I quickly weary of long theoretical treatises, but I never tire of reading detailed histories of the forms and usages of vocabulary items, and many such are available at W. Rothwell’s Anglo-Norman On-Line Hub [2023: original URL now redirects to the AND site]. I discovered this through a reference to his “The Missing Link in English Etymology: Anglo-French” in a Wordorigins thread (by the indefatigable aldiboronti, who I should make a Contributing Editor to LH); checking the “Hub” link at the top, I discovered the mother lode, whose original purpose was “to support the preparation of a substantially revised and greatly expanded edition of the Anglo Norman Dictionary, whose first edition was published between 1977 and 1992 by the MHRA.” Besides the Articles on Anglo-Norman Topics (so far all by Rothwell), there are Anglo-Norman Source Texts:

As part of the ANH project, this site will progressively place on-line the source materials on which the Anglo-Norman Dictionary draws, to the extent that project resources and copyright considerations allow. These primary texts will be accessible and searchable in their own right, but beyond that, wherever the dictionary cites them, it also will be possible to follow up the references directly from within the dictionary entry concerned.

Probably the best place to start is the article aldi sent me to, from which I will quote enough bits to whet your appetite (if you have an appetite for this stuff):

That the Norman Conquest profoundly affected the vocabulary of English is no new discovery, but the precise nature of that transformation has so far been only imperfectly examined and its implications for the study of English etymology only partially understood. Up to the present time there has been no unequivocal acknowledgement that as a result of the events of 1066 there can be no rectilinear approach to the history of English as there is to the history of French. The French language can be taken back in a straight line without any breaks from the present day to The Strasbourg Oaths of 842. At no time during this whole period was the langue d’oil ousted in the northern half of the country from its position as the spoken and written language of the kings and nobles, the judiciary, the Church, the national and local administrations or the mercantile class. Dialectal variations were not lacking, but all were dialects of the langue d’oil, what has become modern French. The only rival to French was the Latin used as a formal language of record, but never as a vernacular. In England the situation was vastly different. For some three centuries after the Conquest all the literate classes used French, both spoken and written, very often alongside their native English: a Romance language overlaid the original Germanic one. Written French was especially important in medieval England as being a principal language of record – alongside British Latin – so that the sheer volume of surviving documentary evidence in Anglo-French for this period is overwhelmingly greater than that left behind in English, especially up to the late fourteenth century. No less important than the quantity of Anglo-French is the the breadth of its use. Although scholarly attention has focused largely on its literary productions from the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, the later non-literary works are arguably of greater importance for the development of English culture as a whole. The law, from Parliament down to the lower courts, the administration of government at national and local level, the commercial and financial framework of the country, all worked through French rather than English. What is more, French was used extensively for all the arts and sciences long before English. This penetration of French into the whole fabric of civilization in medieval England means that the study of English etymology cannot safely confine itself to tracing words back to a cut-off point in Middle English, or even to making a leap across the Channel in search of a ‘borrowing’ from medieval French in order to reach the origin of English terms. The Middle English Dictionary reveals on virtually every page the massive and very obvious debt owed by English to French: less obviously, however, it also reveals that this debt was not built up by ‘borrowing’ in the conventional sense and that in literally thousands of cases forms and meanings were adopted (not ‘borrowed’) into English from insular, as opposed to continental French. The relationship of Anglo-French with Middle English was one of merger, not of borrowing, as a direct result of the bilingualism of the literate classes in medieval England. Terms were adopted often unchanged, sometimes in translation – ‘hot-foot’ (chaut pas), ‘beforehand’ (avant main), ‘behindhand’ (ariere main), ‘send for’ (mander pur) etc. – but always as part and parcel of a living language in daily use in England, not as isolated, static units of a foreign language borrowed from across the Channel…

