A Weekly Offering of This n That

Rainy Day is my alter ego. She is the little angel that sits on one shoulder and whispers in my ear to forgo that 6" piece of triple chocolate fudge with the four scoops of ice cream on it; she is also the little devil who sits on my other shoulder and convinces me that I can eat just one bite of each and be satisfied, and then laughs with such great abandon when in fact, I eat the whole thing, she falls off my shoulder. Mostly, Rainy Day helps me see the humor in living and, mostly, she encourages me down the right path. Not necessarily the straight and narrow one (how fun is that?) but the path that offers the most adventure and fun.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rainy Day, Tacoma Blue, and the Morphing of Our Language

First, a bit of a brag: Lenora won first prize in a poetry contest! She wrote the winning poem to go with the photo the magazine posted. Click here to see the inspirational photo and Lenora's poem.   And now, back to our regularly scheduled nattering.

Last week, Rainy Day and Tacoma Blue ranted about being Word Snobs. In the rant, it was mentioned how our language has changed through the years, and Rainy Day thought you might like to read an example. Those of you who write Science Fiction/Fantasy, especially time travel, pay attention—your hero may have more than the usually thought of problems as they are zapped to an earlier time. The same would hold true to the future, just more difficult to predict.

Several years ago, Rainy Day read a fascinating book, African Exodus by Christopher Stringer and Robin McKie. She laments her copy is now lost; however, before said loss happened she copied a very dramatic demonstration of our language as it changes and morphs and grows, something she is fairly sure you all know, the Lord's Prayer.

According to the authors—and who are Tacoma Blue or Rainy Day to argue?—our language is perpetually changing to the tune of about 20% per thousand years (losing about 20% of the common words). For a truly dramatic example, read on, Dear and Gentle Readers:

"[The Lord's Prayer]... in modern English:
Our Father, who is in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your kingdom
come into being. May your will be followed on earth, just as it is in
heaven. Give us this day our food for the day. And forgive us our
offences, just as we forgive those who have offended us. And do not bring
us to the test. But free us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the
glory are yours forever. Amen.

"...King James Bible of 1611:
Our father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily
bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass
against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For
thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever, amen.

"...Middle English from around 1400A.D.:
Oure fadir that art in heuenes holowid be thi name, thi kyngdom come to, be
thi wille don in erthe es in heuene, yeue to us this day oure bread ouir
other substance, & foryeue to us oure dettis, as we gorgeuen to oure
dettouris, & lede us not in to temptacion: but delyuer us from yuel, amen.

"And, finally, contemplate the Old English version, of the period around
Faeder ure thu the eart on heofonum, si thin nama gehalgod. Tobecume thin
rice. Gewurthe in willa on eorthan swa swa on heofonum. Urne
gedaeghwamlican hlaf syle us to daeg. And forgyf us ure gyltas, swa swa we
forgyfath urum gyltedum. And ne gelaed thu us on contnungen ac alys us of
yfele. Sothlice."
(Used by permission from Prof. Stringer, from African Exodus –by Christopher Stringer and Robin McKie)

Tacoma Blue found the above fascinating, and noticed how "quickly" and thoroughly the language morphs – how the vowel shifts and is pronounced: heaven = heuenes = heofonum. How the Old English seems more like our current "heaven," probably due to the 'f' in the middle. As she says, who would ever have thought "heuenes" would be pronounced with an 'f' or 'v' sound in the middle?

She once had a friend who could rattle off Old English as if it was his native tongue, and Tacoma Blue assures us Gentle Readers, that it was incredibly beautiful – far softer on the ear than contemporary German, with a softer guttural sense about it. A truly lovely language to hear.

She goes on to suggest we consider meanings: our "offences" (how mild that seems!); the King James era "trespasses" (which sounds like the sort of thing one might be shot for), Middle English "dettis" (debts, which we now would consider money owed but then indicated a much broader sense of indebtedness), and Old English "gyltas" (guilt), which is harsher, farther reaching, and nearly impossible to either avoid or atone.

The Danes in the time of Beowulf spoke of "geas," which signified an undeniable burden or task (often the seeking of blood price or atonement) laid upon a person, especially a warrior. Not a particularly forgiving lot, those old Danes. If the warrior succeeded, he then bore a gyltas every bit as heavy as if he had failed.

Now look at the phrase, "forgive us our debts (or offences) as we forgive our debtors (those who offend us)" -- in Middle English, it's "foryeue to us oure dettis, as we gorgeuen to oure dettouris", in Old English, "forgyf us ure gyltas, swa swa we forgyfath urum gyltedum".

Likewise, "evil," "yuel," "yfele." And what's this "Sothlice"? Sounds less like our later "amen" and far more like the Masonic pronouncement, "So mote it be"!

At least "and" stays the same, a landmark of sorts that lets us know where and when we are, and that some things don't ever really change.

Fascinating -- if Tacoma Blue lives long enough, She'll study languages, linguistics, and history! (Rainy Day will sit at her feet;-)

And there, Gentle Reader, you have it. Why Tacoma Blue and Rainy Day are Word Snobs.  Not that either are experts, not by a long shot, and they don't sit around reading Old English while drinking their tea and eating their crumpets, but they do find language interesting, especially the one they speak, and try to use it with a modicum of correctness.

And again, Rainy Day gives Great Thanks to Professor Stringer for permission to use the Lord's Prayer excerpt from African Exodus. (Y'all really should find and read the book!)

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