Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Word of the Month: Anglo-Norman Sweetmeats

At this time of year, our thoughts turn to Christmas foods – particularly to sweets and confections. A search of the use of the term ‘sweetmeat’ in the AND2 (one can search the translations or glosses in the dictionary from the homepage) shows that an international array of sugary goods was available in medieval England. For those unfamiliar with the English term, sweetmeat is used to describe any kind of confectionary – candied fruit, nuts etc. – nothing ‘meaty’ involved despite the name – ‘meat’ is used here in the original sense of ‘food’ and not ‘flesh’. This should not be confused with the similar sounding sweetbread – which is definitely neither sweet nor bread! Even the OED can’t explain that one!

Confection was the general term used in Anglo-Norman for any compound preparation – a mixture which included a number of ingredients. It was also used as a term for preserves, a mixture of fruit and sugar. From the Latin confectio, the word is attested in Middle English from the end of the fourteenth century (MED confeccioun; OED confection). While Godefroy (confection 2, 231a) suggests a gloss of ‘confiture’ for some 16th-century attestations of the word, other Medieval French dictionaries suggest the term was used for mixtures, particularly pharmacological mixtures to which honey or syrup had been added (FEW confection 2/ii,1029b; TL confeccïon; DMF confection; TLF confection). In the AND2, the citations illustrating this sense of ‘preserve, sweetmeat’ are all taken from late sources: two citation from the account rolls of the Abbey of Durham dating from about 1383 - 1403(and in a Latin context) and a citation from the Southampton Port Books from the early fifteenth century. You will note that Durham and Port Books are frequently our only source for this type of word. While the Port Books record all the imports into Southampton between 1427 and 1430, the Durham accounts record all the expenditures of the abbey between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Related to confection, confit is derived from the past participle of the Latin conficere and listed in the AND as a past participle used as adjective sub confire2 meaning ‘preserved’. Again the attestations for its usage are mainly drawn from Durham and Port Books with the earliest attestation listed dating to about 1370. The term comfit (the -mf- spelling particular to English, and also found in the Anglo-Norman variants comfeth and comfyt) is attested in Middle English from 1425 in the sense of ‘sweetmeat made of fruit preserved with sugar’ (MED confit, n.; OED comfit, n). The term is equally attested in Old French as confit (FEW conficere 2/ii,1021b; Gdf 2,234b; TL confit; DMF confit (note that this article erroneously linls to AND2’s conflict rather than confire2) ) and also confite (Gdf 2,234b; DMF confite) with some hesitation about the gender of the word.

Dragee is defined in the AND2 as a ‘spice, sweet meat, though also a type of pill, or a sweet medicinal preparation’. The earliest citation of dragee in the OED is from 1853, though in the forms found under dredge, n.2  the word is attested from 1350, glossed as ‘a sweetmeat or comfit containing a seed or grain of spice’. (See also MED dragge n.2). The OED suggests a derivation from the Greek τραγήματα meaning ‘spices, condiments’ which became tragema in Medieval Latin (the DMLBS defines this as ‘fruit and nuts eaten as dessert’ with one attestation: tagimata sunt frustus dulces habentest dures nucleos, ut uve vel nuces’ Alphita 182).
The term is also attested in Old French(FEW tragema 13/ii 158; TL dragiee; DMF dragie1; dragée; GDF dragie1 2,766a (where both attestations are for the locution male dragie, ‘mauvais accord’); GdfC dragie 9,413c; TLF dragée1. The word continues to be used in both French and English, though the modern definition of the term is that of ‘a nut with a candied (sugarpaned) coating’. This type of candy is often given at weddings in North America (known as Jordan almonds), or after a birth in most of Flanders (known in Dutch as suikerboon (‘sugar bean’ and also popularly known as ‘baby poo’) .The term is also currently used in English to describe small metallic balls used in cake or cookie decoration.

The word gobet is normally used in Anglo-Norman as well as in Middle English and Old French to mean ‘a mouthful’ (FEW *gobbo 4,179b; TL gobet1; Gdf gobet2 4,298b; DEAF gobe G921; DMF gobet; TLF gobet; OED gobbet n.) However, in this entry, we can also find the locution gobet real, defined as a ‘kind of sweetmeat’ and illustrated by two citations: 

cofyns de anys confyt et gobetes reale Durham 126
Item in ij. libris de gingeur confecto ij. libris de annys confecto ij. libris de gobet rial ij. libris de gariofil ij. libris de zucre en plate GAUNT1 ii 270

This usage is unattested elsewhere except in the MED where the use of gobet real is noted with the gloss ‘royal tidbit, a delicacy made of spices and sugar’.