The failure of scholars to appreciate fully the importance of Anglo-French in the making of the English lexis extends from individual words right up into whole areas of the culture of medieval England. For example, for the authorities on English etymology ‘troglodyte’ is adapted from the Latin and first attested in the middle of the sixteenth century – an example, one might be tempted to conclude, of the well-known re-birth of scientific interest in many fields that characterized this period. However, the term is found in French, only thinly disguised, in a Cambridge manuscript that may date from the late twelfth century and that has been available in published form for nearly seventy years. The adaptation of the word from the Latin took place in England some three and a half centuries before the date given by the authorities, but it was taken into the vernacular of the literate laity – French – not English. This example shows that a more measured approach may perhaps be called for when contrasting the ‘darkness’ of the Middle Ages with the ‘light’ of the Renaissance. Similarly, the noun ‘crescent’ is recorded in a twelfth-century Anglo-French medical work centuries before being attested in English and wrongly ascribed by the authorities to continental French. Again, the ‘spaniel’ and the ‘terrier’ are both found in Anglo-French before appearing in Middle English, indicating that their names are not borrowed directly from continental French. Only the MED, however, amongst the English authorities refers to Anglo-French in connection with these words, and only for ‘spaniel’. Another simple example is the humble ‘dandelion’, said by the authorities to be first found in English in the sixteenth century and to be an adaptation of the French dent-de-lion. Yet Godefroy’s sole example of dandelyon (IX, Comp. 304b) comes from the Englishman Palsgrave, a dating which clearly refutes the claim that the sixteenth-century English word is ‘adapted’ from continental French. Even the authoritative Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch cannot be relied on in this case, with its rather desperate claim that the form comes wahrscheinlich from Lyon in the fourteenth century. Once again, the neglected Anglo-French has new evidence to offer. On p.99 of his Plant Names of Medieval England (Cambridge, 1989) Tony Hunt gives numerous examples of the word in various spellings in both Anglo-French and Middle English going back to the late thirteenth century, with others of roughly similar date in his Popular Medicine in Thirteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 1990), pp.317 and 324. Both these fundamental research books provide a wealth of new linguistic evidence across the whole spectrum of botanical and medical terminology that must inevitably lead to a far-reaching revision of attitudes towards the degree of knowledge possessed by doctors/herbalists in the Middle Ages, towards the vocabulary of Anglo-French through which much of their teaching was transmitted and, consequently, towards the importance of Anglo-French in the historical development of both French and English. In this area historical linguistics still offers a great deal of scope for basic research…

A more complicated case is presented by the English verbs ‘to hack,’ ‘to hash’, and the nouns ‘hash’ and ‘haggis’, whose relationship the authorities find confusing. Indeed, the origin of ‘haggis’ is usually said to be unknown, and connections with the French hachiz ‘hash’ are denied. If, however, we bring some Anglo-French and Middle English evidence to bear on the question, a different picture emerges. Whilst the new OED still persists in deriving ‘to hack’ from Germanic sources, without any mention of French, the Middle English Dictionary is nearer the mark in attributing it to ‘O.F.’ (but not ‘A.F.’, as it should). Amongst the quotations in the OED is one from a book of cookery recipes dated c.1440 in the sense of ‘to cut up into small pieces’, i.e. ‘to hash’. The MED takes this sense back in time to c.1325, but still without any mention of Anglo-French. Yet in an Anglo-French medical text from the second half of the twelfth century a mixture of herbs is to be hachez sur un ais (‘chopped up on a board’), an expression repeated a little farther on. About a century later a verse recipe for staunching blood from a wound recommends that: ‘Le ortie menuement hagee En eisil fort seit destempree’ (‘Finely chopped nettle should be soaked in strong vinegar’). The form of the verb here – hagee – is worth noting in view of the OED‘s form ‘to hag’. As for the assertion that the origin of ‘haggis’ is unknown, the clear refutation of this has been in print for close on a century and a half in the first edition of one of the manuscripts of the Anglo-French Treatise of Walter of Biblesworth, with a reminder being printed from another manuscript in 1929…

