Printer Friendly

Raising a stink in 'The Owl and the Nightingale': a new reading at line 115.

The two manuscripts which preserve the only surviving texts of The Owl and the Nightingale (British Library, Cotton Caligula A. ix, hereafter C),(1) and Oxford, Jesus College MS 29, part 2, hereafter J) are closely related. They share seven texts in English and three in French.(2) Correct readings in J corresponding to textual errors in C, and vice versa, indicate that neither can have been copied directly from the other. A large number of shared errors has led to the conclusion that the texts represent copies with a common ancestor, X.(3) It is clear, however, that the two scribes employed very different copying strategies.

Breier was the first to observe that the C text of The Owl and the Nightingale, although in a single hand, contains two kinds of language.(4) This shift from one usage to another suggests that X's text of The Owl and the Nightingale was in two different hands, or at least was itself in two distinct types of language (X1 and X2), which the C scribe faithfully transmitted. The C scribe reveals himself therefore as a literatim copyist by habit or training.(5) The J scribe's text, by contrast, shows little sign of linguistic variation, all the Middle English texts that he copies being in much the same language. The J scribe may be taken to be a translator by habit: a scribe who converts the language of his exemplars, of whatever kind it might be, into his own usage.(6) The habit of literatim copying naturally also implies textual conservatism. The habit of translation often (though not always) goes with greater freedom in textual adaptation and editing. Editorial freedom is certainly characteristic of the J scribe, as has been acknowledged by all editors of The Owl and the Nightingale. Atkins observes: 'while the C text . . . supplies the better version, the J text is the result of a freer handling of the original, and thus contains modifications which detract very considerably from its value as a copy of the original text'.(7) Grattan and Sykes point out that 'the editorial activity of the scribe of J (or of a precursor) is manifest on almost every page'.(8) Wells's assessment is more dismissive: 'the scribe [J], while a clear writer, was careless in copying';(9) while Hall considers that 'the scribe of J was more independent [than that of C]' but also refers to the J scribe's 'drastic revision' of his text of The Poema Morale and observes that his 'version of the Owl and the Nightingale has suffered, though not to the same extent'.(10)

The contrast between the copying strategies of the scribes of C and J, and the implications of the two policies, are summarized by E. G. Stanley:

. . . the scribe of C seems the more conservative and faithful. . . . The scribe of J is more thoughtful; but in scribes thinking may be as dangerous as not thinking. A scribe copying mechanically (like the C scribe) will often blunder, but he will also often copy what cannot have made sense to him, so that the original sense may be recovered. A thoughtful scribe (like the J scribe), wishing to write sense, will regularise and modernise, and at times even 'emend' what he thinks is nonsense in his exemplar, thus perhaps weakening the sense of the original which he failed to understand, and often wiping out, beyond hope of recovery, such traces of the original good sense as may have existed still in his exemplar.(11)

The corollary to this observation is that where the C and J texts substantively differ, the C text, however garbled, is likely to be closer to what was in X, and by implication closer to the original. When the two texts differ and J's reading is accepted as 'better' our suspicions should be aroused.(12) One such place is at lines 115-16 of The Owl and the Nightingale. Here the C text reads:

Hit thas idon ov aloth wiste Segge me ghif ghe hit piste

The Jesus text has:

Hit wes i don eu a lothe custe Seggeth me if ye hit wiste.

These two lines form part of the nightingale's criticism of the owl and her kind as being dirty and foul by nature. She invokes the fable of the hawk (or falcon) and the owl which relates (in the nightingale's version) how an owl secretly laid an egg in the falcon's nest. When the eggs hatched the falcon fed all the nestlings. But she noticed that the nest had been fouled while she was away and became very angry with the nestlings and shouted at them, 'Tell me who has done this to you. It was never in your nature to do it.' (Then follow the two lines quoted above, also spoken by the falcon.) The baby falcons replied that it was their brother with the big head who did it. The story ends badly for the baby owl who was then thrown out of the nest by the falcon, broke his neck and was torn to pieces by magpies and crows.

Editors have been unanimous in emending C's wiste in line 115 to J's custe, some also add the dative ending -e to loth. J's version might be translated: 'It was done to you in a loathsome manner. Tell me if you saw it.'(13) The assumption has been that here J preserves the text of X more accurately than C does. The fact that custe:wiste is not an exact rhyme is explained either by postulating that the original had custe: wuste,(14) or by accepting that the poet tolerated rhymes on [i] and [u].(15) The C scribe's 'error' is usually accounted for by assuming that his eye fell on wiste in the line below.(16) Only Grattan and Sykes suggest that C's wi was miscopied from a badly made ecu.(17) It is hard to imagine what sort of orthographical botch of ecu could have been read as wi, but Grattan and Sykes's edition has the unusual merit of distinguishing scribal w from wynn. The C scribe uses w for the first wiste and p for the second. They do not say so, but perhaps the reason why Grattan and Sykes do not subscribe to the eye-slipping theory is that since X must have had either w or p in line 116, it is surprising that the C scribe did not notice his mistake when he came to writing his second version with a different littera.

