Saturday, 12 March 2011

A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases

A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases
Christopher Corèdon,Ann Williams | 1900-01-01 00:00:00 | D.S.Brewer | 318 | England
This dictionary contains some 3,400 terms as headwords. It is aimed at the non-academic reader of history who often encounters technical words and phrases whose precise meaning is assumed by the writer. The subject matter ranges from the legal and ecclesiastic to the more humdrum words of daily life. As Latin was the language of the church, law and government records there are many Latin terms, frequently found in modern books of history of the period. Similarly, readers find Old English and Middle English terms used which may be familiar but of whose exact meaning they are uncertain. This dictionary endeavours to provide clarity to such readers. In addition to definition, etymologies of many words are offered because it is felt that knowing the origin and evolution of a word contributes to its better understanding; as a further illustration, some terms and phrases are shown in contemporary use.
The title of this volume, though technically correct, is perhaps not the best way to view this book. For although this is indeed a "dictionary," the book is written in such a manner that almost encourages a page-by-page reading approach. In fact, once I started perusing the volume, I found for myself that it was almost better suited for me as a book to be read from cover to cover.

The volume is filled with interesting facts, descriptions, and, yes, definitions, regarding the middle ages. It is not an exhaustive coverage, encyclopedia-like book like The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, but is rather a series of descriptions intended for the lay reader or armchair medievalist covering all facets of medieval life and custom. It is excellently written, and it will undoubtedly stir within you the desire to read and study more about a whole host of topics. Any medievalist would like to have this volume in the library. You can look things up to find definitions of now obscure terms, but you can really indulge yourself by starting at the beginning and let the book guide you, step by step and word by word, through medieval life. A truly fascinating book.
I have used this book several times as I read novels about the medieval period. It has helped me a great deal. It's filled with valuable information and good insight. But I have encountered a few times where I was not able to find something in particular, to my disappointment. I mean it is a pretty thick book and I assumed it would have everything in it. But not so.

But it is still a valuable addition to my collection and I know I will use it often.
Not exactly bedtime reading, it is a dictionary after all, but what a fine dictionary of medieval terms and phrases. I am researching early Anglo-Saxon England and find this a very helpful tool indeed. For the price it is a real bargain.
What a pity this book doesn't have the "look inside" feature enabled. I almost doubted it was worth its rather steep price. But when I got a nice fat Amazon gift certificate for Christmas, I took the plunge and found that yes, it is worth it.

I've been an amateur medievalist for about 8 years and have done considerable independent reading. There are words in this book that I've never seen before (ex. leaning staffs: crutch-like sticks that the old and infirm leaned on in church, where it was forbidden to sit). There are words in this book that I've seen but not quite understood, and couldn't find in any other reference work, online or print (ex. chevauchee: warfare by attrition). There are words I've seen conflicting definitions of elsewhere; the DICTIONARY clears up the confusion (ex. garderobe: first, a place to store clothing; only later was the word used as a euphemism for an indoor privy).

This book does more than define words. Many of its entries are so comprehensive (ex. mini-histories of sheriffs and the Cistercian order) as to be encyclopedic. These encapsulations go beyond simply clarifying a particular word or phrase; they actually enhance my understanding of key aspects of the Middle Ages. Topics covered in the DICTIONARY include culture, war, heraldry, church and law, to name just a few. Medieval Latin terms get substantial exposure as well.

I own Cosman's MEDIEVAL WORDBOOK and have found it to be passable as a reference, though not much for browsing. A DICTIONARY OF MEDIEVAL TERMS AND PHRASES is a book I could almost sit and read from cover to cover, just for the joy of discovery.

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