Search This Blog

Loading...

Monday, July 21, 2014

Word of the month: ombre and a botanical mystery!

A new word of the month to announce that the entries for O/U are now revised and online! To celebrate being finished, here's an account of one word that was a bit problematic.


One of the advantages of moving to an entirely online platform for our dictionary is the ability to return to earlier entries and revise them as new texts and new citations come to light. As the editors were preparing the revision of the articles under O- and U-, the following citation taken from a medical receipt proved to be a case in point:


Deytre, roine e teine: ombre de fosse / feltrid / triblés od gresse de pork et gise .xl. jours en pelotes A-N Med ii 214

‘[For] herpes, mange and ringworm: ‘ombre de fosse’, that is feltrike, knead together with pork grease and leave it forty days in balls’


This citation brought to light a number of additions and corrections to the dictionary. Firstly, deytre, a variant of dertre, was unattested in AND2 though it has now been added to the list of variants in that article. Secondly, feltrid, was listed as a variant under the headword feltrey, however, a closer examination of the above citation suggested that the term could also be a ME gloss of the term ‘ombre de fosse’, defined as ‘common centaury?’ and only attested in one text.

Feltrike is a variant spelling of the Middle English felterre n. as the MED attests and a corresponding entry can be found under feltrike n. in the OED. The name feltrike, more commonly known as earth-gall, is a literal translation of the Latin fel terrae, with, according to the MED, a substitution of rike, ‘realm’ for terre ‘land’. It is also known in modern times in Latin as Centaurium erythraea or Centaurium umbellatum.


Harley MS 5294, f. 22r, Centauria minor

A comparison of this citation to other medical receipts for herpes revealed two other citations:

Bon beivre a dertre [...] chevrefoil, lumbre de fosse, ço est flectrit, feverefui [...] Med Recs 203.12

‘A good drink against herpes [...] honeysuckle, ‘lumbre de fosse’, this is withered, feverfew [...]’


pur dertre [...] Pernez la racine de haune [...] e gaudine e lumbre de fosse e luvesche Med Recs 204.16

‘For herpes [...] take the root of the alder [...] and ground ivy and ‘lumbre de fosse’ and lovage’


The first of these citations was also referenced under the verb flaistrer where flectrit was listed as a deviant form of the past participle. However, in comparison to the first citation, it seems evident that flectrit is in fact a metathesized spelling of feltrey, and like in the first citation, is glossing the locution ‘lumbre de fosse’, which should probably be read as l’umbre. A further recipe in that collection gives yet another variant reading of the word, as flectriz, in a fully Anglo-Norman context this time and not as a gloss:


 [A] dertre, a roine e a teine: Pernez moleine, haune, flectriz, gaudine [...] Med Recs 205.22

‘[For] herpes, mange and ringworm: Take mullein, alder, feltrike, ground ivy [...]’


A final citation shows another use of the mysterious herb umbre in a medical receipt. This one proved no more elucidating and in fact the manuscript may be corrupt at this point.


Al mal de l'esplen: Pernez betoine e fens de columb e cephalea e oyle rosin e la breve umbre de le umbre del petit liu e lange de cerf [...]  Pop Med 294

‘For illness of the spleen: Take betony and pigeon droppings and cephalica and rose oil and ‘the brief umber of the umber of the small place’ and hart’s tongue fern [...]’


The term ‘lumbre/ombre (de fosse)’ remains unidentified. It is clear by the glosses that the term was meant as a synonym of feltrike, but no equivalent construction could be found in Continental French or Latin or English. The word then translates as ‘centaury’, centaurée in French, which is attested in most dictionaries (FEW centaurea 2,583b; Gdf centoire 2,17a; DMF centoire; TLF centaurée), but bears no similarity to the above word


While the word resembles the word for shadow (umbre) or for navel (umbil), neither of these terms could be found to refer to a similar plant and while formally similar to ‘umbre de mer / rivière’, a type of fish (FEW umbra 2 14,25b), the context of the above citations implies a plant. It does not appear to be related to lumbric, ‘earthworm’ despite its similarity in form. Although semantically possible, the word lumbric is not attested anywhere used in a collocation with fosse.

The FEW’s section on medicinal plants as well as unidentified plants (21,177-184) did reveal that the term ombelle is used to refer to the plant Euphorbia peplus. This particular type of plant lacks the distinctive purple/pink flowers of centaury, however, it a commonly used plant for treating skin lesions and so may be associated with the treatment for herpes.