The word madrian, glossed simply as ‘a sweetmeat’ is only found in one attestation in a Latin context (again from Durham – those monks enjoyed their sweets!):

In diversis speciebus […] videlicet gobet reall, anys comfett et madryam Durham 560

It is attested in English between 1350 and 1500 at which point it seems to disappear (OED madrian, n.; MED madrian, n.) It is much more frequently attested in Old French (FEW o.i. 21,139a; TL madrïan; Gdf madrian 5,64b; DMF madrian) where, again, there are no attestations of the word after 1500. The OED is unsure of the etymology of word, but notes the use of madria in Latin (1329 DMBLS 1676b) and the Italian form madria, ‘a type of ginger’, in 1343.

In the entry sukade in the AND2 we find the following citation, glosses as ‘succade, sweetmeat’:

.ix. barels de sukade, valor .xl. s. Port Bks 109

This attestation dating from about 1430, appears to be the earliest attestation of the word, though the FEW (sukkar 19,162a) notes the use of sucrades in the 15th century and the DMF has an attestation from the end of the 15th century of the form chucade in the entry for succade. Godefroy also lists several citations using the word, but these are all later in date than our Anglo-Norman citation (Gdf succade 7,586a). The DMBLS suggests an Anglo-Norman source for their sole attestation of succada which dates to 1570. The term entered English in the forms succade n., succate n.. and sucket n., all with the definition of ‘fruit preserved in sugar’, with the earliest citation from 1463 but the etymology of the word remains unclear. The OED notes the presence of sukade in Dutch and the form succatum in a 15th-century Latin text, but nothing earlier than our Anglo-Norman attestation. However, our graduate student, Megan Tiddeman, has recently noted the presence of a similar form in an Italian (Tuscan) document, dating from the 14th century, so it is very possible that the word is in fact an Italian borrowing. Megan is going to give us some more insights on the development of this word and other words related to sugar in Italian and Anglo-Norman in a future Word of the Month.

Merry/Happy Christmas from the AND – have a wonderful holiday and don’t indulge in too many sweets!


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Words of the Month: Noef! Novel!

The Nativity in the Bedford Hours: London, British Library, MS Additional 18850, f. 65r. - See more at:

It may be a little early for Noel, but already offer you a present in the shape of a novel version of the dictionary: we have proceeded not only with the online publication of the second edition of the letter N – from naal to nuus – but also with the introduction of some entirely new functionalities.

Work on the letter N in the course of 2013 coincided with a novation (‘the alteration of a contract to include a new person’), that is the inclusion of Katariina Nära to the project team. She has been working, since April, on the addition of a new feature now part of AND#2: an entirely new section at the top of the article (just below the headword and variant forms) provides live links and/or references to other relevant dictionaries. These will assist users wishing to explore the word as defined in etymological dictionaries of French (FEW, DEAF), in dictionaries of Old, Middle and Modern French (Godefroy, Tobler-Lommatsch, DMF, TLF), in dictionaries of Middle and Modern English (MED, OED),and in the dictionary of medieval Latin in Britain (DMLBS). This information will help situating the Anglo-Norman word in question within its wider linguistic context. Currently these links are already available for entries beginning with H, I, J, and K as well as the brand new N, and the coverage will gradually expand to the rest of AND#2.

In perusing the new N-entries, you will also notice a second novelty: the addition of a ‘commentary’ section at the top of selected entries. These allow the editorial team to provide additional information about the entry in question, ranging from etymological information, references to articles discussing the word, or an explanation why certain forms or definitions have been used. For example, in the entry novelerie, Geert De Wilde explains why he disagrees with the definition provided by the FEW and favours a different one.

We hope you enjoy the new features of the dictionary (there are more innovations to come!) as much as the availability of the second edition of N. We would love to hear your feedback, either here or through our facebook page, on whether you find that these new functionalities are useful to the dictionary user, whether they are presented in an clear way, whether they font la nove sause pire du prime!


Monday, October 7, 2013

Word of the Month: 'Organe'

Pending online publication of the second edition of ‘N’, AND revision work continues with the editorial team currently gathering information, citations and references for the letter ‘O’. 
To offer a glimpse of the process: it has already become apparent that while AND#1 only had one entry for organe, AND#2 (the second, online edition) will have (at least) two: one musical and one herbal.

