Are you celebrating the anniversary of the Norman Conquest tonight? I’m sure there are parties, though I didn’t get an invite.
It was this week back in 1066 that William the Conqueror of Normandy first arrived on British soil. Those French-speaking Normans did end up defeating the Old English-speaking Saxons at the Battle of Hastings (October 14, 1066 – another chance to party).
What does this event have to do with us today? For one thing, it affected the development of the English language – perhaps more than any other event.
The Writer’s Almanac reminded me of this anniversary. I have actually taught quite a few lessons on the history of English and the good old Norman French versus the Germanic-based Anglo-Saxon. Conquest made the French the language of ruling, administrative, and ceremony.
We still have the Anglo-Saxon common man words like cow, calf, and sheep. But the words for when those were served to the master of the house – beef (from boeuf), veal (veel), and mutton (mouton) came from the French.
It is estimated that about 10,000 French words were adopted into the English language, and that included Latinate vocabulary, which also came via French.
And more conqueror talk: “government” from Old French governer from Latin “to steer” or “to rule” and someone who is a “subject” from Old French suget, “brought under” to mean a a person owing obedience; royal, regal, and sovereign.
And if you didn’t follow the rules, you learned some French such as the “court” you would appear in, from cort (from the Latin word for yard) where you would act courteous, which originally meant “having manners fit for a royal court” and you might be considered the “plaintiff” (from the Old French word plaintive — a “lamentation” derived from Latin planctus, meaning “beating of the breast.”
At your conquest party, you might to serve some good English and German fare and through in some French influences. Or divide up guests and have the Normans lord it over those lowly Anglo-Saxon guests (the ones cursing in their Anglo-Saxon way). Debauchery is always a possibility – which, by the way, has its origins with the old French word debauch, which means to lure a man away from his purpose.