With our knowledge of the differing copying practices of the scribes of J and C, is it possible to read C's text without emendation in a way that makes sense? I think the answer is yes. All three types of language preserved in The Owl and the Nightingale - J, C1, and C2 - display evidence of the voicing of initial [f] in words of native origin.(18) In common with the usage of many scribes writing early Middle English, the language of the C text, especially that of C1, also occasionally shows orthographic equivalence of the symbols w, v, u, and p, which may be used interchangeably for [w], [v], and [u].(19) The litteral substitution which is important for the reading in question is w or p for [v] from Old English initial 'f'.

The C scribe has w for [v] (from earlier 'f') four times in the word 'foul' from OE ful: wole 8; wl 31,236; wle 35.(20) It is evident that, at these points in the running text, spellings with initial w appeared in X because J, who 'translates' to the form ful at lines 31 and 236, also has wle at line 35 and at line 8 reads the word in X as a form of 'evil' and writes vuele.(21) C hasp for [v] from Old English 'f' at line 17 in the word paste: In ore paste picke hegge. In spite of J's evidence, where the scribe again converts (in accordance with his own system) what must have been a spelling with p/w in X to vaste, meaning 'dense, impenetrable' from OE faest, most editors of The Owl and the Nightingale assume C's reading implies a different word. They suppose it to be from OFr wast meaning 'solitary, deserted', but for the most part prefer 'J's reading'. Only Hall correctly takes C's reading simply as a variant spelling for the adjective vaste < faest.(22) Both C and J have one other clear example of w for [v]: C iwrne, J iwurne line 637, which is from the Old English adverb gefyrn, 'formerly, long ago' and comes in the phrase of olde iw(u)rne 'from the olden days'.(23)

We can assume therefore that the text of The Owl and the Nightingale in X had occasional instances of w/p for [v]. Judging from their infrequent occurrence, such spellings are unlikely to have formed part of the spontaneous usage of either the C scribe or the J scribe? The use of w/p for [v] was, however, quite widespread in other orthographies in the South-West Midlands at this date.(25) The spellings in X were, as we have seen, adopted by the scribe of C, who was either familiar with the usage, and saw no reason to change it or, if not, simply played safe in his instincts towards literatim copying. The scribe of J must have had some familiarity with the usage since he three times accurately converts the w/p-spellings to his own preferred f- or v-spellings. The occasions where he fails to convert the text may indicate unusual lapses by the scribe into literatim copying mode, or simply that he accepted the forms as part of his passive repertoire of possible spellings.

It follows then that C's wiste in line 115 may be read as a variant spelling for [vist] from earlier *fist. There is a Middle English word fist which fits the context of the poem admirably and has a fine Germanic and Indo-European pedigree. It means 'a fart' or 'a stink': see MED under fist n. (2) and cf. the entries under fisten v., fisting ger., fis(e n. and fesilen v; also OED under Fist (feist), [sb..sup.2], first sense and cf. the entries under Fist, [v..sup.2], Fise, sb. first sense, Foist, [v..sup.3] and Fizzle, sb. and v. To give the meaning of ME fist simply as 'fart' is not, however, quite accurate. It was a different word from fert or fart which denoted 'a noisy breaking of wind'. Fist rather meant 'a quiet, low sounding or silent windy escape backwards'.(26) This distinction is preserved in Modern German Furz and furzen 'fart' as against Fist and fisten which are 'leise' - quiet or gentle. The two words continue separate IE roots (*perd- and *pezd-) first distinguished by Holger Pedersen and fully discussed by Bernhard Forssman(27) who links fist with Gr [Greek Text Omitted] 'puff-ball' and traces the word back via PGmc *fistiz to PIE *pezd-i-. He summarizes (p. 56) the surviving Germanic evidence as follows:

OIcel fisa (str. vb) 'fisten' ('to fart quietly or silently');

OE fisting f. 'das Fisten' ('the act of quiet or silent farting') (quantity of the first i not determinable); ME and PE fist 'Fist' ('a quiet or silent fart') (i long or short);

MHG vist, vist, veist m. 'Fist'; visten (str. or wk vb) visten, veisten (wk vb) 'fisten'; visen (str. vb?) 'fisten';

MLG vist m. 'Fist'; visten (wk vb) 'fisten' (quantity of the i not determinable, PLG in some cases i);

MDu veest, vijst n. 'Fist'; veesten, vijsten (wk vb) 'fisten'.