The first entry (which was already present in AND#1), now becoming organe1, is derived from Latin organum. The word can be traced back to Greek οργανον, which originally referred to a tool or instrument to work with (cf. εργον, Greek for ‘work, task’), and more specifically to a musical instrument. That latter meaning persisted in medieval times, and the DMLBS lists as its 5th sense: ‘musical instrument that can be tuned’ (DMLBS 2053a).
Whereas the modern musical sense of ‘organ’, i.e. an instrument using pipes sounded by keys, is already well-attested in medieval Latin organum and Middle English organ(e, surprisingly no unambiguous examples have yet been found in Anglo-Norman. In contrast, all occurrences (both as a singular and a plural noun) seem to refer to a stringed instrument or lyre, for example:

'Sur les flums de Babilone, iluec seimes [...]; Es salz [...] suspendimes noz organes'
(Oxf Ps1 213. CXXXVI.2)
[Translated in the King James Version as: By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down [...]; We hanged our harps [...] upon the willows]

'E David sunout une maniere de orgenes ki esteient si aturnés ke l'um les liout as espaldes celi kis sunout'
(Liv Reis 71)
[And David played a type of harp which was fashioned in such a way that one attached it to the shoulders of the person who played it]

'les Helenis, quant voloient [...] avoic les estrumens de musique, harpe, vielle ou orghene  solacier, bon vin usoient, car lors soi trovoient de milhor sens et de plus soutil  contretroveure a faire dittees et contretroveures et melodies'
(Secr Waterford#1 95.846)
[The people of Hellas, when they wanted to perform on musical instruments, harp, viol and lyre, drank good wine, because then they found themselves in a better mood and with a more refined ingenuity to make songs, creations and melodies]

Le roi David et des musiciens. Psautier anglais de Saint-Alban (Hildeshaim) XIIe siècle
(E. G. Millars English illuminated manuscripts) 

Anglo-Norman also has the word orgues (always attested in the plural), which is an abbreviated form of the same Latin root organum. Again it seems to be used with reference to musical instruments. Trivet’s Chronicle provides a new attestation of the word being used referring unquestionably to an organ:

'Gereberd [...] fist orgues chauntauntz sanz eide de home'
(TRIV 278.19)
[Gerbert [...] constructed an organ that played without the help of man]

The chronicle refers to Gerbert of Aurrillac who famously constructed a hydraulically powered pipe organ for the cathedral of Reims in the late tenth century.

AND#1 provided only one attestation of the abbreviated form, together with the definition ‘organ’. However, that example is, after all, ambiguous:

'les chanz des angles e les dulz orgres des sainz'
(Eluc 105.106)
[the singing of angels and the sweet organs/lyres/instruments (?) of the saints]

The Ghent altarpiece (fragment)
Jan and Hubert Van Eyck, late 15th century

The context does not specify which particular type of instruments may have been used by the saints.

A second new citation for AND#2 provides a very different interpretation, as it uses the word to refer to birdsong:

'Li oisel chantent, li rossignos lur orgues mostrent'
(Secr Waterford1 83.373)
[The birds sing, the nightingales bring out their songs]

This particular (perhaps figurative) usage of the word is also found in Latin (DMLBS organum, senses 8. ‘song, hymn’ and 9. ‘music, esp. vocal’) and English (MED, organ(e, sense 3 ‘a sung melody’). The reference to bird-song is, however, unique to this Anglo-Norman attestation. In any case, it adds to the ambiguity of the above Eluc attestation, where the saints may well have been singing hymns, rather than playing any instruments.

The abbreviated form orgues, while also well-attested in Continental French (see DMF orgue), is rare (and obsolete) in English, with OED listing only two examples (also meaning ‘organ’) from the 18th and 19th centuries.

It is surprising that the other senses associated with Latin organum (and also well-attested in medieval and modern English), such as ‘bodily organ’ or ‘instrument of speech’ or ‘device’, currently have no attestations at all in Anglo-Norman – though, of course, work on the second edition of ‘O’ is still on-going. Do send us a message if you come across any examples.

The second organe entry for the AND, which will be new in the second edition, refers to the plant ‘wild marjoram’ (or a variety of similar plants with aromatic leaves). As it is has a different etymology, derived from the Latin word origanum (DMLBS 2054b), the word will be given a separate AND entry.

