Towards a Text of the Medulla Grammatice: Procedures and Prospects in Editing a 15th-century Glossary


15th century, Middle English, Latin-English glossary, Medulla Grammatice, transcription, collation, new attestations

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McCarren, V. P. (1996). Towards a Text of the Medulla Grammatice: Procedures and Prospects in Editing a 15th-century Glossary. Digital Studies/le Champ Numérique, (4). DOI:


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The Middle Ages respected its classical past by recording and annotating it. The recorders of these traditions, the scribes, were in part educated, but in all were not capable of being relied upon for accurate and uninterfering transcription. A great number of manuscripts were recopied in some form to be used in the classroom, and when subjected to the rigors of preparation for class, the masters, in proportion to their weakness in the Latin language, clarified the problematic words and phrases by scribbling above the Latin word or in the margin an equivalent meaning in English. Hence, the gloss.

Aristotle's Rhetoric and Poetics contain the first recorded instances of glossa in the sense of an "obsolete or foreign word needing explanation".[1] He remarks: "On the one hand foreign and archaic words (glottai) are quite unknown, whereas familiar names of things we know well."[2] Again, "All expression is either current or foreign (glotta)."[3] And, finally, "I mean that a current word is one everyone uses, a strange word (glottan) 'others' use."[4]

The Medulla Grammatice, a very popular compilation of Latin words with English meanings, translated "the core of the grammatical (art)", has been transmitted through 19 manuscripts and four fragments (others we know to have been lost).[5] Essentially the Medulla was found in most of the major centres of learning in England. The time period was the 15th century, early to late, with only one manuscript internally dated: St. John's (Cambridge), 16 December 1468.

It is the earliest, complete Latin-Middle English dictionary; yet until recently nothing but three unpublished dissertations, each transcribing a single manuscript, has been produced. Traditio has just published my edition of Bristol DM 1 (McCarren 1993). It is, in fact, a re-edition of the manuscript which a scholar of the 1920s, Peter Haworth (1923), claimed to have belonged to a later tradition, the Hortus Vocabulorum (Ortus Vocabulorum 1500). My contention is that it is a fragment of the Medulla. Also, the University of Michigan Press will publish my critical edition of the entire tradition. This, needless to say, will take a while. However, when done, it will be another link in the lexicographical chain, providing a body of material which will document gaps in our linguistic knowledge of Medieval Latin and Middle and Modern English. The Oxford English Dictionary has not drawn upon it. The Middle English Dictionary (Kurath et al. 1952-) has used only one manuscript up to the letter R, and since then I've introduced seven other manuscripts but not on a regular basis. The Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources has just begun to address the work in its D-E fascicle, but then only in one or two manuscripts. Entries and segments in these dictionaries will have to be rewritten, based upon lexical items provided by the Medulla. Consider one instance from the OED (Murray 1933). It provides the entry for writh, a rare word which is compared internally to the word writhe, conveying the sense of 'something twisted', 'a twisted band', as supported by three quotations from the fifteenth, sixteenth, and nineteenth centuries, respectively. The most recent, the nineteenth-century quotation, is from a Dorset glossary dated 1844. It reads 'writh, the bond of a faggot'. This is fitting as a citation to convey the sense. It is preceded by a quotation from another glossary, the Manipulus Vocabulorum of Peter Levins, dated 1570. This citation reads 'A writh: cesticillus.' This is also suitable since the Latin word, cesticillus, is described by Paul the Deacon in his Epitoma Festi (Lindsay 1913): "Cæsticillus appellatur circulus, quem superponit capiti, qui aliquid est laturus in capite." ('Cesticillus is referred to as a circular object which one, who is about to carry something upon his head, places beneath it on his head.') However, the earliest quotation furnished by the OED is out of place. It reads: "14.. Latin-Eng.Voc. (MS. Harl. 2257) Grani, a writh." Harl. 2257 is a manuscript of the Medulla Grammatice.

