October 06, 2015

Medieval Slang and Other Words

One happy side-effect of reading Chaucer is that I now know which day is Tuesday. I mean, I make an extra-special effort. Honestly, I am a very strangely organized person. I know where everything is. Usually. I know where I am in the schedule. Mostly. But my brain, my office, my files, are all slightly disorganized to the casual observer.

For instance, if I turn to the right, I see Chaucer on top of four other books, a 45 album by the Police, several wind-up toys, a figurine from Paris, a stack of silver bangles, and a music box.

Really? This is my brain. That's what I look like on the inside.

A few years back, an expert used my blog as an example of how not to blog (apparently). Because you can't find anything the way you should be able to: RSS feed (I still don't know what this is), contact info, Twitter account, non-existent Facebook, etc. If I had, say, a team of smut stars, maybe I could make things sleeker. But I figure that if you want me, you'll be able to find me, and this blog is mostly like a little aperitif to go with the novels or collections. Kind of a—if you like my words in book form, here's a little behind-the-scenes peek.

Which is how I'm attacking Chaucer. Sure, we could have regimented meetings. Roll call. But fuck that. I'm trying to give you a little bonus to go with the book. And today, I thought we'd discuss Medieval Slang. (That slips right into my love of dirty word etymology, yes?)

Now, you should know (based on what I just told you), that I don't really plan this ahead of time. You learn what I learn—as I learn it.

So I typed in "Medieval Slang Chaucer" and received:

The medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in the vernacular, or the language of the common people. Canterbury Tales, for example, is a collection of stories filled with plenty of swearing, slang, and fart jokes.


Cunt, as defined by Wiki:

"The word appears to have not been strongly taboo in the Middle Ages, but became taboo towards the end of the eighteenth century..." and "The word appears several times in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, in bawdy contexts, but it does not appear to be considered obscene at this point, since it is used openly." (This last quote comes from an article called "Chaucer's Cunt.") Of course, if you go to the article, you see how Wiki cherry picked the line, because right after it, the writer says: "Oddly these statements are followed by quotes from The Canterbury Tales that bellie them, for the word Chaucer uses is not 'cunt' but 'queynte.'"

And then I lost my train of thought while wondering if 'queynte' would play out as a Scrabble word.

Aha! And reboarded it with "a brief history of raunch," in which the writer reminds us that Chaucer makes a point to separate his own voice from the vulgarity of that of his characters'. ("I didn't do it, man. I only said it." No, wait. That was Lenny Bruce.)

This is taking me quite some time, honestly. I just discovered a website called Medievalists.net. And I found this book: Holy Sh*t, which you have to admit sounds like me.

So I won't actually admit failure. I'll simply admit that I didn't get as far as I'd planned. This is definitely a subject I'll return to in the future.

For previous posts on Chaucer, check out:

The Invitation...
Some background...
The Bawdy Bookclub
On being banned...
"He bathed in blissess..."
On Tuesdays, We Wear Chaucer

And for more on dirty words, visit:

• douchebag
• motherfucker
• round-heeled
• Pardon my French
• dick
• tramp
• snatch

I hope that you're enjoying this seriously strange journey! Please share your experiences if you so desire.



Jim Scovill said...

And there is always the likerous swiving of wenches. (MT 3850 and RT 4178)

Jim Scovill said...

Or maybe the swiving of likerous wenches?

baddoggerel said...

I'm reading The Merchant's Tale (translation by Coghill), and I see this line about choosing a wife: "Too poor? Too rich? Unnaturally mannish?" I had to look it up in the original, out of curiosity: "Or riche, or poore, or elles mannish wood." Tuttle translates that as "Or fierce, or poor, or else man-crazy" which is something entirely different. I'm going with the second translation.