Be able to understand old English

By Kelly Rwamapera
Do not be limited in accessing information in the English language because of the change of some word or expressions over time or the style in which a work of art was produced.
There is a lot of written English literature produced hundreds of years ago in words and expressions whose meaning has changed if compared to contemporary English.
This article serves to expose you toold, also called Elizabethan or Shakespearean, English in both essay and poetry to gear you to explore more for yourself as you try to appreciate the literature.
Remember old is gold
Some words we use today do not necessarily mean the same in Shakespearean or Elizabethan English. For example, the word ‘without’ basically means ‘in the absence of’ in today’s English whereas in the old English the same word ‘without’ was just the opposite of ‘within’ as we say ‘inside’ and ‘outside’.
The word morrow means tomorrow; husbandman means farmer; prithee mean please; verily means truly or certainly.
Words denoting gender
In general, the word ‘man’ in all books written in old English is both man (opposite of woman) and people. When you find ‘mankind’ just replace it with the present day ‘humankind’.
Of time and places
‘Yonder’ means over there; ‘whence’ means from a place; ‘whereat’ means at which.
From most famous texts
Closely look at the words in this line of a poem of William Shakespeare “Let me not to the marriage of true minds”:
“If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever love.”
The word ‘writ’ is ‘write’ in today’s English. This is why we double letter‘t’ in the word ‘written’.
Grab your King James Bible and read the 23rd Psalm commonly known as “The Lord is my Shepherd”.
“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over”.
Notice that ‘thou’ is the same as ‘you’ and ‘mine’ as ‘my’. The -est endings onto verbs do not change tenses. However, the -eth is used in present continuous which means the word ‘runneth’ is simply ‘runs’.
In President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, he started saying “Four score and seven years ago…”
The word ‘score’ is ‘twenty’ as we have it today. President Lincoln’s “four score” means four times twenty.

Have Your SayLeave a comment