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Showing posts from May, 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 Afric