Oops, I said it again.

Do you sound like an idjit when you open your maw?

For years, instead of saying “declaration,” I said “declaranation.” I guess it sounded cute when I tried to debate people in the fifth grade, but by the time I was in high school I had to lose that extra syllable quick! I know people who pronounce sink “zink,” or even who pronounce words like milk and pillow “melk” and “pellow,” which is pretty common around here in Missouri. When people say “warsh cloth,” rather than washcloth, though, I gotta draw the line.

So when I read this list of ten often mispronounced words that make us sound like idjits (to paraphrase Bobby Singer from Supernatural), I had to giggle. Yes, I say a couple of these words wrong. I mispronounce “prerogative” the most, and it’s only been the last few years that I’ve made a concentrated effort to say “sherbet” correctly. Everyone I know says “Sure, Burt!”

The one word that I always get wrong isn’t on the list, though, and that’s fruition. I always want to say fruit-tition. Which word makes you feel like a moron when you say it? Maybe we should just embrace the fact that we’re all going to mispronounce something sometime and give ourselves a break…

But those warsh cloths!

Once, twice, three times a quotable

It’s funny how goofy we sound when we try to be all academic and serious and stuff.

Don’t you just love all of those quotes you read on Facebook? For once, I’m not being sarcastic here. I have come across some real gems that I’ve loved so much that I had to write them down in my journal. Though I’m not really impressed with the whole timeline thing or the enormous photos that are on our walls, I do enjoy sharing some of these things together. Pretty pictures also help, of course.

But I’ve noticed something about this trend that actually elevates it—only slightly so, and only in one area—when compared with actual textbook and other printed quotations, at least to me. When you read a quotation in a novel, a textbook or even a source you might consider of highbrow quality, how is it introduced? It’s always, “So-and-so once said…”

Firstly, this is laughable because it’s often used out of context, or featuring someone really ironic. I’ve seen socialists use Ayn Rand quotations not in jest or in a provocative way, but as if they are earnestly supporting an albeit ambivalent point, using a source they believe to be true to their cause. This is just funny, but I’m not going to be condescending here; we’ve all done it. I had no idea who Diane Ackerman was when I quoted her all of the time; now that I do, I adore her, but it’s the same thing.

No, what’s really funny is that introductory text, that “once said” stuff. We act as if we were there and heard this utterance during its only use, a solemn occasion to be remembered by all! It’s not like the quote could have been said at every rally that Martin Luther King, Jr. went to, or that some business icon actually said it over and over again during monthly Toastmasters club; no, it was honorably said, surely with an air of great austerity, one time and once alone.

I know I’m making a big deal about this, but doesn’t it just make you giggle when you think about it? I would like to say that I pledge henceforth to never use the phrase in my writing (or speech) again, but I honestly cannot do that. I know I’ll do it, especially if I have to write an essay. You will, too. All I want to do, then, is to call it out for what it is—which is sort of obnoxious and cute, something funny that makes you also smack your face, that won’t go away, the Britney Spears of essay devices—and maybe the next time you read (or write) the phrase, you’ll snort a little along with me.

The Old English Illustrated Hexateuch

An 11th Century Tome Survives

The Old English Hexateuch refers to early scholars’ translation from Latin of the Old Testament’s first six chapters. That’s Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua. It’s filled with color illustrations of unknown origin, but that are attributed to at least one or more skilled artists of the time. A second book also exists that includes the Book of Judges. It’s referred to as the Old English Heptateuch.

The Hexateuch (meaning “six” books) was also probably written by numerous scribes working together and contains approximately 400 illustrations. It is perhaps the earliest surviving Biblical translation into Anglo-Saxon text. A noted Benedictine monk of the time, Aelfric of Eynsham, wrote the preface, with a note that it would be foolish to take the Bible literally, but rather look for its spiritual intent.

Experts don’t know who commissioned this work, but it was obviously meant to convert complicated text into words that the layperson could understand. At that time, very few average people were educated - especially in translating Latin, so the inclusion of drawings was perhaps meant to convey messages for those who couldn’t read. Many of the illustrations, although quite detailed, are unfinished, and there are even blank spaces clearly meant for additional drawings. Missed deadlines are nothing new.

Some also believe that the original works were created in Canterbury and remained there at St. Augustine’s Abbey. Around the 17th century, Sir Robert Cotton acquired the works for his personal library, later donating his collection to Britain.

It’s quite an amazing work that highlights the talented collaborations of writers, one or more illustrators, and book-makers, which includes the layout. What a treat it would be to have participated in a project like that - but with all of today’s technologies.

Illustration: Tower of Babel, public domain, British Library

Back to Beowulf - The Movies

Epic Poem in Cinema is a Mix of Reviews


In recent years, movie directors have been unable to resist the call of Beowulf as their lead character. Each production has received a mixed bag of reviews, ranging from enthusiastic to utter dismissal. There weren’t any blockbusters, to be sure, although the animated version seemed to be a high grosser.

