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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler

Words from Times Past in England

Many of these words will be familiar to older readers, whether they live in England or elsewhere, or at least the things they describe will be familiar, even if they are known elsewhere under a different name. How many are familiar to you?

Christmas time is a time of reminiscence, and each year I am reminded that I caused my daughter's mother-in-law much merriment at my daughter's wedding when I described the grass in front of the wedding venue at the Norman Keep at Castle Hedingham in Essex, where the photos were to be taken, as 'the greensward'. I didn't do it with any prior thought; it was just the word that immediately came to mind, having sat through the wedding service in a medieval castle! The penalty for being an historian! I am never allowed, however, to forget how pompous it sounded! Oh well, I could have blundered in a much worse way. And, anyway it is always good for a laugh at Christmas time.

Greeting: How do you do?

Schooldays: Six of the Best, Fagging (in Boarding Schools), Board Rubbers

Sport: Batsman (in cricket), Square wooden goalposts (in football/soccer), dubbin (for boots)

Personal Belongings: Mobile Phone (yes, a redundant term now), lucifer, half-moon glasses

Office: Xerox, Post Rooms, Typing Pools

The Home: Scullery, Pantry, Larder, Ice Box, Spills, chamber pots

Motoring: Sidecar, double de-clutch, Starting handle, Arm indicators for turning left/right

There are so many words that have dropped out of use, and so many added in. A reminder that language is always changing, influenced by new inventions, new social mores, imports from other languages.

eg: The Internet was a word and concept unknown to all of us in our childhood

Gay marriage would have been unthinkable in the 1950s

As a child I would have had no idea what a pizza was, and spaghetti came in Heinz tins, and, like baked beans, was served on toast.

Some words make a comeback after centuries of desuetude:

Because of the success of the TV drama 'A Handmaid's Tale', handmaid has made its come back in 2021, although perhaps it is unlikely to survive.

Some words go right back in time, such as the word Avon, a river that flows through my home city of Bristol. Avon comes from Celtic, the language spoken here before the Romans came. It simply means 'river', thus River Avon is a tautology. Welsh, a Celtic language, retains 'Afon' as meaning river.

The wonderful English word 'Jolly', heard often around this time of year, comes from the Viking word for the winter festival, Yule or Jule.

Words have an endless fascination - at least they do for me. Sadly my first name, William, is the English pronunciation and spelling of the Norman French Guillaume which arrived in 1066. However, my surname, Tyler, is a solid English word meaning exactly what it says on the packet, the man who earnt his living as a tiler.

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