Old English: Mischief

vanya1238

Senior Member
English--United States
Hi,

I'm looking for the Old English word for mischief--not in the sense of real evil but in the sense of childish pranks and trouble. Is myrðu the word I want?

And what verb goes with it: Does one make myrðe or do myrðe? Or a different verb?

Thanks!
 
  • Alxmrphi

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I thought you had chosen the wrong word for a moment as that's the Icelandic verb "to murder", :p.
    I looked in some dictionaries and I think the most common definition of myrðu is afflication, which I am not sure is what you're after.

    I believe leik is what you are looking for, also spelled laik (& lake). It's linked to Icelandic / Old Norse leik(u)r which means 'game' (and linked to the sense of playing), and is backed up in the etymology of this dictionary entry: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/lark

    lark2 n
    lark [laːk]

    a piece of fun or mischief.

    [Short for skylark, to frolic, or alteration of dialectal lake, play (from Middle English leik, laik, from Old Norse leikr).]
    Also backed up by etymology online: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=lark
    It's the careless sense (although the compound says it is 'treason-worker') the general sense is a prank, messing about, mischief.

    Actually, I'm not sure if it can be called an Old English word, it is a Norse borrowing from Middle English, not present in the time of Old English.
    I hope that doesn't change anything for you!
     
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    Alxmrphi

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Thanks for your help! And for saving the child I'm writing about from committing murder or afflication! :p
    :D You're welcome!
    I hope you have seen my amendments to my post about the questionability of calling it an "Old English" word. If you're going by the linguistic definitions it'd be considered Middle English. But if a word that was in use 700 years ago is ok in your mind, and that fits your idea of "Old English", then that's ok!

    Some people consider Shakespeare to be Old English, just with the basic "not modern" meaning (which is completely understandable to people who don't study language), so if that was the sort of thing you were talking about it's ok to say it is. In historical linguistics however there are certain time periods and it'd be incorrect to say it's Old English as that period ended in 1066.
     

    vanya1238

    Senior Member
    English--United States
    Oh--okay, that's good to know. I actually am looking for "real" Old English, so I guess this word won't work so well after all.

    I need to word for a novel I'm writing set in England around 500 AD. Obviously I'm not writing the whole thing in Old English, just the words that my main character doesn't know. So it's not essential that it be exactly the right word--but I'm obsessive about details. And it's been fun trying to put together a few basic sentences in Old English. :)

    Anyway, thanks again for all you help!
     

    Alxmrphi

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Oh--okay, that's good to know. I actually am looking for "real" Old English, so I guess this word won't work so well after all.

    I need to word for a novel I'm writing set in England around 500 AD. Obviously I'm not writing the whole thing in Old English, just the words that my main character doesn't know. So it's not essential that it be exactly the right word--but I'm obsessive about details. And it's been fun trying to put together a few basic sentences in Old English. :)

    Anyway, thanks again for all you help!
    Ok I understand, but you might want to know that there was no such thing as Old English in 500 AD! That was just 50 years after the very first Germanic tribes landed in England, and by about 500 AD they were probably still very small in number and there were various Germanic dialects. The concept of Old English took shape as a sort of unified term for these dialects over the next few centuries, and the first written document of English was written 3/400 years later (around 8/900 AD) * so we have no access to any information on the ancestors of English which had only just stepped off the boats from Europe in 500 AD.

    So, in short: without a time machine nobody can answer your question.
    Which is a shame cos I'd like to know what it would have been like :D

    * some even suggest around 1000 AD
     
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    vanya1238

    Senior Member
    English--United States
    Oh darn. This particular character is one of those few Saxons who were in England at that time--but I hadn't really looked up what language the Saxons of that time spoke; I just assumed it would be approximately the same thing their ancestors a few hundred years later spoke. Of course, if you compare our English with Shakespeare's it becomes clear how much difference a few hundred years can make. I suppose I should have thought of that. I guess I'll stick with Old English for these people anyway, since there's really nothing else I can do! And I won't worry too much about it being accurate--since it's not going to be anyway. :)
     

    Alxmrphi

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Good plan!

    It'd only be an incredibly pedantic person that would think there would be something wrong with doing that, and it's fiction anyway so not really that important (in the light of no evidence anyway). I've never heard of a fictional story about the first Germanic settlers, it sounds interesting. Make sure you PM me the title after it has been published!
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    As Alex said, in the 6th century there was no Anglo-Saxon language yet. The principal groups of Germanic settles arriving in England at that time were Saxons, Angles and Jutes. In England, Anglian dialects were spoken north of a line Ipswich-Bristol (later OE dialect in these area are also known as Mercian), Jutish in two separate areas, Kent and Hampshire/Isle of Write while Saxon dialect where spoken in the rest of Southern England except Cornwall which was still Celtic speaking at the end of the Old English period, mainly the shires ending in –ex, Essex, Sussex and Wessex which were much bigger than they are today, especially Wessex. Standardized Old English as found in modern dictionaries is based on the West-Saxon literary and court dialect of the 9th-11th centuries. Though it is called West Saxon, is not a pure Saxon dialect any more but mixture of the said dialect groups plus Old Norse influence. We have some clues for reconstructing properties the original Saxon and Anglian languages (Jutish is more difficult) by comparing West-Saxon and Mercian Old English to their continental counterparts. There is a language called Old-Saxon or Old Low German on the continent with an early 9th century corpus of about 7000 lines attested. Continental Anglian is to my knowledge not attested but a comparison of Old English and Old Frisian suggest a close similarity between Frisian and Anglian and we can use attested Old Frisian as a proxy for Anglian.

    Let's take an example of how this can help us: Old English for church is cirice with both <c> palatalized as in modern English, i.e. */'tʃi.ri.tʃe/. Modern Low German (i.e. the successor of Old Saxon) has Kerk or Kerke while Modern West Frisian has tsjerke. This suggests that the initial <c> was probably already palatalized in Anglian but not in Saxon while the last <c> was still /k/ in both. The palatalization was probably caused by later Old Norse influence (compare Icelandic kirikja).

    Of course, these are only clues. A full reconstruction of the original dialects will never be possible.
     

    vanya1238

    Senior Member
    English--United States
    Do we have any idea how similar these dialects were? As in, would it be like three totally different languages, or would speakers of the different dialects be able to understand each other basically, if not perfectly?

    And do you know which group was living in London (I know it had a different name at the time but I can't remember it at the moment)?
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    First of all, I know next to nothing about Jutish, so I won't comment on it.

    All West-Germanic languages (the predecessor language of English, German and Dutch) were probably pretty much mutually intelligible. In the South of that area (roughly south of the modern German state of Lower-Saxony), the "Old High German consonant shift" was probably already in full swing, so communication might have been already slightly impaired between Northerners and Southerners but the Northern dialect must have been very similar.

    The modern City of London was in the Saxon area. The South-East of modern Greater London was already in the Jutish area (Kent).

    One small PS to my last post: My example church was maybe not the best one because it is not a native word but a Greek loan. The fact that it shows all the relevant sound shift in various Germanic languages (palatalization on the initial /k/ in Frisian and of the second /k/ in Icelandic and it was fully subjected to the Old High German consonant shift: chirihha) is taken as a sign of a very early loan which has probably spread throughout the Germanic language area before the migration period.
     
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