1999 - Beowulf

Christopher Lambert is Beuwulf in this “looser” adaptation of the poem. Directed by Graham Baker, it involved such liberties as a son produced from a union between King Hrothgar and Grendel’s mother. Critics had a field day with the sci-fi take on a 6th century epic, although fans seemed to like the updated new-agey effects. Not to mention nudity and the required gore.

2005 - Beowulf & Grendel

Gerard Butler as the lead evidently competed with the bleakest of Icelandic landscapes in this version. Apparently, it missed quite a bit of the original’s message under the direction of Sturla Gunnarsson. And Butler is the most recognizable name in the cast, too. It does contain generous bits of blood-soaking action, so those who like action/adventure might not mind so much. Anyone with sensitivities to overt violence probably should miss this one. There’s also some subtle hilarity; look for it. (See video trailer above.)

2007 - Beowulf

Directed by Robert Zemeckis, this one had a low-profile list of higher-profile actors, including Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, and Angelina Jolie. The lead went to Ray Winstone while Crispin Glover went into troll mode as Grendel. Grendel’s mother turns into a temptress (as Jolie) who successfully seduces Beowulf. Filming was on a “motion capture” stage, which created the same type of visual effects and animated characters as the Polar Express.

Still from included video


A Wordy Poet with Ties to Tolkien

Cynewulf was an Anglo-Saxon poet known for his very lengthy works. He’s among the most-recognized writers from Old English times although very little is known about his life. Scholars suggest his works weren’t exceptional by any means, but they do portray the typical tempo of Christian epics during that era. It’s also from his works that J.R.R. Tolkien got the idea for “Middle Earth.”

The poet, whose name translates into “kin wolf,” produced four epic religious pieces found in two different anthologies. The first two are “The Fates of the Apostles” and “Elene,” which are found in the Vercelli Book. Two additional poems, “The Ascension” and “Juliana” are part of the Exeter Book. (The “books” I’m referring to are groups of works that include multiple writers from the Old English period.) As far as Cynewulf’s skills, he believed his turn of words (he referred to it as the “art of poesy”) was a true gift from God.

It is from Elene and The Ascension (also known as Christ II) that Tolkien found his inspiration. They make reference to the angel “Earendel” and to “middangeard,” which translates into Middle Earth.

All four poems are based on martyrdom as in each, the main character suffers - sometimes horribly - for his or her religious beliefs. For instance, Juliana dies at the hands of her pagan suitor who unsuccessfully tries to force her to abandon her beliefs.

Who was Cynewulf? Academics believe he was perhaps an abbot, a priest, or a bishop with many leaning toward the latter. He was obviously an educated man, skilled in Latin as well as the ways of the Catholic Church. Any of his works are worth reading.

Photo public domain. Pages from The Vercelli Book.

Clever Old English Kennings

Have Fun with These or Make Up Your Own

Now that we know what Old English kennings are, it’s time to have a little fun. I’ve compiled a list of unusual compounded words that err on the humorous side. I doubt they were meant that way at the time they were invented. Each of the popular writers of the time surely were striving to be the most clever. However, the Old English era was not necessarily a jolly one with its constant battles and efforts by warring countries to take control. These gems, however, have turned up in writings that range from Beowulf to “The Dream of the Rood.”

Literally, the word “kenning” translates into “to teach” or “to know.” These word pairings aren’t basic metaphors, either. They can add a new level of meaning to common words of the day.

Word pairings from Old English poems and literature:

bait-gallows = fishing hook
battle-sweat = blood
breaker of trees = wind
earth-hall = burial mound
heath-stepper = deer
joy of the sky = dawn
mead-bench = throne
ring-giver = king
sea-wood = ship
sky-candle = the sun
spirit-chest = the human mind
storm of swords = battle
triumph-tree = Christ’s cross

Creating kennings is a challenging and fun exercise for children. Adults can also have a little fun with words, whether it’s a brainstorming session or as entertainment.

The setup of kennings looks something like this if you’re writing them on a chalkboard or on paper:

darkness : night  :: helmet : cover

(darkness is to night as helmet is to cover)


darkness      helmet
- - - - - -  ::   - - - - -
night            cover

Either of these methods will make it easy to come up with new kennings for some of today’s words.

Photo public domain: ship illustration from Caedmon


Poetic License with Old English Kennings

Kennings are word groupings that indirectly describe an object. They were popular in Old English poems, especially the epic Beowulf. Some are rather inventive and you can assume their creators might have gotten a chuckle out of their usage. The originals aren’t readable as they’re written in Old English, of course. But browsing through translations will unearth some very interesting combos.