The C text's wiste (for [vist] from OE *fist) must have a short vowel to rhyme with piste, the 2nd pets. pl. pret. of witen.(28) The evidence that such a word, both in substantival and verbal variants, was current (if not, understandably, frequently used in writing) in England in the mid to late thirteenth century is reasonably strong. OE fistung (from which are deduced the existence of an Old English verb *fistan and perhaps also a noun *fist) appears in two Latin-Old English glossaries of the tenth-eleventh centuries. The first, written on the margins of fos 3-4 of Antwerp, Plantin-Moretus Museum 47 (Salle, iii 68) and fos [2.sup.v]-[21.sup.v] of London, British Library, Additional 32246,(29) has fesiculatio ~ fisting, coming suggestively between pedatio ~ feorting and sibilatio ~ hwistling.(30) The second, London, British Library, Harley 3376(31) also has fesiculatio.fisting. Bosworth-Toller suggests that fesiculatio should be read as fistulatio, presumably meaning 'blowing' from fistula, 'a pipe'. Oliphant (p. 181, n.) conjectures more plausibly that 'behind it may lie vesicule "bladder full of air"'.

The next citations of the word are from much later, the earliest being from the Promptorium Parvulorum. This is an English-Latin dictionary, compiled from a number of earlier and contemporary Latin Nominalia supposedly by Galfridus Grammaticus. It survives in six different manuscripts (not all complete) one of which, the Winchester MS, says that Galfridus was a friar of King's Lynn, Norfolk and that the work was compiled in 1440.(32) Promptorium Parvulorum records (Way, I, 163): 'FYYST, stynk. Lirida. FYISTYN. Cacco, lirido. FYYSTYNGE. Liridacio.'(33) These entries are supported by a slightly later, shorter English-Latin dictionary Catholicon Anglicum of the last quarter of the fifteenth century. This cites 'a Fiste; lirida'.(34) Somewhat later English-French dictionaries confirm the continued use of the English word. John Palsgrave's Lesclarcissement de la langue francoye of 1530 has 'Fyest with the arse, uesse', and 'I fyest, I stynke. Je vesse. Beware nowe thou fysthe nat, for thou shalte smell sower than.'(35) Randle Cotgrave's A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues of 1611 cites 'Vesse. A fyste. Vesseur. A fyster, a stinking fellow. Vessir. To fyste, to let a fyste'.(36) There is no reason to suppose that the word fist was not current in the language between its citations in glossaries of the eleventh and of the fifteenth centuries.

When we return to the couplet in the C text of the Owl and the Nightingale, it becomes clear that we now have a reading which entirely fits the subject matter and mood of the poem and moreover accounts for the lack of dative 'e' ending in lop. We know that the baby owl has fouled the falcon's nest and that the falcon is angry with the nestlings. Hit pas idon ov aloth wiste may now be read, with comic litotes, 'A disgusting fart was done to you' or perhaps 'a foul stink was done to you'.(37)

But I think we may be able to do even better than this. The context requires that the nest be fouled with something rather more than a smell, however unpleasant. It is apparent that ME fist can, and usually does, mean a quiet emission of air from the back end. But I think it is possible that it could sometimes imply the quiet emission of something more than air. Here one has, so to speak, to tread delicately. And this, of course, is also the problem with the sources: the word is only rarely used and when it and its cognates appear in texts other than dictionaries, the company they keep certainly gives an idea of their meaning, but often simply implies general terms of abuse. The J scribe himself may have emended line 115 because he did not know the word fist and sought, as usual, to make sense of the text. But it is perhaps more likely that a scribe who has been labelled 'the moralizing reviser'(38) edited out a blatant vulgarism in favour of a blander but less uncomfortable reading.

To establish a further possible sense for ME fist and fisten we must look more closely at the definitions given in Promptorium Parvulorum. For the noun fyyst, the compiler unusually gives an English equivalent, 'stynk' before citing Latin lurida (or its variant lirida), a first declension feminine noun. The entries under 'luridus ~ a' and 'luridatio' in The Dictionary of Latin from British Sources,(39) refer us back to Promptorium Parvulorum, Catholicon Anglicum and the Nominale in Wright-Wulcker with the familiar definitions, 'breaking wind', 'foul smell', 'stink', and 'fart'. The Promptorium Parvulorum entry for the verb is, however, far more suggestive: 'FYISTYN. Cacco, lirido'. Cacco, the first definition given, is Latin 'caco, cacare' and means 'to defecate', and by transferred usage also 'to defile'. The Middle English verb cakken with the same meaning may also refer to fouling one's breeches (see MED cakken v.). The Promptorium Parvulorum entry for cakken is here of great interest: 'CAKKYN, or fyystyn. Caco' (Way, I, 58). Fyystyn is given as the equivalent of cakkyn and also defined by 'caco"to defecate or defile'. It is worth recording that the noun 'stink' given in Promptorium Parvulorum as equivalent to fyyst can in Middle English mean not only a bad smell, but also the source of the smell. See MED stink n. sense 1. (a) '. . . also, that which emits an offensive odor: dung, muck, foul water, etc.'. The verb 'lurido, ~ are' does not seem to have been recorded as such in classical Latin, but Lewis and Short has an entry, which presumably corresponds to the past participle of the first conjugation verb: 'luridatus, ~ a ~ um adj. [luridus] besmeared, defiled' with a reference to Tertullianus Marc. bk. 4, ch. 8. The usage here turns out to be figurative: 'Qui retro luridati delinquentiae maculis et nigrati ignorantiae tenebris' but it is clearly referring to something more substantial than wind.(40) The only citation in Lewis and Short of the verb 'caco' quotes from Phaedrus 4.17, 25: 'Canes odorem mixtum cum merdis cacant'. The mixture of bad smell and excrement and the notion of fouling or besmearing seem to indicate that ME fist and fisten probably, like cakken, could carry the additional implication of involuntary or loose defecation. Modern English seems not to have a word to describe the resultant, specifically loose, object(41) though it is obvious that such an offering is precisely what is habitually produced by birds.