Both words in this citation are misread and misunderstood. Grani is not a recognizable Latin form for a word in an entry position in this glossary, or in any other, for that matter. If the minims were re-read, the word could be taken as graui, which, however, when linked with writh, as the OED conceives it, cannot make sense. The ablative case of grauis, meaning 'heavy', cannot stand here. But if conceived of as a transliteration from the Greek -- i.e., Graui = graphê, which is a series of natural phonetic shifts (u, v, ph, and f freely interchange with one another, long and short i and e are also naturally exchanged, and note particularly the similarity of iota and eta in Modern Greek) -- this example would provide a nominative case which is within the range of the interpretation: writh = writ. Note that t and th are readily interchanged in Middle English. Hence, this fifteenth-century quotation from the Medulla Grammatice should be removed from under writh and put under writ, which, of course, diminishes the antiquity of the word writh by as much as 170 years.

Ghost words, and there are many more than just a few, will have to be excised from the standard lexica. For example, the gloss upon the word Amechon in the MED is 'chylde-ston: a precious stone said to promote child-birth'. This is a misreading of the Stonyhurst manuscript chylkestone (fol. 4a/b), discovered while working on the entry slike-ston, spelled with equal diversity as slyke (Canterbury, Pepys, St. John's [Cambridge]), sclyk- (Harley 2270), slyking- (Add. 33534), slek (Harley 1000), and sligh (Add. 24640), so that one unavoidably concludes that chyldeston is a ghost word. When the letter C was being done at the MED, Stonyhurst was the only manuscript consulted and the condition of this portion of the manuscript left the editor with the shape of a letter not unlike d; in fact, it is a compressed k.

New words will have to be added, senses altered and in many instances removed, form sections expanded, and etymologies corrected. A few of the Middle English words to be reconsidered are ampte 'ant', fornel 'small furnace', hotere 'steward', oter (the mammal), clining along with declining (addenda), clinche (addendum) -- which replaces the ghost word clonch 'lump of grass' -- several under-words (eight new words in six lines), and cokerbelle 'icicle' found in Harley 2257 (150 years earlier than the earliest citation in the OED). Conversely, there are misreadings of the manuscripts affecting calwe 'bald', fodynge 'feeding or food', and lokked 'having locks of hair', that require serious revision. The first is found under "calwe n." The MED reads "Apiconsus (read: Apiciosus): balled or calwe." Upon closer examination, one observes that the mark which was understood as similar to the nasal abbreviation is, in fact, the i flourish, and so the burden, misplaced on the scribe, is placed squarely upon the shoulders of the editor. The entry should read "Apiciosus: balled or calwe." The second word (fodynge) offers something far riskier. Stonyhurst (fol. 3b/b) reads "Alcio: fodynge." The Middle English word, defined as 'feeding or food', appears only twice in the language, once in the citation in question here. One might think of it as a hapax, supported by another hapax. Both appearances are in glossaries, Promptorium Parvulorum and Medulla. The MED reads "Altudo: a fodyng." There is nothing nourishing about this word. I'd also add that there is no article before fodynge. The genitive ending -nis appears. This misreading reveals the incompatibility of the two quotations; neither supports the other. And, finally, with more complication, the entry word, lokked. The following is an entry taken directly from the MED. It reads:

lokked adj. (From lok n.(1).) Having locks or curls of hair. a1425 *Medulla 14a/b: Cinsimacula (?read: Cincinnatulus): hered, locked. a1440 Hortus 267: Cincinnalus, i. capillosus: herid, lokkid.

To begin with, Cinsimacula should read Cinsimaculus (the s was misread and the abbreviation for u was overlooked). There is probably no need for the query, and the t of Cincinnatulus would be best kept consistently with the entry word as c. In the second quotation (which I contend is not from the Hortus Vocabulorum but in fact from the Medulla), Cincinnalus should read Cincunalus (a misarrangement of minims). The entry then needs "(read: Cincinnaculus)". Cincinnalus would be the likely reading but it does not exist -- a basic error of an editor. If the manuscript provides a peculiar reading, it should be corrected in the text and a recording of the manuscript reading placed in the notes.

