WOTW: Bellman

I have suggested the occasional post about a lost word, in the hope of prompting some of you to join in the blogging goodness. Here we go again with another post  in the very occasional series of EBL’s Word of the Week.

It has to be said that the joys of sleep often elude me. I have been sleeping better lately but overall it’s not a pleasing picture, with long hours of gazing at the darkened ceiling. I have been cheered by the return of birdsong recently, emphasising the turning of the Wheel, and glad of some wakeful company while Sigoth slumbers on.

Back in the good old days – those days when the world was a better and kindlier place according to some, although I have my doubts – there was a band of men who wandered the streets at night calling out the hour and letting people know that they were safe. I can never decide whether I would appreciate that comfort, or find myself jolted awake just as I managed to nod off, heart pounding and hand reaching for the nearest defensive object.

These men were sometimes called Night Watchmen, and if like me you adore Terry Pratchett’s Discworld that will have all sorts of resonances with you. Another term for them was Bellmen.

Recently I came across a reference to them in my calendar of Forgotten English. Some of the words are not really forgotten in my opinion, just not commonly used; some probably should be forgotten; while the rest seem to have been overlooked by both Chambers and the Oxford English Dictionaries, so I remain sceptical as to their provenance. However, Bellman falls into the first category, by which I mean I have heard the term before with my very own ears, and apparently so has my computer spell-checker (although in that instance ears are not part of the equation).

What I hadn’t heard before was the rather endearing little poem by Robert Herrick (mid 17th century) which he wrote as a kind of blessing to his friends to keep them safe at night. It’s a bit like the prayer regarding long-leggity beasties I think. Anyway, it’s called “The Bellman”, and here it is.

THE BELLMAN (Robert Herrick)

From noise of scare fires rest ye free,
From murders benedicitie;
From all mischances that may fright
Your pleasing slumbers in the night;
Mercie secure ye all, and keep
The goblin from ye, while ye sleep.
Past one o’clock, and almost two,
My masters all, ‘good day to you.’

Isn’t that sweet?

Tell me what helps you sleep: nightlights, the BBC World Service, hot milk and cinnamon, a teddy bear or hot water bottle, whisky, whatever… post a link to your blog in the comments below, and/or tag with EBLWords.

Sleep well, my dears, and ream of beautiful things.

Namaste.

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Quafftide

quaffing viking

Well my dears, another day and another word. This time it’s “quafftide”, from 1881, in “A supplementary English glossary” by T Lewis O Davies, and referring to a time for drinking.

Quaftyde approacheth, and showts in nighttyme doo ringe in loftye Cithaeron

So not as in a “tide of drink,” pleasing as that image may be; more like eventide or yuletide. I am particularly pleased that it therefore derives from Old English tid, meaning  period or division of time, as Bosworth-Toller , the on-line dictionary of Anglo-Saxon, explains:

tíd e; f. Tide (as in Shrove-tide, etc.), time, hour; tempus, Wrt. Voc. i. 52, 39: hora, 53, 17. I. marking time when, time at which anything happens, time or date of an event, time, hour Be ðam dæge and ðære tíde nán mann nát . . . Gé nyton hwænne seó tíd ys, Mk. Skt. 13, 32, 33.Ðá com his tíd ðæt hé sceolde of middangearde tó Drihtne féran, Bd. 4, 3; S. 567, 13: 4, 9; S

http://bosworth.ff.cuni.cz/finder/3/tid

My Chambers dictionary says that “quaff” means to drink or drain in large draughts, and that its origin is obscure. I would have liked to think of the old Saxons or even Vikings celebrating quafftide after gathering on a harvest or putting the Picts to rout, or whatever.

Nevertheless, it seemed highly appropriate for a Friday.

However, it did start me thinking, always a dangerous event, about how malleable the language is. I am quite a fan of neologisms, and anticipate the shocking revelations of new words included in the dictionary each year with keen interest. I was very taken with “omnishambles” back in 2012, for example.