This theory gains further support from comparison with another version of the fable of the hawk and the owl: that told by Marie de France (no. 79). The fable is summarized by Stanley.(42) The tale is slightly different from that in C and J. In this version, the hawk and the owl agreed to share the nest and to hatch out their eggs and bring up their chicks together. When the hawk challenged the nestlings for fouling the nest they replied that it was her own fault and gave the reason. Here Stanley, treading delicately, says: 'The next two lines are corrupt, and have not been solved satisfactorily.' Then the hawk acknowledged that owls are just like that and although she can hatch them out she cannot change their nature. It is true that at this point in the text there are a number of different readings in the surviving manuscripts of the Marie de France fables. The oldest manuscript, York Minster XVI, K. 12 (Y), and the manuscript considered the best, British Library, Harley 978 (A), together with the other two manuscripts most closely related (the four together forming the a group)(43) and also Bibliotheque Nationale fr. 1593 (N) read:

Cil li respundirent apres qu'il nes en deit mie blasmer, lui meismes deit enculper: kar lur deriere unt eu frere pur ceo est dreiz qu'en sun ni paire

This may be translated: 'They then replied that she ought not to blame them but should blame herself [problem line] and it is natural that it would appear in her nest'. The problem line makes no sense at all as it stands and there is obviously some textual corruption. The presence of the word frere 'brother' could possibly be the vestige of a now irrecoverable sentence in which the nestlings tried to blame their brothers - presumably the baby owls. Variant readings in some of the surviving manuscripts make this idea explicit,(44) and the Latin version of the fable by Romulus has 'Nobis hoc iniuste imputatur, cum frater noster ille cum magno capite solus hoc fecerit' which would seem to support it.(45) But the version of the fable in The Owl and the Nightingale has the reference to the nestlings' big headed brother two lines later:

Ipis hit pus ure ogher brother the ghond that haued that grete heued

and something else is required at the earlier point in its text. One of the manuscripts of Marie de France's fables, Bibliotheque Nationale, fr. 19152 (s) reads 'quant lor derriere ont eu foire' - 'when their backsides had diarrhoea'.(46) Most editors (including Warnke) agree that S preserves the correct reading in 'foire' and, though accepting A or Y as a base text, make no difficulty about emending 'frere' accordingly. The emendation certainly makes much better grammatical and contextual sense. It seems that the author of The Owl and the Nightingale knew both French and Latin traditions and has here combined them.

We are left only with the minor problem of how to render the line for a more or less squeamish modern readership. As both fist in the required sense and lask are no longer current, I would venture 'A disgusting squirt [or squit] was done to you'. But others with a wider vocabulary or who are more willing to plunge deeper into the cloaca maxima of modern slang may have better suggestions.

MARGARET LAING University of Edinburgh

I am grateful to Neil Cartlidge for encouraging me to pursue what began as an idle speculation, and to Patrick V. Stiles for keeping me straight on etymologies; they have both made useful suggestions on earlier drafts of this paper. The work of the Institute for Historical Dialectology is supported by the Leverhulme Trust for which grateful acknowledgement is here made.

1 In the present paper the siglum C refers to the second part of the Cotton manuscript, from fos [195.sup.r]-[261.sup.v], and not to the first part which contains Laghamon's Brut in a different hand.

2 The shared texts, in the order in which they appear in C, are Josaphaz, the Set Dormanz, the Petit Plet, The Owl and the Nightingale, Long Life or Death's Wither-Clench, An Orison to Our Lady, Doomsday, The Latemest Day, The Ten Abuses, the Lutel Soth Sermun. The two manuscripts may also have shared Will and Wit which survives in C. It is likely to have been in J also and is probably missing because of a lost bifolium.

3 Both C and J are certainly descended from X, but there is evidence from a third surviving version of Le Petit Plet of a copy intermediary between X and J, for that text at least. See Brian S. Merilees (ed.), Le Petit Plet, Anglo-Norman Text Society 20 (1970), pp. xvi-xvii. The two versions of The Owl and the Nightingale provide no evidence for the existence of any copy between X and J, and it may well be that for this text X was the proximate exemplar for both surviving copies. For simplicity's sake, that will be assumed here. For a useful summary of the evidence, with references, see Neil Cartlidge, 'The Date of The Owl and the Nightingale', Medium AEvum, lxv (1996), 230-47 (233-4, and notes).

4 The first language type (C1) runs from lines 1-900 and 961-1174; the second type (C2) runs from lines 901-960 and 1175-1794 (end). See W. Breier, 'Eule und Nachtigall': eine Untersuchung der Uberlieferung und der Sprache, der ortlichen und der zeitlichen Entstehung des me. Gedichts, Studien zur englischen Philologie, xxxix (Halle, 1910), 49-51; and cf. J. W. H. Atkins (ed.), The Owl and the Nightingale (Cambridge, 1922; repr. New York, 1971), pp. xxix-xxxi, where lines 901 and 1175-1183 are assigned (I think wrongly) to C1.

5 For a study of orthographic variation and vestigial traces of the language(s) of X in C's texts, as a result of the scribe's copying practice, see Neil Cartlidge, 'Orthographical Variation in the Middle English Lyrics of BL MS Cotton Caligula A.ix', Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, xcviii (1997), 253-9.

6 For the background to the distinction between scribal copying practices, see Angus McIntosh, 'Word Geography in the Lexicography of Middle English', Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, ccxi (1973), 55-66, repr. in Middle English Dialectology: essays on some principles and problems, ed. Margaret Laing (Aberdeen, 1989), 86-97) (92); Margaret Laing, 'Dialectal Analysis and Linguistically Composite Texts in Middle English', Speculum, lxiii (1988), 83-100, repr. ibid., pp. 150-69 (152); Michael Benskin and Margaret Laing, 'Translations and Mischsprachen in Middle English Manuscripts', in So meny people longages and tonges: philological essays in Scots and mediaeval English presented to Angus McIntosh, ed. Michael Benskin and M. L. Samuels (Edinburgh, 1981), 55-106 (56), repeated in the General Introduction to A Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English, ed. Angus Mcintosh, M. L. Samuels, and Michael Benskin, I, 16, [section] 3.1.3; Jeremy J. Smith, 'Tradition and Innovation in South-West-Midland Middle English', in Regionalism in Late Medieval Manuscripts and Texts, ed. Felicity Riddy (Cambridge, 1991), 53-65 (54).

7 Atkins, op. cit., p. xxvii. Neil Cartlidge has pointed out to me (personal communication) that here Atkins is referring to the little words of emphasis, present in C and absent from J. It is impossible to be sure that they are omitted by J rather than added by C. For further discussion on this matter see the forthcoming edition of The Owl and the Nightingale, in preparation by Neil Cartlidge for Exeter University Press. Cartlidge also draws attention to an adaptation by the scribe of J not cited by Atkins; on lines 1526-7, J's noht and riche, where C correctly has no riht and righte, makes a travesty of the Owl's meaning.

8 J. H. G. Grattan and G. F. H. Sykes (eds.), The Owl and the Nightingale, EETS e.s. 119 (1935), p. xvi.

9 J. E. Wells (ed.), The Owl and the Nightingale (Boston, Mass. and London, 1907), p. xiii.

10 J. Hall, Selections from Early Middle English: 1130-1250, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1920), II, 553 and 293.

11 E.G. Stanley (ed.), The Owl and the Nightingale (London and Edinburgh, 1960; re-issued Manchester, 1972; repr. 1981), 6.

12 This is not to deny that the C scribe sometimes made mistakes where the J scribe read correctly. I am talking about places (as Stanley's observation also implies) where the text of X was difficult or unclear. In these cases the J scribe will seek to 'improve' the text so that it makes sense. Literatim copyists, such as the C scribe, also want their text to make sense. As long as they themselves understand it, they will feel no necessity to change it. But even if a literatim copyist does not understand what is in his exemplar, he is more likely, rather than emending it, to replicate exactly what he (thinks he) sees in front of him rather as we might trace as closely as we can an illegible name or address in the hope that the postman may be able to make sense of it even if we cannot.

13 This seems a more natural translation than 'Tell me if you knew (anything about) it'. See OED wite [v.sup.2] sense 3.

14 Wells, op. cit., 155 and compare lines 9-10 which do rhyme custe:wuste, and lines 1397-8 luste:custe.

15 Atkins, op. cit., 12, note to line 116 where he cites for comparison wite:utschute (lines 1467-8) and ofligge:bugge (lines 1505-6).

16 Atkins, op. cit., 12, note to line 115.

17 Grattan and Sykes, op. cit., 4, note to line 115.

18 It is usually assumed that South and South-West Midland dialects of this period had voicing of the initial fricatives [s] and perhaps also [[Theta]] as well as [f]. The voicing is only apparent in the C and J scribes' usages, however, in the variation of u- and v- spellings with f- spellings in e.g. vaire, vayre 'fair', vighte, uaght 'fight', 'fought', uolde, volde 'fold', uor, vor 'for', urom, vrom 'from'. For voicing of initial fricatives in Middle English see: W. H. Bennett, 'The Southern English Development of Germanic Initial [fsth]', Language, xxxi (1935), 367-71, repr. in R. Lass (ed.), Approaches to English Historical Linguistics (New York, 1969), 349-68; H. Kurath, 'The Loss of Long Consonants and the Rise of Voiced Fricatives in Middle English', Language, xxxii (1956), 435-45, repr. Lass, op. cit., 142-53; J. Sledd, 'Some Questions of English Phonology', Language, xxxiv (1958), 252-8; M. L. Samuels, 'Kent and the Low Countries: Some Linguistic Evidence', in A. J. Aitken et al. (eds.), Edinburgh Studies in English and Scots (London, 1971), 3-19; J. Fisiak, 'The Voicing of Initial Fricatives in Middle English', Studia Anglica Posnaniensia, xvii (1984), 3-16, repr. in W. Viereck (ed.), Focus on: England and Wales, Varieties of English around the World, 4 (Amsterdam and Philadelphia, 1985), 5-28; P. Poussa, 'A Note on the Voicing of Initial Fricatives' in R. Eaton et al. (eds.), Papers from the 4th International Conference on English Historical Linguistics (Amsterdam, 1985), 235-52; G. Kristensson, 'On Voicing of Initial Fricatives in Middle English', Studia Anglica Posnaniensia, six (1986), 3-10, and 'Voicing of Initial Fricatives Revisited', in A. R. Rumble and A. D. Mills (eds.), Names, Places and People: An Onomastic Miscellany in Memory of John McNeal Dodgson (Stamford, 1997), 186-94; H. Voitl, 'The History of Voicing of Initial Fricatives in Southern England: a Case of Conflict between Regional and Social Dialect', in J. Fisiak (ed.), Historical Dialectology: Regional and Social (Berlin, 1988), 565-600; K. Dietz, 'Die sudaltenglische Sonorisierung Anlautender Spiranten', Anglia, cviii (1990), 292-313; R. Lass, 'Old English Fricative Voicing Unvisited', Studia Anglica Posnaniensia xxxv-xxxvii (1991-3), 3-45; Hans F. Neilsen, 'On the Origin and Spread of Initial Voiced Fricatives and the Phonemic Split of Fricatives in English and Dutch', in Margaret Laing and Keith Williamson (eds.), Speaking in our Tongues: Medieval Dialectology and Related Disciplines (Cambridge, 1994), 19-30.

19 C's text, which has usual wynn, occasional w, for [w], has u for [w] in e.g.: andsuare 'answer' 149, uel 'well' 537, uise 'wise' 961, uere 'were' 1306, uenedh 1554; and v for [w] in e.g.: sval 'swelled' 7; vel 'well' 95, svikelhede, svikeldom, svikedom 'treachery' 162, 163, 167. For more examples and the contrast in usage between C1 and C2 see John Scahill, 'A Neglected Sound-Change in Early Middle English', English Studies, lxxviii (1997), 1-7, at p. 2 and fn. 4. Scahill has amassed some useful information on spellings in C and J, but the data in no way support his hypothesis for a sound-change involving the fricativization of [w] to [v] after 's' and 't'. su-/sv- and tu-/tv- are orthographically and systematically quite unexceptionable spellings for [sw] and [tw] in Middle English. The origin of the use of u, uu, v, vv, and w as equivalents of the Old English rune-derived wynn comes from Anglo-Latin orthographical practice not, as so often asserted, from French (or even Anglo-Norman) influence, as shown by Michael Benskin, 'The Letters <th> and <y> in Later Middle English, and Some Related Matters', Journal of the Society of Archivists, vii (1982), 13-20 (19-20), cf. also Richard Coates, 'On an Early Date for Old English i-mutation', in Linguistic and Stylistic Studies in Medieval English, ed. A. Crepin, Publications de l'association des medievistes anglicistes de l'enseignement superieur 10 (Amiens, 1984), 25-37 (32 and 35, fn. 4). That w and p may in their turn be used in Jul and [v] contexts is a logical extension of the practice in such writing systems. Writing systems which include the possibility that two symbols may be written for one sound, e.g. uu/vv for [w], often include the corollary that one symbol may be written for two, e.g. w or p for [wu] or [wi] (or y for [dhi]). For further discussion and some fascinating examples of the orthographical phenomenon that two letters may be written for one and vice versa (which may also extend to triplets) see Michael Benskin, 'On the Ignorance of Anglo-Norman Scribes', forthcoming. See also Margaret Laing, 'A Fourteenth-century Sermon on the Number Seven in Merton College, Oxford, MS 248', Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, xcviii (1997), 99-134 (esp. p. 103 and fns 22 and 23) and 'Confusion wrs Confounded: Litteral Substitution Sets in Early Middle English Writing Systems', forthcoming.