Words not known before, such as agnominacio, eknemnyng 'nicknaming', aristatus, misclepen 'misname', aveinen, aqueuomus 'a water spewer', coppyn 'to reach a height', adegeo 'to need', emperowrely, neghsenden and forsenden, forprayen 'to renounce', and ry<em>gh</em> [ME yogh]treden 'to read accurately', must be introduced. And these are only a very few examples of hapax legomena.

The selections above are from the MED. But why not extend the wealth? I mention just one example of a misconceived and misrepresented entry. In the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources there is an apparent hapax legomenon. Its single quotation is from the Trinity College, Cambridge, Latin-English glossary: "Circumpres anglice a prayer of a worde." Yet the interpretation of this quotation by the editor is revealed in the entry word and gloss "circumprex, ?prayer." Several Medulla manuscripts provide justification for the MED entry "preier(e n.(1): One who offers prayers." The MED, supporting circumpres by analogy with interpres, furnished the correct insight; the s indicates agency. In DMLBS (Latham and Howlett 1975-), the choice of circumprex reveals the nuance behind prayer: prex = prayer (the means of reverent communication, not the instrument).

What little reference there is to the Medulla in other literature of the period is for the most part to be seriously questioned because of the lack of palaeographical experience evidenced, and a want of philological training in Greek, Latin, and Middle English. A superficial knowledge will not do; rather, it seriously retards progress. Once a reading insinuates itself into a text, it is very difficult to remove it.

The benefit or shortcoming of a glossary is that it provides little or no context most of the time. It invites speculation in the form of additions to its apparently simple structure, the detailed study of which is well under way in the capable hands of our colleague, Brian Merrilees (1991), in his seminal work on lexicographical metalinguistics. Most of the manuscripts of the Medulla enunciate the following format: the entry or lemma, followed by the oblique form, that is, the genitive of the noun, the feminine and neuter endings, if an adjective, and the second person singular active or deponent, if a verb. This is then followed by the abbreviation for id est, and finally the interpretation or gloss. In the case of a few manuscripts, there are further additional glosses given in Latin or English in an attempt, it seems, to provide even greater clarity of meaning (and sometimes it is as helpful as not being distracting). One Medulla manuscript, Harley 2257, regarded by A. S. Way, the editor of the Promptorium Parvulorum, an influential glossary of the fifteenth century, as "perhaps the most valuable ms. of its kind in the British Museum" (p. lii), exceeds even these generous offerings by furnishing in many cases elaborate etymological notes as well as all known compounds of the verbal entries, and cognate forms of adjective, noun, or participle. As expected, these varying formats create endless difficulties in organizing and presenting a critical apparatus.

The tradition of the Medulla Grammatice provides remarkable variety regarding spelling of even the most common words. The English language in this period, i.e., 1100 to 1500, and in the case of this glossary, the l400's (early to late), was quite volatile. The word virtue, for example, is spelled differently within the same two or three lines, e.g., vertue and vertu, with i replacing first e frequently. In fact, during one of many forays into the Medulla, I came upon the word Armelausa, which I had earlier read in a Greek papyrus I had edited, a receipt for garments: "armarausin prasinon a, henan" (McCarren 1980: 48, and note line 11, p. 50). In the Medulla it is spelled three ways, arme-, arma-, and armi-, and it is normalized in Isidore as armilausa (Lindsay 1911). It is defined as that which is divided before and behind and is opened; closed only across the shoulders, as if armiclausa, but with the letter c removed. My text provided the first appearance of the word in papyri: armarausin, meaning 'a military cloak'. It seems to have been a phonetic variation upon armelausion. Indeed, it created as much difficulty in both languages, producing in Medieval Latin at least as many as 14 variant spellings. It might be said that the Greeks had considerable foresight in glossing glossa by 'tongue', thereby emphasizing the remarkable fertility of the medieval mouth.