Section on 'origanum' in the Pseudo-Apuleius Herbarium,
Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ashmole 1431, fol. 29r (11th Century)

This plant-name is attested frequently in Anglo-Norman (mainly as an ingredient in medical treatises) and with many spelling variants, some of which are closer to the Latin form (such as origan or origanon) while others deviate further (orgon, orgoyne, etc.):

'Item pouder ad purger la teste: [pernez] de gilgano e de gingivre e de pelettre e de organe e de ysoppe e temperez od mel e eisel e gargari[s]és en la bouche'
(A-N Med ii 209.25)
[Item, a powder to purge the head: [take] ‘gilgano’ (=unidentified), ginger, pellitory, marjoram and  hyssop, and mix it with honey and vinegar, and rinse the mouth]

The same word is equally found in Middle English as origane n. (with the variant spelling ‘organe’) or origanum n.,  and persists in Modern English as organ n.2 (OED link, through subscription only) and origanum n. (OED link, through subscription only). The word oregano n. (OED link, through subscription onlycomes from the same Latin root, but is a later, post-medieval borrowing from Spanish.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Word of the month: havegooday

While gathering information for the revision of the AND, one of the sources available to the editorial team is the collection of ‘gleanings’ previously made by contributors. Certain texts were read completely and any number of noteworthy words, phrases or citations were set aside – in earlier days handwritten on slips or on typed lists, but more recently copied in digital files – for later consideration. Sometime in the late 1990s Dr. Lisa Jefferson contributed in such a way, and gathered material from (among other sources) the manuscripts of the Merchant Taylor accounts – which otherwise would not have been available to the AND. Her ‘gleanings’ for ‘H’ from these documents belonging the London guild of tailors included the following intriguing phrase:

‘Item pur .vij. havegooddays, un pur le stretdore, pris .iiij. d. et pur l’autres .vj. d. – xij d.’

It is a single entry in a list of payments made during the second year of the reign of Henry VI (1423).

Two seemingly English words appear in this otherwise Anglo-Norman sentence: havegooddays and stretdore. The AND’s editorial policy on matters like this has been that when a given context is Anglo-Norman, isolated English, Latin, Greek, Hebrew (etc.) words should be considered either as loan-words or, at the least, as comprehensible to the Anglo-Norman reader/listener. Either way, ‘foreign’ or ‘mixed language’ words such as these are normally included in the dictionary (obviously, with a relevant language tag indicating the language from which they are borrowed). Consequently, both havegoodday and stretdore will get their own AND entries, just like previously bacgavel, clapholt or debet

To what is this entry referring? The note is a financial record for the purchase of seven havegooddays, with one for the stretdore being more expensive (4 d.) than the other six (1 d. apiece). Stretdore can be found in the Middle English Dictionary (sub strete n.2) as ‘the door of a house leading to the street’, but what is the meaning of  havegoodday? Lisa Jefferson attached a puzzled note to her gleanings: ‘I fear one of those wooden plaque things, bearing words and which are affixed to a certain door’. Did the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors in London see the need to greet the visitors to their Hall with no less than seven such signs? Or was this a rather twentieth-century-like attempt to boost the morale of their members on a daily basis?

The solution, as is often the case, can be found in the OED. The Oxford English Dictionary has an entry for havegooday – an obsolete word with only one attestation – which is defined as ‘a kind of door-latch’. In addition, it links to another entry, haggaday which is accounted for as a contracted form of ha’ good day. In nineteenth-century dictionaries and glossaries (cited in the OED) ‘haggaday’ is defined as ‘a kind of wooden latch for a door’ (J.O. Halliwell, A Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words), and described as ‘frequently put upon a cottage door, on the inside, without anything projecting outwards by which it may be lifted. A little slit is made in the door, and the latch can only be raised by inserting therein a nail or slip of metal’ (E. Peacock A Glossary of Words Used in the Wapentakes of Manley and Corringham). 

The word hagodai (with its variant have-godai) is also found in the MED, and appears from the middle of the fourteenth century onwards. It is, however, defined somewhat differently as ‘A ring forming the handle for raising the latch on a door’. The word seems to have been fairly common, albeit with quite some variation in its spelling: the earliest attestated form in the MED is hagonday (1353).

Returning to Anglo-Norman, also this syncopated form  can be found, i.e.  in a second attestation culled by Lisa Jefferson from the Merchant Taylors’ accounts, this time of the year before:

‘Item pur hokis, hengis, ceres, cliefs, boltis, staplis et lattchis, hagedaies et tout manere irenware .iiij. s. .ij. d.’

