Bright Ideas and True Confessions: How and What to Do and Why

Everyday Language Use for the SCA


Just as a zipper can ruin otherwise acceptable garb, and velcro on armor is serviceable but grating, a modern word or phrase can spoil a great speech or scroll text. Each word has a history, some are period and some aren't, and it's worth at least being aware that we have options. It's not as hard as you might think to bend your language use in a more period direction. Consider these examples:

If you would like to request that people be quiet, you have some choices. Consider the tone and level of usage (formal/informal, respectful/insulting, etc.) which is appropriate to the situation. Read these and see what you think of each:

Shut up Excuse me, but shut up.
Be quiet I pray you, be quiet.
Hush (or hush up) Hust ye
Be still Peace; be still.
Keep silence Pray, silence.
List now List to hear [whatever]

If you're a herald, how about "Their Majesties demand silence" or "Keep peace in this hall." "Pray attend" is overused and it would be nice to use different phrases different times. Some of these shouldn't be used, because they're too rude or too archaic. Somewhere betwixt too rude and too modern and too archaic are some great, underused phrases.

Here are various bits of trivia for your consideration.

"Bear them hence" (Henry V says, of the traitors). It means literally carry them away from here. We would say "Take them away" or "Get them out."

"Thank you" as a parting is lame. At least address the phrase, as "I thank your Majesty," or "Your Excellency has my thanks," or "My Lord, I thank you."

For the end of a formal discussion, try "You have our leave to depart" (if you're important) or "By your leave," if you're the lower-ranking party. The "leave" in these phrases is "let"-permission.

"Good bye" - do you know what it means? "God be with you."

"Fare well" means "Have a nice [however long]." It can also mean "Have a nice trip."

"Come here" is what is used commonly in the 20th century - try replacing it with

If you please. . .(with a beckoning motion or encouraging look)
If it please you.
If it please you, my lord, a word [which is short for "I would have a word with you"]
May I have a word with you? [. . . with Your Excellency?]
My lady, attend me
My lord, if you will attend me.
I crave your attention
A moment, your lordship

Ranking people shouldn't have to say much to get someone to come closer. The concept of being at someone's "beck and call" means close enough that a gesture (beck) or call will get them there in a jiffy (or, more likely, in the nonce, meaning "in an instance") They can't come quick, because "quick" meant "alive" in period, not fast (besides, even now teachers will tell you to use "quickly."). If someone said "quickly" it meant "lively," which can also be used in terms of speed, as in "step lively." Fast meant stuck, constant, or fixed. Supper was "fixed" when it was put on the table. (In the southern U.S. people still "fix supper" even though it's not broken.)

"Fix" meaning "to make favorable to one's purposes," is late 19th century and thoroughly American. If someone says a tournament or contest was "fixed," it's a very modern usage.

"Thank you" is just okay, but it stands for more. To say "I thank you" is better but still weak. If you really want to show that you "thank" someone (rather than say you thank them), you might want to say other real words, like "bringing this gift was a gracious act of kindness" or "without your work this tournament might not have succeeded." Just to say "thank you" is like saying "greeting." It's better to say "My thanks go to you," or "Our thanks are with you." Thanks is a form of "think/thought" that goes back to Old English, and it has to do with grateful thoughts. "I thank you" means "I think nice thoughts of you." "You have my thanks" is good. "Thankful" is really good, and very old. "We are thankful for your work" and "We are thankful that you have come here" are great.

"Greetings" is no greeting. "Good morning" is a greeting. "I hope you are well" is a greeting. "Welcome," "Your Majesty" [and a bow], "Well met!"-those are greetings. In letters, greetings are expressions of wishes for health, happiness, good fortune, all that. When we write "greetings" at the beginning of a letter, it's actually sort of obnoxious-it means "here's where a greeting would go if I had one." But if you say "Lord A doth greet Lady B," and then you go on to greet somehow (even "Good wishes to you") then you have greeted and that's good.

Many good phrases can be gotten from reading Victorian novels, or their versions of classic tales and legends. The Victorians were 1) picky about language details and 2) nuts about the Middle Ages. Be careful, though, to check some of these words before you imbed them forever in your kingdom's traditions. I'm thinking in particular of "chivalric," a very Victorian word meaning having to do with the entire idea of chivalry. It's not a medieval word, according to The Oxford English Dictionary. If you've read this far and don't own one of those or know right where it is at the library, feel free to write me to find out what the going rate is to get one as an introductory offer for joining the Book-of-the-Month Club. For what used to be $19 in the late '70's and in mid-1990 was up to $32 (plus shipping) you could get one, and then have to buy three books over some couple or three years. It's worth it. You can document foods and prove heraldic points sometimes, just by looking up certain words. You can look up names of armor parts and learn fascinating bits of stuff. It's a blast for those interested in historical trivia, and you know you're one of them. If you have one and you haven't used it lately, go in there and flip pages. Look up the word that's closest to where your middle name would be - just look. If you find something neat, send me a postcard!

Don't be afraid to read period or near-period works. The King James Bible is a good start. It has simpler, more everyday phrases than Shakespeare, and smaller bits can be taken in at a time. (A related article will be found elsewhere in this section.) If you'd like to read Shakespeare but find it difficult, I recommend getting a videotape of a play you like, and read along in the book. Have a remote control handy, and if they skip a part stop the tape to see what they left out (and see if you can figure out why). If you read enough period material, before you realize it you'll develop a feel for the odd pronouns and phrases, and begin to know instinctively what's right and what's not.

Back to the subject: Speaking in public is not my forte, but I'm a pretty good speechwriter. If you've seen me in public and think that I don't practice what I preach, it's that I'm not usually able. My nervousness expresses itself in humor and goofiness. Me, a piece of paper and a person who is a good speaker make a great team. If you do no more with all this than to write one great letter of recommendation someday, or say one thing better while making an announcement in court, that will be enough. On the other hand, this may inspire you to spruce up a coronation ceremony and dazzle the multitudes. You know English well enough to read this far - it's your language. Go for it.



Copyright © by Sandra Dodd, 1991
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