To grasp the full importance of a gloss is to understand thoroughly the significance of what we call the definition of a word. To appreciate it in its pristine context is to realize a different method of alphabetization and a unique grasp of grammatical and etymological principles, some of the material of which has not reached our handbooks and grammars of Latin and English.

A glossary is an amalgam of undistilled marginalia and supralineal insertions arranged somewhat alphabetically and otherwise in verbal families, and ultimately based upon a system of phonetics more or less known only to the scribe, which certainly upset normal alphabetical expectations. Attempts to alphabetize seem to have met with resistance at every stage. What, for example, can be said with any confidence about the alphabetization of a work which on the one hand exhibits a patch of twenty words perfectly alphabetized to the last letter, and on the other, no series of five words that can be sustained alphabetically even within initial letter order? Consider the Pepys entry "gera ge sanctus le", which doesn't belong under g, except (according to our scribe) phonetically. The Greek word is hieros, which is transcribed hieros. The letter n has its share of vocal turbulence: "nea ge nouem le" belongs under ennea ('nine'). We are not privileged with a legitimate shortened form as found in Stonyhurst. Nor will "noma ge" work for its gloss "nomen le". The correct form is onoma and obviously it doesn't belong under n where Pepys places it. A bit less foreign but no less to the point is the entry "lauda, a larke", apparently innocuously placed between laudo, 'to preyse', and its own diminutive laudula, 'a litel larke', in the Stonyhurst manuscript. There is just one hitch: no evidence anywhere shows that the word lauda can mean 'larke' or even that it in fact exists. The correct word here is alauda, which has no business being placed under l.

In other cases, also, the Medulla is quite disordered. What, for example, conditioned the Stonyhurst scribe to put an Ad- segment within Ac-? or more striking, why did the scribe of Harley 2181 insert 60-70 entries from Amamen to Amen between Accedior and Aciecula? Finally, what about the confused artistry in the Add. 33534 manuscript? The scribe develops an interesting alphabetical pattern: from Pabulum, the first word of P, to plaxillus, all is reasonably well except for the inevitable inconsistencies. At this point he resumes with Peani through pec-, pel-, pem-, pen-, to persuadeo and next doubles back to the pl- section he abandoned and picks up plebesco and then continues through to the end of P. The damage is that five and one-half columns or 229 entries are out of alphabetical order. The above examples represent the broader view of the problem, for which there might be, and in some case are, reasonable explanations. If, however, one looks more closely, one is continually jolted. Consider the word proditus in the Stonyhust manuscript. Glossed as "nobilis propositus, a waryson [garrison] or a tenement", I wondered about it. Everyone's gloss of proditus is 'betrayed'. Propositus is a fairly colourless word, but nobilis is not; it is quite the opposite of proditus. Also, "a waryson or a tenement" is out of order here surely since proditus, being an adjective, has nothing to do with a gloss revealing two nouns, especially the meanings they convey. One hopes that something will click. Logical analysis is probably not the answer. It's the sudden bark of the dog or erratic breathing in the pool that brings this sort of solution into view. I'm lucky. We have a dog and I swim regularly. Suspecting some spelling disorder, I found some two folios later the proditus I hoped for, glossed as 'bytrayed'. With confidence I lurched backward to the entry and gloss in question and realized that the misspelled word should be preditus, which has about it that "noble" aura; yet, preditus is an adjective and the two nouns in the gloss don't fit. The rest is simply textual. Two manuscripts, Harley 1738 and St. John's (Cambridge), point up that "waryson or a tenement" belong to predium, which is the following word in Stonyhurst and is a noun. The other manuscripts are not inconsonant with Harley 1738 and St. John's (Cambridge) and suggest that Stonyhurst might have been conflating two independent glosses, 'hauynge of toune or of fylde' and 'or a waryson or a tenement'. Perhaps this might be the explanation for the disjuncture. The Stonyhurst scribe wrote the one gloss, and then wanting to insert the other afterward, placed it with the wrong entry.

