Rev. A. L. Mayhew, M.A.
Of Wadham College, Oxford
Rev. Walter W. Skeat
Litt. D.; LL.D. Edin.; M.A. Oxon.
Erlington & Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon
in the University of Cambridge
“THESE our Ancient Words here set down, I trust will for this time satisfie the Reader.”
R. VERSTEGAN, Restitution of Decayed Intelligence, ch. vii (at the end)
“Authentic words be given, or none!”
WORDSWORTH, Lines on Macpherson’s Ossian
At the Clarendon Press
All rights reserved
The present work is intended to meet, in some measure, the requirements of those who wish to make some study of Middle-English, and who find a difficulty in obtaining such assistance as will enable them to find out the meanings and etymologies of the words most essential to their purpose.
The best Middle-English Dictionary, that by Dr. Mätzner of Berlin, has only reached the end of the letter H; and it is probable that it will not be completed for many years. The only Middle-English Dictionary that has been carried on to the end of the alphabet is that by the late Dr. Stratmann, of Krefeld. This is a valuable work, and is indispensable for the more advanced student. However, the present work will still supply a deficiency, as it differs from Stratmann’s Dictionary in many particulars. We have chosen as our Main Words, where possible, the most typical of the forms or spellings of the period of Chaucer and Piers Plowman; in Stratmann, on the other hand, the form chosen as Main Word is generally the oldest form in which it appears, frequently one of the twelfth century. Moreover, with regard to authorities, we refer in the case of the great majority of our forms to a few, cheap, easily accessible works, whereas Stratmann’s authorities are mainly the numerous and expensive publications of the Early English Text Society. Lastly, we have paid special attention to the French element in Middle-English, whereas Stratmann is somewhat deficient in respect of words of French origin1. The book which has generally been found of most assistance to the learner is probably Halliwell’s Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words; but this is not specially confined to the Middle-English period, and the plan of it differs in several respects from that of the present work.
The scope of this volume will be best understood by an explanation of vithe circumstances that gave rise to it. Some useful and comparatively inexpensive volumes illustrative of the Middle-English period have been issued by the Clarendon Press; all of which are furnished with glossaries, explaining all the important words, with exact references to the passages wherein the words occur. In particular, the three useful hand-books containing Specimens of English (from 1150 down to 1580) together supply no less than sixty-seven characteristic extracts from the most important literary monuments of this period; and the three glossaries to these books together fill more than 370 pages of closely-printed type in double columns. The idea suggested itself that it would be highly desirable to bring the very useful information thus already collected under one alphabet, and this has now been effected. At the same time, a reference has in every case been carefully given to the particular Glossarial Index which registers each form here cited, so that it is perfectly easy for any one who consults our book to refer, not merely to the particular Index thus noted, but to the references given in that Index; and so, by means of such references, to find every passage referred to, with its proper context. Moreover the student only requires, for this purpose, a small array of the text-books in the Clarendon Press Series, instead of a more or less complete set of editions of Middle-English texts, the possession of which necessitates a considerable outlay of money. By this plan, so great a compression of information has been achieved, that a large number of the articles give a summary such as can be readily expanded to a considerable length, by the exercise of a very little trouble; and thus the work is practically as full of material as if it had been three or four times its present size. A couple of examples will shew what this really means.
At p. 26 is the following entry:—
‘Bi-heste, sb. promise, S, S2, C2, P; byheste, S2; beheste, S2; byhest, S2; bihese, S; biheest, W; bihese, pl., S.—AS. be-hǽs.’
By referring to the respective indexes here cited, such as S (= Glossary to Specimens of English, Part I), and the like, we easily expand this article into the following:—
‘Bi-heste, sb. promise, S (9. 19); S2 (1a. 184); C2 (B 37, 41, 42, F 698); P (3. 126); byheste, S2 (18b. 25); beheste, S2 (14a. 3); byhest, S2 (12. 57, 18b. 9, [where it may also be explained by grant]); bihese, S (where it is used as a plural); biheest, W (promise, command, Lk. xxiv. 49, Rom. iv. 13; pl. biheestis, Heb. xi. 13); bihese, S (pl. behests, promises, 4d. 55).—AS. behǽs.’