Centarium umbellaturm


The second portion of the plant’s modern Latin name, Centaurium umbellatum, refers to the fact that the flowers are bloom on pedicels – based on the Latin umbella. Umbella does not seem to have generated any botanical terms in the vernacular (FEW umbella 14,17a contains one 17th century use to refer to a cornflower). While ombre may be an isolated reflex of this Latin word, at least for the time being he term umbre de fosse remains a mystery, and will be included as such in AND2. Go and have a look. In the meantime ... we welcome any suggestions!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Word of the month: 'herds', 'bevies' and 'sounders'

(This 'word of the month' is written by Maud Becker, Ph.D. student and part of the Anglo-Norman Dictionary Project)

(The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek MS 78 D40)

Hunting was one of the favourite pastimes of the medieval nobility, and this is reflected in the great number of treatises written, both in Latin and in the vernacular, about hunting in general, and, more specifically, about the fine art of falconry. In about 1079, William the Conqueror decided to designate a large portion of the country as the royal forest or hunting space – what is still known nowadays as the New Forest – much to the frustration of the English, as the following passage of the Continuation of the Brut, illustrates:

Meis quant il pout repos aver,
Volentiers volt solacer
E a bois e a river.
Deduit quere sovent,
Meis a ceo ke lui fust avis
Les forez furent trop petiz.
Plus voleit aver salvagin
E as bestes norir plus de guastin.
Pur enlargir son deduit,
Un grant païs ad destruit
Ke bien estoit habité
E beles viles e de gent eisé.
Les viles desfit nettement:
Le pople ad tuit exillé
E as bestes salvages le pais livré (ll. 2276-90)

When he could rest,
He would take his pleasure
In forests and by rivers.
He was often out hunting,
But as was his opinion
The forests were too small
He wanted to have more game,
And more uncultivated land to breed the animals.
In order to increase the number of game
He destroyed a large region,
That was well inhabited,
With beautiful cities and rich people.
He completely wiped out cities,
And deported all the people,
And gave up the country to wild animals.

(Yates Thompson 13)

The author refers to wild animals in general by the collective noun salvagin. The word is listed in AND#1 (sub salvagin), but only as an adjective (with uses such as veneisun sauvagine  and une beste savaugin).  Anglo-Norman, as most languages, has a great number of nouns like this, designating groups both of domestic and of wild animals or game. A good sample of these can be found in the Tretiz of William of Bibbesworth, a mid-thirteenth-century manual on learning French. Bibbesworth talks about a number of domestic animals, and, in the process, provides the collective nouns, for example, trippe de berbiz (‘a flock of sheep’), harras des poleins (‘a harras of foal’), route de beofs (‘a drove of oxen’) and mute des chiens (‘a pack of dogs’).  Nouns like these are fairly common both in Anglo-Norman and in medieval Continental French, while some of them have been taken over in English.
When Bibbesworth talks about wild animals, however, his choice of words is a little more noteworthy.  Terms like herde, bevy and soundre – used for both mammals and birds – have very few attestations in the Old French language in general. They occur in Anglo-Norman, but, interestingly, are more widely attested in Middle English.

Firstly, the word herde derives from Germanic *herda (FEW 16,198a) and is still used in Modern French and English. In the OED, herd n.1 seems to be used mainly for cattle (e.g. ‘a herd of cows’), whereas in the TLF harde 1 is refers to wild animals (‘troupe (de bêtes sauvages) vivant ensamble’). The medieval languages did not seem to have made this distinction, and the MED herd(e n.1, defines the word as  being used for both categories of animals (from a heerde of hogges to a herde off hertes). In the case of Anglo-Norman, the word is attested in combination with deer, cranes and thrushes – as Bibbesworth’s treatise shows:

Primes ou cerfs sunt assemblé
Une herde est apelé,
E des gruwes ausi une herde
E des grives sauns h eerde (ll. (G) 221-24)

Firstly, where stags are grouped together
It is called a herd,
And of cranes also a herd
And of thrushes, without ‘h’ ‘erde’

Although Bibbesworth seems to distinguish it, the word without an h is etymologically the same.

(British Library, Harley 4751)

Secondly, Bibbesworth calls a group of herons a bevé de herouns (l. (T) 193). While the same word is well attested in English (OED bevy n. and MED  bevey n., though never in connection with herons) this is its only occurrence in Old French (see also TL, 1, 958). In a different Manuscript of the Bibbesworth treatise (5, fol. 143r), the term is also associated with roe-bucks: bewé des cheverols – a use which is also attested in English. The etymology of the word bevy is obscure. The MED suggests a connection with Old French bevée, meaning ‘beverage’ or ‘drink’ (cf. Godefroy 1, 642b). Also Tilander, in his Glanures Lexicographiques, proposed the idea of a transfer of meaning: from ‘a drinking-bout’ to ‘a drinking party’, then ‘a company of drinkers’, and finally to ‘a company of animals’. The FEW (21, 220a) and the etymological commentary of the OED, however, claim that there is no textual evidence to support the theory of such a development and consider the matter unresolved. 