The word is unattested in Continental French or in Medieval Latin. However, these two ‘new’ citations document the existence of havegoodday in Anglo-Norman, and a new entry has been created, which will become live with the next phase of updates (i.e. when the recently finished N- entries are published online). As a preview, here is a screenshot of the editorial version of the new article:

The question remains how a greeting like ‘have a good day’ could have lent its name to (part of) a door-latch. It is the etymology proposed by the OED (not updated since 1898) and the MED, but ultimately remains unexplained. Is it a metonymical link, with the words usual said to someone before closing a door after him/her being applied to the instrument that locks this particular door? Or, similarly, does the safety of the latch guarantee a ‘good day’ to the owner of the house? The fact that the earliest attestation hagonday has an extra ‘n’ raises the possibility that this word may have had an entirely different origin, and that the more recognisable variant, have a good day, may have been the outcome of a folk-etymology, already in use in the Middle Ages. Is hagedaie a more original form than havegoodday?  So far we have not been able to find any other etymology for the word – could it be a place-name, another language, a person? 


Monday, July 8, 2013

Call for Anglo-Norman papers

Call for Papers:

Anglo-Norman Texts, Language and Contexts

The Anglo-Norman Dictionary ( is interested in sponsoring a session or series of sessions at the Leeds International Medieval Congress 2014 (see to new research on Anglo-Norman texts and their contexts. We will present papers on the subject, but are looking for further contributors.
We are particularly interested in hearing about new texts, new editions of texts, and texts that fall outside of the literary context. Paper topics could include, but are not limited to:

  • the use of Anglo-Norman in literary and non-literary contexts
  • the intended audience of Anglo-Norman texts throughout the medieval period
  • the transmission of Anglo-Norman texts
  • the revision, annotation or translation of Anglo-Norman texts 
  • the inclusion of Anglo-Norman with texts in other languages
  • the manuscript context of Anglo-Norman works
  • the use of Anglo-Norman outside England

If you are interested, please contact us, the session organizers, at by September 15 2013, with a short summary of your proposal.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Word of the Month: The Monoceros and the Unicorn

The Anglo-Norman unicorn is a strange beast. And not only because it never existed. Whereas continental French has both unicorne and the altered form licorne (regarded by FEW 14,42b, and Hope, Lexical Borrowing, 42-43, as deriving from Italian, as a reduction of lunicorno where one syllable is lost, so l(un)icorno became licorno). English has only the one form though licorn is attested in the obsolete (nineteenth-century) sense of ‘old name for the howitzer of the last century, then but a kind of mortar fitted on a field-carriage to fire shells at low angles’ (OED sub licorn). Licornus is not attested in the DMBLS though presumably unicornus will be, as the latter is equally attested in late classical Latin.

Anglo-Norman however, seemingly only has the one form, unicorne and was used to refer to both the (mythological) unicorn or any (real) one-horned animal, notably the Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis, which has only one horn whereas the African rhinoceros has two). Anglo-Norman equally has the term monosceros, again used to refer to both the unicorn and the rhinoceros. The medieval descriptions of these animals is quite different than what a modern reader might expect: Monoceros i meint en sum, Ke nus unicorne numum: Cors de cheval, chief ad cervin, Piez d'olifant, cue porcin Pet Phil 689 (The monoceros lives up there, which we call a unicorn: the body of a horse, head of a stag, feet of an elephant, tail of a pig) ; Sachez pur voir, seignurs, qe un est rinoceros, E une autre beste est apellee monoceros [...] Monoceros est beste, ceo nous dit dan Solins; Il ad pez d'olifant, de corps est equins; E vont cum lions, del chef est cervins. Un[e] corn[e] ad al front, de la cue est porcins Rom Chev ANTS 6812 and 19 (Know for certain, sirs, what is a rhinoceros and another beast called the monoceros ... A monoceros is an animal, as Saladin has told us, which has the feet of an elephant, the body of a horse, which moves like a lion, which has the head of a stag, a horn on its forehead and the tail is porcine.)

Medieval descriptions of this (mythological) unicorn, found notably in Brunetto Latini, and including the one above from the Anglo-Norman Petite Philosophie, appear ultimately to derive from the Roman natural historian Pliny the Elder’s Historia naturalis, (Book VIII, XXXI) possibly via the medieval Imago Mundi, a sort of encyclopaedia written in Latin and translated into French.

