Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Ten Medieval phrases we use today

I am always interested in the derivation of words and phrases still in current use. A few interesting examples from this story on MEDIEVALISTS.NET 

A phrase I still use, by hook or by crook: 

"Records of this phase date back to the 14th century. One theory for its origin suggests that a medieval law about collecting firewood allowed peasants to take what they could only cut from dead trees by using their reaper’s bill-hooks or a shepherd’s crook."

A second phrase I use, to sink or swim. Now this one I guessed! 

"The phrase refers to the water ordeal, a medieval practice of judging whether a person was innocent or guilty by casting him or her into a lake. The belief was that water would not accept anyone who had rejected the water of baptism, so if the victim sunk they were innocent, but if they floated they were guilty. Chaucer used a similar phrase: “Ye rekke not whether I flete (float) or sink”.

I leave you to look at the rest. I bet you use most of them. 


2 tanners said...

Of course, these days, sink or swim has reversed its previous meaning.

2 tanners said...

Now that I think about it, 'by hook or by crook' is no longer an limitation on action, but an expression meaning that the actor will use any means possible including illegal ones to achieve an objective. If you asked, I think you'd find that the word crook is reinterpreted in modern usage.

Currying favour has morphed to smarming, from polishing a deceit (the two still cross boundaries in the case of insincere flattery).