A local writing group, the Wordwrights, recently reviewed and commented on one of the chapters of my book. A couple of the members noted my use of the word “okay,” which was certainly not in use during the 11th century in England. However, a lot of our words we use today also were not in use. A quandary. What words should be used in this Anglo-Saxon tale, and which ones should I avoid.
Someone at the meeting mentioned a series of YouTube videos on the history of the English language. The history of language is the history of the culture and the people, and I was intrigued. I easily found the ten part series as part of Maxwell’s Collection. Each video about 50 minutes long and I viewed the first two:
Very worthwhile, and I recommend these videos whole heartedly to anyone interested in history.
The words castle, jury, justice, army and archer are all Norman, as is Battle, the name of the town tradition says the Battle of Hastings was fought. The word “fight” is Anglo-Saxon, while the Norse added the words “they,” “them,” and “their.” Norse also added prepositions and changed the sentence structure.
From the time of Bede, a monk who famously chronicled the events in the seventh century, until the end of the eighth century was considered the high days of Latin scholars. But by the time of Alfred the Great (ninth century), very few could read Latin. Alfred encouraged reading and writing among his people, but in English, not Latin. He had books translated and encouraged education. By the mid eleventh century, the written English language seemed secure … until the Normans came from across the sea and conquered the land. English, a poor third to Latin and French, went underground. It was not used for writing, but the spoken English survived and evolved. Ninety percent of the people spoke English, but the scholars and nobility all spoke and wrote in Latin and French.
I did some further searches on the internet and, obviously, I learned the “okay” was not in use in the eleventh century (it’s probably a 19th century word). But I also learned the pigeon was a French term, and dove was the Anglo-Saxon word. I found some wonderful old Anglo-Saxon phrases and words I want to incorporate into my story. Words such as
Elder (respected person)
Breast treasure (heart or soul)
Eaxle – shoulder
Eaxlel-Gestealla (shoulder friend)
Milk-soft – someone gentle, mild-tempered
Sea-flood – incoming tide
Unweder – bad weather, unweather, storm
I also found some Norse words that are common in our language, such as scathing and slaughter.
Using interesting words that were in use in the mid-eleventh century will enrich the novel and give the story an added layer of authenticity. For bringing the importance of words to my attention, I am very grateful to the Wordwrights.