"Dr. Morris assures me that he has seen 'schepe' used for 'shepherd' more than once, and so have I; but we have both lost the references"

One great thing about studying Middle English is that it dramatically increases your chances of reading something by Skeat. The man had other names, but, like Tolstoy or Athena, didn't need them. Today I bought his 1923 edition of The Vision of William concerning Piers the Plowman, and -- what? You thought it was just called Piers Plowman? Oh, man, are you ever in trouble.

The title 'Piers Plowman' or, as I prefer to write it, 'Piers the Plowman,' is one which has been frequently misconstrued and misunderstood by many authors, and concerning which many text-books have blundered inextricably. It is most important that the reader should have a clear idea of what it means, and as it is rather a difficult point to explain accurately, I must ask him to give me his best attention; and I cannot refrain from adding the hope that, if he succeeds in mastering the explanation of it, he will abstain from using the phrase in future in the old slovenly way.

That is the first paragraph of the introduction. It takes him only a few sentences to:

  1. Insist crankily on our ignorance;
  2. Accuse us of not paying attention;
  3. Insinuate that we may not understand even if we do pay attention; and
  4. Demand that we stop being such a bunch of slobs.

Via the above Wikipedia link, I learn that two of his works are on Gutenberg.org: A Concise Dictionary of Middle English ("Wlanc, adj. proud, fine, grand, S2; wlonk, S2; wlonke, fine woman, HD.--AS. wlanc (OET)") and English Dialects From the Eighth Century to the Present Day, which is a much better example of the Skeat-man in action:

The Ormulum, written in the North-East Midland of Lincolnshire [...] is the first clear example of the form which our literary language was destined to assume. It is an extremely long and dreary poem of about 10,000 long lines, written in a sadly monotonous unrimed metre...

Now that's philology!

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"Unrimed"? Hrm. Quick, Boy Wonder, to Fowler's Modern English Usage!

According to Fowler (or, I suppose, according to his modern editor) "rime" was replaced with "rhyme" in the 17th century as a hypercorrection back toward the Latin rhythmus.

Skeat: more-medieval-English-than-thou-art.


He also uses the spelling "shewn". You know a lesser philologist would go all the way back and use "sce(a)wn", like a lottery winner buying a lime green ferrari. And also they would use it to mean "see". But not Skeat! He was one wlanc-ers cherl.


Hwaet! He is my hero.

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