Episode 108: On the Move

In this episode, we look at the movement of people and their money in the 13th century. This was a period when international trading networks carried goods and people to the far-flung corners of the known world. This was also the era of Genghis Khan’s Mongolian conquests and Marco Polo’s travels to China. We explore those events and consider the impact of those developments on the English language.


23 thoughts on “Episode 108: On the Move

  1. I’m not entirely sure what’s going on but when I try to get this episode from the podcast app on my iPhone, it delivers episode 39 instead.
    While episode 39 was a fine episode, I was hoping for something new.
    Could you please slap Apple around to allow access to the real episode 108?

    • Well that’s weird. It seems to be an issue only with the ‘Podcasts’ app on iPhone/iPad. I have tried to update and refresh the feed to see if that works. Keep in mind that you can always listen to the episode directly through this site until Apple sorts out the glitch.

  2. Regarding the word cheap, this old word for market lives on in many European placenames, for example Köping, Sweden, Cheapside Street in the City of London, and many towns in England which start with Chipping, e.g. Chipping Sodbury; and notably Copenhagen, Denmark. The hagen part means port and is related to the English word haven. Indeed, the Danish name for this city is København.

    • Yep! (Nemlig, just precis) and do not forget the old Norwegian Viking age trading-place “Kaup-ang”. And furter more Danish, Swedish and Norwegian also still use the word “to sell” = sælge, sälja. German uses the verb cheap in both situations: “ver-kauf” for selling and “an-kauf, kaufen” for buying. German also had the word “selen” for selling, but it got out of use.

  3. Regarding the word bargain, while this came into English via Old French, it’s now absent in modern French. Weirdly there isn’t a replacement word though, we have to say “bon marché” (good deal) for cheap, and “negocier” for the verb to bargain.

    • According to many etymologies, the Old English word “ceap” acquired its modern meaning as “cheap” via the French expression “bon marche.” Apparently, Middle English speakers would sometimes speak of a “good ceap” as a literal translation of the French expression. And over time, “good cheap” was shortened to just “cheap” with its modern meaning.

    • I actually mentioned the word “bankrupt” briefly in Episode 19 very early on. I didn’t discuss it in this episode because the word “bankrupt” isn’t attested in an English document until the 1500s. I’m sure the word will come up again in a later episode.

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  5. A great episode thanks.

    With regards the word Purchase. You briefly mentioned that it came in through its meaning as to grip. I have heard this use a number of times in recent years. Someone might say for instance that the path is too icy for their shoes to get any purchase. This is not a common usage where I live and was wondering if this is a more common use of the word elsewhere.

    • The OED doesn’t cite that particular usage of the word “purchase,” but it does state that the use of the word as “to gain or acquire possession” is now rare but found in parts of Scotland and Ireland.

      • I cannot get hold of the OED but Mirriam Webster’s on-line dictionary give the following definition of purchase..

        Definition of purchase
        1 : an act or instance of purchasing
        2 : something obtained especially for a price in money or its equivalent
        3 a (1) : a mechanical hold or advantage applied to the raising or moving of heavy bodies (2) : an apparatus or device by which advantage is gained
        b (1) : an advantage (such as a firm hold or position) used in applying one’s power
        clutching the steering wheel for more purchase —Barry Crump
        (2) : a means of exerting power


  6. On the subject of the word Cheap and its offshoots. I read that some etymologist believe that the Chap (as in a man) is a shortened form of the name Chapman (a market trader, as you mentioned). Is this a British term only or do other English speaking communities use this term? It’s often over emphasised in US TV programs when someone is trying to put on a British accent.

    • Yes, “chap” began as a shortened form of “chapman” and it originally meant a purchaser or customer. The term is used in American English, but it does seem to be more common in British English.

  7. Not directly related to the English of this time period, but the word “horde” is cognate with the name of the language Urdu, since it was the language of the army (or military camp) of the Mughals in the north of modern-day India.

  8. Hi Kevin !!
    I just listened to episode 108: “On the move” and I loved it.
    I found it really interesting that the word for money in old English was “Gild”.
    Can you suggest to me any book or paper where I can find more information about money and how it worked back then?

    • The topic of money is addressed in several of my sources about Anglo-Saxon history, but not in any great detail. For a more general history of money, you might consider “The History of Money” by Jack Weatherford.

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