In order to exhibit the full meaning of this—which requires no further viiexplanation to those who have in hand the books denoted by S, S2, &c.—it would be necessary to print the article at considerable length, as follows:—
‘Biheste, sb. promise; “dusi biheste” a foolish promise, (extract from) Ancren Riwle, l. 19; “and wel lute wule hulde þe biheste þat he nom,” (extract from) Robert of Gloucester, l. 184; “holdeth your biheste,” Chaucer, Introd. to Man of Law’s Prologue, l. 37; “biheste is dette,” same, l. 41; “al my biheste” same, l. 42; “or breken his biheste” Chaucer, sequel to Squieres Tale, l. 698; “þorw fals biheste,” Piers Plowman, Text B, Pass. iii, l. 126; “to vol-vulle (fulfil) þat byheste” Trevisa (extract from), lib. vi. cap. 29, l. 25; “the lond of promyssioun, or of beheste,” Prol. to Mandeville’s Travels, l. 3; “wiþ fair by-hest,” William and the Werwolf, l. 57; “þe byhest (promise, or grant) of oþere menne kyngdom,” Trevisa, lib. vi. cap. 29, l. 9; “y schal sende the biheest of my fadir in-to ȝou,” Wyclif, Luke xxiv. 49; “not bi the lawe is biheest to Abraham,” Wycl. Rom. iv. 13; “whanne the biheestis weren not takun,” Wycl. Heb. xi. 13; “longenge to godes bihese” Old Eng. Homilies, Dominica iv. post Pascha, l. 55.’
We thus obtain fifteen excellent examples of the use of this word, with the full context and an exact reference (easily verified) in every case. And, in the above instance, all the quotations lie within the compass of the eleven texts in the Clarendon Press Series denoted, respectively, by S, S2, S3, C, C2, C3, W, W2, P, H, and G.
The original design was to make use of these text-books only; but it was so easy to extend it by including examples to be obtained from other Glossaries and Dictionaries, that a considerable selection of interesting words was added from these, mainly for the sake of illustrating the words in the Clarendon text-books. These illustrative words can be fully or partially verified by those who happen to possess all or some of the works cited, or they can safely be taken on trust, as really occurring there, any mistake being due to such authority.
A second example will make this clearer. ‘Brant, adj. steep, high, MD, HD; brent, JD; brentest, superl. S2.—AS. brant (bront); cp. Swed. brant, Icel. brattr.’
Omitting the etymology, the above information is given in two short lines. Those who possess the ‘Specimens of English’ will easily find the example of the superl. brentest. By consulting Mätzner’s, Halliwell’s, and Jamieson’s Dictionaries, further information can be obtained, and the full article will appear as follows:—
‘Brant, adj. steep, high, MD [brant, brent, adj. ags. brand, arduus, viiialtus, altn. brattr, altschw. branter, schw. brant, bratt, dän, brat, sch. brent, nordengl. Diall. brant: cf. “brant, steepe,” Manipulus Vocabulorum, p. 25: steil, hoch.—“Apon the bald Bucifelon brant up he sittes,” King Alexander, ed. Stevenson, p. 124; “Thir mountaynes ware als brant upritȝe as thay had bene walles,” MS. quoted in Halliwell’s Dict., p. 206; “Hyȝe bonkkes & brent,” Gawain and the Grene Knight, l. 2165; “Bowed to þe hyȝ bonk þer brentest hit wern,” Alliterative Poems, ed. Morris, Poem B, l. 379]; HD [brant, steep. North: “Brant against Flodden Hill,” explained by Nares from Ascham, “up the steep side;” cf. Brit. Bibl. i. 132, same as brandly?—“And thane thay com tille wonder heghe mountaynes, and it semed as the toppes had towched the firmament; and thir mountaynes were als brant upriȝte as thay had bene walles, so that ther was na clymbyng upon thame,” Life of Alexander, MS. Lincoln, fol. 38]; JD [brent, adj. high, straight, upright; “My bak, that sumtyme brent hes bene, Now cruikis lyk are camok tre,” Maitland Poems, p. 193; followed by a discussion extending to more than 160 lines of small print, which we forbear to quote]; brentest, superl. S2. 13. 379 [“And bowed to þe hyȝ bonk þer brentest hit were (MS. wern),” Allit. Poems, l. 379; already cited in Mätzner, above].’
The work, in fact, contains a very large collection of words, in many variant forms, appearing in English literature and in Glossaries between A.D. 1150 and A.D. 1580. The glossaries in S2, S3 (Specimens of English, 1298-1393, and 1394-1579) have furnished a considerable number of words belonging to the Scottish dialect, which most dictionaries (excepting of course that of Jamieson) omit.
The words are so arranged that even the beginner will, in general, easily find what he wants. We have included in one article, together with the Main Word, all the variant spellings of the glossaries, as well as the etymological information. We have also given in alphabetical order numerous cross-references to facilitate the finding of most of the variant forms, and to connect them with the Main Word. In this way, the arrangement is at once etymological and alphabetical—adapted to the needs of the student of the language and of the student of the literature.
