Showing posts with label leftover Anglo-Saxon flavorings. Show all posts
Showing posts with label leftover Anglo-Saxon flavorings. Show all posts

Thursday, April 11, 2013

To Earwig or Eavesdrop

Adventures in Logophilia, Day 200:


To earwig is to annoy or attempt to influence by way of private discussion.  In Britain, this is another word for "eavesdrop."  This comes from an insect of the same name, a long-bodied little creature with pinchers.  In the Anglo-Saxon days (which shows just how old the word is), earwigs were thought to crawl into the human ear.  I know what you're thinking: eww and oww!  I'd imagine that this would be a medieval explanation for madness or demon possession... or perhaps medieval term for, well, bugged or wired. As if the creature is a piece of demonic espionage equipment.  Purely a conjecture straight out of my wacky imagination.  I prefer not to think of the ear-bugs (who would?) but the little insistent whispers that give away an earwigging discussion.

Eavesdropping fascinates me, too.  Not only does this verb mean "listening in on someone else's conversation", but it had its origins in the 1600s... a person who supposedly stood under the eaves of someone's house to listen to the conversations within.  The eavesdrop, according to Oxford Dictionaries, was actually the ground directly below the eaves, where the water runs off. 

Which word is your favorite: earwig or eavesdrop?

Eavesdrop by Marsha Aninditha

Saturday, February 23, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 165:


A late Middle English term (Oxford Dictionaries) referring to a stray person or animal, especially a homeless child, found without an owner and quite by chance. Waif can also refer to an unclaimed piece of property found (as if washed up by the sea) or stolen goods abandoned by an absconding thief.  I am currently reading The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, a beautiful novel about a such mysterious waif who enters the lives of a husband and wife on the Alaskan frontier ca. 1920.

 Stray cat

Sunday, December 16, 2012

AIL Day 95 & 96: Yule and Noel

The words I chose for this weekend are part of the rich vocabulary of the Advent season.  They've been with us for so long I know I haven't much concept of their meanings.  So I took this opportunity to do a little digging via Oxford Dictionaries (old habits die hard, I suppose).


Yule is the (archaic) Old English/Old Norse term for Christmas.  More specifically, it refers to a pagan festival that took place around the Winter Solstice and lasted twelve days after what is now Christmas.  When Christianity spread into Europe and the solstice celebrations became celebrations of the birth of Christ, the old name lingered.  So when you hear the phrase "yuletide treasure" in the old song "Deck the Halls", it isn't necessarily a pagan or a secular reference, but a general reference to Christmastime.


A noel is a Christmas carol, particularly the refrain.  So "gloria in excelsis deo" and "come let us adore him" might count as noels.   This is a French version of the Latin word natalis, meaning birth - a birth song.  This makes sense when you think about one of the lesser known Christmas songs "Noel, A New Noel."  I always thought "You mean there were noels before Christ was born?"  Apparently so!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 19: Michaelmas

Today's word is Michaelmas (noun, of course), the feast day of St. Michael, otherwise known as the Archangel Michael. 

I chose Michaelmas because I'd meant to write about it on September 29th and subsequently forgot.  Michaelmas is a milestone date in the medieval calendar: harvest-time, formerly a holy day of obligation, and recognized as the fall quarterly when accounts were settled between peasants and their overlords.  One of my favorite, oft-read books as a child was Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman, depicting life from the point of view of a thirteen year old girl in England in1290 .  It's brilliant.  I still read it to this day actually, because it paints a vivid picture of the feast days, the uncertainty of life and the wonder that inhabited the world in those days.  Michaelmas was one such feature and showed the peasants "settling accounts" with (and trying to cheat) Catherine's father, and the entire community feasting and carousing.  Lammas (first of August, marking harvest) and Michaelmas marked the passing of time, the days before All Hallows and the coming on of winter, like our own Labor Day or even this rash of football Saturdays that spread across town.  (Even more appropriate as this football team's color is an unmistakable shade of red.)  I remember being absolutely fascinated with celebrations long-gone that sounded like Christmas.  That was before I understand what the "mass" implied and some of the mystery went out of it, but still... curiosity is and always has been fuel for me.

Michaelmas, I came to learn some years ago, is how Oxford and other British universities mark the beginning of the autumn term, called Michaelmas Term.  The first week of classes (called North Week) begins the first week of October.  The spring term is Hilary, the summer term is Trinity. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 12: Ossuary

Rendered in more rudimentary calligraphy is today's word...

An ossuary (noun) is a depository box for the bones of the dead.  Creepy, no?

Why on Earth didn't I save this for Halloween, you ask?  Well, on a basic level, I say, creepiness is not bound to one particular day.  Anyway... in perusing the lexicon today, I came across this word and was struck with a memory.  I first learned that "bone boxes" or mortuary chests existed when Michelle and I studied abroad at Oxford and took a trip to Winchester Cathedral.  As I remember it, there are six such chests situated on the presbytery levels of the cathedral, each containing the remains of Anglo-Saxon (and one Danish) king of England.  I believe these bones were buried deep in the crypt of the "old minster" and were moved to a place of honor when the new cathedral was built in the 1100s.  Occupants of these chests include Cynegils, Aethelwulf, Cynewulf, Ecgbert, Cnut, Emma (wife of Aethelred the Unready and Cnut) and an assortment of bones that could be Edred (who could also be someone named Edmund). 

What I find to be so fascinating about the ossuaries is how old they are (we're talking pre-1066 here), and how certain facts are lost with time, how a few of these kings made no impression on history at all (or were erased from history), or were mixed up.  These mysteries only prompt discussion.  Like the mystery of Richard III's bones in Leicester and those of the Princes in the Tower thought to be unearthed from under the staircase of the Tower of London, there is always the knowledge that we will never know - and probably never should - what or who rests inside.  Here is a website with more interesting tidbits on these memorials.

This is the only clear picture I have from Winchester of one of the mortuary chests.  We were allowed to take photos, but the flash of my camera could only go so far.  Yet, even from here, you can see how ornate these chests are, beautiful in their ancientness. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 10: Huggermugger

Today's word is...

Huggermugger is an adjective meaning: confused, disorderly, or secret and cladestine.  It is a word that came about in late Middle English, the 16th century.

I always thought this word was a funny one in the same baffling vein as harum-scarum (meaning chaos) or helter-skelter.  A kinder word for chaos or for mischief.  Or, in other words, what the cat is up to when we're away from home, and one comes back to find abandoned water glassed tipped over, newspapers askew and sweaters napped on.  Yes, dear kitty is the queen of all things huggermugger.


One of these days, I promise, my calligraphy will look nice.  *Sigh*

Today is the first day of Autumn.  Yes, the equinox is here, and I always get the uncanny feeling at these times of year that we are standing on the edge of a threshold, about to walk through into another reality.  Goodbye, Summer!


to a blog by three people who write, for anyone else who wants to write. It's a cruel world for creators, and here we promise support, whimsy, and curiosity that will hopefully keep your pen moving and keyboard tapping!

To read more about why Daedalus Notes exists, click