[CHWP Titles]

Toward a Text of the Medulla Grammatice: Procedures and Prospects in Editing a 15th-century Glossary[*]

Vincent P. McCarren

The Middle English Dictionary
University of Michigan

CHWP B.16, publ. September 1996. © Editors of CHWP 1996. [First published in CCH Working Papers, 4 (1994) and in Dictionnairique et lexicographie, 3 (1995).]

[Abstract / Résumé]

15th century, Middle English, Latin-English glossary, Medulla Grammatice, transcription, collation, new attestations

The Middle Ages respected its classical past by recording and annotating it. The recorders of these traditions, the scribes, were in part educated, but in all were not capable of being relied upon for accurate and uninterfering transcription. A great number of manuscripts were recopied in some form to be used in the classroom, and when subjected to the rigors of preparation for class, the masters, in proportion to their weakness in the Latin language, clarified the problematic words and phrases by scribbling above the Latin word or in the margin an equivalent meaning in English. Hence, the gloss.

Aristotle's Rhetoric and Poetics contain the first recorded instances of glossa in the sense of an "obsolete or foreign word needing explanation".[1] He remarks: "On the one hand foreign and archaic words (glottai) are quite unknown, whereas familiar names of things we know well."[2] Again, "All expression is either current or foreign (glotta)."[3] And, finally, "I mean that a current word is one everyone uses, a strange word (glottan) 'others' use."[4]

The Medulla Grammatice, a very popular compilation of Latin words with English meanings, translated "the core of the grammatical (art)", has been transmitted through 19 manuscripts and four fragments (others we know to have been lost).[5] Essentially the Medulla was found in most of the major centres of learning in England. The time period was the 15th century, early to late, with only one manuscript internally dated: St. John's (Cambridge), 16 December 1468.

It is the earliest, complete Latin-Middle English dictionary; yet until recently nothing but three unpublished dissertations, each transcribing a single manuscript, has been produced. Traditio has just published my edition of Bristol DM 1 (McCarren 1993). It is, in fact, a re-edition of the manuscript which a scholar of the 1920s, Peter Haworth (1923), claimed to have belonged to a later tradition, the Hortus Vocabulorum (Ortus Vocabulorum 1500). My contention is that it is a fragment of the Medulla. Also, the University of Michigan Press will publish my critical edition of the entire tradition. This, needless to say, will take a while. However, when done, it will be another link in the lexicographical chain, providing a body of material which will document gaps in our linguistic knowledge of Medieval Latin and Middle and Modern English. The Oxford English Dictionary has not drawn upon it. The Middle English Dictionary (Kurath et al. 1952-) has used only one manuscript up to the letter R, and since then I've introduced seven other manuscripts but not on a regular basis. The Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources has just begun to address the work in its D-E fascicle, but then only in one or two manuscripts. Entries and segments in these dictionaries will have to be rewritten, based upon lexical items provided by the Medulla. Consider one instance from the OED (Murray 1933). It provides the entry for writh, a rare word which is compared internally to the word writhe, conveying the sense of 'something twisted', 'a twisted band', as supported by three quotations from the fifteenth, sixteenth, and nineteenth centuries, respectively. The most recent, the nineteenth-century quotation, is from a Dorset glossary dated 1844. It reads 'writh, the bond of a faggot'. This is fitting as a citation to convey the sense. It is preceded by a quotation from another glossary, the Manipulus Vocabulorum of Peter Levins, dated 1570. This citation reads 'A writh: cesticillus.' This is also suitable since the Latin word, cesticillus, is described by Paul the Deacon in his Epitoma Festi (Lindsay 1913): "Cæsticillus appellatur circulus, quem superponit capiti, qui aliquid est laturus in capite." ('Cesticillus is referred to as a circular object which one, who is about to carry something upon his head, places beneath it on his head.') However, the earliest quotation furnished by the OED is out of place. It reads: "14.. Latin-Eng.Voc. (MS. Harl. 2257) Grani, a writh." Harl. 2257 is a manuscript of the Medulla Grammatice.

Both words in this citation are misread and misunderstood. Grani is not a recognizable Latin form for a word in an entry position in this glossary, or in any other, for that matter. If the minims were re-read, the word could be taken as graui, which, however, when linked with writh, as the OED conceives it, cannot make sense. The ablative case of grauis, meaning 'heavy', cannot stand here. But if conceived of as a transliteration from the Greek -- i.e., Graui = graphê, which is a series of natural phonetic shifts (u, v, ph, and f freely interchange with one another, long and short i and e are also naturally exchanged, and note particularly the similarity of iota and eta in Modern Greek) -- this example would provide a nominative case which is within the range of the interpretation: writh = writ. Note that t and th are readily interchanged in Middle English. Hence, this fifteenth-century quotation from the Medulla Grammatice should be removed from under writh and put under writ, which, of course, diminishes the antiquity of the word writh by as much as 170 years.

