Category Archives: Poetry

History Undusted: William Caxton (the father of English as we know it today)

I’ve been trying to blog the last few weeks, but to do so, it helps to be logged in to WordPress – and it kept logging me out every time I switched to my site. I finally found the solution this morning, so here I am!

One thing I’ve been ruminating about is the etymology of everyday words; words come from somewhere, and I’ve always wondered what word(s) were used before a word came along. There are famous examples of invented words that never stuck, such as Lewis Carol’s “Jabberwocky“, but what I’m referring to are common words. What did they use before the word “egg” came along? The word itself comes from Old Norse, eggys, eggja, or egge, but before the common spelling was decided on, every English dialect in Britain had at least a couple different spellings of the word!

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is sometimes credited with having created upwards of 1,700 words, but many of those were likely already in circulation – he simply wrote them down in his plays. Some words accredited to him are: dishearten; dislocate; auspicious; obscene; monumental; majestic; accommodation; amazement; dwindle; exposure; bloody; countless; courtship; impartial; gnarled; gloomy; generous; reliance; pious; inauspicious; bump; frugal; submerge; critic; lapse; laughable; lonely, suspicious, and many, many more.

But long before William Shakespeare drew breath, there was another William that influenced English in profound ways, and yet his name is little known today: William Caxton. Born around 1420, he was a merchant, printer and the first English retailer of books; he introduced the printing press to England, set up in Westminster, 1476. Though he published many books, the first book he is known to have published is The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer (1340s – 1400); that work alone is credited with influencing both the English language and literature, as it shows a clear correspondence between the rhythm of written English poetry and the cadence of spoken English. Chaucer is also known for having looted the French language, bringing into English such words as governance, paramour, difficult, dishonest, edifice, and ignorant, to name a few. Chaucer was aware of the wide variety of English dialects, which we would never recognize as English today, and he was anxious about the confusion of languages in Britain and that his work would be able to be comprehended in the future. In his poem, Troilus and Criseyde, he bids it a poignant but troubled farewell: “Go, litel bok . . . And for ther is so gret diversite In Englissh and in writyng of oure tonge, So prey I God that non miswryte the [thee]. . . . That thow be understonde, God I biseche!”

However, because William Caxton chose to publish Chaucer’s work, we still have it to this day. Caxton was also the first to translate Aesop’s Fables into English (1484). Although he was not a great translator and sometimes simply used the French word “Englishified”, his translations were popular; because of that, he inadvertently helped promote Chancery* English as the standard English dialect throughout England. (*Chancery refers to the dialect used by the officials of Henry V’s government). Thanks to men like William Caxton and those who followed, refining and shaping the language we know today, we are able to enjoy a standard English spelling and grammar structure that is understood around the world; there are still regional and national dialect differences, but we can be understood wherever in the world English is used.

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, one book I can highly recommend is Melvyn Bragg’s The Adventure of English (The Biography of a Language); it’s available in physical form, e-book, and audiobook.

William Caxton

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Filed under Etymology, Grammar, History, History Undusted, Links to External Articles, Lists, Poetry

One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night

Escher-relativity 2Back before I was married, I lived in Paisley (Scotland) with an English roommate; we got along like clotted cream and jam, and, among other things, we would recite the following verse in sync any time we heard someone say,  “I see”.  There are longer, more elaborate versions that have been around for over 50 years.  The mutations make it hard to trace it to the original source, as it seems that each person, school class or generation tweaks it with their own twist.

One Fine Day

“I see,” said the blind man to the deaf man

One fine day in the middle of the night,

As two dead men got up to fight;

Back to back they faced each other,

Drew their swords and shot each other.

A deaf policeman heard the noise,

And came and shot those two dead boys.

If you don’t believe my tale is true,

Ask the blind man, he saw it too.

 

Do you have any favourite rhymes, verses or ditties that you’ve known for years?

Please share them in the comments below!

Illustration:  “Relativity”, by M.C. Escher

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Filed under Humor, Images, Poetry

Time of the Mad Atom

I came across this poem recently; more of Virginia Brasier’s works can still be found in printed form, or on Google Books.  This was originally posted (from what I can find out) in the Saturday Evening Post, Volume 221, 1949.  Whenever it was written, it’s just as timely and poignant today.

“Time of the Mad Atom”

This is the age of the half-read page.

And the quick hash and the mad dash.

The bright night with the nerves tight.

The plane hop and the brief stop.

The lamp tan in a short span.

The Big Shot in a good spot.

And the brain strain and the heart pain.

And the cat naps till the spring snaps—

And the fun’s done!

By Virginia Brasier

Sunlamp

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Filed under History, Poetry, Quotes

Bottoms Up!

Worst Day EverI came across this poem online, but without crediting the author; so I went in search, found, and give them the credit they deserve for a clever piece!

Worst Day Ever?

By Chanie Gorkin

Today was the absolute worst day ever

And don’t try to convince me that

There’s something good in every day

Because, when you take a closer look,

This world is a pretty evil place.

Even if

Some goodness does shine through once in a while

Satisfaction and happiness don’t last.

And it’s not true that

It’s all in the mind and heart

Because

True happiness can be obtained

Only if one’s surroundings are good.

It’s not true that good exists

I’m sure you can agree that

The reality

Creates

My attitude

It’s all beyond my control.

And you’ll never in a million years hear me say that

Today was a good day.

Now read it from bottom to top, the other way,
And see what I really feel about my day.

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Filed under Humor, Images, Poetry