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Early Middle English for today

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How to use an OE dictionary

Let's assume you're looking for an eME word. You have a ModE word in mind and you want to know how to say that in eME. This page will guide you, showing you how to use either an OE dictionary, or ModE dictionary which gives the etymology of words.

Since searching for additional eME forms in medieval texts is not a practical option for the average person who just wants a phrase or two for a poem at a multicultural evening, or a speech on Foregengeday`, I have published a list of the few additional eME forms uncovered thus far.

how to find an eME word?

If you're starting with a ModE word, the most practical option is to look up the corresponding standard OE form in Wordcraft 1 (a Modern to Old English dictionary), and then to transform it to an eME word, using table X.

If you don't have access to Wordcraft 1, but you're confident the ModE word is Anglo-Saxon in origin, the standard OE equivalent can often be found in the etymolgy given in some ModE dictionaries, such as the Concise Oxford Dictionary.

If you're starting with an OE word but you're not sure if it's the standard OE form, you can can check its status in A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary 2.

You can also use Wiktionary to look up both OE and ModE words. Detailed etymologies are provided for most entries. Just type an OE or ModE word into the search box at the very top of each Wiktionary page.

Example 1 - finding the eME for shield with a ModE dictionary

Let's assume you want the eME word for ModE shield and that you have a Modern English dictionary which gives the etymology for each entry; firstly, you look up shield in your dictionary and find that it's derived from OE scield; [if you also have A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary 2 you can confirm that this is the standard OE form;] secondly you consult table X and find that OE WS ie appeared as e in OE A, giving sceld; finally you look further down table X and find that in lOE, short vowels followed by ld were lengthened, giving the result - sce_ld.

Example 2 - finding the eME for year with Wordcraft 1

Let's assume you want the eME word for ModE year and that you have a copy of Wordcraft 1 at hand; firstly, you find g`e_ar in Wordcraft 1 under the entry year; secondly you consult table X and find that OE e_a merged with ae_ in late OE, giving *g`ae_r; lastly you find further down table X in the consonants section, that the sound represented in OE by g`, is written y` in eME, giving the result - y`ae_r.

  1. Pollington, S., Wordcraft, Anglo-Saxon Books: Hockwold-cum-Wilton, 1999
  2. Clark Hall J.R., A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 1960