Ghost words, and there are many more than just a few, will have to be excised from the standard lexica. For example, the gloss upon the word Amechon in the MED is 'chylde-ston: a precious stone said to promote child-birth'. This is a misreading of the Stonyhurst manuscript chylkestone (fol. 4a/b), discovered while working on the entry slike-ston, spelled with equal diversity as slyke (Canterbury, Pepys, St. John's [Cambridge]), sclyk- (Harley 2270), slyking- (Add. 33534), slek (Harley 1000), and sligh (Add. 24640), so that one unavoidably concludes that chyldeston is a ghost word. When the letter C was being done at the MED, Stonyhurst was the only manuscript consulted and the condition of this portion of the manuscript left the editor with the shape of a letter not unlike d; in fact, it is a compressed k.

New words will have to be added, senses altered and in many instances removed, form sections expanded, and etymologies corrected. A few of the Middle English words to be reconsidered are ampte 'ant', fornel 'small furnace', hotere 'steward', oter (the mammal), clining along with declining (addenda), clinche (addendum) -- which replaces the ghost word clonch 'lump of grass' -- several under-words (eight new words in six lines), and cokerbelle 'icicle' found in Harley 2257 (150 years earlier than the earliest citation in the OED). Conversely, there are misreadings of the manuscripts affecting calwe 'bald', fodynge 'feeding or food', and lokked 'having locks of hair', that require serious revision. The first is found under "calwe n." The MED reads "Apiconsus (read: Apiciosus): balled or calwe." Upon closer examination, one observes that the mark which was understood as similar to the nasal abbreviation is, in fact, the i flourish, and so the burden, misplaced on the scribe, is placed squarely upon the shoulders of the editor. The entry should read "Apiciosus: balled or calwe." The second word (fodynge) offers something far riskier. Stonyhurst (fol. 3b/b) reads "Alcio: fodynge." The Middle English word, defined as 'feeding or food', appears only twice in the language, once in the citation in question here. One might think of it as a hapax, supported by another hapax. Both appearances are in glossaries, Promptorium Parvulorum and Medulla. The MED reads "Altudo: a fodyng." There is nothing nourishing about this word. I'd also add that there is no article before fodynge. The genitive ending -nis appears. This misreading reveals the incompatibility of the two quotations; neither supports the other. And, finally, with more complication, the entry word, lokked. The following is an entry taken directly from the MED. It reads:

    lokked adj. (From lok n.(1).) Having locks or curls of hair. a1425 *Medulla 14a/b: Cinsimacula (?read: Cincinnatulus): hered, locked. a1440 Hortus 267: Cincinnalus, i. capillosus: herid, lokkid.
To begin with, Cinsimacula should read Cinsimaculus (the s was misread and the abbreviation for u was overlooked). There is probably no need for the query, and the t of Cincinnatulus would be best kept consistently with the entry word as c. In the second quotation (which I contend is not from the Hortus Vocabulorum but in fact from the Medulla), Cincinnalus should read Cincunalus (a misarrangement of minims). The entry then needs "(read: Cincinnaculus)". Cincinnalus would be the likely reading but it does not exist -- a basic error of an editor. If the manuscript provides a peculiar reading, it should be corrected in the text and a recording of the manuscript reading placed in the notes.

Words not known before, such as agnominacio, eknemnyng 'nicknaming', aristatus, misclepen 'misname', aveinen, aqueuomus 'a water spewer', coppyn 'to reach a height', adegeo 'to need', emperowrely, neghsenden and forsenden, forprayen 'to renounce', and ry<i>gh</i> [ME yogh]treden 'to read accurately', must be introduced. And these are only a very few examples of hapax legomena.



[*] I dedicate this paper to the memory of a teacher and dear friend, Roger Pack, whose intellectual grace and gentleness must always prevail.

[1] LSJ, s.v. glossa. II.2.

[2] Rhetoric 1410b12: "hai men oun glottai agnotes, ta de kuria ismen."

[3] Poetics 1457b2: "hapan de onoma estin e kurion e glotta."

[4] Poetics 1457b4: "lego de kurion men hô chrontai hekastoi, glottan de hô heteroi."

[5] To the early 1400's belong Lincoln ms. 88, Shrewsbury XVI, and Stonyhurst ms. XV (A.1.10). The remainder are dated mid-to-late within the century. They are Additional mss. 24640, 33534 (ca. 1460), and 37789; Bristol Univ. ms. DM 14; Canterbury D.2; Downside Abbey 26540; Harley 1000, 1738, 2181, 2257, 2270; Holkham misc. 39; Lincoln ms. 111; Pepys 2002; Rawlinson C.101. Only one manuscript is internally dated, St. John's (Cambridge) 72 C 22: 16 December 1468. Concerning the fragments, Bristol Univ. ms. DM 1, containing 459 entries of C and six entries of D, on three leaves, is dated ante 1425. Also early are the Gloucester ms., in the Gloucester Records Office, containing two double-columned leaves of the letter S, and ms. Rawlinson D.913 in the Bodleian, composed of one leaf of the letter I. Ms. Brasenose College, Oxford UB S.2.87-8, is preserved on four leaves having very little of P, Q, and R. It is dated mid-century.