20 C's other spellings for 'foul' are rule 20x, ful 3x, fulne once, and fole once (line 104). Here the spellings imply [fu:] or perhaps [vu:] with the historical spelling lagging behind the phonetic reality, The w-spellings presumably imply [vu:].

21 Given the form fole (which also appears for 'foul' once in each of C's texts Death's Wither-Clench and The Latemest Day) and the implausibility of wole with medial 'o' as a spelling for 'evil' even if w were read as vv representing [uv], C's wole is here taken to represent 'foul'. The C scribe's spellings for 'evil' in The Owl and the Nightingale are uvele 4x, uuele 2x, uuel once, and Vuel once. There are no examples of the word in any of the other texts in his hand. The scribe of X may here, however, have intended the word 'evil'. A form such as vvele with a rounded o-like first e could possibly have misled the C scribe into reading it as a form for 'foul'.

22 Breier assumes it is from the adverb faste, qualifying thicke: 'very thick'.

23 Note that these spellings, which are not mentioned by Scahill (op. cit., fn. 19 above) underline the equivalence of w and u/v as orthographic realizations of both [v] and [w].

24 Whatever may have been the linguistic provenance of the original poem, it is evident that the languages of the surviving copies belong in the South-West Midlands. The language of J has been provisionally placed in East Herefordshire, that of C1 probably belongs in South Worcestershire, and C2 somewhat further north and west.

25 For some easily accessible examples see the poems in Oxford, Bodleian Library, Digby 86 (Facsimile of Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 86, with an introduction by Judith Tschann and M. B. Parkes, EETS, s.s. 16 (1996) and editions cited there and in Margaret Laing, Catalogue of Sources for a Linguistic Atlas of Early Medieval English (Cambridge, 1993), 129-30), and the poems written by scribe A in Cambridge, Trinity College B.14.39 (323) and, to a lesser extent, those written by scribe D (K. Reichl, Religiose Dichtung im englischen Hochmittelalter: Untersuchung und Edition der Handschrift B.14.39 des Trinity College in Cambridge (Munchen, 1973); the scribes correspond respectively to Reichl's scribes D and E).

26 Though some later citations in OED indicate that it later became synonymous with 'fart'.

27 Holger Pedersen, 'Die Nasalprasentia und der slavische Akzent', Zeitschrift fur vergleichende Sprachforschung (1905 [1902-3]), 10-421 at pp. 418-419 where Pederson engagingly writes: 'Ein von mir gehortes irisches Sprichwort, das den bruim (braim) [loud fart] als ehrlich, den tufog [quiet fart] als einen Verrater bezeichnet, ist vielleicht fur die Weltlitteratur verloren gegangen, da ich es nicht aufgezeichnet habe.' Bernhard Forssman, 'Altgriechisch [Greek Text Omitted] und deutsch Fist', Munchener Studien zur Sprachwissenschaft, xxix (1972), 47-70. I am grateful to Patrick V. Stiles for drawing my attention to these articles.

28 In fact Old English words in -ist greatly outnumber those in -ist: e.g. cist (cf. kist), gist 'yeast', list, mist, pistol, thistel, twist, hwistlian, wist 'substance', wrist against e.g. liste and dhriste. In spite of -st not supposedly being a shortening environment, both of these words had Middle English variants with short i (The Owl and the Nightingale rhymes thriste with liste (<OE list) at lines 171-2 and 757-8), as do the French borrowings giste 'joist' and triste 'tryst, shooting station'. Even the word 'Christ' seems sometimes to have short i in Middle English: see the rhymes wangeliste/criste/biwiste from Arundel 248 in Carleton Brown (ed.), English Lyrics of the Thirteenth Century (Oxford, 1932), no. 45 lines 33-5.

29 See N. R. Ker, Catalogue of Manuscripts containing Anglo-Saxon (Oxford, 1957), no. 2.

30 See L. Kindschi, 'The Latin-Old English Glossaries in Plantin-Moretus 32 and British Museum MS Additional 32,246', unpublished doctoral dissertation (Stanford, 1955). A combination of this glossary and another Latin Old English glossary from the same manuscripts (wrongly labelled AElfric's Glossary) is printed by T. Wright and R. P. Wulcker, Anglo-Saxon and Old English Vocabularies, 2 vols, 2nd edn (London, 1884), 104-91 (162.43), from a transcript made for Junius (Bodleian Library, Junius 71).

31 See Ker, Catalogue, no. 240. Edited: R. T. Oliphant, The Harley Latin Old English Glossary (The Hague and Paris, 1966), F252; also printed Wright-Wulcker, 192-247 (237.28).

32 Promptorium Parvulorum was edited from London, BL Harley 221 by A. Way, 3 vols, Camden Society 25, 54, 89 (1843, 1851, 1865) and from the Winchester MS by A. L. Mayhew, EETS, e.s. 102 (1908). See also the facsimile of Pynson's 1499 edition, Scolar Press Facsimile, 108 (1968).

