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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Word of the Month: Anglo-Norman chess terminology (and how to find it)

As an online resource, the AND is constantly  evolving. Not only are we in the process of producing a much-expanded new edition of the dictionary itself ( headwords starting with P/Q are our current focus), we also continue to expand the already revised A-O section, adding citations, senses and even entries whenever we come across new material. A word you looked up and couldn’t find yesterday might be in there today!

In addition to this work, we have been designing new features and search facilities for the site. For example, over the last year and a half, we have been providing each and every AND entry with cross-references to other relevant dictionaries of French, English and Latin (so far this is available for entries beginning with G-O – that is about 7500 entries).[1] At the same time, we are also developing a new and searchable semantic tagging system. What this is and how it would serve the user, this blog-post will briefly explain and illustrate.

The so-called ‘semantic tag’ has always been a (minor) feature of the dictionary and appears in the English definitions: plant-names, for example, have been preceded by ‘(bot.)’ and bird-names by ‘(orn.)’ – merely to indicate that, for example, dove was an ornithological term whereas dove’s foot belonged to the realm of botany (sub colum).

 Example of an AND entry with current semantic tags (in red).

The current project will considerably expand the scope of these ‘semantic tags’, improve their reliability, and (ultimately) make them searchable.

By providing such a search facility, it will become possible for any user to bring together  sub-groups of Anglo-Norman vocabulary used in a particular field of medieval society, such as  shipping, heraldry, law, music, games, or medicine (to name but a few), which we intend to expand with clothing, minerals, kinship, horse-riding, alchemy, weaponry, emotions, and several more. Scholars of medieval  clothing terms or legal terminology will have their relevant source material made available with one simple search.

To give just one provisional example of what sort of data we could possibly gather through such a search, we did an ad hoc search of the underlying data for ‘chess’ – a ‘semantic tag’ which has already been used fairly consistently in the AND. We found that the tag is present in 73 entries on the AND (A-Z).

Oxford, Bodleian MS 264, fol.60r

The game of chess has its origins in India and was originally introduced to the Western world by the Arabs as Shat-ranj (from Sanskrit chaturanga: ‘four members [of an army]’). The Anglo-Norman word for ‘chess’, eschec (cf. modern French échec(s) ) derives from the late Latin word for chess scacca[2]. In English the word produced both ‘checkers’ and ‘chess’ – two different games employing a similar sort of board.[3]

Two adversers (‘opponents’), one blanc (‘white’) and the other neir (‘black’), play a ju (‘game’) or bataille (‘battle’). They have their gent (‘people’) or mesnee (‘household’) of homes (‘men’, i.e. pieces) asseé (‘set up’).

On the board, the squares are called places or points (except the corner-square, which is called an angle), and the rows or lines are railles.

Although they did not always move in ways we are familiar with nowadays, the names of pieces are more or less what we expect them to be: for king we find rei, queen is reine, knight is chevaler , roc rook, and peon is pawn (also the word for walker or someone on foot).

Bonus Socius's chess treatise from the late fourteenth century, MS Ludwig XV 15, fol. 97

A pawn is also referred to (only in Anglo-Norman) as pet (which must be related to in the sense of foot, rather than the other entry pet – which means ‘fart’) and curliu (‘herald, messenger’). The latter use is considered problematic in the dictionary.[4] The pawns were considered masle (‘male’) or femele (‘female’).[5] Presumably this attribution of gender must have distinguished pawns that move on the same colour as the king from those that move on the colour of the queen, but further research on these senses is still needed.  

