Episode 75: Mixed Languages and Scrambled Eggs

In this episode, we continue our look at the gradual emergence of Middle English from the linguistic rubble left in the wake of the Norman Conquest. English remained fractured and broken, and foreign influences continued to come in. We explore the changing language of the Peterborough Chronicle. We also examine how a merchant’s failed attempt to buy some eggs shaped the history of the English language.


19 thoughts on “Episode 75: Mixed Languages and Scrambled Eggs

    • I don’t know why the podcast is no longer listed there. I recently moved the podcast website to a new server, so that could be causing the problem. If so, it should correct itself over time.

    • A couple of other listeners have suggested that the ‘o’ in “oc” is short. I am not 100% sure. It seems that I have heard both pronunciations.

    • I actually discussed the use of ‘-ck’ in Episode 89. As I noted in that episode, scribes tended to double the consonant letter after a vowel in order to indicate a short vowel sound. This was done with ‘cc’ and ‘kk’ which both represented the same consonant sound. It became common in Middle English to use one of each letter (i.e, ‘-ck’) to indicate that a short vowel sound was followed by a ‘k’ sound. Thus, words like “back,” “peck,” “tick,” “sock” and “luck.” It is therefore just another way of indicating a short vowel sound by doubling the following consonant.

  1. Kevin,

    I am unable to play episodes 1 through 75 on desktop. I also cannot download these episodes on desktop. I think this might be because you switched servers, though I am unsure. Episode 76 and onward I can listen to or download. I hope you get this message, thank you for this amazing podcast.

    • I am not sure why you are having a problem. Episodes 1-75 work fine on my end, and I have not received any other feedback or complaints about those episodes. I wonder if you experienced a temporary glitch. Let me know if you’re still having problems with those episodes.

  2. Hi Kevin,

    Could you explain a bit more about the Norse word for “but” mentioned around minute 34? Is this the same as the old norse “ok” which later became “og” in modern Norwegian, meaning “and”? Were the words “but” and “and” once the same? What happened to this version of “but”?

    Great episode.

    Thank you,

    • The word was “oc,” and it is my understanding that it could be used to mean either ‘but’ or ‘and’ in early Middle English. So it was a somewhat generic conjunction. The word was actually quite common in early Middle English documents, but is rarely found from the 1400s on. I don’t know enough about the modern Norse languages to trace its history there.

    • Old English “ac” and Old Norse “oc” were both used as conjunctions and both had very similar meanings. The two words were cognate having derived from the same Germanic root word. Both were also used in early Middle English. Most of my resources suggest that the vowels remained distinct in Middle English so that “oc” represented the Norse version of the word. However, I should note the OED says the following about the etymology of “oc” – “Probably partly a variant of ‘ac’ … and partly early Scandinavian.”

  3. This episode was fascinating. Thank you so much. I had an odd occurrence even in our modern world of not being able to communicate; went into a Starbucks coffee and asked for a “depth charge” = espresso shot poured into a cup of coffee = a term I heard first at Caribou coffee. The attendant behind the counter had no idea what I was asking for and I had to explain what it was I wanted. Reminded me of Caxton’s egg story. Do you think we get the phrase “eggs is eggs” from this incident? Here it is in the British Library: https://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item126611.html

      • According to Brewer’s Phrase & Fable, the phrase “as sure as eggs is eggs” is possibly a corruption of “as sure as x is x”, referring to the use of x in algebra and logic.

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