The influential but often wildly uninformed Isidore of Seville, in his entertaining Etymologiæ, distinguishes between the rhinoceros and the monoceros, a Greek word meaning “one-horned” which he translates into the Latin unicornus. The remainder of his account (particularly the reference to the practice whereby hunters use a virgin as a decoy to soothe the otherwise uncapturable unicorn) expands considerably on Pliny’s, and the same story makes its way into Brunetto Latini. It is undoubtedly the basis of much of the medieval iconography of the unicorn, and is linked, too, to a religious interpretation: the unicorn is a Christ-figure, the virgin is Mary, and it is no accident that pictures usually show the beast being stabbed in the side by a spear, as Christ was on the Cross. 

A particularly interesting case is when Marco Polo, en route back to Europe, encounters in Sumatra an animal he thinks is a unicorn (it was presumably a Sumatran rhinoceros) and cannot understand why it is an ugly, dark animal, which doesn’t look like the elegant white unicorns he had heard about (and apparently seen images of). Umberto Eco discusses this story in his Kant and the Platypus, as an example of an attempt to force external reality to conform to one’s mental universe. 


Images courtesy of the British Library, Harley 4751, f. 6v, Harley 3244, f. 38 and Royal 2.B.7, f.101

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Word of the month: nuncheon

It is mid-afternoon and the editorial team of the Anglo-Norman Dictionary is producing XML files of the latest batch of new entries for N-. They have been sitting in front of their computers and processing the data for about six hours now, and their typing fingers are noticeably slowing down. It is still too early to call it a day, but minds are inevitably beginning to wander. Fortunately, a resolution for the growing three-o’clock malaise is found in the Oxford English Dictionary under the word ‘nuncheon’, that is, ‘a drink taken in the afternoon; a light refreshment between meals; a snack’.

‘Nuncheon’ is a word labelled as archaic or regional – the sort of vocabulary encountered in nineteenth-century novels: Sir Walter Scott still wrote ‘I came to get my four-hours’ nunchion from you’ in his novel Fortunes Of Nigel (1822), and in Charlotte Mary Yonge’s Love and Life (1880) a sister tells her siblings ‘I will give you some bread and cheese and gingerbread for noonchin’.

The word has a suggested etymology which traces it back to an Old English compound of ‘noon’ and ‘shench’. Its first half, ‘noon’, is derived from Classical Latin ‘nona’ (DMLBS nonus 1929a), meaning the ‘ninth hour of the day’.  In Roman and consequently ecclesiastical time-keeping this would originally have corresponded with 3 o’clock in the afternoon, although in the course of the Middle Ages the word became more and more used (both in Middle English and Anglo-Norman) to refer to an earlier time of day (see AND second edition sub none1, forthcoming). It has been suggested that monastic orders, who had their lunch after the ‘ninth hour’ liturgy, were inclined to perform that service earlier and earlier, so that the term ‘noon’ eventually became associated with midday. In ‘nuncheon’, the first half of the word has retained its original meaning of mid-afternoon. The second half, Old English ‘shench’, can be translated as ‘a cupful, drink (of liquor)’. It is derived from the Old English verb ‘scencean’ (‘to pour out a liquid’), which is still found in Modern German and Modern Dutch (as ‘schenken’) and even Modern English (as ‘to skink’, labelled archaic or Scottish). Somehow that word became shortened, losing the final ‘ch’ or ‘k’, to produce the second half of ‘nuncheon’.

The only explanation the OED can provide for the modification of the word ‘shench’ in the second half of ‘nuncheon’, is that this may have happened through similarity with words such as ‘puncheon’ and ‘truncheon’. It is also pointed out that a semantic and formal analogy with the word ‘luncheon’ is almost inevitable. Even so, this does not resolve the matter as, also the ending of ‘luncheon’ is etymologically unclear, and there is not enough chronological evidence to determine which word may have affected which. Although ‘lunch’ is usually considered an abbreviated form of ‘luncheon’, the OED can only see the etymology of the word as ‘related in some way’ to ‘lunch n.2’, originally meaning ‘a thick piece, hunch or hunk’, which then acquired an apparently superfluous and meaningless ‘-eon’ suffix. While this leaves us with a not entirely satisfactory or even plausible explanation, it should be noted that the Old English ‘shench’ survived in Middle English with a great number of variant spellings, such as ‘chins’, ‘shins’ ‘sens’, etc. (see MED shenche) which all shift the final velar consonant forward in pronunciation to a sibilant. Forms like these may well have produced an incorrectly derived singular form ‘cheon’.