In medieval chess, the queen was also called ferce (from the Persian word ferzen or Arabic firzan/ferz , meaning ‘wise man’ or ‘counsellor’) and functioned as a piece that was only able to move one step diagonally.[6] The Anglo-Norman examples show that the term was also used to refer to a pawn that reached the eighth square and was consequently promoted to a queen.  Finally, the bishop is still known as alfin, from al-fil the Arabic word for ‘elephant’ – a piece that was able to move two squares diagonally and jump over other pieces.[7] It is also called cornu (‘horned’ or ‘the horned one’), possibly indicating the elephant’s tusks.[8]

The verbs used for playing the game are semover (‘to move’) or (se) muer (normally ‘to change’, but in some instances also ‘to move’). Pieces that move up the board are said to be munter (‘to climb, ascend’), and if they are trying to take another piece chacer (‘to chase’), mener (‘to lead’) or enangler (‘to corner’). Embracer (‘to embrace’) is used when one piece covers or protects another one. Taking a piece is haper (‘to grab’) or gainer (‘to gain’) – and hence the expression qui done, gaine was used to describe a strategy which involved sacrificing one of one’s own pieces in order to take one of the opponent’s. When the king was descovert (‘uncovered’) possibly by lack of an effective defense, defension or garde, it was said to be in meschief (‘trouble, difficulty’). Subsequently, placing him in check is faire or dire eschec or, when checkmate, mat, eschec mat or eschec plener (‘full check’). In the later case, also mater (‘to checkmate’) was used or even juger (‘to pronounce judgement’). The result was a matement, matesun or (in analogy with the aforementioned verb) jugement. For a game ending in a stalemate (which, in medieval chess was not a draw, but resulted in a win for the player delivering the stalemate), the verb used was estaler.

Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, f. 13r

Two thirteenth-century Anglo-Norman treatises on chess have been preserved,[9] whose main concern is the explanation of jupartis: prescribed chess moves and strategies. Juparti became the English word jeopardy (‘peril, danger’)[10] but was originally a chess term (also in English until the fifteenth century) and stands for ju parti: a ‘divided game’ or a game which is as yet undecided.

This is nothing but a cursory overview of all of the material that is currently labelled ‘chess’ in the AND. Although it already gives an idea of the range of terminology, it is also incomplete (I already mentioned the specific use of femele for pawns, and there are no words at present for, for example, ‘to lose’, ‘position’, ‘opening’, ‘to jump over’, or even the board itself). Therefore, before we can open this search-facility to the public, further work needs to be done (and is currently being done) to improve the robustness of our ‘semantic tag’ system.

The Lewis Chessmen, twelfth-century set of chess pieces, 
from Scandinavia, but found on the Isle of Lewis


[1] Each entry links to two leading etymological dictionaries of French (the Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch (FEW) and the Dictionnaire Étymologique de l’Ancien Français (DEAF); two medieval French dictionaries (Godefroy and Tobler-Lommatzsch), the online Middle French dictionary (the Dictionnaire du Moyen Français or DMF), a Modern French dictionary (the Trésor de la Langue Française (TLF); the Oxford English Dictionary (OED); the online Middle English Dictionary (MED); and the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources (DMLBS). Further relevant dictionaries may be added in the future.
[2] See scacca DMLBS 2948a, where the etymology is explained as originating from shah, the Arabic word for ‘king’.
[3] See MED ches n. and OED  (only from the early eighteenth-century) checker n.2.
[4] The definition is based upon the context, and no other instances of it have been found elsewhere: ‘Encontre reison eust mespris Que ad curlus reine eust assis’ (He’d have acted against reason if he had placed the queen by the pawn) Eschez ANTS 24.110.
[5] This sense is currently missing from the AND entry for femele, but the citation under masle provides a usable attestation of this. This just as an example not only of how the current semantic tagging is not yet consistent and therefore somewhat unreliable, but also of how a closer look at semantic subgroups may help editors of the AND to identify gaps or omissions.
[6] See also OED fers n. and MED fers n. It is only in the fifteenth century that the queen gets her modern moves.
[7] See also MED aufin n. The piece was referred to as bishop from the twelfth-century in Courier Chess, but according to the OED, this sense appears only from the sixteenth century onwards in England.
[8]Al neofime (=move) vint avant li cornuz, Si li mostre ses corns aguz’ (At the ninth move, the horned one moves forward, and thus shows him his sharp horns) Eschez ANTS 11.111.
[9] Both are made available in ‘plain text’ editions in Tony Hunt, Les Gius Partiz des Eschez: Two Anglo-Norman Chess Treatises, ANTS Plain Texts Series 3, London, 1985.
[10] See OED jeopardy n. and MED juparti(e n. The same word also appears in Medieval Latin, clearly derived from the vernacular, as  jupartia (DMLBS 1514b), and Continental French (cf. DMF jeu (jeuparti) and FEW jocus 5,42b).

