Thursday, July 26, 2018

Fyghtynge Like Lyons in Malory

  • "Than Arthure as a lyon ran unto kynge Cradilment of North Walis and smote hym thorow the lyffte syde, that horse and man felle downe."  (22)
  • "But whan kynge Arthure saw the batayle wolde nat be ended by no manner, he fared woode as a lyon and stirred his horse here and there on the ryght honde and on the lyffte honed, that he stynted nat tylle he had slayne twenty knyghtes." (23)
  • "Be than com into the felde kynge Ban as ferse as a lyon, with bondis of green and thereuppon golde." (25)
  • "Be that tyme com into the prees kynge Arthure and founde kynge Ban stondynge amonge the dede men and dede horse, fyghtynge on foote as a wood lyon, that there com none nigh hym as farre as he myght reche with hys swerde..." (26)
And how do we get our blow-by-blow description of the battle?  "Bloyse wrote the batayle worde by worde as Merlion tolde him, how hit began and by whom, and in lyke wise how how hit was ended and who had the worst. And all the batayles that were done in Arthurs dayes, Merlion dud hys master Bloyse write them. Also he dud write all the batayles that every worthy knyght ded of Arthurs courte." (29)  It's not entirely clear to me whether Merlyon was present during the battle; but I'm not sure it makes any difference to his knowledge of Every. Single. Detail.  

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Code-Switching in Lord of the Rings?

There are probably other and better examples, but this one just struck me tonight:
‘Alas!’ said Aragorn. ‘Gandalf the Grey fell into shadow. He remained in Moria and did not escape.’  
At these words all the Elves in the hall cried aloud in grief and amazement. ‘These are evil tidings,’ said Celeborn, ‘the most evil that have been spoken here in long years full of grievous deeds.’ He turned to Haldir. ‘Why has nothing of this been told to me before?’ he asked in the elven-tongue.  
‘We have not spoken to Haldir of our deeds or our purpose,’ said Legolas. ‘At first we were weary and danger was too close behind; and afterwards we almost forgot our grief for a time, as we walked in gladness on the fair paths of Lórien.’  
‘Yet our grief is great and our loss cannot be mended,’ said Frodo. ‘Gandalf was our guide, and he led us through Moria; and when our escape seemed beyond hope he saved us, and he fell.’  (LotR II.7 at 355)
It looks like both Celeborn and Legolas are code-switching in this scene.

Celeborn's comment to Haldir obviously switches from the Common Language to the elven-tongue as this rebuke is an internal matter, an aside not intended for all the visitors.

But of course Legolas understands and responds to defend Haldir -- and Frodo jumps in to offer clarification to Legolas's comment.

However, it's already been established that Frodo is not particularly fluent in the elven-tongue(s).*

So I infer that Legolas has responded in the Common Language; otherwise, Frodo would not be able to jump in as he does.  I think it's clear that Frodo is responding to Legolas's seeming down-playing of their grief ("we almost forgot our grief for a time"), without quite understanding the motivation behind Legolas's words (as he would if he'd understood Celeborn's aside to Haldir).

All citations to: Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings. 50th Anniversary One-Volume Edition, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2005.


  • cf. "It was singing in the fair elven-tongue, of which Frodo knew only a little, and the others knew nothing." (79 - Exiles, in the Shire)
  • cf. "At first the beauty of the melodies and of the interwoven words in elven-tongues, even though he understood them little, held him in a spell, as soon as he began to attend to them." (233 - in Rivendell)
  • "...then another clear voice spoke in an elven-tongue. Frodo could understand little of what was said, for the speech that the Silvan folk east of the mountains used among themselves was unlike that of the West. Legolas looked up and answered in the same language." (342)
  • "Then he shut off the light again, and spoke words of welcome in his elven-tongue. Frodo spoke haltingly in return. ‘Welcome!’ the Elf then said again in the Common Language, speaking slowly. ‘We seldom use any tongue but our own; for we dwell now in the heart of the forest, and do not willingly have dealings with any other folk....'" (343)

Friday, July 20, 2018

When Worse Comes to Worst...

It occurred to me today, as it has occasionally, that the expression "if worse comes to worst" (as I usually think of it) would also make sense in some other similar-sounding variants.

According to Ben Zimmer in the NYT "On language" column (2/4/2011):
The earliest version of the idiom [1596] is in the form “if the worst come to the worst,” complete with definite articles and a subjunctive form of the verb come
Move forward another couple of centuries [past Robinson Crusoe in 1719], and the more compact versions “if worst comes to worst” and “if worse comes to worst” battle for supremacy, especially in American English. For some language commentators, “if worse comes to worst” makes so much more sense that they assume it must have come first. 

