Warning: I don't edit blogs. What I think is what you get. Proceed at your own risk.
In the previous blog, I mentioned a word that I thought too modern for my time period, but didn't give it as I couldn't recall it at the time. Going over my manuscript, I found the word, and, just to be certain, checked it again. Still fits.
The word is mitigate. My fifteenth century heroine wants to mitigate damage done her lord by an unthinking (and uncaring) woman. My etymology dictionary assures me that, used to mean lessen in severity; make milder, came into being in the fourteenth century. Works for me.
But not all words are as accommodating. One of the funniest I've found is the word hussy.
According to the Medieval Word Book by Madelieine Pelner Cosman (page 124), a hussy refers to a household bound woman--the female counterpart of a husband, shortened from housewife. It only took on the meaning we use today, loose woman, harlot, in the Renaissance age.
Of course, we won't tell the networks this, or they'll be doing a new reality series: Desperate Renaissance Hussies.
Another word that changed it's meaning is dun.
In A Dictionary of Medieval Terms & Phrases by Christopher Coredon with Ann Williams, a dun is defined as an Irish fortified dwelling. Perhaps it is the color of said dwellings that led to things being called dun-colored. (Unfortunately, the etymology doesn't make this clear so this is pure supposition on my part.)
Regency writers, however, are more accustomed to using dun as a repeated demand for payment, a seventeenth century usage.
Why this word evolved from a fortified dwelling to a creditor's demand is obscure. It may have been a blending of languages that made one word perform disparate tasks, but there is no way to be certain.
Many words we use are derived from names. These are called eponyms, and they pepper our language. Something jamesian refers to a styling or reflection reminiscient of either the novels of Henry James or the philosophy of William James. Why do I mention this? Because a word very common in schoolrooms harkens back to a name.
A thirteenth century theologian by the name of Johns Duns Scotus finds himself the unwitting origin of the word dunce. It seems his views fell out of favor in England during the Reformation, especially his defense of the papacy. William Tyndale first used the word Dunsman as an epithet, but it, like so many words, was shortened over time to the form we use today meaning ignorance and stupidity. (A Dictionary of Medieval Terms & Phrases. Pg 108)
And, last, I'll include the word precinct. While still in use, commonly in conjunction with the jurisdictional boundaries of law enforcement, in medieval times a precinct meant a cathedral close (Cathedral lands, usually walled) with all of its auxiliary buildings.
Of course, canon law had long tentacles, so perhaps this usage isn't so different after all.
Have you discovered any words like those above? Please share. We strengthen ourselves when we share knowledge.