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retained in the language were retained as mere representatives of some French word. They were divorced from their old sense, and made to take a sense from some French word of contiguous idea. A good example offers in the Prologue:
The first line means that although the knight was valiant, yet was he modest, gentle, well-disciplined, sober-minded, as the lines following explain. The word wys or wise here does duty for the French sage, of which it is enough to say that French mothers at the present day, when they tell a child to be good, they say Sois sage. It would be a bald rendering of this maternal admonition if it were verbally Englished Be wise. Equally far is the use of the word wise in that passage of Chaucer, both from the old Saxon sense and our modern use. We now use the word just as our early ancestors did, having dropped the French colouring which it had received. But though that colouring has faded out, yet it is not on that account the less available as evidence of the intimacy that once existed between the two languages. As a result of this redistribution of form and sense, it happened that words and phrases were produced of which it is impossible to say definitely that they are either French or English. No ingenuity has as yet been able to uncoil the fabric of certain expressions which at this epoch make their appearance. For example: ‘He gave five shillings to boot'—what is the origin of this familiar and thoroughly English expression to boot 2 We know of a ‘boot' or ‘bote’ which is thoroughly English from the Saxon verb betan, to mend or better a thing. The fishermen of Yarmouth have Sometimes astonished the learned and curious who have conversed with them, by talking of beating their nets (so it sounds) when they mean mending them. In Saxon times BóT was the legal and most current word for amends of any kind. It passed into ecclesiastical diction in the term DAEDBóT, deed-bettering, a word that was replaced in the fourteenth century by the term penance. Then bole was used later for material to mend with. It was for centuries, and perhaps still is in some parts, a set phrase in leases of land, that though the tenant might not fell timber, yet he might have wood to mend his plough and make his fire, plow-bote and fire-bole. It might appear as if little more need be urged for the purpose of shewing that this is also the word in the expression ‘to boot.’ And yet, when we come to examine authorities, there is great reason to hesitate before excluding the French language from a share in the production of this expression. There are two contemporary verbs, bouler and boutre, with meanings not widely diverse from each other, in the sense of pulling so, push, support, prop. Hence we have abut, and buttress. And the old grammarian Palsgrave seems to imply this French derivation when he says: “To boote in corsyng [horse-dealing], or chaunging one thyng for another, gyue money or some other thynge above the thyng. What wyll you boote bytwene my horse and yours ? Mettre ou bouler davantaige'.’ The same kind of uncertainty is continually found to haunt words which made their appearance at this epoch. A philological writer in the Edinburgh Review has lately developed some interesting and rather surprising information concerning the word bottle in Shakspeare and other contexts. Among the rest, he has noted the familiar local expression a bottle of hay. This he derives without hesita
tion from the French, ‘botte de foin,” where botte means a lump or mass. But when we consider that in Norfolk a bottle of hay is understood to mean the quantity for a single feed, it may be doubted whether the derivation from ðitan, bite, bit, bait, is not at least as probable. The old college term battels for the common portions of food goes to strengthen this view of the case. Some words, whose form is perfectly English to look at, are nothing but French words in a Saxon mask. The word business has not, as far as I know, been suspected, yet I offer it without hesitation as an example. The adjective busy existed in Saxon, and although the -ness derivative from it is not found, yet it would seem so agreeable to rule and analogy as to pass without challenge. We say good-ness, wicked-ness, wily-ness, worthy-ness, &c.; why not busy-ness 2 And yet the word appears to be nothing but the French besogne or, as it was in early times written in the plural, besoingnes. Compare the modern French, Faites votre besogne, “Do your duty.’ It is possible that the word busy may have had that sort of share in the production of the great English word business which may be called the ushering of the word. When natives seize upon the words of strangers and adopt them, their selection is decided in most cases by some affinity of sense and sound with a word of their own. A very superficial connection will suffice for this, or else we could not admit busy even to this inferior share in the production of the word business. For ‘a man of business’ means, and has always meant, something very different from a man who is busy. Let us hear an independent and competent witness on the signification of this, which is now one of the most characteristic words of our nation :‘The dictionary definition of Business shows how large a part of practical life arranges itself under this head. It is
“Employment; an affair; serious engagement; something to be transacted; something required to be done.” Every human being has duties to be performed, and therefore has need of cultivating the capacity of doing them; whether the sphere is the management of a household, the conduct of a trade or profession, or the government of a nation. Attention, application, accuracy, method, punctuality, and dispatch, are the principal qualities required for the efficient conduct of business of any sort.”—Samuel Smiles, Self-Help, chap. viii. So that the use of this word to the present day corresponds truly to that of the French word besogne, in which it originated. Bourne, a stream, has been commingled with the French borne, a boundary, though it is possible that in this case the line of severance has not been obliterated. These are generally regarded as one word, in proof of which may be cited the words of Mr. Barnes in a recent lecture:– Bourne, whence Bournemouth takes its name, signified a spring of water, or running stream; and, as such streams were often taken as the divisions between adjoining properties, bourne hence came to mean a boundary or limit.’ The two words of which we have here at least an apparent if not a real confluence, are, on the one hand, Gothic brunna, German brunnen, Dutch bron, Scottish burn. On the other hand, the old French bonne, bonnier, bonage (in mediaeval Latin bonna, bonarium, bonagium), is represented in modern French by borne, a limit, boundary. In the English word bourne the French sense of limit seems to dominate over the native word, meaning stream, so much as to render it doubtful whether the latter has any share in the making of the word. We have bourne, a stream, in provincial use in Wiltshire, and it enters into local names, as Bournemouth—or rather, if we speak strictly, it constitutes the local name of Bourne; for ‘Bournemouth’ is not the local name, but an invention of visitors. But whether we have in literature bourne, a stream, at all, is open to doubt—a doubt which affects the value of the conjectural reading in King Lear, act iii. sc. 6: ‘Come o'er the bourn, Bessy, to me.' In our elder Psalter, the sweetest monument of lyrical English prose, we have the rather uncouth expression, making mouths at me. Who would doubt that this is a piece of that rustic homespun English to which this Psalter is so largely indebted for its peculiar grace and beauty. And yet when we come to look into it, we cannot trace a pure Saxon pedigree for the expression. It is the French expression, faire la moue, to make a wry face; still good French, as recognised by the Academy. Cotgrave (1611) gives the word thus: “MoUE: s. A moe, or mouth, an ill-favoured extension or thrusting out of the lips. Oncques vieil Singe ne fit belle moué : Prov. An old-bred clozome was neuer mannerlie.”
Our version of the New Testament offers a familiar example of the process of blending the two languages. The well-known author of English Past and Present has pointed out (p. 198) that in I Tim. ii. 9 it ought to be, not ‘broidered hair, but as the Bible of 1611 has it, broided. It means plailed, as the margin signifies'. In fact the words to braid or plait, and to broider with decorative needlework, would seem to have been clear enough of each other, to run no risk of confusion. Yet they have been confused from the inveterate habit of blending Saxon and French roots in modern English. The very form broid is an infected form. The Saxon for ‘to plait’ is bredan, and the French for to embroider is broder. The commingling of these has pro
1 wiclif (1380) has it, not in writhun beeris ; Tyndale (1534) and his followers, not with broyded beare ; the Rheims version (1582) not in plaited beare; and the authorized version of 16II not with broided haire.