Wednesday 2 September 2009

A Thought

Is it just me, or is the slang phrase 'what are the haps' pretty much a perfectly acceptable Middle English sentence? Because while in ME 'hap' singular is usually 'luck' or 'chance' (that's OED sense 1), the plural 'happes' often just means 'things that are happening' (see the Middle English Dictionary, 2, if you don't believe me). And that's what it means in the current sense, except now it's gone full circle and is in fact an abbreviation for 'happenings'.

The ME example which made me think of this is from 'William of Palerne'. The werewolf who's getting food for William in the forest goes off to the road and lies in wait to mug any passing travellers: "he went to an hei3 way to whayte sum happes" = to wait for something to happen.

You could imagine Chaucer saying 'what are the happes?', right?

The OED calls 'hap' archaic. Maybe it's time for an update.