What it actually made me think was that people have forever made language fit the occasion, and then reinvented terms in later generations. I need a term for having a bout of drinking so I will reconfigure two relevant words and Bob’s your aunty’s live-in lover. There are lots of terms for  this in English: pub-crawl, out on the lash, painting the town red, having a bevy, booze-up, bash, or piss-up to name a few. In fact there is a whole sub-language relating to the consumption of alcohol: getting a round in, or having one for the road, a swift jar, a tipple, nightcap or nip. It must be a minefield for foreigners. Meanwhile, my grandparents used completely different words for describing similar activities. In this sense language unites and divides us. I celebrate the notion that we are so alike in our habits, and yet confused by the strangeness of each other’s words. It’s like remembering that, for example, Iron Age people were just as clever as us but didn’t yet have the tech to live like us; the distinction matters.

Anyway, I muse enough.

Your homework is to tell me your terms for quafftiding like it’s 2015, and ideally also to relate an anecdote about such a party. It may involve Pan-Galactic Gargleblasters if you wish, and be purely hypothetical. No photocopiers should be harmed in the production of your story.

Post a link to any such tales in the comments below, and/or tag with EBLWords.

Bottoms up and Namaste!

WOTW: Baubosking

I was given a calendar of old forgotten words for Christmas, and this was the first one in it. It seemed oddly appropriate in the circumstances, as I shall explain momentarily.

Rosedale

Baubosking is an old Yorkshire dialect term for wandering about instead of staying at home, as in

“Sho war er reeight baubosker.”

“Sho’s awlus bauboskin aboot.”

https://archive.org/stream/mymoorlandpatien00bishiala/mymoorlandpatien00bishiala_djvu.txt

The reason this has resonance for me at present is that since my mother died just before Christmas, I have felt a tremendous sense of release from worry. I even went into the travel agent the other day to pick up some brochures, because I feel sufficiently free to be able to think about jetting away somewhere foreign. There are so many options: the Taj Mahal; the Northern Lights; the Icelandic volcanoes; the Rockies; the Alhambra; Casablanca….

Then I saw the prices, my dears, and thought again!

So what to do with this lovely, evocative word?

Well, how about this? Some people may remember Rarasaur’s series of Prompts for the Promptless, where she provided an unusual word or phrase to use as a prompt to write a blog. I wondered if anyone out there fancied doing some more, based on some of the words I anticipate discovering as my calendar shrivels the year away?

Assume no constraints of time, money, family, friends or phobias! Are you a baubosker, or a homebody? If you could travel anywhere, where would it be? (I may take notes here.) If you prefer to stay at home, regale me with the joys of that decision. Would you choose the blazing crater of Eyjafjallajökull or the blazing logs of an open fire in the living room? Another country, continent or world? Time and space is yours. Police boxes are optional.

Take me somewhere thrilling, my dears. It is cold, grey, January here and I yearn for something bright and shining.

And wherever you travel or rest, may it be beautiful to you.

Namaste.

Pilgrimages

canterbury tales

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote

And bathed every veyne in swich licour,

Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth

The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne

Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,

And smale foweles maken melodye,

That slepen al the nyght with open eye-

(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages

 

Geoffrey Chaucer, Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

http://www.librarius.com/cantales.htm

The past is another country, and certainly the medieval period is a very foreign one indeed. Not only did they talk funny, a strange mix of Old English and Norman French which eventually became our beloved mother tongue, but they also seem to have had different weather. A droghte of March, I ask thee! It has not been very droghty at all, although it has been quite draughty at times. That naughty Zephirus.

It is true that I woke up this morning to hear the rain pouring steadily outside: it was proper rain, unrelenting, but not associated with Zephyrs of gales or sleet, just plain rain. So naturally my first thought was “oh, April showers” followed somewhat inevitably by “nice day for a poisson d’avril” because I’m sorry but my mind works like that – even at 5.30 in the morning.

