgeneatas

["nay-all-es drunk-nuh slog hay-orth-yuh-nay-at-as"]  

He didn't at all slay his heath-companions when he was drunk.

Great. Well done,  Ecgðeow!


Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Speak like a saxon: snnnnnn.....

Yes. It's snowing. It's cold; it's miserable and it's very slippery out there. No mention of the wonderful, astonishing beauty of God's created world. As I've said before: nature (for our lovely Anglo-Saxons) was scary, dangerous and definitely not to be meddled with.

So, for this week:

Eala!! Her bið sneawgebland.

["Ay-all-uh!! Hair bith snay-ow-yuh-bland"]

Alas! There's a snowstorm! Panic! Run around! Batten down the hatches and don't go out! 

Friday, 4 January 2013

Speak like a Saxon: Happy New Year (and gold treasure)

Gesælige niwe gear!

["Yuh-sail-iy-uh nee-uu-wuh yay-ar"]

Not so very long ago, a new cache of Anglo-Saxon treasure was discovered in Staffordshire. We're not sure who put it there, or why, yet. "Get yer hands off my gold" or words to that effect probably accompanied the digging efforts.

1100 years ago to roughly this date (give or take a few months), a lovely lady called Athelflæd was in Staffordshire. Did she have anything to do with it??

The Cotton Tiberius manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says,

913: Her Gode forgifendum for Æþelflæd Myrcna hlæfdige mid eallum Myrcum to Tamaweorðige 7 þa burh ðær getimbrede on foreweardne sumor, 7 þæs foran to Hlafmæssan þa æt Stæfforda.*

In this year, through the Grace of God, Athelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, went with all the Mercians to Tamworth and built the fortress there at the beginning of the summer, and then the one at Stafford before Lammas.

This is just after vikings and pirates and all kinds of unfriendly people had been rampaging around Mercia. The earl of Mercia died in 912 and King Edward very kindly took over. The Mercians were not to be meddled with! Gold theft, land grabbing, interfering governments and pirates (maybe add rail fare increases, gas price manipulation and rubbish on telly)....Lady Athelflæd took action! She built the fortresses - did she hide the money??

*electronic version with much thanks to: