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Old English Insults (for use at Hastings)

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  • Monday, August 15 2005 @ 08:42 AM AEST
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Before we start, let me say that I do not speak Old English. I speak a little German, and a reasonable amount of French, a smattering of Ancient Greek, and I can say “hullo” and “How much?” in probably half a dozen languages. That’s it, I’m afraid. I’ve combined my knowledge of modern English and German grammar, pronunciation and structure with what I’ve managed to glean painfully from going through a crappy “Teach Yourself Old English” book. So be aware that the grammar may well be wrong, the declensions faulty and the pronunciation suspect at best. Are we all happy to go on? OK – here goes.

First, a little on pronunciation. I’ll try to put a pronunciation guide with all the insults, but be aware that there are sounds in Old English which have no equivalent in the modern language. For example, the letter “a” is sounded somewhere between modern “ah” and “oh” – which is why “stane” became “stone” and “lang” became “long”. Then there’s the letter “y” – pronounced like “u” with an umlaut in German, or “eu” in French. The nearest modern English equivalent is the sound “ewww” you make when you discover you’ve trodden in something nasty – but the vowel sound is shorter.

Then there’s “ch” (pronounced as in German “ach” or Scottish “loch”. Also under certain circumstances, the letter “g” turns into a “y” – which explains the name “Egbeorth” (modern Egbert) translates as “eye-bright”, or perhaps “bright-eyes”.

Then there’s the letters “eth” and “thorn” – one looks like a “d” with a diagonal bar across it, the other looks like a “p” with the vertical bar extended above the loop. Both of these are equivalent to Greek “theta” (?) or modern English “th”. Sometimes pronounced as in “they”, sometimes as in “thought” – but as far as I can make out, there’s no logic as to which gets used when. I’ll be replacing both (much against my will) with “th”.

Ok, now we’ve got that out of the way, here’s the good stuff:

Firstly, the battle cries actually used (according to an eyewitness) at Hastings:

“GOD AELMIHTIG!” (God Almighty),

rendered as “Godamite” by the Norman chronicler. It’s pronounced

“God Al (as in Albert) mich tee”

where the “ch” is like in Scottish “loch” –

HALIG CROS! (Holy Cross)

Rendered as “Olicrosse” by the Norman chronicler.

If you shout “Holy Cross!” you’ll be pretty close to the mark.

Then there’s the famous “UT! UT! UT!” = Out! Out! Out! – pronounced to rhyme approximately with “put” (not “hoot”).

Now a little originality – these are insults I’ve “reconstructed” as likely ones based on the language use of the time. If you actually SPEAK Old English, and see an error, by all means let me know, and I’ll endeavour to correct it.

But first, something silly; someone suggested “Your mother wears leather” (a reference to William the bastard’s maternal grandfather being a tanner), so here’s “your mother wears leather (garments)”


Which sounds (approximately) like

“Theen moe-dor wear-ieth leather yewaird” (where the “th” in “theen” is like in “they”)

The beauty of this one is that it’s a little rhyming verse – or at least nicely assonant. You could set up a chant among the Englisc lines (oh, did I say that the “sh” sound is rendered in Old English by “sc”?) making nasty assonant remarks about William – “Theen moe-dor wear-ieth leather yewaird”
“Theen moe-dor wear-ieth leather yewaird”
“Theen moe-dor wear-ieth leather yewaird”
very annoying.

Then we have

KYSSAN MIN AERS (kiss my arse), Pronounced

“kewwson meen arse” (with the “r” in “arse” rolled, rather like a Somerset accent.)

IC WILLE BITAN THIN AERS (I’ll bite your bum!), pronounced

“Itch willa beetoan theen arse”

If you want to do a bit of Monty Python, you could shout

RINNATH ON WAEG (Run away!) pronounced

“Rinnoath on way”
“Rinnoath on way”

Now for something a little more serious:

FLOEGATH, ARLEAS MENN! (Flee, impious men!)

Floyath, arlayoce men!

CREOPATH ATT HAM, DEORCYNN! (Creep homeward, beast-kind!)

Crayopoath at home, dayorkewn!

FORDIGE SE DRYHTEN THONE FYLL FEOND (May the Lord destroy the foul foes)

Fordeeyer se Drich-(like “loch”)-ten thoner (“th” like in “they”) Fewl Fayond!

STEORFATH UNSCRIFEN! (May you die unshriven!)

Stayorfoath un-(the “u” as it “put”)-shriven!

RINNATH AND HIDATH, MAEGDEN-CILDAN! (Run and hide, little girls!)

Rinnoath and heedoath, maiden chilled-oan!

Then one for William:

LEAS CYNNING! (false king!)

Layas kinning!

Then a few exhortations to the troops:

GEWINNATH THA WEALAS (conquer the foreigners)

Yewinnoath tha wair-loce

CWELLATH THA FYLL FRENCISC HUNDAS! (Kill the foul French dogs!)

Kwelloath tha (“th” like in “they”) fewll Frenchish hoondoce! (“oo” to rhyme with “put”)

SLEATH THA LATHLICUM DEOFLUM (kill the loathsome devils!)

Slayeth thah (“th” like in “they”) loathlicoom dayovlum

There are plenty of other possibilities, but these should do. Now to sit back and watch people tear my humble efforts to pieces.

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