Episode 110: Dyed In the Wool

In this episode, we explore important role of the wool and cloth industries in Medieval England. Not only was England a major producer of sheep and wool, it also developed its own cloth industry in the 1300s. This was also a period in which clothing fashions were undergoing some major changes. We examine the ways in which clothing was changing, and we look at the cloth-making process. We also explore lots of words and phrases related to the traditional wool and cloth industries.

22 thoughts on “Episode 110: Dyed In the Wool

  1. I am told that Anglo-Saxon dyes tend to give wishy washy colours but by dyeing the wool over and over again you could get rich colours. These were then fixed with oak bark or oak gall. It appears that to make a good green they dyed with weld to get yellow and then dyed again with a woad/urine mix to turn it green. It appears that this worked better than mixing the dyes. However with all this they still could not get a really good red, blue or black. I gather that the sheep tended to be oatmeal coloured but did they not have any black sheep?

  2. Kevin, I hope you’re over your cold by now. Still look forward to each new podcast. Learning lots about my native tongue and British/European history. God bless!

    Jill in Michigan

  3. The hedge warden being called a Hayward may be related to the fact that the French word for hedge is haie.

    • According to the OED, the word “nappy” as a diaper is a shortened form of the word “napkin.” If so, that would make it distinct from the American sense of the word “nappy” for excessively frizzy hair.

  4. Pingback: McCall’s 7561 Knit Octopus Dress | Pattern and Branch

  5. “Blue” and other terms for it strikes me as one of the more interesting words for a color. If I recall you said you were familiar with the work of Bret Berlin and Paul Kay, right? So under their theory a term for blue comes #5 after black, white, red, green, and yellow. So, let’s look at the word in the major western European languages. In English we know it’s “blue,” Dutch uses “blaw,” while German uses “blau.” Seems like there might be a common root there. The Romance languages get a little more complicated, since the main word for blue in French is “bleu,” Italian uses “blu” and Catalan uses “blau.” However, Spanish and Portuguese both use “azul” and you see variations on that in both French and Italian (i.e. azur like the famous Cote d’Azure or azurri like the nickname for the Italian soccer team who wear blue shirts). That’s actually based on an Arabic word for the blue stone Lapus Lazuli and it makes sense that it would get into those vocabularies as Arabic was once spoken widely in the Iberian peninsula as well as parts of France and Italy.

    So, it makes me wonder then: with all of these foreign influences on the romance languages for the word “blue” did vulgar latin just not have a term for that color or was it systematically displaced by Germanic and Arabic counterparts? Classical Latin seems to use cyaneus or caeruleus and you can see that influence on some other shades of blue (cyan or cerulean) but not in the major daughter languages.

    • Hi Jason,

      I actually addressed the history of the color blue in the most recent bonus episode at Patreon.com. The fact is that neither Greek nor Latin had a specific word for the color blue that was limited to that color. They tended to see blue as a shade of green or purple – depending on the shade or hue. And the word they used to describe shades of blue also included other nearby colors in the color spectrum. The Greeks used “kyaneos” to mean dark blue, dark green or violet. It ultimately gave use the word “cyan.” The Greeks also used “glaukos” which meant light blue, light green, yellow or gray. That word ultimately produced the word “glaucoma” which literally meant ‘gray-eyed.’

      The Romans used “caeruleus” to mean a dark blue or green color, and it gave us the word “cerulean.” They also used the word “lividus” for a pale blue or purple color. It ultimately gave us the word “livid.” They also used the early version of “purple” to refer to a broad spectrum of colors from red to blue.

      In Late Latin, there was a need to identify the specific color of blue. As you noted, Latin borrowed the Persian/Arabic root of Lapis Lazuli and a Germanic root word which produced “blavus.” Those two roots words produced the modern words for “blue” in the Modern Romance languages.

      • It’s interesting you mentioned the Greek ‘kyaneos’ (or cyan). In Russian the color is called ‘sinij’ coming from proto-slavic (deriving from the same Indo European root?).
        As a speaker of Russian I always find it fascinating to discover connections between English and Russian via a mutual ancestor language.

        • Hi Helena. Thanks for the comments. I don’t know if “sinij” is related to “kyaneos,” but it is certainly possible. (Unfortunately, I don’t have a Russian etymology dictionary.) I’m glad you’re enjoying the podcast!

  6. Have not listened to the episode yet but i read that when iron age scandinavians used ”blue” they meant black. Hence the danish king Harald bluetooth was really black-tooth?

    • Yes, that is true. Old Norse had the word “blar” which was derived from the same Germanic root as “blue” and “black.” Within Old Norse, “blar” could mean both blue and black. That word passed into Swedish as “blå” which is used solely for the color blue today, but it could mean both blue and black as recently as the early 1900s.

  7. Thanks again for another great episode. I had one of those moments just now where I’m listening to your podcast and my mind suddenly snaps to attention because I think I know where you’re going with the next word, but this time I was wrong.

    When you were talking about the suffix kin as a way to designate something as smaller, and then you turn the discussion to man because the word that we were going to learn was mannequin, the word my mind jump to before I heard mannequin was monkey. You know, like a little man? Is there anything to that?

    • There may be a connection, but it is really just conjecture. The word “monkey” first appeared in English in the early 1500s, but its ultimate etymology is unknown. Several theories have been suggested, and the OED discusses each theory without embracing any of them. One of the theories comes close to your idea. Here is the relevant portion of the discussion from the OED:

      “The Middle Low German version of Reynard the Fox (1498) has (only once, l. 6161) ‘Moneke’ as the name of the son of Martin the Ape; early in the 14th century the same character is mentioned as ‘Monnekin’ (also in a textual variant ‘Monnequin’) by Jean de Condé (court poet of Hainaut) in Li Dis d’Entendement… . As the name does not occur in any other version of Reynard, the English word is very unlikely to be derived from the story, but the proper name could perhaps represent an otherwise unrecorded Middle Low German *moneke or Middle Dutch *monnekijn, a colloquial word for monkey, and this may have been brought to England by showmen from the continent. This could show a diminutive formation (see -kin suffix) < Middle French 'monne'. However, the basis for reconstructing this Middle Low German or Middle Dutch word is very slender."

  8. The US military uses the command “Dress Right, Dress” to make sure the trooops are aligned when falling in to formation. Basically you put your right arm out and touch the shoulder of the person next to you, assuming the squad leaders are on the right of the formation, and everyone moves down until they are at the same distance from the next person. They also use dress front for alignement to the rear or much more rarely dress left. The full arm extension is used when carrying a rifle so you don’t hit the people around you with it. There is also a command to dress right using your elbow , with your hand on your hip for more compact or close quarters alignment

  9. Fascinated by the discussion of the colour blue. I wonder why it is that an Australian man with red hair is likely to be given the nick name “Blue”. During WWII we had the cartoon characters Bluey and Curly. They were diggers and spent time with the AIF in New Guinea.It was before the printing of cartoon comic strips in colour

    • Great question. Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer. I am not sure why red-headed men were given the nickname “Blue.” I had never heard that.

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