The third and last word to examine is soundre. Unlike the other two words, soundre is also attested in Anglo-Norman in early romances – in the Roman de Horn and in the Continuation of the Brut – apart from the more specialized literature, such as the Livre du Roy Modus et de la Royne Ratio (a hunting treatise, probably written by the Norman nobleman Henri de Ferrières). Although the word is rare, the evidence suggests that it too was used both for mammals and small birds.  AND#1’s current definition, sub sundre, is simply ‘herd, flock’, which may have to be refined in the second edition. Godefroy (sub sondre 7,473c) defines the word as ‘a herd of swine’, while T/L (sub sondre 9, 835) has the same sense but adds the usage as a collective noun for certain birds: starlings, finches and jays. In Anglo-Norman, the most common association seems to have been with starlings: Bibbesworth lists a sundre des esturneus (G229), and in the Continuation of the Brut already cited, there is a short passage that describes how the future king Henry I picks the starling as his favourite bird, describing it as:

Est deboniers e simple oisele;
En grant soudre volt voler
E le pais environer (ll. 2466-68)

It is a humble and simple bird;
It prefers to fly in flocks
And travel through the land.

(Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 764)

At first sight, the same two categories are found in English. The OED includes sounder n.1, which it defines, like Godefroy, as ‘a herd of wild swine’, with most of its citations coming from texts on hunting. The MED (sub soundre n.) also includes the second use (a group of starlings). However, only one of its ten attestations illustrates this use. Furthermore, this particular citation is taken from Femina, an early-fifteenth Anglo-Norman treatise on the learning of the French language, based, in part, on Bibbesworth’s Tretiz. In this case, the attestation is merely a Middle English gloss to an Anglo-Norman main text, virtually repeating the word. It may therefore be argued that only the use with reference to (wild) swine is truly attested English.
The word also appears in medieval Latin in Britain, listed as sundra (DMLBS 3292c) but attested (in a legal text concerning the management of forests) as cindra.  Once again its sole use is with reference to swine:  de qualibet cindra, id est, de decem porcis, Rex habebit meliorem (‘of every ‘sunder’, that is ten pigs, the king will have the best one’).

It is difficult to trace the development of this rare term and its senses. The Middle English word is attested from the end of the fourteenth century, but it is already present in Old English under the form sunor, with the sense herd of swine – Bosworth-Toll, 937. The gap between the two sets of attestations seems to be too big to confirm that the Middle English word is hereditary, so we could imagine that it has been introduced by Anglo-Norman – where the word is attested since the Roman de Horn.

(Koninklijke Bibliotheek, KB, KA 16)

With a close look at the dictionaries, we can see that on the side of Old French, especially in Godefroy and the FEW (17,282b; under the Old Franconian etymon *sunor), sondre is said to still exist as a dialectal word, under the form sonre, from the Champagne region in the north of France, and apparently the manuscripts in which the word is found are coming from Picardy – a manuscript of La chevalerie de Judas Maccabée that is, according to the online Bibliography of the DEAF, a Picard manuscript from 1285 – and also in Belgium – in a manuscript not identified by the FEW. The existence of the word in continental French, apparently mainly in northern regions, is then undeniable but it is still quite difficult to link it with Anglo-Norman, where the word appears earlier. It may be that the lack of continuity between the different languages (Old English, Middle English, as well as Anglo-Norman Continental French) is simply the result of the lack of attestations.
Is the occurrence of the word in the Anglo-Norman language a reminiscence of the Continental word – apparently still present in modern Champagne dialects but not well attested in Old French? Or has it been influenced by Old English – a possibility that we cannot completely exclude, even if it is unlikely? Are we missing steps between Old and Middle English, or has the word been reintroduced by Anglo-Norman? The dictionaries are not giving us enough attestations to understand fully the chronological and/or regional development of the word. 

In conclusion, this brief sample of collective nouns that refer to groups of wild animals demonstrates how the rarity of certain terms in Anglo-Norman, even if they are also attested in Continental French, Middle English or Medieval Latin, can cause problems not only in defining them precisely but also in tracing their etymological roots. There is still for many words a lexicographic gap to fill in and perhaps a further examination of the word could give us the answer. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Word of the month: quyne, the 'evil monkey'?

In the first edition of the AND we find the entry quyn (currently also online, until work on the second edition of Q- is completed, sometime in 2015). The word is defined as ‘(term of abuse) monkey’ and is illustrated by a single attestation from Nicholas Bozon’s Life of Saint Margaret:

‘Ceo ke avint de celi mal quyn (l. 303)

Sister M. Amelia Klenke published her edition of Bozon’s text in 1947, and translated this particular line somewhat oddly as ‘That which befell this luckless fellow (evil monkey)’. The ‘luckless fellow’ in question is Malchus, the executioner instructed to behead St. Margaret of Antioch. After a vision of a white dove bearing a cross, Malchus had come to the realisation that St. Margaret was favoured by God and consequently he refused to carry out the execution. It is only at her insistence that he beheads her:

‘Si vu ne mettez mayn en moys,
Parte de ciel ne averez o moy’ (ll. 299-300)
‘If you do no lay hand upon me
You shall have no part with me in heaven’

(Martyrdom of St. Margaret of Antioch, detail from the altar frontal from the Convent of Santa Margarida de Vilaseca (12th century)  Museo Episcopal de Vic, Osona, Catalonia, Spain)

Bozon then wonders what became of this Malchus, but assumes

‘Par cele pleyne de vertuwe,
Jeo crey k’il prist bon fin’ (ll. 306-07)
‘Because of her – full of virtue –
I think he came to a good end.’