First, though, kennings apparently were grouped in four different ways. There was the hyphenated version, which we see the most. That included such terms as “whale-road,” referring to the sea. A second format was the non-hyphenated version, which was simply two descriptive words that together formed a single reference. A third kenning style was in the possessive with the first word containing an apostrophe followed by an “s.” In the fourth arrangement, a preposition (such as “of”) was added in between two words. Sure, that all makes sense, doesn’t it?

It was a free-for-all when it came to making up kennings. Perhaps there was a competition among the monks and poets to be ever more creative with their use of words. One might refer to the body as a “bone-chamber” while another would call it a “bone-container.”

Some kennings were more alliterative, meaning they didn’t name an object but rather a “sense” of something. In Beowulf, one such term “night-helmet” referred to the cover of darkness.

The formula here is broken down into:

Darkness is related to night as a helmet is related to cover.

Now, there’s a fun challenge to create a new vocabulary of metaphors using some of today’s words.

Alfred the Great

King of Literacy

The “greatest” king of all time also lays claim to encouraging literacy. Alfred the Great, ruling from 871 to 899 A.D. was the son of King Ethelwulf, a ruler of England’s southwest region. From an early age, Alfred showed promise in the ways of English prose and poetry. Some years later, he vanquished the nasty Vikings and was hailed the conquering hero. That, of course, is the briefest of versions. Left with the burden of leadership, he set about revitalizing education by importing scholars and creating a “Court School.” He also encouraged commoners to educate themselves in reading, which contributed to his popularity.

Alfred the Great didn’t leave all the work of translating Latin into Anglo-Saxon to his hired help. He took it upon himself to make conversions, including scriptures from the Holy Bible. Some of his earliest works are lost forever, but others remain revered today. Those translated works include the Preface to the “Dialogues of Gregory,” St. Augustine’s Soliloquies, and Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of England. He was also well-regarded for injecting his own thoughts and interpretations into these pieces. One such well-known passage is “My will was to live worthily as long as I lived; and after my life to leave to them who would come after me, my memory in good works.”

Among his last writings is another impactful statement. “He seems to me a very foolish man and very wretched, who will not increase his understanding while he is in the World and ever wish and long to reach that endless life where all shall be made clear.”

During his reign, he would continue to tackle Biblical events, turning them into his largest piece, the “Law Code.” By the time of his death, he was widely known as “king of the English.”

Old English - From Runes to a Proper Alphabet

Translation Can Be (Almost) Fun

The original Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, alphabet was among the origins for our modern-day letters. Some were the same; others looked completely different. With their Germanic origins, they were also based on runes, or markings that have magical, even satanic, connotations. While this may not be a need-to-know for the casual reader, it’s always interesting to see where our current language rose from many centuries ago.

In the featured photo, you can see the original runic markings. Here’s a larger, more readable version. These are also known as “futhorc,” which was a derivation from the “older futhorc.” While it can all get a little complicated, here are a few basics.

Three extra letters (þ ð æ) were included along with

a b c d e f g h i l m n o p r s t u w x y

As you can see, J, Q, and V are not included. K and Z are two more not typically listed as part of the Old English alphabet.

Commoners typically didn’t write things down - that was left to the poets and monks. They’re responsible for adding the runes. Some are similar to their modern-day counterparts, including B, R, S, and T.

They also included combinations (th, ei, ae, ng, ea, st) with single symbols.

Where it becomes complicated is - the placement of vowels and consonants determined how they were pronounced. I’ll save that for another time.

You can see, though, how it’s easier to understand original Old English works verbally than it would be to make an attempt to translate the written word.

Old means Really, Really Old

Old English language misconceptions

If you think turning back to Shakespearean times is far enough for Old English, you'll have to think again - then stand corrected. However, it's a common misconception and now we can set that story straight. Shakespeare did not write in Old English style; he was alive when Early Modern English was en vogue. That probably explains why it's somewhat more readable, too. The Canterbury Tales is another example of what is not Old English. (It's Middle English, which predates Shakespeare a bit.)

What Is Not Old English and Other Misconceptions

Perhaps the biggest misconception about Old English revolves around just one word:


During the official Old English time period (about 450-1100 A.D.), this word that you see on thousands of signs is actually pronounced:


That may come as quite a disappointment to some, but doesn't it make sense?

That doesn't mean the word "ye" didn't exist (as in Hear Ye, Hear Ye), but in that case it was properly spelled "ge." It referred to a group, however, and not an individual. Over the centuries, that would transition into "thou" as a more accepted Middle English term.

A second popular misconception is the language spoken at Renaissance Fairs (or Faires, Fayres). It shouldn't be referred to as Old English. That may be splitting hairs for some but, really, the Renaissance events we hear about most are centered around the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1, which was later on in the 16th century.

Forthwith, if you runneth into someone who durst to take liberties, they shallest also stand corrected.