The word is unmistakably English, but it appears surprisingly late in a truly English context. The earliest such attestation, both in the OED and the MED, is from 1422-23, taken from the account book of the London Brewers’ Craft, and lists a payment received by two carpenters for making a gutter, which includes money for their nuncheons:

Item, to .ij. carpenters be .j. day, to ech of hem with her nonsenches .viij. d. ob., for to make þe forseid goter, .xvij. d.’

There are a several earlier examples, but these all use the word in the context of a different language. It appears as a vernacular word in a Latin context from 1260-75 onwards, for example, in the account of Bury St. Edmunds, where a payment is listed, this time to the carters, for their nuncheon:

Memorandum quod carectarius habet preter hoc a pascha usque festum Sancti Michaelis qualibet septimana ad noonschench j.d.ob.

In some instances, the word was even given a Latin ending, justifying the DMLBS entry nonshenchus: in a document from 1375, among payments listed, one states: 

in .ij. nouncheynchis ad dictos Nicholaum et famulum suum, .iij. d.

In a similar but later example (from the Church Wardens’ Accounts of Saint Michael’s Church in Oxford, 1426-27), ‘Item, pro le nunsens operariorum, vii d.’, the Latin scribe indicates that he is aware that the word is vernacular, but by preceding it by the definite article ‘le’ gives the impression of treating it as a French/Anglo-Norman word.

Finally, also the AND’s source material provides three instances of the word, used in a fully Anglo-Norman context. The earliest of these (from the Exe Bridge wardens’ accounts) is from 1349: 

Item en .iiij. carpenters tote la semaygne et lour nonsench: .vij. s. .viij. [d.]

A second example is found in an entry of the account rolls of the wardens of Rochester Bridge  1412-13: 

Item payé a ij carpounters pur amender lé benchez et lez fenesteres et auteres necessaryis de lez rentes de Wamfforde par .vij. jours pernaunt checun par le jour .viij. d. et checun jour a leur nounschenche checun .j. d.

Once more, a payment is made for the nuncheons of three carpenters, included in their days work. (Incidentally, most of the above examples, which are all very similar in nature, suggest that the medieval ‘nuncheon’ may have been more of a proper meal in the middle of a working day, rather than just the drink or refreshment as is suggested by the etymology and the dictionary definitions.)

In other words, what is clearly an English or Old English word first emerges in Latin documents as a ‘foreign’ vernacular loanword in the thirteenth century. We then see it appearing in mid-fourteenth-century Anglo-Norman texts, where it is used as a ‘normal’ French word, and a few decades later in Latin in the same way. It is only half a century later, around 1422-23) that we have the first fully English documents preserved that use the word. As such, the word is a perfect example of the hierarchy and/or chronology of the three medieval languages and the of the documents in which they are preserved.

After their nuncheon, the Anglo-Norman Dictionary editorial team return to their XML editor and continue work on the final stages of the revised edition of N-. 


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Word of the Month: The Croes Naid

While the work of revising the dictionary often results in new citations added to articles, or to new definitions added to existing entries, adding a new word to the dictionary is always very exciting. Sometimes, in the process, we also manage to solve some editorial ‘mysteries’.
In the recent edition of the Prose Brut to 1332 (H. Pagan, ed. ANTS vol. 69, 2011), we can  read that, ‘Robert de Winchelse et autrez grauntz fusrent juretz sur la croice neite de tenir et maintenir lez dites ordenances’ (l. 5797 ; Robert of Winchelsea [bishop of Canterbury] and other great [men] swore on the ‘croice neite’ to hold and maintain the said ordinances). In the glossary and notes to the text, it is suggested that neite is a form of net (AND2 s.v. net, soon to be net1) though there is also a mention that one manuscript presents the reading nettement. Neit is indeed an attested variant of net, though none of the senses of net (currently ‘clean’, ‘pure, chaste’, ‘innocent’) seem to apply to this citation.
The editors were preparing a concordance of Foedera during the rewriting of the entries beginning with ‘n’ and came across the following citation: Et cest serment avons nous fet sur le cors nostre Seigneur, & la Croys Neyt, & la Blake Rode de Escoce, en la presence de le honurable pere en Dieu Johan eveske de Kardoyl (Vol. i, p. 924 ; And we [Robert, bishop of Glasgow] swore this oath on the body of Our Lord and the ‘Croys Neyt’ and the Black Rod of Scotland, in the presence of the honourable father in God, John, bishop of Carlisle [in 1300]). Recalling the previous encounter with this cross, it became clear that something very specific was being referred to in these citations, not a generic ‘pure’ cross.