Of course, my mind did turn next to pilgrimages. I have to pack this evening to chug away for work across the borders into West Yorkshire. It will be a pigrimage alone, but at least I will have some little chums to eat with during the evening at the The Tabard, or whatever equivalent we can find. I anticipate a jolly evening when we get the real work done, along with some long hard hours in meeting rooms during the day with less productivity. There may even be tales, and some of them may be a bit ripe, although not as ripe as old Geoffrey’s, which were very ripe indeed.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying I am unlikely to be troubling your in-boxes/reader feed over the next few days. My gift to you. Instead I shall be slogging away in project initiation hell, which is a very special kind of hell I can assure you, and trying to keep my calm. In this regard I am thankful for listening to Thich Nhat Hanh yesterday reminding me of the value of mindfulness. I even tried the telephone meditation at work today which meant I was reasonably courteous to the annoying sales rep who was client-bothering. And by “reasonably courteous” I mean I told him to ring someone else and not bother me again, but fairly politely.

If you were a-travelling, my dears, who would you travel with and what tales would you tell?

Meanwhile, may your journeys be sweet.

Namaste

 

Nordic knitting and inky fingers

Today I had a day off. I know, I know, I had all last week as well but that’s just the way of it. Today I used it for pottering about with creative projects. I haven’t provided a knitting update for a while either, and I know at least some of you are keen needlefolk.

Without further ado, this is the back of the jumper I am working on. The front is about a third done, and has grown much more quickly now I can see what I am doing after the laser treatment last week. Hurrah again for lasers!

nordic jumper

However, this morning I have been trying to puzzle out the script used for Old English. Newer readers may not have cottoned on to the fact that I am trying to learn Old English, that is the language of Alfred the Great and so on. It sounds beautiful and actually I think it looks rather beautiful too. You can see proper pictures on the British Library website, but this is an example from there of the poem “Beowulf”.

Beowulf manuscript

from the British Library website

Some years ago I did a calligraphy workshop and learned modern uncial. It’s the kind of script that gets used to denote Celtic, whatever that is. Certainly Celtic wasn’t a word used by the people often referred to as Celts. But that’s a rant for another day and today I am feeling too mellow to indulge. I had been practising the uncial (unciallating?) and playing with different inks and paper to see what worked best. The first ink I tried simply soaked into the paper so I got a really splotchy effect.

Blotchy Modern Uncial

Blotchy Modern Uncial

The lines are from the Battle of Maldon, a poem created to remember an actual battle which was probably the equivalent of the Spartan 300. Basically the local prince faced up to an invading Viking force with far fewer men behind him than he needed, then decided to let the foreigners have the advantage because that was more honourable and got slaughtered for his trouble. I may be being unfair to him, but if you are interested you can look it all up and decide for yourself. Meanwhile these lines were spoken as a rallying call by the prince’s aged retainer to the men after the prince was killed. They are about dying honourably in the face of overwhelming odds (which is of course what happened) and they are the lines that our teacher read to us when I was a mere sprig of a girl and they made me decide I wanted to learn Old English. Roughly translated they mean:

“Our courage shall be the greater, our hearts the stronger, our minds shall be the firmer, as our strength grows less.”

The problem I was having was that the uncial reference sheet I was given did not include the Old English characters for æ (a as in ash), þ (th as in thorn) or ð (th as in eth). Naturally I turned to the British Library to see how your actual Old English People wrote them and realised belatedly that the script was quite different. So then I spent the morning puzzling it out and by lunchtime I managed to produce the lines in something vaguely resembling the original script (with apologies to people who do know much more about this than me – it’s all a learning opportunity!).

hige_sceal

reinvented Old English script courtesy of EBL

And that’s what I did this morning.

How is your day going? If you have returned to work, as most of us must, I hope it was not too traumatic.

Namaste.

Eventfulness, thankfulness and creativeness

OK I made that last -ness up. The Rule of Threes demanded I did so, and I can only apologise for any unintended damages caused to the English language. It’s a robust little chap though, the English language, so I am sure it will recover. It’s one of the things I like about it, that you can put words in pretty much any order, or invent new ones, and still be understood. That, and the fact that loads of people in other countries have made the effort to learn it so I can relax when I go on holiday. It’s really very considerate of them.