In general, I understand the expression to mean "if the worst happens."  But here's how we might think of it in some different variations, which I've organized from most to least hits on a google phrase search:
  • "worse comes to worst" (353k hits) might suggest "things are already bad, but if they become catastrophic..."
  • "worst comes to worst" (285k) might suggest "if the worst we can imagine or plan for comes to pass..."
  • "worse comes to worse" (169k) might suggest "things are already bad, but if they get even worse..." (to me, this feels a bit like "curiouser and curiouser")
  • "worst comes to worse" (17k) might suggest "if things get even worse than the worst we can imagine or plan for..."

To my surprise, the google ngram viewer didn't come up with anything whatsoever for my own personal favorite variation (but by far the least popular) "worst comes to worse."

So I created an ngram chart of (1) worse comes to worse - blue, (2) worse comes to worst - red, and (3) worst comes to worst - green:

Interesting to see that the traditional/original version (green) has not only been overtaken by the "logical" version (red) starting in the late 1970's, but it is also losing ground relative to the much feebler version "worse comes to worse" (blue) and perhaps even heading for parity with it.

If I were to hazard a guess, I might suppose that "worse comes to worse" appeals to people who feel it is more "correct "to avoid hyperbole.

And one more ngram chart, showing "worst comes to the worst" against the top two contenders:

There are further iterations to explore, including "worst come to the worst" vs "worst comes. to the worst" -- the latter seems to have gained traction in 1858 and never looked back

Friday, July 13, 2018

Silent Reading and the Rise of Romance

In The Rise of Romance, Vinaver suggests we might "look for the cause and the meaning of the change" (3) by the "strangely similar" emergent phenomenon of silent reading (4):
[St. Ambrose] read, Augustine tells us, to himself, that is to say silently: 'his eyes wandered along the page and his heart searched out the sense, but his voice and tongue were at rest.'  This to St. Augustine seemed remarkable: he had never seen anyone read like that, and he thought that perhaps St. Ambrose wanted to avoid being questioned 'by some doubtful and attentive listener' or, more probably, wished to preserve his voice which was easily weakened. 'Whatever his motive in so doing, doubtless in such a man it was a good one.'  What St. Augustine could not have known was that in watching St. Ambrose read he was seeing the birth of a new world....

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Havelok's Age, Take Two

Til he [Godard] was biforn hauelok brouth,
Þat he haue[de] ful wo wrowht,
Boþe with hungre and with cold,
Or he [Havelok] were twel winter old,

(ll. 2452-55)

So, my previous theory was that Havelok might have been as young as seven when Godard handed him over to Grim, and thus 19 when his work ethic kicked in.

While seven is certainly before 12, I'm thinking we have to adjust Havelok's age upward, to 10 or 11, for a more natural reading. If so, he'd be 22 or 23 when it finally occurred to him to pitch in to help the family. 

Friday, July 06, 2018

Godard is Placed on a Mare With All Warranted Dignity

A charming scene, showing all the courtesies offered to an old enemy captured in flight after all his men have been slain:
But dunten him so man doth bere,
And keste him on a scabbed mere,
Hise nese went un-to þe crice:
(ll. 2448-50).  Apparently, it was not unusual for folks to be tied on ignomoniously (head at the tail end of the beast) on their way to execution.  The note for 2450 says:
2450. Cf. ll. 2505 and 2822. This appears to have been a common, but barbarous, method in former times of leading traitors or malefactors to execution. Thus in the Romance of Kyng Alisaunder, the treatment of the murderers of Darius is described:
He dude quyk harnesche hors,
And sette theron heore cors,
Hyndeforth they seten, saun faile;
In heore hand they hulden theo tailes.
—l. 4708.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Now That's How to Celebrate a Coronation!

Nearly 800 lines away from the end of the poem, Havelok is crowned.  For guidance on proper expressions of joy on the restoration of the rightful heir, let's take a look at the happy Danes, shall we?

