Gwen & Kate's Library

Two sisters' reviews of Young Adult and Middle Grade books, inspired by their lovely library.

Gwen & Kate’s Resource of Medieval Terms

We were looking for a handy resource page to write, when we found this glossary we wrote many years ago on our old blog. Enjoy!

When reading favorite historical fantasy books set in the Middle Ages, such as Tamora Pierce’s beloved books, there are often strange words used that aren’t as familiar today. Tamora usually has handy glossaries in the back of her books, but for books lacking in that category, here is a general list:

A list of common terms in the Middle Ages:

Alack!/Alas – an exclamation

Anon – (see you) later

Belike – maybe, perhaps

Chide – scold or nag

Comely – pretty

Cutpurse – thief

E’em – evening

Enow – enough

Ere – before

Fie – a curse

Hark – listen, pay attention

Hither – here

Huzzah! – a cheer

Indeed/In Truth – really?

In Faith/Faith- in truth, a mild exclamation

Jack – tankard

Jest – joke

Looby – fool

Marry! – an exclamation of shock

Mayhap – perhaps

Morrow – days or tomorrow

N’er – never [pronounced: nair]

Of a Good Stomach – brave

Oft – often

Perchance – maybe, possibly

Pigsticker – large, scary knife

Poppet – a doll, a young child

Pray tell – please tell me

Privy – bathroom (outhouse)

Scummer – animal dung, an exclamation

Serf – a peasant

Sommat – something

Sweeting – pet name for both lovers and children

Tosspot – drunkard

Vexed – annoyed

Wench – a young woman (did not mean prostitute in medieval times, it simply meant girl)

Wherefore – why?

Ye – you

Yonder – over there

Additionally, here is a list of common sayings today that originated back in Medieval Times.

Beat Around the Bush: In boar hunts, nobles hired commoners to walk in front of the procession beating sticks together and making noise. Since boars were large, dangerous creatures, and the workers had no way to protect themselves, they avoided dense undergrowth where a large creature could hide itself. Instead, they beat around the bush!

Blackmail: Rent to an overlord, mainly in Scotland and England, was either paid in whitemail (silver coins) or blackmail (produce or livestock). Blackmail became the term it is today because overlords began to demand more blackmail than its worth in whitemail.

Caught Red-Handed: This was a medieval practice — soak a thief’s hand in berry die (it would last several weeks), so everyone would recognize the thief when they saw his red hand.

Get Off Your High Horse!: Nobles often had taller and more magnificent horses than commoners or men of lower status. Commoners often used the expression “get off your high horse” when someone was acting high and mighty.

Give Someone the Cold Shoulder: At medieval banquets, unwanted guests were often served a cold shoulder of meat, or the least desirable part, to signify they were unwelcome, and to give them a hint to leave.

Loophole (Find a Loophole): In castles, loopholes are windows were the opening is larger on the inside, making it easier to shoot out of, and harder to hit from the outside. This changed to represent an opening that gives one side an advantage.

Ring Around the Rosy: The rhyme “Ring around the Rosy” is a ditty about the Black Death, or plague, very common in the Middle Ages. Rosy refers to the rosy rash, a symptom of the plague. Posies were small flower bouquets carried as protection and to ward off the smell of death. “Ashes, ashes” is the burning of the dead bodies, and “We all fall down” is the death of entire households and towns.


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This entry was posted on May 13, 2014 by in Author: Gwen, Author: Kate, Resource and tagged , .
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