Unlike Shakespearean English or even Chaucer’s Middle English, Old English—the language of Beowulf—defies comprehension by untrained modern readers. Used throughout much of Britain more than a thousand years ago, it’s rich with words that haven’t changed (like word), others that are unrecognizable (such as neorxnawang, or paradise), and some that are mystifying even in translation (gafol-fisc, or tax-fish).
Hana Videen has been collecting Old English words since 2013, when she began tweeting one a day. Now more 20,000 people follow these gems from her wordhord. Drawing on her new book The Wordhord: Daily Life in Old English, Videen opens a glorious trove of obsolete words and uses them to illuminate the lives of the earliest English speakers (who got their milk from a cu).
She brings to life a world where choking on a bit of bread might prove your guilt, where fiend-ship was as likely as friendship, and where you might grow up to be a laughter-smith. Videen, who holds a Ph.D. in Old English, leads a journey through the language’s words and customs related to daily activities; relationships and entertainment; health and the body, mind, and soul; the natural world; locations and travel (the source of some of the most evocative words in Old English); mortality, religion, and fate; and the imagination and storytelling.
Join Videen in conversation with Rebecca Roberts, curator of programming at Planet Word in Washington, D.C., as she reveals the magical roots of the language you’re reading (or leornung) right now. You’ll never look at English in the same way.
Copies of The Wordhord (Princeton University Press) are available for purchase.
Book Sale Information
- Purchase your copy of The Wordhord by Hana Videen here.
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