Badge of the Wales Herald Extraordinary - Cross of 'Neith'

A search of all the standard dictionaries of medieval French and English provided no clues as to the meaning of neit in this context. However, the DMLBS sub crux (II, 524b) contains the following citation under the second meaning of ‘cross of Christ (w. ref. to preservation as a relic)’: nobis ... Walenses partem illam preciosissimi ligni crucis, que a Walensibus crossneyht vocatur, reddiderunt, (The Welsh rendered to us the most precious fragment of the wood of the Cross, which they call ‘crossneyht’). The citation, which dates to 1283, is also taken from Foedera (vol. II, p. 247), and seems to suggest that the term in question is the result of an attempt to render a Welsh expression in Latin and Anglo-Norman. But what was it and what does it mean?
Our colleagues at the Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, pointed us in the right direction. In their dictionary ( sub croes ‘cross’) one can find the locution y Groes Naid defined as ‘the sacred jewelled cross of the princes of Gwynedd said to contain a part of the Holy Rood; it was taken to London after the death of Llywelyn II and added to the English Crown jewels; fig. a symbol of protection and security; mark of excellence (lit. cross of fortune or fate).’ The expression Croes Nawdd sometimes appears as well, but it seems most likely that the more accurate representation of the term is Naid (naid is defined by the GPC as ‘destiny, fate, chance, luck, fortune; protection, sanctuary, refuge’ while nawdd is defined as ‘sanctuary, refuge, protection’). It is evident that this is the source of our croice neite. The next task was to locate any references to this cross outside of Foedera.
In his article ‘The Cross Nawdd’ (Y Cymmrodor, XLIII (1932) 1-18), Edward Owen provides a history of the Welsh relic, sometimes also known as the Crux Neoti, as an accompaniment to his transcription of a document from the PRO, about its restoration. He cites an anonymous article in The Tablet (The International Catholic News Weekly, 17 June, 1911) for his summary of references to the ‘croes nawdd’ in medieval Latin chronicles. W.C. Tennant discusses the relic in her article ‘Croes Naid’ (National Library of Wales Journal, 7.2 (1951) 102-115.
The cross, which was said to contain a fragment of the wood of the True Cross, was reported to have been found on the body of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, at his defeat near Builth in 1282. The Latin citation in Foedera details the presentation of this relic to Edward I in 1283.This was obviously a notable event in the reign as a number of contemporary Latin chronicles mention the presentation of the relic.
The history of the cross itself remains obscure. Welsh legend claims that the cross was brought to Wales by Elen Luyddog, daughter of Constantine the Roman Emperor, as can also be found in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae, or by Hywel Dda on his return from pilgrammage. Other tales link the cross to St. Neot, a saint venerated in Cornwall.
Three images of the cross can be found in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor where the cross is believed to have been held after being given to the chapel by Edward III until its confiscation in 1552. Clare Rider, Archivist and Chapter Librarian provides a history of the cross, alongside images of the representations of the cross in the chapel at their monthly blog
There are several further mentions of the cross in Foedera in Anglo-Norman: Piers de Gaveston swears on ‘la croiz Neit’in 1307(i 1010) and another oath is sworn on ‘la croiz neytz’ in 1306 (i 1010). A further mention of the cross in Anglo-Norman can be found in The Antient Kalendars and Inventories of the Treasury of His Majesty’s Exchequer (ed. F. Palgrave, 1836, Vol. iii, p. 188) as item 207 of an inventory of the jewels found in the treasury at the beginning of Robert de Wodehouse’s term as Treasurer in 1339: ‘Un saphire de la croice Gneyth, pris .xl. s.’ Owen’s and Tennant’s respective articles also contain several references to the ‘crois Neit’ or the ‘crois Nect’ in their transcriptions of the accounts of Richard de Grymesby for repairing the cross in 1351-53 (PRO E 407/5/100). This appears to be the last mention of the cross in Anglo-Norman though the expression would continue to be used in Welsh, especially in the figurative sense, after this time.
The result of this research is twofold – firstly, the AND will soon have a new entry online under neit#1 using the citations from Foedera and the Prose Brut. Secondly, the edition will have a more accurate gloss, though one which will need to be consulted online!