The question is why and how this remorseful executioner is called a ‘mal quyn’? And what exactly is he called? The translation ‘monkey’, favoured by Klenke and AND#1, is problematic. It is not just the apparent inappropriateness of the phrase ‘evil/bad monkey’ to describe the hesitant executioner and Klenke’s bold (and ultimately unfounded) attempt to readjust the register to ‘luckless fellow’ that look suspicious. Klenke probably based her interpretation on Godefroy (6,515a), where quin is defined as ‘singe’ (‘monkey’). Godefroy provides only one attestation, taken from Jehan Le Maire de Belges’ early sixteenth-century (post-medieval!) Le triumphe de l’Amant vert:

‘Avecque moy le quin e la marmotte,
Dont la tristeur desja leur mort denotte,
Prisonniers sont [...]’ (J. Stecherm Oevres, iii 8).
‘Together with me, the monkey and the marmoset,
Whose sadness already announces their death,
Are prisoners [...]’

The word is not found in other dictionaries of medieval French (DMF and T/L, whereas the online DEAFpré contains merely a reference to the AND entry). The FEW and TLF confirm the existence of this word and sense, which they see as the origin of the expression faire la quine a (‘to mock someone by grimacing or making hand gestures (like a monkey)’); see FEW 21,218 (singe) and 22,56 (grimace) as well as TLF quinaud. Both dictionaries rely on the single citation of the word quin in L’amant vert as the basis of their etymological argument, and concede that the origin of this word remains unknown.
We may well wonder whether this obscure word  from Continental French, unattested before 1510, has any relation to Bozon’s early fourteenth-century use of the word ‘quyn’ in Anglo-Norman.

(early fourteenth-century Flemish Psalter, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Douce 6)

The AND offers a number of alternative interpretation for this word that should  be considered. Two options, i.e. quin either as a variant form of quint (‘fifth’) or as a contraction of qui and en (see qui#1), can be discounted as semantically or grammatically impossible. Next there are the relatively common entries coign#1 and coign#2 with senses that could perhaps be more relevant to this passage. Although the form quin (or quyn) is currently not listed in either of these articles, they are formally close enough to be considered possible graphies (coign#1 has coin and the plural quuins, while coign#2 lists cuin and the plural quinnes).

Firstly, coign#1 is the Anglo-Norman word for ‘quince’ or ‘crab-apple’. The same word occurs also in Middle English, coin n.2, and the MED lists the variant quin. The comparable Modern English phrase ‘a bad apple’ (to refer to a troublesome or despicable person) is too recent (dating from 1964 according to the OED, apple n.) to be applicable here. And whereas a word like pume was sometimes used in Anglo-Norman to refer to an object of little value (cf. ‘ne valer une bele pume’, sub pume), the same usage is not found for coign#1 (in A-N) or coin n.2 (in Middle English).

Secondly, Anglo-Norman coign#2 has a wealth of senses, all based on the central idea of a ‘wedge’ or ‘wedge shaped object’ (from Latin cuneus): ‘corner’, ‘axe, chopper, cleaver’, ‘anvil’, ‘stamp’, and ‘coin’. Is St. Margaret’s executioner being referred to as a mal quyn because he is a ‘bad penny’, i.e. ‘a disreputable person that turns up again’? According to the OED, this figurative use of a bad penny with reference to a person already appears in Middle English, for example in the C-text of Piers Plowman: ‘Men may lykne letterid men [...] to a badde peny’. Is Bozon’s mal quyn an Anglo-Norman parallel of this image? Another interpretation, also supplied by coign#2, is that mal quyn means ‘evil axe’. Although not otherwise attested in Anglo-Norman, such a phrase could be a suitable metonymic reference to an executioner.

(St. Margaret, fifteenth-century Sarum Book of Hours)

Although both the terms (‘bad penny’ and ‘evil axe’) are semantically just about possible as interpretations of the phrase mal quyn, they do not seem to fit the context of the narrative very well. As mentioned before, Bozon expresses sympathy for Malchus: not only does he make him acknowledge St. Margaret’s holiness, he also goes out of his way (‘Jeo ne ay pas trové en mon Latin’ / ‘I have not found [it] in my Latin [source text]’) to acknowledge  that Malchus must have come to a ‘bon fin’. From that perspective, calling him ‘a bad penny’ (a source of irritation that keeps returning) or an ‘evil axe’ (expressing cruelty) seems unlikely. As such, even the use of the adjective mal#1 (defined as ‘evil, wicked’, ‘harsh, painful’, ‘faulty’ or ‘sick’) seems to jar with this altogether positive and respectful portrayal of St. Margaret executioner.

