Middle English Word of the Moment

Friday, May 29, 2009

Lingua latina in bucca angliae

So, sometimes you come across a word so weird and random it just has to be right. Especially if the other manuscripts suggest an alternative that looks more, well, normal.

Two of them occur in the course of Adam Murimuth's account of the murder of Piers Gaveston. One, hutesio, is the same in all extant manuscripts and occurs as hutesium on the next page, so it was clearly intentional, even if I couldn't find it in any Latin dictionary I consulted, no matter how creative I got with the spelling. But the other, utlagatum, occurred only once - only once in the text and only in one manuscript. It even confused the scribes - one other scribe had made an attempt and spelt it utlagium, and the others had just amended it to the much simpler vulgatum, which works perfectly well in context. But it just looks wrong. It's an awkwardly angular (or Angle-ar?) accumulation of conflicting consonants. Which meant that it had to be right.

It's a phenomenon of editing that I'm rather fond of, the way the least obvious version is at least as likely to be right as the word that looks right, if not more so. It happens in Shakespeare all the time, which is just what you get when you go about inventing hundreds of new words and word variants all over your oeuvre. Compositors often just edited them back to more normal words or phrasings. Sometimes you can see them absent-mindedly correcting various clownish characters' verbal hiccups; so, for example, Mistress Quickly's continuantly (2 Henry IV, 2.1.22-23, Norton edition) appears in the Folio version as continually.

So I hunted, dragged out the Middle English dictionary and the Anglo-Norman dictionary (though I thought that utlagatum at least was probably from Old English, as it sounds rather Germanic, so that it wouldn't be much help for that one at least), and experimenting with spellings and sounds and de-Latinising.

Hutesium, in context, looked like a technical term derived from hunting:
... [Gaveston] invenit ibi multos homines facientes hutesium super eum vocibus et cornibus, sicut super inimicum regis et regni (he found there many men making hutesium against him with voice and horn, as against an enemy of the king and the realm) ...
So I was thinking vaguely of our expression "hue and cry" - correctly, as it turned out - but I couldn't find it in the Middle English dictionary until I hit on searching for *outhes*. Then I found:
outhes (n.) Also outheis, othes, outesse, outes, outasse, outhas, outas, outhest & (early) uthes, utheis, utheste, utest, huthes, hutes, huteis, huthest & (Latinate) uthesium, huthesis, hutesium & (error) houches.

[?From LOE blend of haes & haest 'fury, violence'; cp. ME hest(e n.(1) & heste n.(2).]

Outcry, clamor, uproar; ~ upon, outcry against (sb.); ~ and clamour, ~ and crie, hue and cry; greden (maken, reisen) ~, raise a cry.
So, that one's nicely solved, though I'm still not decided which word I will use to translate it - I'd like to keep the hint of hunting and baying, and the phrase "hue and cry" does that, but we don't use "hue" on its own anymore, do we? Unless discussing colour, of course, which is not really at issue, since Piers is a little beyond challenging sumptuary laws at this point.

The second word - utlagatum - was more of a challenge. In context it's an accusative past participle describing Piers, or rather, the mob's perception of him (sicut again). No creative spelling helped here, so I had to turn it back into a proper Middle English word and follow my ear. The Latin infinitive would be utlagare, so change that to English and say it's utlagen, spell that as it would sound and it becomes outlagen, then play around with the pronunciation until you get something that sounds like it might be a real Middle English word and you get the gutteral -gh- sound that might be interchangeable with -w-...
outlau(e (n.) Also oute-, outlagh, outelagh(e, ughtlaue, noutlai, utlaghe, utlag & (early) utlau(e, hutlaue, utlagh, -la3e, -lahe, -lage, utelagh, (early & N) utelau, (Latinate) utlagus, utlagi, (errors) houclawe, houlawe; pl. outlaues, -loues, etc., (Cornish) adla, (early) utlaues, -lawas, -lages, -lagas, uthlages & (early) utlauen, -la3en, -lagen, -laga, (Latinate) utlagos & (errors) oltaghys, holtaghys.

[OE utlaga & AL utlaga, -lagus & AF ullage, utlage.]

(a) One decreed an outlaw; a fugitive from justice; an exile, banished person [occasionally indistinguishable from sense (b)]; (b) a miscreant, villain; pirate, robber; fig. extortioner; (c) as surname or cognomen; (d) banishment, outlawry.

I love predictable languages! Even if they're only predictable with a little effort and a slightly unfastened brain.

These are my achievements for the day, and I am proud of them.

(And also: (c) as surname or cognomen? What poor person got Outlaw as a surname? And, more interestingly, how?)

Now, of course, the most interesting question in all of this is why and how Adam Murimuth of the formal and formulaic Latin drops into dramatic narrative style at this point and forgets himself so far as to use two visceral English words...

3 comments:

Lady D. said...

It's fantastic when you solve something with detective work, isn't it? You get a 'glow' all day! Well done on this - you deserve to be proud of yourself!

tenthmedieval said...

I know exactly the pride of achievement you mean, and yes, it is one. And sometimes it can really make a difference: a big part of one chapter of my thesis hung on the fact that the only way to explain that a name was given once as 'Marcia' and once as 'Imitara' was that in the latter case she was the second Marcia, so, item Marcia, and that showed there was a text, and a Latin text, underlying the document and that she hadn't actually been there. So yes: this is actually the stuff of history, however small it seems.

Ceirseach said...

Thank you! It is good fun, most importantly, even if this is fairly small-scale detective work. And yes, it's more what's behind it that is fascinating in the long run: the second text in your case, in mine the way Murimuth seems to understand his self-appointed task as a chronicler, the moments when the convention weakens, the concept of 'history' and the popular emotions behind the received legends of your own time, and the implications of all that.