Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Medieval Terms of Endearment

This is a sort of follow-up to my post on Medieval Compliments: or, How to call someone 'beautiful' in Middle English, which has proved surprisingly popular. Apparently a lot of people want to know that stuff; I like to imagine that there are now lovers all over the world praising each other in beautiful medieval English. To extend this a little bit, here's a collection of terms of endearment (loosely defined), mostly culled from the Middle English Dictionary.

This is a complement (heh) to the other post, and so I won't repeat what I said there about such terms as leof and lemman, though they belong here too. Leof, 'dear', is probably still the nicest and best-attested of all medieval terms of endearment.


myne owne hertis rote: literally 'my own heart's root'. Rote in Middle English, referring to the roots of a plant or tree, could (as in Modern English) be used figuratively to mean the depths of something, its inmost part. So this means 'you who are at the very centre of my heart'.

myn lykyng: I've written about this one before, because there's a beautiful lullaby carol of which this is the refrain. lykyng means something like 'the thing which is pleasing to me', and so myn lykyng is 'the one I delight in, the one who gives me pleasure'.

my sweeting: 'my sweet one'.

my darling: 'my dear one' (actually dear-ling, 'dear little one'). A similar word, deoring, 'dearing' also exists, but didn't stand the test of time. Dereworthy darling ('precious darling') is also a fairly common phrase.

culver: 'dove'. (And also, dove itself).

dear heart, or dereworthy heart, or simply my heart. This is a very common one. It's also my favourite. If you think it doesn't sound sufficiently medieval, you could always invert the word order and make it my heart dear (N.B. also works with my sweet heart and my heart sweet).

my heart's queen or my life's queen: speaks for itself.

my honey: yep, totally medieval. (See William of Palerne, l.1655). One of the MED citations is a line from a religious poem, "Jesu, my hony swete, My herte!"

my joy: can't go wrong with that.

my heart's gleam: "Sweet Jesu," exclaims one of the Harley lyrics, "my heart's gleam, brighter than the sunbeam!"

my peerless paramour: for those who admire alliteration (cf. William of Palerne, a good source of these things, l.1534).

my best beloved: yes, that's medieval too. There are a fair number of citations for it under best in the MED.

Some affectionate terms for a child:

miting: 'little mite'

youngling: 'young one'

fauntkin: faunt means 'young child' and the ending -kin is an affectionate diminutive (like, as you may have guessed, -ing or -ling. There's also fauntelet, with the same meaning, because -let is another diminutive)

dillydoun: This is apparently related to the Old Icelandic dilla 'to lull' and dillindo, 'lullaby'. The one appearance of it in Middle English is from the Towneley Plays, from fifteenth-century Yorkshire:

A pratty child is he
As syttys on a wamans kne;
A dyllydowne, perde,
To gar a man laghe.

[A pretty child is he, as sits on a women's knee; a dillydown, indeed, to cause a man to laugh]

Admittedly this is said by someone describing a sheep wrapped up to look like a baby, but I guess it still counts...


Some Old Norse endearments (I'm afraid these only come from a dictionary, which doesn't provide citations, but I'm prepared to trust them unless someone corrects me):

hjartað mitt - 'my heart'

ástin mín - 'my dear', 'my darling', ("a term of endearment used by husband to wife or parents to child")

This I like a lot but I can't quite imagine how it was actually used:
blíðr
, adj. (cognate with the English 'blithe'), meaning 'mild, gentle, soft'; apparently "blíðr is a word of endearment... [which] denotes the outward expression of mildness in the eyes, look, voice." It makes me think of Havelok - 'evere he was glad and blithe'...

7 comments:

Aritul said...

I adore "my darling" and "youngling."

Aritul said...

"My sweeting" isn't bad either.

Carol McGrath said...

I love the post. I write novels set circa 1066 and these expressions are a joy for me to read.

lakerudyard said...

'Sweeting' has not yet died.

Fair young lady dressed in pants
Prithee come her my sweeting
You look divine when you advance
Have you seen yourself retreating?

Matthew Clarcq said...

Dear Clerk of Oxford,
Hello! I recently came across your blog in a search for Rennaisance terms of endearment, and already I find myself sidetracked by your list of topics! Before I get lost completely, by any chance do you know if children had an affectionate, informal way to address their parents in Shakespearean time? (An equivalent to Mom and Dad.) I see sweet terms parents call their children, but nothing that shows affection from a child to a parent. Even with a more strict code of respect towards adults, I imagine children must have had ways to address their parents with fondness, other than Mother and Father. I'd appreciate your insight.
Thank you! And now, to become happily lost . . . !

CJ

liz read said...

fauntkin - - ummm Little Lord Fauntleroy??????

Mary Student said...

I'm writing a story in a medieval fantasy world and I realized i had no clue what kind of endearments i needed to use so this was really helpful and I thoroughly enjoyed it even laughed at some of your commentary.