Saturday, April 18, 2015

Old Words!

by Scott Howard Higginbotham

When you hear the words, “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,” something can get lost in the translation.  Our modern lexicon rarely uses such high and lofty words as seen in the King James Version of the Holy Bible.  The preceding passage comes from 1 Corinthians 13: 4 and, is more easily understood as love being patient, kind, not boastful, and not proud.  Once you break through the archaic verbiage the words come alive, bringing forth a powerful rendering of the English language.  

This does not mean that modern readers are necessarily droll.  However, words used in yesteryear seem to carry more weight.  But how do we inform, educate, and keep dozing readers from falling asleep when they read such words?  Is there a magical and contextual tension where a relatively ancient word form can be used without alienating the reader?  Indeed, and the key is finding that perfect balance.  

This post is not centering on what words to use and the balance that can be created, but focuses on what some words commonly appearing in historical novels actually mean.

Ague- malaria or a similar illness
Betimes- in good time; early
Carl- a man of low birth
Demesne- a region or domain
Ere- before
Fain- pleased or willing under the circumstances
Gallant- a young gentleman
Hie- go quickly
Howbeit- nevertheless
In sooth- actually
Knave- dishonest or unscrupulous man
Leman- lover or sweetheart
Mayhap- perhaps or possibly
Otiose- lazy or slothful
Piepowder- a traveler or an itinerant merchant or trader
Perchance- by some chance
Peradventure- perhaps
Thither- to or toward a place
Varlet- an unprincipled rogue
Withal- in addition
Wight- a person of a specified kind
Wherat- at which
Whilom- formerly
Ye- you
Yea- yes

Photo by Scott Howard Higginbotham

Indeed, reading an historical novel is a leap for the uninitiated, but creating that perfect tightrope balance of old and modern words can draw and keep those readers that have not crossed over.  Lastly, this post would not be complete without something near and dear to me.  Enjoy some sword terminology!
Drawing by Scott Howard Higginbotham

Pommel: a termination point for the blade’s tang. Screws onto or is otherwise secured to the tang. Also provides balance for the sword. Can be used offensively.
Crossguard: protects the user’s hand and is a transition piece between the blade and the grip. This style has religious symbolism due to its shape. Can be used offensively.
Grip: a hollow piece of wood that covers the tang; for gripping the sword. Can be wrapped in leather, brass wire, or any suitable material that aids the user or declares his status.
Fuller: a groove running down the length of the blade.  Removes weight and the two ridges at the ends of the concavity help strengthen the blade.
Double-edged blade: can cut on an upswing and a downswing.
Tip: the sharp end that no one wants to be facing; the business end.
The typical medieval sword was about 3 or 4 pounds!  Stamina played such an important role, coupling this with strength made the knight a potent force.

Photo by Scott Howard Higginbotham

A Soul’s Ransom

Scott Howard Higginbotham writes under the name Scott Howard and is the author of A Soul’s Ransom, a novel set in the fourteenth century where William de Courtenay’s mettle is tested, weighed, and refined, and For a Thousand Generations where Edward Leaver navigates a world where his purpose is defined with an eye to the future.  His new release, A Matter of Honor, is a direct sequel to For a Thousand Generations.  It is within Edward Leaver's well-worn boots that Scott travels the muddy tracks of medieval England.


  1. Interesting post - made me think of times when reader's thought I'd spelled something wrong!!! Language - like society - is constantly changing and evolving - thanks for this from a fellow Historical Fiction author

  2. Great post!
    It was very enjoyable to read the clarifications and translations into modern English and the part about the medieval sword was so fascinating. As is the way we used to speak. Yesteryear words do seem to carry more weight. Thanks for a great read.

  3. Getting the right balance of old and new words is very tricky especially since I love the flow of the old words. But most readers would lose interest. Thanks for sharing.

  4. One of the best parts of writing historical fiction is being able to use the old words!
    Victorian speech is remarkably precise and going further back, the words become delightfully vigorous . Thanks for the post!

  5. Interesting that the old Scots words are so different - I love them, but it goes some way to explaining why it is frequently the English who struggle with Scots while folk from abroad don't.


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