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OBSOLETE AND PROVINCIAL ENGLISH
WORDS FROM THE ENGLISH WRITERS PREVIOUS TO THE NINETEENTH
CENTURY WHICH ARE NO LONGER IN USE, OR ARE NOT USED
USED ONLY IN THE PROVINCIAL DIALECTS
THOMAS WRIGHT, M.A., F.S.A.
VOL. I. A-F
GEORGE BELL AND SONS
o apr. 7, 1920
SOME seven centuries ago, two distinct languages were spokea throughout England, the Anglo-Saxon, which was that of our Teutonic forefathers, and consequently one of the pure Teutonic dialects, and the Anglo-Norman, one of the Neo-Latin family of tongues, which was brought in by the Norman conquest. For some time, these two languages remained perfectly distinct, the Anglo-Norman being the only one spoken or understood by the higher classes of society; while the lower classes, and a great portion of the intermediate class, used only the Anglo-Saxon. Some only of the middle classes, more especially those engaged in mercantile occupations, were acquainted with both. It was not until the thirteenth century, when the intercourse between the several classes had become more intimate, that an intermixture of the two languages began to take place, and then all the educated classes appear to have been well acquainted with both tongues. From this time forwards, an English writer, though using the Anglo-Saxou tongue, adopted just as many Anglo-Norman words as he pleased, -in fact it had assumed the character of a language of two ingredients, which might be mixed together in any proportion, from pure Anglo-Norman (pure, as regards the derivation of the words) to nearly pure Anglo-Saxon, according to the class of society for which he wrote. Thus, is late as the middle of the fourteenth century, the language of Piers Ploughman, which was designed for a popular work, contains a remarkably small mixture of Anglo-Norman words, while in the writings of Chaucer, who was essentially a Court poet, the proportion of the AngloNorman to the Anglo-Saxon is very great. Much of this AngloNorman element was afterwards rejected from the English language, but much was retained, and of course a proportional quantity of Anglo
Saxon was displaced by it. In consequence of this unsettled state of the English language, the writers of the ages of change and transition contain a very large number of words belonging to the Anglo-Saxon as well as to the Anglo-Norman, wbich are no longer contained in the English tongue.
Such was the first process of the formation of the English language. The limitation of the Anglo-Norman element seems to have taken place in the fifteenth century, when a considerable portion of the Anglo-Norman words used by previous English writers were rejected from the English language, and were never seen in it again. But as these disappeared, they were succeeded by a new class of intruders. The scholastic system of the age of the Reformation, had caused a very extensive cultivation and knowledge of the Latin language, and it is probable that the great mass of the reading public at that time were almost as well acquainted with Latin as with their own mother tongue. In consequence of this universal knowledge of Latin, the writers of the sixteenth century, without any sensible inconvenience, used just as many Latin words as they liked in writing English, merely giving them an English grammatical form. The English language thus became suddenly encumbered with Latin words, until, at the end of the sixteenth century and beginning of the seventeenth, the practice of thus using Latin words was carried to such a degree of pedantic affectation, that it effected its own cure. A popular writer of this period, Samuel Rowlands, in a satirical tract published in 1611, under the title of “The Knave of Clubbs,” has the following lines upon this fashion, which had at that date reached its culmi. nating point:
SIGNIEUR WORDE-MONGER, THE APE OF ELOQUENCE.
As on the way I Itenerated,
And not Contaminate my company.
but our writers, from the latter part of the fifteenth century to the middle of the seventeenth, abound in words adopted from the Latin which modern English dictionaries do not recognize.
From these and other causes it happens, that of a very large portion of English literature, one part would be totally unintelligible to the general reader, and the other would present continual difficulties, without a dictionary especially devoted to the obsolete words of our language. It is the object of the volumes now offered to the public, to furnish a compendious and useful work of this kind, which shall contain the obsolete Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman words used by the English writers of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, many of the obsolete Latin words introduced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as well as words which have been adopted temporarily at various times according to prevailing fashions from other languages, such as French, Italian, Spanish, or Dutch, or which belonged to sentiments, manners, customs, habits, and modes, that have existed at particular periods and disappeared.
There is another class of words, forming at least an interesting portion of the English language, and coming especially within the objects of a work of this kind, those of the provincial dialects. There can be no doubt that the peculiar characteristics, or, we may say, the organic differences of dialect, are derived more or less from a diversity of tribe among the Anglo-Saxon settlers in our island; for, as far as our materials allow us to go, we can trace these diversities in AngloSaxon times. As, however, during the middle ages, and, in fact, down to very recent times, the intercommunication between different parts of the country was very imperfect, progress, of whatever kind was by no means uniform throughout the kingdom, and we find in the provincial dialects not only considerable numbers of old AngloSaxon and even Anglo-Norman words, which have not been preserved in the language of refined society, and which, in many cases, as far as regards the Anglo-Saxon, are not even found in the necessarily imperfect vocabulary of the language in its pure state which we are enabled to form from its written monuments; but also numerous words, in general use at a much later period, but which, while they became obsolete in the English language generally, have been preserved orally in particular districts. The number and character of