Monday, September 15, 2014

Word of the month: Nice! An Anglo-Norman insult.

English speakers may be surprised to learn that the etymology of nice is not very nice at all and that its semantic development is unparalleled in the Romance languages. This word, which style guides recommend that you avoid as it both ubiquitous and nearly devoid of all meaning, has a most complicated semantic evolution.

The word nice is attested quite early in French – ca 1160 and has its roots in the Latin nescius, an adjective meaning ‘ignorant, unknowing’.[1] The word was used in French (and other Romance languages) in Middle English (c. 1400) to disparage people, actions and sayings as silly or foolish. This is the meaning the word retained in the Romance languages, though in French the word is rather uncommon today though you may find it in some older texts to refer to someone as simple or naive, such as those the TLF cites: Un brave homme, un peu nice, appelé Monthyon (Pommier,Colères,1844, p.66)

The semantic development of the word nice in English is a rather complicated affair as its entry in the OED explains as it breaks down the fourteen (!) senses the word has had over the centuries. From the original meaning of ‘foolish, silly, simple’, the word went on to be used with a wide variety of senses: slothful, effeminate, shy, wanton, meticulous. The current sense of nice as ‘agreeable, pleasant’ doesn’t show up until the mid-eighteenth century and has now overtaken all the earlier meanings.

In Anglo-Norman, the word nice only seems to have been in its Latinate meaning of ‘foolish, ignorant’, so it doesn’t seem that the development in English is due to Anglo-Norman and it doesn’t appear that the Middle English use of the word particularly affected the use in Anglo-Norman. A more Latinate form is also attested in Anglo-Norman in the entry nescient, with the same meaning as nice, a form that is equally attested in English (nescient), though at a much later date (c. 1500).

Carrow Psalter, Fool with bladder on stick eating cusped loaf, Walters Manuscript W.34, fol. 113r detail

A similar separation of the languages appears in their respective uses of another word to refer to a simple or ignorant person, naif.[2] Naif is derived from the same Latin word nativus that would give us native in English, and nearly all the citations for naif demonstrate this sense of naturalness or nativeness.

English develops several forms of the same word – naif, naïf, or naive – but none are attested prior to the 16th century. They all enter English with the sense of ‘native inhabitant or bondsman’, meanings much closer to their Anglo-Norman counterpart. In English, naive does not develop the current meaning of ‘unsophisticated, credulous’ until some time in the seventeenth century.

One citation from Gower, a medieval writer of Latin, English and Anglo-Norman works, suggests an interpretation for naif closer to the moden usage of ‘foolish, naive’:

Plus nyve que le prisonner Qui tout jour voit l'uiss desfermé Dont il pourroit en saulf aler, Mais ne se voet desprisonner, Tanq’il au gibet soit mené  GOWER Mirour 5695

trans: More foolish than the prisoner who all day sees an unlocked door, Out of which he could go safely, But does not wish to free himself Until he is led to the gallows.

Surprisingly, natif does not seem to be well attested in Anglo-Norman, despite the fact that the form is found in Old French from the twelfth century.[3] In Anglo-Norman, natif is currently found only in a few late glosses of Nequam’s De Nominus Ustensilium, as a gloss to Latin nativam, alongside the more usual naif, as well as in some late parliamentary rolls with the sense of ‘native inhabitant’ It is the term naif which is used most frequently in Anglo-Norman to refer to the feudal state of bondsman but it is attested a few times from the 13th century, often modified by fol, to mean a foolish person.