It becomes evident that the position of a word is sometimes a clue to its intended spelling. In Add. 33534, Eruro is found between Eructuo and Erudio. No alphabetical sense can be given until one realizes that there is no such word as eruro, but rather it is a mistake for erudero and so is again correctly placed but just miscopied.

Above all, there are two major aspects to the matter of alphabetization that seem to have gone unnoticed before this (not that too many people are talking or writing about such things under any circumstances): it is an order rationalized by minims and phonetic variations; and certain families of words or verbal systems have 'alphabetical immunity'.

Consider the phonetics of the triad Alabrum, Alapes, Alacer in Stonyhurst. Note that Alapes is the variant of the correct Greek word alabes, a kind of fish. Then one appreciates the four-letter order of Alab-, Alab-, Alac-. Conventional spelling would have been reassuring but there is very little of that. Also notice the sequence Allopicia, Alloquor, Allibencia, Allebesco, Alluceo in Stonyhurst. They appear out of order but in fact they are not. The initial phonetic interchange of i and u, at least in part based upon the sound of the word in the mental ear of the scribe when transferred from exemplar to copy, suggests the correct alphabetical order: Allu- not Alli-bencia; and Allu- not Alle-besco.

As phonetic variants can redirect alphabetization, so also can order be rationalized by a liberal understanding of minims. Consider a segment of Add. 33534. flamma and nine family members appear in reasonable alphabetical order. Then comes fflameum, followed immediately by fflauus, fflamino, fflaueo, fflaua, fflammula. The alphabetical interchange between u and m is unmistakeable.

However, when an alphabetical admission like this is overlooked by one who "tries his hand at such things", he comes up very, very short, and the scribe suffers. The transcriber of Harley 1738 adapted the practice of normalizing u to v, a mistake. Consider an excerpt from the letter R: "Revivo -- to levyn agh [ME yogh]en"; "Revivisco -- inchoativum." What immediately follows this is unfortunate, because the transcriber misrepresents the scribe by, as it were, suppressing his instincts. According to the transcriber, the next entry is Revivia (here, I assume, he is imposing his conception of an alphabet and disregarding the medieval conception), glossed as 'tempestates'. The tradition suggests Reumia because of the next word Reuma. Mistaking this as Reviva, the transcriber in turn provides a note, which is, unintentionally I'm sure, the height of arrogance: "'Reviva' -- a scribal error -- it should read 'Reuma'" -- but of course it already does. Then, and finally, we are treated to "Revivatigo, to fasseryn." Neither of these words is attestable. What the scribe wrote was: "Reumatizo: to sufferyn." We mustn't impose our misconceptions upon a scribe who is practising his own.

The final aspect of alphabetical justification is perhaps the most palatable one: a cluster of related words or a verbal system, i.e., a verb followed by a derivative adjective, noun, adverb, and participle, is gathered together for grammatical purposes out of alphabetical order, although the entire segment is followed by a word which sustains the alphabetical order of the initial word in the verbal system. Consider Alba through Albucium in Stonyhurst. Alba to Albani is reasonably ordered. Then Albo begins the verbal system and is followed out of alphabetical sequence by Albesco, Albicies, Albor and then further misarranged by Albico, Albidus, Albiolus, concluding the verbal system. So, it appears Albo-, Albe-, Albi-, Albo-, Albi-. Note that the next word, Albucium, resumes the alphabetical sequence from Albo, the first word in the verbal system.

