Skip to main content

English, like all languages, has continually changed through time. Some of these changes have involved new words coming into the language either through innovation or through borrowing from other languages. In the fourteenth century, for example, an estimated 15,270 new words were adopted into English, including words such as creator, humanity, noun, and substantial.

In some instances, the meanings of words change over time. Other changes involve pronunciation and the spelling of words.

Sometime in the early 1300s, William of Nassyngton, a clerical administrator and translator, wrote in what we today call Middle English:

Bothe lered and lewed, olde and gonge,
alle vnderstonden English tonge
To the modern reader, accustomed to both reading and speaking what we now call modern English, the phrase “lered and lewed” seems a bit strange. “Lered” is not a word in use today and “lewed” sort of looks like it could be “lewd,” but this word doesn’t really seem to fit. What happened is explained in the sections below.

Lered (Learned):

The Middle English “lered” is the Modern English “learned.” The origins of “learn” can be found in the prehistoric West Germanic “*liznōjan.” Going farther back in time, this seems to have developed out of the proto-Indo-European “*leis-” meaning “track” which has an underlying meaning of “gaining experience by following a track.” The English verb “lere,” meaning “to teach,” seems to have died out by the nineteenth century. The English word “lore,” which is related to it, still survives.

Lewed (Lewd):

While the Middle English “lewed” did morph into the modern “lewd,” it did so with some changes in meaning. The origins of “lewd” can be traced back to the Old English “læwede” which meant “lay, not belonging to the clergy.” Going back farther in time, “lewd” is related to the Vulgar Latin “*laigo-”.  By the time of the development of Middle English “lewd” (or “lewed”) carried the meaning of “low class, unlearned, ignorant, and ill-mannered.”

A Final Note on Middle English:

The transition from Old English, with all its strange declensions, did not happen overnight. People did not simply wake up one morning and decide to switch to Middle English. First of all, there was a difference between the way people spoke and how they wrote. In the period leading up to William’s poem cited above, those people who wrote usually did so in either Latin or French. William’s poem is one of our first written indications of English as it was spoken at the time. John McWhorter, in his book Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English, writes:

“…Middle English is what had been gradually happening to spoken Old English for centuries before it showed up in the written record.”
Note: the * indicates that the Indo-European or prehistoric word has been reconstructed by historical linguists.

Originally posted to History for Kossacks on Sat Dec 14, 2013 at 07:57 AM PST.

Also republished by Cranky Grammarians.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site