King Solomon instructing his son, Bible historiale, Clairefontaine and Paris (1411)

So if calling someone ‘nice’ means you are actually calling that person an idiot, how can you refer to someone clever? In medieval French the term generally used for this was cointe, which could be used to call someone clever, or quick-witted or skillful.[4] It was a fine line however, as the same term was used to call someone crafty or devious – you could be clever, but not too clever! The term is derived from the Latin adjective cognitus, meaning ‘wise’ or ‘clever’ and continues to have a positive sense in Modern French (‘joli, agréable), though it is considered an archaic term.

Cointe was borrowed into Middle English, but you might recognize it under the more familiar form of quaint. When it first entered English, it was used in similar senses to the use in Anglo-Norman, that is, to characterize things that were cunning or clever or skilful. However, it certainly no longer has this sense, but generally connotes something that is pleasingly old-fashioned, a meaning the word would acquire some time in the mid-eighteenth century.

So be careful when addressing a medieval re-enactor! Your 'Nice job!' may not be the compliment you intend!


[1] FEW: nescius 5,494a; Gdf: nice 5,494a; TL: nice 6,661; DMF: nice; TLF: nice; DMBLS: nescius 1909c
[2] FEW: nativus 7,44a; Gdf: naif 1 5,464a; GdfC: naif 10,190a; TL: naïf 6,479; DMF: naïf; TLF: naïf; DMLBS: nativus 1889b 
[3] FEW: nativus 7,45a; Gdf: natif 5,474a; GdfC: natif 10,192a; TL: natif 6,521; DMF:natif; TLF: natif; DMLBS: nativus 1889c
[4] FEW: cognitus 2/i, 843b; Gdf: cointe 1, 2,173c; TL: cointe, 2,254; DMF: cointe TLF: cointe

Friday, August 22, 2014

Word of the month: 'Outremer'

Outre-mer (see TLF) is a French term that can be used to refer to faraway countries, be it in Africa, the Orient or America. It is a direct translation of the Latin ultra mare, literally ‘across the sea’, which in its adjectival form ultramarinus (cf. DMLBS 3545a), also produced the English word ultramarine: the blue pigment derived from the mineral lapis lazuli which, in medieval times, was imported from Asia by sea. Within a medieval context, Outremer also became a word used to refer to the Crusaders’ Holy Land and more specifically to the French settlements in the conquered territories of the Near or Middle East: the lands ‘across the sea’. It is mainly with that latter sense that outremer was used in English (OED Outremer n.), albeit only from the first half of the nineteenth century, when it makes its first attested appearance, rather surprisingly, in the Longfellow’s travel book Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea:

‘I, too, in a certain sense, have been a pilgrim of Outre-Mer; for to my youthful imagination the old world was a kind of Holy Land (p.7)’

Louis IX sailing off on his second crusade,
from the Chroniques de France ou de St Denis, 1332-50 (Royal 16 G. vi, f. 437v)

Dr. Laura Morreale of Fordham University currently runs a project under the title ‘The French of Outremer’, which uses the term (with the necessary caveats) with precisely that sense, to bring together studies of the French language as it must have circulated in Crusaders’ settlements.

The word or phrase outre mer – sometimes with a definite article outre le/la mer – was quite common in medieval French, and also in Anglo-Norman. For example, in the early thirteenth-century romance of Gui de Warewic, the word appears in Anglo-Norman with reference specifically to the ‘land of the Saracens’:

‘Les Sarazins de ultre mer En Romanie venu esteient’ (l. 4650)
(The Saracens from ‘outre mer’ had arrived in Romania)

Another example can be found in Brevia Placitata, a fourteenth-century collection of legal texts:

‘s’en ala outremer en pelerinage e lessa le maner saunz garde’ (p. 184) 
(he went on pelgrimage ‘outre mer’ and left the manor without a ward)

Evidently, the sense of ‘Middle East’ or ‘Holy Land’ in these two examples is only circumstantial  and the phrase outre mer itself barely has more significance than ‘across the sea’.