I don't want to appear frivolous in suggesting that every editor be considered the "arbeiter" of language rather than its arbiter. At least the former hints at a desire to uncover the tradition of the text; to know its transmission. The latter reveals an element of arrogance which should worry us all. Consider a reading of a Stonyhurst entry and gloss, "Incalatus, warmynge", when, in fact, it reads "Incolatus, wormynge." A look at the previous entry would have stimulated some thought: "Incola = a tiliere." Here we are dealing with a noun formed from the past participle of incolo (incalatus does not exist as a form since incalesco has no known fourth part). Wormynge is an erroneous reading for wonynge. The tradition supports this.

With Stonyhurst as my base text (and quite a base one it is at times) I found myself dealing with a most curious entry and gloss: "Clarius: twey þousun." A neuter of the comparative of an adjective glossed by the numeral 2000? Clarius, perhaps, means 'someone who radiates light'. After I checked the lexica, it became clear that the word is an epithet for Apollo, god of the sun. So I separated þou from sun. Then to deal with twey and þou! Might þou be a mistranscription of a þ and a hasty suprascript e, i.e., the article. But what of twey? There are 18 other manuscripts to help, but one will do: Add. 33534 has "Clarius, ii: þe sunne." Twey was misunderstood by the Stonyhurst scribe as the Roman number 2 instead of being properly taken as the genitive singular of clarius.

A final example of manuscript mismanagement and one which reveals a suitable irony is found in the mistranscription of an entry and gloss in Harley 1738, "Diccionare: .i. dicciones commugere." Perhaps the transcriber was trying to get to the heart of the lexicographical matter and by a slight alteration of conjugation, -ere for -ire, he thought that to lexicate (I choose a hapax to reflect a hapax) means to 'bellow forth words'. How uninspired the correct transcription is: coniungere. Unless we are extremely careful, we shall be quite successful in misrepresenting much of Middle English and Medieval Latin by very early in the next millennium.

And yet we are further tested by entries and glosses which emphasize the principle of "mutual inclusion". Consider the entry and gloss of Add. 33534: "Exulto to enioye or brenne." What is of interest here is the scribe's attempt to synthesize two words. Perhaps uncertain whether the letter was l or s, he chose to gloss the word one way and the other, i.e., Exulto representing 'to enioye' and suggesting exusto = 'brenne'. A little earlier in the same manuscript we are confronted with the entry (or at least one part of it) "examino, to examyn [...] to feble or drede". The problem becomes apparent in trying to understand the second part of the gloss. Examino cannot mean 'to feble or drede'. But it need not. The other side of the reading is determined by a simple shift of stress upon the minims: examino becomes exanimo, and hence "to feble or drede". No doubt a conscious conflation which highlights a matter of style.

The medieval scribe has received more bad press regarding his knowledge of Greek than many of the other duties he has had to perform. Walter Berschin remarks that the statement "The Middle Ages knew no Greek" became "a general prejudice". "Some Medieval experts, however," he continues, "especially those who work directly with manuscripts have known for a long time that this is not true. It is surprising how often we come across single Greek letters, names written in Greek, Greek alphabets and other indications of an interest in and study of the Greek language" (p. 85). This is a viewpoint considerably at odds with the position of Bernhard Bischoff in his Speculum article of 1961 (p. 215), and somewhat more optimistic than the sentiment found in the introduction to this same edition of Herren: "A written knowledge of Greek for the most part, was probably restricted to the recognition of the letter forms and their names and the ability to reproduce a clumsy alphabet on parchment" (p. vi). However, all three of these positions probably support their appropriate convictions and in the eyes of a scholar one viewpoint might be a little more or a little less convincing than another. The Medulla scribe might at times be seen as no exception to either of these positions. Yet there are examples of extremely erratic behavior in the matter of understanding Greek. Consider Stonyhurst "Smathus: conpugnans." Although Pepys gets part of the gloss wrong, "Simachus: machina, pugna", Canterbury gives us what is needed: "Simachus: machia, pugna." This of course is the Greek summachos. Smathus doesn't quite do it. Or take both Canterbury and Stonyhurst: "Historium ge, videre le vel connoscere le." The -ium ending is unusual in its being glossed by a verb. The Greek transliteration of historium is historion, which means 'fact with proof'. Yet what is needed here is the infinitive historein, 'to observe or see'.