Finally, the phrase may have to be interpreted in a completely different way, with the confusion arising from Klenke’s presentation of the text. It is intriguing that if we read malquyn as one word, it is not very far removed from the executioner’s name, Malchus. Earlier in the text, Bozon refers to him as ‘celi Malcus nomé’ / ‘him named Malchus’ (l. 293), and, as mentioned earlier, ‘c’ and ‘qu’ are common graphical variations in Anglo-Norman. If Malquyn is simply a form of the executioner’s name (with the –yn ending used to rhyme with latin in the next line), the above interpretations of ‘evil axe’ or ‘bad penny’ may still have been an oblique verbal puns on his name. More likely the term quyn should be considered a phantom-word and consequently will only be included as a bracketed (i.e. rejected) entry in the second edition of the AND.




Monday, April 28, 2014

Word of the Month: Ongler

            At first glance, the entry for ongler seemed to be straightforward. As the verbal form of the noun ungle ‘(finger)-nail’, it is attested in Continental French with the sense of ‘to scratch’. Godefroy has one attestation of the infinitive in a glossary from 1660 (5,603) and a number of examples of the use of the past participle (also attested once in the DMF sub ongler) illustrate a heraldic use of the term, which can also be found in English – attested once in English as ongled (OED sub ongle, n.) but normally found as unguled (OED sub unguled, adj.) meaning ‘having the hoofs or claws of a different tincture from the body’. The FEW (14,40b sub ungula) has an attestation of the verb ongler as a v.a. from 1531 glossed as ‘déchirer (qn) avec des ongles de fer (t. de torture)’ and notes the presence of the word in Cotgrave’s dictionary with the sense of ‘griffer avec les ongles’.
            However, the article in AND1 gave a very different gloss to the word. The entry provided four citations for the v.n. glossed unexpectedly as ‘to kneel, crouch’. The word appeared to baffle the editors of each of the texts cited as they give a variety of glosses.

Paris, BNF fr. 12584


In the Year Books we find:
[The Justices order the summoners and the viewers to come before them]
les deus dyseyent ke un Adam le Clerk le fyt aler ou luy, e ben demy luye de cele tere sus un tertre yl nous fyt ungler, e dyt ke yl prendreyt sele tere en sa meyn pur defaute de celuy B. YBB 21-22 Ed I 13
which the editor translates as:
[...] and two of the three said that one Adam the Clerk made them go with him to an eminence a good half league from that land, and made them handle it and said that he would take that land into his hand for the default of the said B. YBB 21-22 Ed I 12


In the Select Cases in the Court of King’s Bench under Edward I we find the following:
e sire Thomas, ungelant sur sun palefrei, lust le bref e regarda le seal e dist qu’il le conust bien e dist outre ‘Tprot pur ceo! avez autre garaunt’.  King’s Bench iii 195
translated uncertainly by the editor as:
And sir Thomas, [? biting his nails] on his palfrey, read the writ and looked at the seal and said that he knew it well, and further said, ‘A fig for that! Produce another warrant’.

Bodleian, Douce 195, detail of 109v


A further citation was found when preparing the entry from the Livere de Reis de Brittanie:
si ke le rey de Engletere vint iloec par bat, e ne voleit ja venir sus ala terre, mes de la nef u il fust parla ou le rey de France ki ungla sur le chival a mount a terre pres de la rivere Reis Britt 266
which the editor translates as:
So the king of England came there in a boat and would not land, but from the boat in which he was he conversed with the king of France, who shouted on horseback on the shore by the river. Reis Britt 267
The term also appears in the glossary to the text (p. 400), where it is glossed instead as ‘pranced on horseback’ and a note mentions that it is translating the equivalent passage found in Rishanger’s Chronicle (p. 441) where the Latin verb used is ungulavit. (In fact, the verb is ungulabat).

The term is also glossed in Middle English in a fourteenth-century glossary:
Et luy fole ungle (sic) en brandele (M.E. houyth in the totur) Nom 221
The editor rejects the word but offers no possible explanation. The Middle English gloss suggests the word meant ‘to hover, to swing’.


Walters Museum W322

Finally, in the Manuel des pechez can be found:
Levez sus, danz Robilard: Vus me tenez pur musard Qe vus me fetes ci ongler; Meus nus vausist chivaucher E en nostre chemin espleiter Man pechez 9165
Arise, sir Robilard: You take me for a fool for you make me prance here; It would be better for us to mount our horses and go on our way.
for which no equivalent can be found in the English translation.