I suppose I am fixating on language because I have been doing some Anglo-Saxon revision today. This week I have been on holiday so that obviously meant I got to rush about doing jobs instead of sitting about sunning myself. It was just as well, because there has been precious little to see of the old currant bun. Anyway today, Thursday, was the first day I was able to spend at home, so I decided it was time to break out the inks and start practising my penwomanship for a little project I have in mind. It involved cataloguing three shelves of books and sorting out the drawer under the bed before I could begin. Isn’t it always the way? I needed to find some books and they have all got themselves rather higgledly-piggledy of late, so I had to tidy up. That meant I discovered I had two copies of a book because I had forgotten I had already bought it and bought it again. So I created a spreadsheet which I can check on my phone when I am out to try and prevent me doing that again. That also led me to discover that a particular book I was looking for had gone AWOL so I ended up searching under the bed, and tidying that up too. It was two hours before I had the items I needed on the desk.

Beowulf manuscript

First page of Beowulf, from WikiCommons

Then I spent a happy hour getting all smudgy and blotting ink all over the paper and generally providing evidence that I am not really very good at calligraphy, although I certainly enjoy playing at it.

After that I thought it was time to sit down in front of the fire with my Anglo Saxon language course and refresh my memory of how the wretched thing actually works. Naturally I also messed about on Project Gutenberg finding a copy of Beowulf and downloading it to my Kindle so I can read it on the train, or rather, stare blankly at it on the train. That reminded me to pre-order the new Tolkien translation which is due out in May. Of course then I had to check my emails and figure out how to put audio files on the Kindle as well.

All of this went fairly smoothly though because of my great good fortune yesterday, which is the thankfulness part of this post.

I had an appointment at the eye clinic at the hospital because my left eye has been getting rather blurry. Last year I had cataract surgery on both eyes which resulted in the miracle of sight for the first time in my life. To celebrate I had a special ceremony where I burnt my contact lenses in a miniature Viking dragon ship on our pond.

However, back in the Autumn I noticed that I was having a bit of trouble reading sub-titles on the television, and car number plates and so on. Eventually I went to the optician who told me I needed to go back to the clinic because the membrane in my eye was growing over places it should not grow over and obscuring my sight. Yesterday I went to the clinic.

Snellen chart

They are such nice people at the clinic. They tested my eyes and I was unable to read even the letter at the top of the chart with my left eye. It was a bit of a shock. I almost started reading the furniture by mistake and wondered if I had inadvertently slipped into a Two Ronnies sketch.

After the failure of the eye test, the consultant explained to me what was happening with the aid of a little model of the eye, and that I needed laser treatment to get rid of the membrane otherwise I would lose my sight completely. Then he said if I would wait he would try and fit me in that afternoon as they were doing laser treatments that day anyway.

Sigoth and I sat and waited. The place was packed and there weren’t enough seats and I felt a bit of a fraud for taking up everyone’s time. Then I saw the man in charge, who had also performed the operation on my eyes last year. He explained it was important to do it as soon as possible and that although risky, the alternatives were not much better. Then he clamped a special lens on my eye and within ten minutes I had my vision restored. Another miracle! I was completely wiped out by it all, both emotionally and physically.

I am being cautious for the next few days as I am at quite high risk (1 in 40) of a detached retina, but hopefully I will be OK. It’s fantastic being able to see so well again; it had really crept up on me, like the frog in the pan of water.

Today as I have worked on my Anglo-Saxon writing and reading I have been untroubled by eyesight problems. As I type this post I am able to see the screen more clearly than for a long time. I have no idea why I waited so long.

I love science and medics and the miracles that are possible. I know that often we are let down by them, or they fail to live up to our expectations, or the side-effects are worse than the symptoms. But just for once it all worked out and I feel so lucky. Sometimes it can turn out OK.

I hope you have a miracle of some kind this week too, large or small. Perhaps even sight of the old currant bun – who knows?

Share your good fortune when you do to give us all a boost.

Namaste