Yet, his ability to 'nail' the next entry must be acknowledged. The Canterbury manuscript reads "Filaxe grece, seruare le." The word phulatto means 'protect', as does servo. Filaxe is a precise phonetic transliteration of the aorist infinitive phulaxai.

Perhaps two examples in a bit more detail. Agrammatus, a word of considerable interest to any glossator, is mistreated by both scribe and editor. The entry seems far from accurately grasped. Witness the variations in spelling: Pepys, Canterbury, and Harley 1000 read aggraminatus; Add. 33534 has agranimatus; St. John's (Cambridge) has agronamatus; and Stonyhurst and Add. 24640 have agramiatus. The only manuscript which allays our compounded doubts and supports the spelling as we know it is Harley 2270 Agrammatus. I stress this final point because amidst these phonetic shifts there is not only a scribal but an editorial problem: the MED has the entry "Agraminatus (read: Agrammatus)". Possibly the editor was influenced by the correct spelling of the Greek word and interpreted the i flourish for a nasal abbreviation, thereby coming away with the reading agraminatus instead of the accurate, if unexpected agramiatus. And yet, just so that I don't give a lasting impression that any of us who deal with the subject of scribal comprehension of Greek really know the full extent of the problem, consider an entry which apparently caused no difficulty to the scribes but did to some editors. We have little problem with the term Acheron, one of the great rivers of the Underworld. But interest is aroused when one realizes that only two manuscripts -- Canterbury and Pepys -- refer to the expected "palus infernalis" and "Infernus". The others offer the initially puzzling "salue vel gaude"; and Harley 1000 adds "Aue". Whether their source had it or they emended it, what probably lies behind the word is what the sound of the word suggested: a chairon, the participle used as imperative, in Greek meaning 'fare thee well', common in the New Testament as a form of greeting. Note that under C in most manuscripts Chere is glossed "Aue salue gaude".

Perhaps the most noticeably welcome and delightfully engaging technique of glossographical language is etymology. The Medullan scribes do not disabuse us of thinking that the Isidorean principles are in full and unremitting vogue. Just a few examples to carry you through the conference. Stultus a um is derived from extollo, from which comes stulticia, although stultus means 'foolish' and extollo means 'to raise up, exalt, praise'. Was the scribe confusing the fourth part of the verb sublatum with stultum, as if the principal parts were tollo, ere, sustuli, stultum?

Our etymologist (Harley 2257) continues with "costa, a ribbe", from custodio, because the ribs guard the inner organs. Just a slight oversight: costa comes from the old Slavic kosti; or if you prefer Dens, dentis, from demo because they do away with (demant) and carry off (auferant) anything, "anglice a tothe". And on the subject of appendages, we find digito, 'to fingere', which comes from decem because there are ten fingers, five on each hand. He's right there. However, the root is deik -- 'to point' (as in the Greek deiknumi). And perhaps to bring the teeth and the fingers to the proper place, the table, we are given the entry Cenobates glossed generally throughout the tradition as "qui propter cenam super funem ambulat" 'he who because of dinner walks upon a rope'. The problem is that Cenobates is a misbegotten attempt at a phonetic variation upon the Greek word schoinobates 'a rope walker', which, incidentally, does appear within the s section of the manuscripts. A mistaken etymology based upon a misspelled entry word in Greek.

By way of relief from the burdens of his work, the Stonyhurst scribe, for one, offers us a glimpse of his wit (perhaps a glimpse is all there should have been). We find Anologia glossed as 'euene speche'; also there is the oxymoronic Anelus 'ful of swenke'; then we are offered a comparative form of a preposition, anterior 'more by fore'. The legitimate aufero surfaces as 'to do awey', yet add another r and you have auferro 'to do awey yren'. Accretion favors the nimble! Also note the charming verbal play upon amabo. Its gloss is supported by most manuscripts as 'a loueli worde'. In fact it means 'please'.

