Everyday life in Old English’


To the layman, Old English looks a lot like King’s English, the verbiage of the King James Bible, or even the works of William Shakespeare. The layman could hardly be more wrong.

Hana Videen, in her new book “The Wordhord: Daily Life in Old English”, brings to life a language that is long dead, but still relevant in the grand scheme of understanding from which some of our modern English comes. .

It is called Old English, but reading his book the reader will realize that Old English might as well be called Old Russian because it sounds and sounds as foreign as any other foreign language. Don’t let that previous sentence confuse you or put you off the book. “The Wordhord” is not written in Old English. Rather, it is built around Old English words and what they mean, then how they connect to other words and phrases, or sometimes how they are unrelated to other words and phrases but sound and/or sound very similar.

“The Wordhord”, in other words, is an easy read and, for a subject seemingly as uninteresting as a deep dive into Old English, it’s a fun and refreshing read.

Ancient culture by means of Old English

“The Wordhord” is a brilliant work due to the way the author presents and discusses the ancient language. She breaks down words and phrases along topical chapters, ranging from food and time to time and friendship (or “fiendship”).

“Wiþerling” is an adversary. A panther scaring a dragon in a bestiary, circa 1270. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. (Public domain)

Videen repeats Old English words just enough for the reader to realize that these words are in fact stuck in memory. But it’s more than an introduction to the language; it is an introduction to the culture that surrounded him.

At the beginning of the book, Videen writes, “My interest in history stems primarily from an obsession with words, and this book’s approach to the past is therefore guided by words, not historical events. or individuals. The author proves to be true to his premise of the book.

Epoch Times Photo
“Bōsm” is chest, chest, chest; enclosure formed by the chest and arms; protective embrace. Plate from the Arthurian Romances, late 13th century. Yale University Library. (Public domain)

It deals with the transition from paganism to Christianity. The challenges of finding something just to write about as well as finding something to write with. It also features many Old English poems, especially those relating to Christian saints. The poem of “Beowulf” is very often used to illustrate the words she speaks of.

All of this culture and history is woven seamlessly around words. The author never misses a step in doing this and never bores the reader with anything trivial. His humor, indeed, probably wouldn’t allow it. I found myself laughing audibly multiple times throughout the book, which was a surprise I didn’t expect, but ended up expecting.

A book to cherish

Epoch Times Photo
Cover of the book “The Wordhord: Daily Life in Old English” written by Hana Videen.

“The Wordhord” is a trip down memory lane, and a trip that should be considered meaningful for English speakers, even if you end up wondering: what is our mother tongue like? A question I asked myself.

When connecting to your Anglophilia regarding great kings and queens, battles and conquests, writers and poets, monks and saints, consider the language they all spoke. A language of a people so close to all of us, but now so unfamiliar.

Videen’s book will be a treasure trove for language nerds. For everyone else, this will be a fun, fascinating, and hilarious read. Without a doubt, this was one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had in a long time.

‘The Wordhord: Everyday Life in Old English’
By Hana Viden
Princeton University Press, May 10, 2022
Hardcover: 296 pages


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