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?