33 The Winchester MS agrees with the Harley MS but has lurida, luridacio and Mayhew (162 and 181) prints the Latin nominal declensions and genders and the verbal conjugations. It is not clear whether these also appear in the Harley MS or whether they have been omitted by Way. Cf, the related fise cited from a Latin English nominale printed by Wright-Wulcker (679): Hec lirida, a fyse.

34 See Sidney J. H. Herrtage, Catholicon Anglicum, Camden Society, n.s. 30 (1882), 132 and fn. 4.

35 See Scolar Press Facsimiles, 190 (1969).

36 See Scolar Press Facsimiles, 82 (1968).

37 The pleonastic construction, here dictated by the exigencies of metre and rhyme, is not uncommon in Middle English. For a similar example, with 'it' as grammatical object emphasizing a following quotation, see The Owl and The Nightingale lines 942-3: 'For hit seide pe king alfred/Sele endedh pel dhe lothe.' For other Middle English examples with 'it' accompanying the subject, see MED hit pron., sense 6 (a), especially Peterb. Chron. an. 656: 'Dancod wurdh hit port haege AElmihti God, this wurdhscipe thet her is gedon'; Cursor 873: 'Bot now it es this appell etten'; KAlex. 4147: 'Jt shal be wel dere aboughth, the tol that was in Grece soughth'. Cf. also OED it pron. sense 4 (c) and for further examples. F. Th. Visser, An Historical Syntax of the English Language, I (Leiden, 1970), 48-9, [section]62-f. The closest parallel that I can find to the syntax pleonastic hit + verb phrase + indirect object + subject phrase in apposition to hit, all in a passive construction, is in The 'Gest Hystoriale' of the Destruction of Troy, ed. G. A. Panton and D. Donaldson, EETS, o.s. 39 (1869), 102, line 3137: 'Hit is knowen to you kendly the cause of our iourney.' Cf. also The Romance of Emare, ed. E. Rickert, EETS, e.s. 99 (1908), 2, lines 55-6: 'The chyld, that was fayr and gent, To a lady was hyt sente'.

38 By Arngart in the context of J's text of The Proverbs of Alfred. See O. Arngart, The Proverbs of Alfred, II (Lund, 1955), 135.

39 Ed. D. R. Howlett et al Fascicle 5 I-J-K-L (Oxford, 1997).

40 Cf. also the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources under 'lurdus' a quotation from Felix of Crowland's Life of St Guthlac 'lurido [g].; i.e. contaminato vel sordido] vultu.'

41 Not at least in general use, though I am told by an anonymous but reliable informant that the playground usage is 'a wet fart'. Diarrhoea and all its various slang synonyms (trots, runs, squits, skitters, etc.) describe the condition rather than the object produced. There is another word in Middle English (also now obsolete except in veterinary use): lask derived from Latin laxare via ONFr lasquer. See Cotgrave, op. cit.: 'Foire: f. Squirt, thinne dung; a laske. Foirer: To squirt, to shire thinne, as in a laske; also to besquirt, or beray with squirting'. See also OED Lask v. which quotes from Thomas Dekker, The Owles Almanack (1618), 43: 'Then will they untrusse a hoope and laske like a squirt'. By the late fifteenth century two further French loans were current, specifically used in falconry: (a) 'mute' from OF muetir, meaning (of a hawk) 'to void excrement' and the associated noun meaning 'faeces or excrement of a hawk' (see MED muten v. mute n. (2)); and (b) 'slice' from OF esclicier, meaning to spurt, or (of a hawk) to mute or defecate with projectile force (see MED sclisen v.). I am grateful to Roger Lass for information about muting and the projectile nature of raptors' and owls' faecal emissions.

42 The Owl and the Nightingale, 159. For summaries of other versions of the owl (buzzard) and falcon (hawk) fables, see Atkins, op. cit., 196-9.

43 For a reconstruction of the stemma of the surviving manuscripts see R. Warnke. Marie de France: Die Fabeln. Bibliotheca Normannica 6 (1898), p. xliii.

44 Die Fabeln, ed. Warnke, 265: 'H kar ort derriere ont lor fals frere, V kar chauoient fait lor frere, I kar ce ot fait faire leur frere.' Other variants are along the lines of: it was their nature to do it (faire).

45 Ed. L. Hervieux, Les fabulistes latins, 2nd edn, 5 vols (Paris, 1893 9), II, 641. I am grateful to Neil Cartlidge for tracking down this reference for me.

46 Cf. also BN fr. 14971 (R): 'que li huan ont en fere.'
COPYRIGHT 1998 Oxford University Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Middle English poem
Author:Laing, Margaret
Publication:Notes and Queries
Date:Sep 1, 1998
Previous Article:Infanticide in an eleventh-century Old English homily.
Next Article:Further biographical notes on Robert Mannyng of Brunne.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |