Episode 106: An Illuminating Development

The 12th and 13th centuries saw the saw the transfer of book production from monasteries to professional bookmakers. In this episode, we look at the birth of the Medieval book trade. We also examine how early illuminators worked with color, and how early English dealt with the introduction of new colors terms into the language.

24 thoughts on “Episode 106: An Illuminating Development

  1. Awesome work Kevin. I can’t wait till you get to the Modern period. I’ve always been fascinated about the great vowel shift and am looking forward to knowing more about it. #Patience hehe

    • Thanks! I’m looking forward to the Modern English period as well. With the development of various English dialects, it will be a juggling act to keep all of the balls in the air at the same time.

  2. Yo, Kevin! Did you catch that final Jeopardy clue? It was something about Flemish for church of the dunes. And I totally crushed it thanks to you. Going to try that patrion thing. I only wish I could pay you what you’re worth. Just drove from CO to MI and your podcast made it easier to forget that I was still in Nebraska. Thanks

  3. Kevin, great episode, as always; thank you! The part about color was fascinating, especially how color words have the same basic linguistic progression all over the world. When you were talking about the color green, and how it is cognate with grass and grow, what immediately leapt from the far recesses of my mind was this refrain: “and the green grass grows all around, all around, and the green grass grows all around.” I hadn’t thought of that song in many decades, had to look up the rest of the lyrics, and now I’m wondering about their etymology, too. In case you didn’t learn the song in your childhood: http://www.songsforteaching.com/folk/thegreengrassgrewallaround2k.php

  4. You mentioned that an alternative word in Anglo-Saxon for black was something like swaert. (forgive the speeling it’s hard to catch that from a podcast). Is this related to the German word for black (schwarz)?

  5. Hey Kevin – do you have pictures of some of the “corrections” you talked about on the podcast? Specifically the one with the team of little men using ropes to pull the missing segment up to where it belonged?

    Thanks!
    Jeanne

  6. Not quite the same era, but there’s a very interesting account of book binding in London in the 1600s in the diaries of Samuel Pepys (pron. Peeps).

  7. While listening to this episode in my Mazda, resplendant in its Bordeaux-tint mica-flake paint, I found it hard to believe that a culture would not need to talk about colour. A cursory search of the interwebs doesn’t reveal much so this is home-grown speculation. Perhaps where necessary they would say “blood-coloured”, “sky-coloured”, etc. Supposedly Eskimos have many words to our one “snow”, but in reality we have: powder, crust, flakes, drift and so on. We grab other words and combine them with snow to describe something.

    The fact that a specific word does not exist for a thing may not necessarily mean people don’t talk about it or are unaware of it, but it probably means it’s not important.

    PS: the French world for egg yolk is “jaune” (yellow).

    • I think you’re on to something. I’m going to try to address this issue in more detail in an upcoming episode where I intend to discuss the introduction of colors like blue and orange to the English language.

  8. It seems odd to think that there could be languages without words for basic colors like red or blue, but there was a recent article in The Economist (Jan 20-26, 2018) commenting on how few abstract words for smell exist in many languages. We most often say something smells like smoke or mildew or something else, rather than giving the smell a specific name. The Economist article described a study where researchers found that a group of people who were hunter/gatherers had a greater number of abstract words for smell in their language when compared with a group that farmed, presumably because the former group relied more on smell in their lives.

  9. Question about ink and encaustic. Have you heard of something called encaustic painting? It’s a process wherein the artist creates a paste of melted beeswax and pigment. The artist, when working in encaustic will heat the mixture, shape it, and let it harden. The result is that the colors have remained vibrant even if the art is thousands of years old (see the Fayum Mummies for examples). In this case the “burning” in the process has to do with the fact that artists had to light a candle in order to melt the wax so they could work with it, rather than using an acidic solution to apply the paint.

    • The only thing I know about encaustic is that it originally involved a type of burning process that was not clearly explained in the early texts that mention it. I wonder if encaustic painting is the same as the original method or a more modern method that has appropriated that name?

    • The first thing I thought of when listening to this podcast was the encaustic painting method I studied in art history. Fascinating to learn this about ink methods as well. Thanks for the amazingly well researched and interesting podcast. It is one of my all time favorites.

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  11. I know that the word for orange in Old English was “geoluread” (literally “yellow-red”), but nothing else about it. I was wondering if there was a time period of overlap between geoluread and orange or if the change was more sudden.

    Another thing, regarding purple, there is a similar scenario regarding flag colour schemes, where purple is very rare due to how rare and precious the purple dyes were (before the modern era with synthetic dyes cheap enough to produce en masse). Do you happen to know if there is any correlation between the prominence of items with basic colours to the widespread use of those words in the language (English specifically for the purposes of this podcast)?

    • Those are two very good questions. Unfortunately, I don’t have a definitve answer to either. I am not sure how quickly “geoluread” disappeared as a distinct word. I suppose one could argue that it still exists as “yellow-red” for certain shades of orange.

      With respect to the prominence of colored items influencing the existence of words representing that color, I think you have cited the best example which is “purple.” The color was so closely associated with that particular dye and with the clothing of emperors that it entered English with that same association. I think you can make the case that “orange” has a similar history. When the citrus fruit was introduced to England, the word for the fruit was soon extended as a general word for the color of that fruit. “Blue” also has a similar history. A rich vibrant blue color became prominent in the 1100s and 1200s. The color started to be used in stained glass windows in cathedrals. The Church mandated that it be used in paintings of the clothing of the Virgin Mary. The French king also adopted the color for the clothing and heraldry of France. Shortly thereafter, the word “blue” started to be used as a distinct word for that color (whereas previously blue was covered by other words which also included shades of green or purple.)

  12. Also, it is incredibly difficult to find information on the Ancrene Wisse when one doesn’t know how to spell it! (I eventually got it, luckily!) Fascinating.

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