            Making a coherent entry from these citations for the second edition of the Anglo-Norman Dictionary was quite a challenge. The editorial glosses were in conflict, the dictionaries of Continental French offered no equivalent use of the word (the DEAF entry sub ungler simply repeats what is found in AND1). However, the DMLBS shed some light – sub ungulare (3556b) one can find the citation from Rishanger and the intransitive verb is glossed as ‘to prance, to trot’. The majority of the citations listed above seem to express a similar idea of a horse prancing and trotting in place, and so will be glossed ‘to prance, trot (on a horse)’. The meaning of the citation from Nom remains problematic, and will be presented in AND2 (which will be online in the next few weeks) with the Middle English gloss of ‘to hover, swing’ though its relation to horses prancing is problematic.
            It remains unclear however if this sense, perhaps an extension of the use of ungle to refer to a horse’s hoof, is an Anglo-Norman invention which is then used in Medieval British Latin or the reverse. All of the citations appear during roughly the same period of the reign of Edward I at the end of the thirteenth / beginning of the fourteenth century except for the citation from Man Pechez which is from the end of the fourteenth century.



Thursday, March 13, 2014

Word of the Month: Locusts and lobsters

For the modern reader, the words ‘locust’ and ‘lobster’ refer to two very different species of the animal kingdom and at first glance they do not seem to have much in common. ‘Locust’ (the modern English word for an insect associated with migrating hordes that ravage whole areas of countryside, especially in Africa and Asia, by consuming all vegetation in their path) derives from the Old French and Anglo-Norman word locuste ( DMF locuste, from Latin locusta: ‘insect’, locust’, ‘grasshopper’). It is hardly surprising that several textual references we have to locusts in Anglo-Norman sources are from religious texts, as locusts are alluded to not only as one of the plagues of Egypt in the Old Testament Exodus (Ex. 10:1-20) but also as one of the horrors inflicted upon the earth in the Apocalypse or the Book of Revelation (Revelation 9:3-10), the last book of the New Testament. One such text is an illustrated Apocalypse commentary from the thirteenth century:

“Et de cele fumee issirent locustes en terre”  Apoc Prose 42
(“And from this smoke locusts came upon the earth”)

(Locust swarm, medieval Bible)

According to FEW (5,397a) the vowel of the stem syllable in the Latin etymon changed several times, and in some forms the ‘o’ would have changed to ‘a’. The consequent vulgar Latin form ‘lacusta’ in turn developed into the Old French form laoste and the Anglo-Norman lauste. This form retained the sense ‘locust’ and can also be found in religious texts such as the  paraphrase of the Old Testament from the thirteenth century (Poème anglo-normand sur l’Ancien Testament):

“Dunc fait Deus venir uns oisels senz numbre, Ceo sunt laustes ki tute la terre encumbrent” Anc Test (B) 2059

(“Then God made appear flying creatures without number, these were locusts that encumbered the whole earth”)

(Plague of locusts, Koberger's Bible, 1483)

Interestingly, both word, lauste and locuste, are also used with reference to ‘lobster’. In an Anglo-Norman prose lapidary from the thirteenth century, dealing with the properties of engraved stones, we find lauste marine:

“En un beril se vos trovez escrist une lauste marine et desoz ses piez une corneille [...] Iceste piere garde l’amur des entreesposez.” Lapid 291.xxix
("If you find a lobster in a beryl and beneath its feet a raven [...] This stone will guard the love of those married.”)

In another lapidary from the same period, we also find a reference to locuste marine, signifying ‘lobster’, with the same information and instructions for the use of such engraved ‘lobster stone’ as in the citation above (Lapid 286.L.2)

In fact the Latin word locusta (DMLBS 1634a/b) also denotes ‘crustacean’ and ‘lobster’, and the form used in some of the Latin examples reads as ‘locusta marina’ – a form adopted in the Anglo-Norman examples already cited. 

(Monster lobster, National Library of Sweden, Olaus Magnus 73 (1572))

According to the OED (see lobster n.1), the Latin word actually originally signified a lobster or a similar crustacean, and that the application to the locust was suggested by the resemblance in shape. It should also be noted that whereas the modern English ‘lobster’, deriving from an Old English corrupted reading of the Latin etymon (lopustre, lopystre, loppestre), only includes the original sense of the word, in the modern French ‘langouste’, a form already present in Anglo-Norman (languste), both senses survive. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Word of the month: lunages, lunetus and lunatics

In an Anglo-Norman prose lapidary from the second half of the thirteenth century – a study of the medical ‘powers’ of different stones and minerals, claiming to derive its knowledge from a letter which the mysterious Arabian king Evax wrote to Emperor Tiberius – we find the following recommendation:

“La rousse [celidoine] est bone a houme qui chiet de passion et a home lunage” Lapid 149.xxvi.7
(“The red [chelidonius] (=a small stone taken from the gizzard of a swallow) is good for someone who suffers epilepsy and for a ‘lunatic’ person”)

Leaving aside the question of how effective the use of a piece of red chelidonius would have been in these matters, we would like to concentrate on the word lunage. The adjective derives from lune (Latin luna: ‘moon’), followed by the (normally substantival) suffix -age, and is the Anglo-Norman equivalent to Latin lunaticus. This particular word formation is no longer extant in Modern French and is not found in English. Its primary (and literal) sense is ‘(under the influence) of the moon’ or ‘affected by the moon’, but  while in continental medieval French the word can also mean ‘lit by the light of the moon’ (DMF lunage 2), in Anglo-Norman it is only found in reference to a mental and/or physical disorder. A second attestation of the word can be found in an earlier Anglo-Norman lapidary, dating from the beginning of the twelfth century. Here it is advised to place a jet stone on burning coals, and to have the emanating smoke float over a person:

“se hom veot serf achater, Si le puet ben espermenter Se il est lunages u guttus U se il est palazinus: [...]” Lapid 240.1133
(“if somebody wants to buy a servant, he can very well test whether that person is ‘lunatic’ or gouty or whether he has palsy [...]”)

If suffering from any of the above, the lapidary claims, the person within this cloud of smoke will have a fit.

As the etymology suggests, the influence of the moon is essential to the understanding of this word. In medieval times the different phases of the moon were believed to have numerous effects: not only insanity as a disease of the mind (as discussed in the works of Aristotle and Pliny the Elder, as well as in the fourth- and fifth-century works of Julius Firmicius Maternus and Pseudo-Manetho), but also fevers, rheumatism and epilepsy (as observed, for example, in the Vulgate, Saint Matthew, 17-15-18, where lunaticus is used to refer to an epileptic boy cured by Jesus).[1]

(The phases of the moon, as described in Isidore of Seville's Etymologies, BL, Royal 6 C.i, fol. 30r)

The two Anglo-Norman examples taken from the lapidaries seem to suggest that the ‘lunacy’ or ‘state of frenzy’ in question was more of a physical than a mental nature, and that it is epileptic fits (as brought on by the moon) that these stones protect against. Evidently, from a medieval perspective, the distinction between the two cannot have been as exact as it is in modern science – the word is used to describe the condition of people who are in a state of fitfulness, believed to be a direct result of the effects of the moon.

Anglo-Norman also has the word lunatic as a second adjectival form of lune – also derived from Latin lunaticus, but believed to be a later re-borrowing than lunage (see FEW 15,456a).  The word is also frequently attested in Continental Middle French as well as Middle English and has persisted in the modern languages. Interestingly, this is the word found more frequently in Anglo-Norman legal texts, for example in the late-thirteenth-century legal treatise Mirror of Justices:

“cist n’est mie covenable [...] par ceo q'il est dedenz age ou pur ceo q'il est lunatic ou frenetic” Mir Just 117
(“this one is not fit [=as a juror] [...] because he is in age, or because he is ‘lunatic’ or frantic”)

and in the Yearbooks of Edward II:

“la ou un enfaunt dedenz age est folenatre, le roi avera la garde tote sa vie etc. Mes s'il soit lunatick, il n'avera point” YBB Ed II ii 151
(“if an underage child is born a fool, the king shall have the wardship all his life etc. But if he is ‘lunatic’, this is not the case”)

In both instances, the sense of the word seems to be closer to the modern sense, with a person being barred from certain rights or entitlements for reasons of being ‘lunatic’, i.e. presumably prone to fits of insanity. In a legal sense, the word became synonymous with ‘mentally unsound’ and continues to be used in English law to refer to a state of intermittent insanity (OED).

(Bible historiale, BL Royal 15 D III, fol. 262)

Used as a substantive, the word lunatic in Anglo-Norman demonstrates a wider range of senses once more. In Britton’s judicial compilation of the late-thirteenth century, we find another example, again in a legal context (where the word is often used together with frenetic), of the sense ‘temporarily mentally unsound’:

“Et ausi porrount lunatics et frenetics doner et aliener, mes nient en lour rage” BRITT i 223
(“Likewise, ‘lunatics’ and frenzied people may give and alien (i.e. transfer possession), but not during their state of madness”)

A citation from Jean de Mandeville’s Livre des Merveilles du Monde, reminiscent of the above lapidary examples, ascribes an ability to diamonds to cure ‘lunatics’ and, which it seems to consider a related activity, to exorcise the devil:

“ly diamant [...] fait homme plus fort et plus ferme encountre les enemys, et garit les lunatiques et ceux qe le diable porsuit et travaille” Mandeville 308 (var.)
(“the diamond makes a person stronger and more steadfast against enemies, and cures ‘lunatics’ and those that the devil chases and harasses”)

Returning to medical texts, in the Euperiston, an Anglo-Norman medical text of the thirteenth century, the word is used alongside words referring to those who are epileptic or possessed of the devil:

“E sachét ke l'epilemptic e lunatic e demoniac sont ausi cum semblables, sicum Constantin dit” A-N Med ii 143.37
(“And let it be known that the epileptic and the lunatic and the person possessed of the devil are also similar, as Constantin says”)

and seems to refer to somebody who suffers from fits and paroxysms.