Hwan he was king, þer mouthe men se
Þe moste ioie þat mouhte be:
Great joy and many sports.
Buttinge with sharpe speres,
Skirming with taleuaces, þat men beres,
Wrastling with laddes, putting of ston,
Harping and piping, ful god won,
Leyk of mine, of hasard ok,
Romanz reding on þe bok;
Þer mouthe men here þe gestes singe,
Þe gleymen on þe tabour dinge;
There is baiting of bulls and boars,
Þer mouhte men se þe boles beyte,
And þe bores, with hundes teyte;
Þo mouthe men se eueril gleu,
Þer mouthe men se hw grim greu;
Was neuere yete ioie more
In al þis werd, þan þo was þore.
(ll. 2320-35)

Wednesday, July 04, 2018


As I work my slow way through Havelok the Dane while taking Old Norse, it's fun to see some familiar words creep in.  

For example: 
Bitauhte hise children þre
Godard to yeme, and al his fe.
(ll. 2212-13)
I don't see "fe" in Clark Hall & Merritt's Anglo Saxon Dictionary,* but it's one of the first Old Norse words I learned.  Byock gives it as: " <gen fjár, gen pl fjá> n cattle, sheep; wealth, money."

And of course our beloved middle-earth makes an appearance:
In þis middelerd nis no knith
Half so strong, ne half so with.
(ll. 2244-45)
Since Drout and Goering started us off with "Cædmon's Hymn," this was actually one of the first Anglo Saxon words I encountered (normalized as middan-ġeard in Pope/Fulk's Eight Old English Poems).  And then in Old Norse, we have Miðgarðr (as normalized in Byock's Viking Language I).

*Update: alasnotme points out the Anglo-Saxon equivalent is "feoh".  Per Clark Hall & Merritt (citations omitted), we have:
fēo = feoh; also ds. of feoh.
feoh n gs. fēos, ds. fēo cattle, herd; movable goods, property; money, riches, treasure. wið licgendum fēo for ready money.  name of the rune for f.  ['fee']

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Havelok's Floodlight Strikes Again

Aboute þe middel of þe nith
Wok ubbe, and saw a mikel lith
In þe bour þat hauelok lay,
Also brith so it were day.

“Deus!” quoth ubbe, “hwat may þis be?
Betere is i go miself, and se:
Hweþer he sitten nou, and wesseylen,
Or of ani shotshipe to-deyle,
Þis tid nithes, also foles;
Þan birþe men casten hem in poles,
Or in a grip, or in þe fen:
Nou ne sitten none but wicke men,
Glotuns, reu[e]res, or wicke þeues,
Bi crist, þat alle folk onne leues!”

(ll. 2092-2105).

So Ubbe has just made Havelok a knight, after all of Bernard's people "Litle and mikle, yunge and holde" (l. 2014) swear that Bernard has told the truth about Havelok's feats against the bandits.  He's taken Havelok under his wing, invited him home, promised to protect Havelok's wife... and now when he sees a bright light in the middle of the night, he assumes the worst.  Is Havelock wassailing at midnight?  Engaging in folly or frivolity at this time of night?!  Such men should be cast in pools!  No one's up at this hour but wicked men, gluttons, robbers, or wicked thieves!!

But he peeps in and sees the light coming from Havelok's mouth as he and Goldeborw are fast asleep, lying still as stones.  So he calls in a witness or two, both timid (arwe) and keen, knights and servants -- ok, it's actually "Mo þan an hundred, with-uten leye" (l. 2117).  No big deal.

And just how bright was this light?

So stod ut of his mouth a glem,
Rith al swilk so þe sunne-bem;
Þat al so lith wa[s] þare, bi heuene!
So þer brenden serges seuene,
And an hundred serges ok:
Þat durste hi sweren on a bok.

(ll. 2122-7).  So it's like a sun-beam, bright as the burning of 107 wax tapers.

But Havelok doesn't need to worry about being gawped at while he's asleep, right?  I mean, unlike Gawain, he probably sleeps in a shift or something.  No?  Or at least he and Goldeborw are probably under the covers.  No?  Or, um, well alrighty then.  Guess the 100+ witnesses get a free peep show:

And hauelok lay on his lift side,
In his armes his brithe bride.
Bi þe pappes he leyen naked:
So faire two weren neuere maked
In a bed to lyen samen:—
Þe knithes þouth of hem god gamen,
Hem forto shewe, and loken to.
(ll. 2030-6)

Then they see a bright cross on his back, and that clinches it.

How do they react?

Hise fet he kisten an hundred syþes,
Þe tos, þe nayles, and þe lithes,
So þat he bigan to wakne,

(ll. 2162-64).  Now Havelok assumes the worst: "he wende he wooden him slo, / Or elles binde him, and do wo."