The meanings of the words are given in modern English, directly after the Main Word. The variant forms, as given in their alphabetical position, are frequently also explained, thus saving (in such cases) the trouble of a cross-reference, if the meaning of the word is alone required.
An attempt is made in most cases to give the etymology, so far at least as to shew the immediate source of the Middle-English word. Especial pains have been taken with the words of French origin, which ixform so large a portion of the vocabulary of the Middle-English period. In many cases the AF (Anglo-French) forms are cited, from my list of English Words found in Anglo-French, as published for the Philological Society in 1882.
The student of English who wishes to trace back the history of a word still in use can, in general, find the Middle-English form in Skeat’s Etymological Dictionary, and will then be able to consult the present work in order to obtain further instances of its early use.
The relative share of the authors in the preparation of this work is easily explained. The whole of it in its present form (with the exception of the letter N) was compiled, prepared, and written out for press by Mr. Mayhew. The original plan was, however, my own; and I began by writing out the letter N (since augmented) by way of experiment and model. It will thus be seen that Mr. Mayhew’s share of the work has been incomparably the larger, involving all that is most laborious. On the other hand, I may claim that much of the labour was mine also, at a much earlier stage, as having originally compiled or revised the glossaries marked S2, S3, C2, C3, W, W2, P, and G, as well as the very full glossarial indexes cited as B, PP, and WA, and the dictionary cited as SkD. The important glossary marked S was, however, originally the work of Dr. Morris (since re-written by Mr. Mayhew), and may, in a sense, be said to be the back-bone of the whole, from its supplying a very large number of the most curious and important early forms.
The material used has been carefully revised by both authors, so that they must be held to be jointly responsible for the final form in which the whole is now offered to the public.
Note On The Phonology Of Middle-English.
One great difficulty in finding a Middle-English word in this, or any other, Dictionary is due to the frequent variation of the symbols denoting the vowel-sounds. Throughout the whole of the period to which the work relates the symbols iand y, in particular, are constantly interchanged, whether they stand alone, or form parts of diphthongs. Consequently, words which are spelt with one of these symbols in a given text must frequently be looked for as if spelt with the other; i.e. the pairs of symbols i and y, ai and ay, ei and ey, oi and oy, ui and uy, must be looked upon as likely to be used indifferently, one for the other. For further information, the student should consult the remarks upon Phonology in the Specimens of English (1150 to 1300), 2nd ed., p. xxv. For those who xhave not time or opportunity to do this, a few brief notes may perhaps suffice.
The following symbols are frequently confused, or are employed as equivalent to each other because they result from the same sound in the Oldest English or in Anglo-French:—
i, y;—ai, ay;—ei, ey;—oi, oy;—ui, uy.
a, o;—a, æ, e, ea;—e, eo, ie;—o, u, ou;—(all originally short).
a, æ, ea, e, ee;—e, ee, eo, ie;—o, oo, oa;—u, ou, ui;—(all long).
These are the most usual interchanges of symbols, and will commonly suffice for practical purposes, in cases where the cross-references fail. If the word be not found after such substitutions have been allowed for, it may be taken for granted that the Dictionary does not contain it. As a fact, the Dictionary only contains a considerable number of such words as are most common, or (for some special reason) deserve notice; and it is at once conceded that it is but a small hand-book, which does not pretend to exhibit in all its fulness the extraordinarily copious vocabulary of our language at an important period of its history. The student wishing for complete information will find (in course of time) that the New English Dictionary which is being brought out by the Clarendon Press will contain all words found in our literature since the year 1100.
Of course variations in the vowel-sounds are also introduced, in the case of strong verbs, by the usual ‘gradation’ due to their method of conjugation. To meet this difficulty in some measure, numerous (but not exhaustive) cross-references have been introduced, as when, e.g. ‘Bar, bare’ is given, with a cross-reference to Beren. Further help in this respect is to be had from the table of 183 strong verbs given at pp. lxix-lxxxi of the Preface to Part I of the Specimens of English (2nd edition); see, in particular, the alphabetical index to the same, at pp. lxxxi, lxxxii. The same Preface further contains some account of the three principal Middle-English dialects (p. xl), and Outlines of the Grammar (p. xlv). It also explains the meaning of the symbols þ, ð (both used for th), ȝ (used for y initially, gh medially, and gh or z finally), with other necessary information.
From Gutenberg: Concise Dictionary of Middle English
I find this completely fascinating.
I should have been a linguist.