(illustration to Psalm 52: King David in prayer and the fool, BL, Harley 2897, fol. 42v) 

Curiously, Anglo-Norman has three more synonyms to refer to the ‘lunatic’, i.e. the person suffering from ‘lunacy’, that are not found on the Continent and were not borrowed into English either.

The term lunager is found in another lapidary (an alphabetical lapidary attributed to Philippe de Thaon from the beginning of the twelfth century), again in a passage describing the healing qualities of chelidonius:

“Chelidonius [...] A langoros done sancté, A lunager e forsené” Lapid 220.490
(“Chelidonius [...] gives health to one who languishes in disease, and to the ‘lunatic’ and the madman”)

Whereas in the earlier examples, the power of Chelidonius seems to have been more as preventing the fits of epilepsy, here the ‘lunatic’ is mentioned alongside the forsené (the ‘madman’).

The second synonym, also unique to Anglo-Norman, is lunerasce. In a thirteenth-century account of pilgrimages to Jerusalem, the Saracens are described as

“sunt foles cumme lunerasces a deceivre chascun” London to Jerusalem 139
(“they are mad like ‘lunatics’ in that they betray each other”)

Unless the word is to be interpreted as a corrupt misreading of ‘luve[s] [i]rascés’ (i.e. ‘angry wolves’), the ‘lunatic’ here once more refers to a ‘madman’ rather than someone suffering from epilepsy.

Thirdly, the abovementioned passage in Mandeville describing the powers of diamond, appears in a late-fourteenth-century manuscript with the variant reading les lunetus (instead of les lunatiques). Once more, the term lunetus is attested only in Anglo-Norman: instead of the etymological -ic suffix, it uses -us.

(Christ heals a lunatic boy, Gospel of St. Luke, The Hague, MMW, 10 B 23, fol. 500r)

Finally, the term used to refer to the condition of being a ‘lunatic’ is surprisingly rare in Anglo-Norman. In another (and earlier) variant manuscript of the same Mandeville passage, the diamond is not said to cure les lunetus / les lunatiques, but it garit de luneties (i.e. ‘cures of lunacy’). Clearly lunetie must be the same word as Latin lunatia (DMLBS 1660c) and Modern English lunacy. It is, however, unique to this single Anglo-Norman attestation: it is not found in Continental French and appears both in Latin and in English only from the mid- to late-sixteenth century onwards.
A second, slightly problematic, term is lunaison, which has a primary meaning of ‘lunation’ or (according to the OED) ‘the time from one new moon to the next’ as well as ‘the time of full moon’. This is also the main sense in Anglo-Norman, but in the case of two attestations it may be possible to interpret the word as ‘lunacy’. In yet another lapidary (from the second half of the thirteenth century) and once more describing the powers of Chelidonius, it reads:

“garist ceus ki sunt malades par luneson et les langerus et les devez” Lapid 152.ii.4
(“it cures those who are ill because of lunation/lunacy as well as those who languish and the insane”)

It is, however, not clear whether the word is used here to refer to the condition one suffers (i.e. ‘lunacy’, a moon-induced madness) or the cause of the disease (i.e. ‘lunation’, the phases of the moon).
The second occurrence is in Hue de Rotelande’s Protheselaus, a late twelfth-century romance:

“En fol parler mult se delite; Alques fu melancolien, Il ne se set celer pur ren, Ainz dit ço que a buche li vent, Par luneisons issi le tent. Adés fu ben sa luneison” Proth ANTS 1292
(“He takes great pleasure in foolish talk; He was somewhat melancholic and could not keep  to himself at all: he immediately expressed the thoughts that lay on his tongue. He was governed by the phases of the moon, and suddenly his ‘lunacy’ began”)

The word is used twice in the same sentence, albeit with varying meanings, and, as the text editor confirms, the second time it seems to refer to the condition of mental disorder under the influence of the moon rather than the phases of the moon themselves. Still, the example is far from straightforward.






[1] For further historical information on this subject, see M.A. Riva, L. Tremolizzo, M. Spicci, C. Ferrarese, G. De Vito, G.C. Cesana, and V.A. Sironi, V. A. (January 2011). ‘The Disease of the Moon: The Linguistic and Pathological Evolution of the English Term “Lunatic”’, Journal of the History of the Neurosciences 20:1 (2011), 65-73.