Over all, however, so-called shortcomings are gently indulged when one realizes the considerable novelty in this masterful glossary. New senses and new words abound. For example, Astronomicus, glossed consistently in the Medulla manuscripts as 'plenus astris', does not appear with this meaning in the lexica. Arieto, common enough in the sense of 'butting (like a ram)', as well as 'attacking' and 'destroying', appears only in Stonyhurst and Harley 1738 with the gloss 'to bleten; -- yn', respectively. It was not included in the MED. Misclepen appears for the first time. It glosses agnomino (only in Stonyhurst), generally meaning 'to call by nickname'. The MED provides the participial and gerund uses of the word but the finite form of the verb is not recorded. Consider the Latin agnominacio (Add. 33534), glossed as eknemnyng, perhaps with the meaning 'the act of employing a surname', and hitherto unattested. The MED lists only ekename.

Acumen, in Stonyhurst, is glossed by 'sharphede', which is a hapax. Upon further looking into, 'sharphede' is found in two other Medulla manuscripts: Harley 2181 and Add. 24640, the only difference being sch- instead of the sh- of Stonyhurst. So it appears at least three times in the Medulla. Yet it doesn't appear anywhere else in the literature. The past participle avenyd, unattested, corresponds to the Latin aristatus (witnessed as a verbal form only in the St. John's [Cambridge] manuscript of the Medulla). This, in turn, suggests a new verb for the MED,aveinen, meaning perhaps 'to gather or collect grain'. Cibositas is glossed in the Bristol frag. as plenitudo ciborum; no lexicon has picked up this word, and yet how legitimately formed! There is the equally new Rawlinson entry crustositas 'plenitudo cruste'. Also consider the St. John's (Cambridge) segment cumulosus 'fful of heepys' -- a perfectly well-formed adjective, but never before (or after) seen.

Although not found in the lexica, the above-mentioned cibositas does appear in the manuscripts of the Medulla, whereas cubilo, glossed 'to cowche', is found only in the Bristol fragment, i.e., nowhere else in the language (something fascinating about that). And what about the Pepys' contribution to the language, in which 'elbowly' (not seen before) is the gloss upon cubitalis -- or to sustain the adverbial discharge, consider the gloss upon the word Cesarius in the Pepys manuscript, 'emperowrely', not known until now (and perhaps a good thing too!).

Perhaps we might even have examples of a 'bronze' Latinity (or is it 'lead' by now?) in five words hitherto unknown: Aqueuomus, read only in St. John's (Cambridge) and glossed 'qui vomit aquam'; the entry adulteratorius meaning 'qui adulterat' in Stonyhurst, supported by Harley 2270 and Add. 33534, and Allmitudo, glossed as 'holiness and beauty', and well attested in the Medulla, appear nowhere else in the language. Also unattested before this is the noun adorsus 'bygyninge', and the compound verb adegeo 'to nede'.

Note the gloss given to Abrogo in Harley 2270: 'forprayen .i. destruo, deleo'. The word does not appear in the MED. In light of the simplex preien v.(2), meaning 'plunder, ravage', and the notion of destruction in the Medieval Latin sense of abrogo, namely abolere, forpreien seems a legitimate contribution to the language as a hapax in its compound form. Perhaps its meaning might be: 'to rescind, renounce'. And to conclude, had the St. John's (Cambridge) manuscript been used, the Medulla would have been able to scoop the rest of the language by about seven years by providing the earliest date for the existence of forsenden in Middle English. The MED has the word supported by two quotations from the same text, Guy of Warwick, circa 1475. The incontrovertible date of the St. John's (Cambridge) manuscript of the Medulla is 1468.

And as the Pepys scribe would write when on so many occasions he thought the gloss too long and unwieldy ... "et cetera".


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Vincent P McCarren ("The Middle English Dictionary," University of Michigan)





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