In a thirteenth-century medical text, one of the ingredients of a medical preparation is urtie de outremer (i.e. ‘nettle from outremer’); see AND2 sub urtie. No further indication is given of the precise nature of this plant, but similar recipes suggests that this may refer to the Greek Nettle (see OED Greek a.) – the nettle from across the Mediterranean Sea, though not quite as far as the Holy Land.

Jehan de Mandevilles' Le Livre des merveilles (Paris, BN fr. 2810, fol.188v)

It turns out, however, that most Anglo-Norman attestations use the word without specific reference to any country or area and because of the geography of England, that is, surrounded by the sea, the term could simply mean ‘abroad’. For example, in the early-fifteenth-century Liber Albus, a compilation of earlier Guildhall records, we find:

‘Des avoirs qe veignent d'outre meer: ciere, argoil, quivere, estein [...]’ (p. 231) 
(Goods that come from ‘outre mer’: wax, argol, copper, tin [...])

which are not necessarily the most exotic commodities.

Another citation, from a case account taken from the Exchequer Chamber, shows a usage of the term which is most likely deliberately unspecific:

‘si un apport bienz de ouster le mer en Engleterre par cause de merchandiser et les jett sur le terre nient customés [...]’ (Exchequer Chamber ii 34.14)
(if somebody brings goods into England from ‘outre mer’ with a view to selling them, and brings them on land without paying customs [...])

In some instances, the context makes it clear that outre mer does not go any further than across the Channel, for example in the fourteenth-century Anonimalle Chronicle:

‘En cel temps le roi ové simple compaignie des gentz passa outra mier au roi de Fraunce’ (p. 142)
(At that time, the king together with a simple train of people crossed ‘outre mer’ to the king of France)

Similarly, towards the end of the fourteenth century, Richard II wrote to Maud, countess of Oxford:

‘[...] considerantz les [...] disaises que nostre bien amé W[auter] H., nadgairs [...] cook a [...] nostre cousin le Duc d'Irlande vostre filz [...], avoit pur le temps q'il estoit demorant en le service de nostre dit cousin es parties outre la meer’ (Lett & Pet p. 64)
([...] taking into consideration [...] the inconveniences which our beloved Walter H., former cook of our cousin the Duke of Ireland your son, had during the time when he was staying in the service of our said cousin in those regions ‘outremer’)

In this instance, outremer is Ireland.

World map (BL Add. MS 28681, f.9)

It seems that from quite early on outremer also became a legal term in Anglo-Norman, taken over in seventeenth-century law English as oulter-le-mer n.,  which functioned as a type of essoin, i.e. an excuse for non-appearance in court:

‘Purceo qe mulz de genz se font fausement assoigner de utre meer, la ou il furent en Engletere le jour de la somonse [...]’ (Stats i 37 )
(As is the case that many people have themselves incorrectly essoined of ‘outremer’, while they were in England on the day of the summons [...])

‘[...] ke essoigne de utremer ne soit aluee en nul manere de plai jeté pur celi ke soit truvé a sumunse’ (Winchester 46.11)
([...] that the essoin of ‘outremer’ would not be allowed in any way in the case of a plea put forward for someone who is found present for the summons)

Although the same ambiguity may be at play in these examples, the essoin is ultimately one of not being in the country at the time of a court case.

Altogether (and perhaps not surprisingly), in Anglo-Norman (and the same can be demonstrated for Continental French, cf. DMF outre-mer) the mer in the expression outre (la) mer seems to have referred to any major expanse of water, from those that are the immediate borders of the country to the Mediterranean Sea and possibly beyond. Ultimately, outremer was anywhere but England.


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.