Wondrous Words Wednesday, run by Kathy (Bermudaonion), is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading.
This week I have a few words from King Arthur’s Bones by The Medieval Murderers, which I’m currently reading.
- Calvarium – ‘Gingerly pulling that aside, they gazed down on a jumbled heap of mottled brown bones, some of which even their inexpert eyes recognised as human, especially as they glimpsed the rounded calvarium of a skull.’ (page 150)
I realised from the context what a calvarium is but didn’t know before that it is the upper domelike part of the skull without the jawbone or facial parts. From the Latin.
The next words all have a medieval origin as is to be expected in a book about medieval murder. No doubt I’ll come across more before I’ve finished this book. The meanings can all be surmised from the text but the dictionary definitions flesh out the words.
- Cote-hardie – ‘A grey-haired man, dressed in a sombre but good-quality cote-hardie, nodded his agreement.’ (page 157)
Obviously a garment of some sort – the dictionary defines it as a medieval close-fitting tight-sleeved body garment – from Old French.
- Lymer – ‘ Before he got fifty paces, a dozen hounds broke cover, including several lymers and running dogs, which hunted by scent rather than sight.’ (page 162)
Another word defined in the text, more specifically a lymer was a forerunner of today’s bloodhound, used to find the lay of the game before the hunt even started, and it was therefore important that, in addition to a good nose, it remained quiet. Silence in the lymer was achieved through a combination of breeding and training. See this article on Medieval Hunting.
- Mazer – ‘Peter lifted his eyebrows and gazed pensively at the jug as his bottler poured two mazers of wine.’ (page 201)
A mazer is a type of drinking bowl made originally of maple wood (Old French masere, of Germanic origin).
- Murdrum – ‘ ” No need to worry about proving he was local, then. Just a murdrum fine and the usual amercements”, Sir Richard grunted.’ (page 210)
Again from the text I could understand that murdrum is a fine. Specifically as defined in the Norman Conquest Encyclopedia murdrum “derives from the Old French murdre from which the English word murder comes. The new law provided that if a Norman was killed and the killer was not apprehended within five days, the hundred within which the crime was committed should be liable for a collective penalty of whatever balance of the sum of forty-six marks of silver the lord of the hundred could not pay. The killing of a Saxon triggered no such penalty.”
- Deodand – ‘I will say the weapon was worth at least a shilling, and that much is deodand.’ (page 219)
My Chambers Dictionary defines deodand as ‘ a personal chattel [property] which had been the immediate accidental cause of the death of a human being, forfeited to the crown for pious uses. (Latin deo to God, and dandum, that must be given from dare, to give).’
The online Free Dictionary gives additional information that it traces back to the 11th century and has been applied, on and off, until Parliament finally abolished it in 1846. In theory, deodands were forfeit to the crown, which was supposed to sell the chattel and then apply the profits to some pious use. In reality, the juries who decided that a particular animal or object was a deodand also appraised its value and the owners were expected to pay a fine equal to the value of the deodand. If the owner could not pay the deodand, his township was held responsible.