Thursday, January 23, 2014

Malory Turns a Phrase

As I mentioned in a recent post, Sidney Lanier gave me my first real exposure to King Arthur through his young person’s version of Malory’s epic compilation. Lanier made his version by shortening and tightening Malory’s plots and by downplaying the descriptions of sex. (Actually, the sexual references are already delightfully mild in Malory. My favorite transition: “Now leave we Launcelot and Elaine all kissing and clipping and turn we now to . . . .”) But, living in the nineteenth century, when educated teens knew and could read the English language, Lanier retained much of the flavor of the English of the fifteenth century, and he made me love it. So this year, I’m picking up Malory himself again and falling in love all over. Malory, as if fully aware that he wrote for an audience of the future craving archaic language, filled his work with beautiful, quaint turns of phrase. “They were wounded passing sore.” “I will not have ado with thee.” “Me seemeth.” “Either smote other.” OK, this was really probably just everyday language for Malory. But to me the idioms are lambent with chivalry. Obi-wan would call it an elegant language for a more civilized age.

Rather than just list a lot of my favorite words, I decided to present the rest of the post in the form of a quiz. Try to match each Malory word with its more modern counterpart.

1. brast
2. durst
3. fain
4. liefer
5. list
6. maugre
7. peradventure
8. sithen
9. stonied
10. unnethe
11. ween
12. wist
13. wit
14. wood
15. wroth

a. angry
b. broke, broken
c. confused, dazed
d. dared
e. desire, want
f. despite
g. knew
h. know
i. mad, crazy
j. maybe
k. rather
l. scarcely
m. since
n. think, be of the opinion that
o. willing

Don’t scroll too far unless you’re ready to see the answers.


So be it. Sithen ye list to wit, find ye here the answers:

1-b (sometimes with a prefix: “His helmet was all to-brast”), 2-d, 3-o (as in “He was fain to take the challenge”), 4-k (as in “I would liefer go than stay”), 5-e, 6-f (best idiom: “maugre my head” for “against my will”), 7-j, 8-m, 9-c (this usually happens after the helmet is all to-brast), 10-l (“He was so stonied he could unnethe arise”), 11-n, 12-g, 13-h, 14-i, 15-a (and if you’re really angry, the last two go tag-team: wood wroth)

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