The danger of failing to appreciate the true nature of the linguistic situation in medieval England, however, goes beyond individual words, doublets and faux amis. Without an understanding of insular French, English scholars are liable to go badly astray in assessing the history of whole areas of their native language. French cooking has long enjoyed a high reputation, but authorities are not agreed as to when it first came into prominence in England. Dr. Burchfield writes that: ‘The culinary revolution, and the importation of French vocabulary into English society, scarcely preceded the eighteenth century’. Professor Hughes, in his Words in Time, would move the date of this ‘culinary revolution’ back to the fifteenth century (p.43), but both these dates accord ill with two recently-published thirteenth-century culinary collections in Anglo-French, which contain sufficient new terms and new techniques specific to England, as the editors emphasize, to show that an important advance in this area of domestic science had taken place centuries before. This is hardly surprising in the light of the close connections of all kinds between medieval France and England. False chronology leads to another serious error of cultural interpretation when Professor Hughes refers on p.60 to our modern meaning of ‘courtesy’ being recorded c.1513 and deriving ‘from the pragmatic Renaissance ethos of self-improvement, evidenced in the publication of numerous courtesy-books.’ Without waiting for the Renaissance, this type of book, written in Anglo-French, had been currently in use by the educated classes in England from the first half of the thirteenth century.

I find myself wanting to quote more and more, but I’ll desist. This is the sort of thing that makes me wish I’d stuck with historical linguistics.


  1. This example shows that a more measured approach may perhaps be called for when contrasting the ‘darkness’ of the Middle Ages with the ‘light’ of the Renaissance.

    Well, that’s a bit premature. The ‘darkness’ of the Middle Ages vs. the ‘light’ of the renaissance was never to be considered purely in the context of England.

    But, it’s fascinating. Cool link.

  2. “And Frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly,
    After the scole of Stratford-atte-Bowe,
    For Frenssh of Parys was to hir unknowe”
    Canterbury Tales, Prologue (the Prioress)

  3. I plan to spend some time with these links.
    Many relics of Norman French survive in legal vocabulary, as recently parodied so wonderfully by Flann O’Brien right here on LH. I believe it was Maine in “Ancient Law” who reflected on the advantages and disadvantages of having a nation’s legal code written in an artificial language almost nobody understood (“artificial” is not exactly the right word, but legal language is English larded with Anglo-Norman vocabulary and persisted centuries after the demise of Anglo-Norman itself).
    It has seemed to me for a long time that the idea of “the dark ages before vernacular literature” is based on an undervaluation of secular literature, as opposed to high-minded Latin shit. The event that happened was that people like Dante and Petrarch who were able to write in Latin started to write in the vernacular instead.
    There had always been a vernacular literature, but it tended toward blood-n-guts pulp fiction and erotic poetry. Which we are more likely to read these days than were are to read Aquinas (whose cousin or uncle, incidentally, did write vernacular poetry.)
    Kibler’s Introduction to Old French includes a brief passage to the effect that “Old French doesn’t have rules, but tendencies” (pp. 2-3).

  4. Thanks for the links. There goes my workday. As a Norman-American (well, at least as Norman as my Celtic friends are Celtic), I’ve often wondered why “Anglo-Norman” hasn’t been appropriated as a latter-day ethnic identity.
    (I once thought it would be great fun to go the local annual “Celtic Festival” dressed in a long white gown and a page-boy wig, and abduct the Welsh harpist. Maybe someday.)

  5. As a Norman-speaker myself, one of the things English-speakers often comment on with respect to Jèrriais (language of Jersey) is the apparent presence of glaring anglicisms which I take particular pleasure in pointing out were borrowed into English from Norman in the first place. Of course after several centuries of contact with English we have plenty of glaring anglicisms to spare (but that’s another story).
    I’m currently working on the Jèrriais-English dictionary (for publication next year) – we’ve had a Jèrriais-French dictionary since 1966. Copies of the draft database for comments or research purposes are available on request and can be sent out by email, for anyone interested.
    And in light of the mention of Celtic festivals, perhaps I might be permitted a small plug for next year’s Norman language festival to be held in Jersey (the original, accept no substitutes)?
    And for those curious about modern mainland Norman, several texts have recently been added to this page:

  6. The Anglo-Norman Dictionary is going strong, with most of the alphabet (through R) revised in the online edition. Some of the article links have shifted, so you may want to update your direct link to The Missing Link in English Etymology. That was written in 1991, a fallow season for the OED, but the OED Third Edition recognized from the start how desperately they needed Anglo-Norman:

    A notable aspect of the current revision is the availability of Anglo-Norman forms of words which the original editions of the Dictionary regarded as borrowings directly from Central French. This has been made possible largely through the publication of the Anglo-Norman Dictionary, which has provided systematic documentation of this important link between Old and Middle French and (particularly) Middle English.

    And in the first release, March 2000, they were already taking account of previously unrecognized Anglo-Norman origin or influence for such words as mace (weapon), machine (verb, ‘to plot’), mackerel, mage, magnet.

    Many of the words that Rothwell discusses are still waiting for their OED updates, but terrier was revised in 2011 with everything he could wish:

    Etymology: < Anglo-Norman terrer (noun) denoting a breed of dog originally bred to kill, flush out, or pursue vermin and burrowing animals such as rabbits or foxes into their earths (1354) and Middle French terrier (adjective) designating this breed of dog (a1376 in chien terrier ; the use as noun is not paralleled in continental French until considerably later (1690)) < post-classical Latin terrarius (1210 in a British source in this sense), use as noun of terrarius earthly … The dog is so called on account of its use in hunting to start badgers and other quarry from their earth or burrow …

    … especially the part about “not paralleled in continental French until considerably later”!

    Rothwell’s point is very important in general, but I think he overstates his case on the verb hack:

    Whilst the new OED still persists in deriving ‘to hack’ from Germanic sources, without any mention of French, the Middle English Dictionary is nearer the mark in attributing it to ‘O.F.’ (but not ‘A.F.’, as it should).

    If that’s what the print MED said, it must have been an error, or considered an error by the current editors, since the online entry for hakken ‘to cut with chopping blows’ gives the origin as “OE”, with no mention of French. All of the Middle English spellings are with -ck, -k, -kk, or -c, none showing any palatalization except possibly for a single attestation of hacchen; I’m guessing that’s why they don’t think it came from the Anglo-Norman hacher ‘to chop up, mince’, where (I think? is this right?) the -ch- spelling represents a palatalized pronunciation, /tʃ/. Of course the French verb was borrowed from Germanic in the first place, as its aspirated h shows, so sound changes in French would be the main way to tell whether the English verb was inherited or borrowed. (The French verb *did* eventually enter English as hatch and hash, but those came later.)

    The OED revised the verb hack in 2016, again saying that it’s inherited from Germanic, though they now qualify it with “apparently”: “Apparently the reflex of Old English *haccian (unattested as a simplex; however, compare ahaccian to hack out (compare a- prefix1), tōhaccian to-hack v.).”

    And Rothwell says about haggis:

    As for the assertion that the origin of ‘haggis’ is unknown, the clear refutation of this has been in print for close on a century and a half

    Well, a lot of things are in print, that doesn’t make them refutations. The OED revised haggis in 2021 and it’s *still* “origin unknown”, which they explain means that either English borrowed it from Anglo-Norman or vice versa, but it’s impossible to tell which, and impossible to tell which of many proposed etymologies is right. Rothwell’s derivation from the hager variant of Anglo-Norman hacher is considered, but “if so the pronunciation with /ɡ/ (rather than /dʒ/) … is not easy to account for.” Or it could be from the verb hag ‘chop’ from Scandinavian, or from words such as haggess meaning magpie. Some of these must be false trails, but which ones?

    Anyway, Rothwell was certainly justified in being so vehement about the under-recognition of Anglo-Norman in 1991. He must have been well satisfied by how far his project had come by the time he died in 2016.

  7. Indeed, and many thanks for the update — I’ve changed the article link as you suggest.

  8. Cross-reference to a later post on the online version of the Anglo-Norman Dictionary, which hadn’t yet appeared in 2004.

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