Proofing in Middle English*

We know, you’ve heard it before: we are nearly finished. We’ve been proofing for the past two weeks and have been astounded, nay, dismayed at the number of errors that have crept into the story. For instance, we found a flourescent light, which begs the question of whether the smell of flour really can generate light. Whilst pouring through the story, we’ve longed for the return of Middle English, and the time when there was no generally accepted method of spelling. Or, current teaching methods where it’s okay to misspell words as sign of healthy resistance to rigid norms of behavior foisted on society by…oh wait, got distracted.

Orthography, the art of writing words with the proper letters, was much debated during the sixteenth century. Some writers developed their own systems, such as doubling long vowels (take is taak, made is maad, thine is thijn), adding letters and symbols to the alphabet, or writing phonetically (reelee!). In such a freewheeling time, could we be censored for writing about merder, murdor, merdor, murtur and deth? Maabee flourescent wud bee just fijn. Eeven if they doth goveth payns of the hed.

Perhaps we could resurrect the earlier times of Middle English when prefixes were more oft used. The prefix for– could be used to intensify the meaning of a verb. Instead of a plain old killing, we could write of forkilling or formurder. What about forsnooping?

In the words of Chaucer

And for there is so gret diversite

In Englissh, and in writing of oure tonge,

So prey I god that non myswrite the,

Ne the mys-metre for defaute of tonge.

* We are indebted to A History of the English Language, Fifth Edition, by Albert C. Baugh and Thomas Cable.

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