Middle English Just For Fun

Dolores L. Cullen’s new book, Who’s Afraid of Middle English?—A Booke of Lystes, isn’t just for the college campus. It’s for anyone who’s ever had fun doing a puzzle, playing a word game, reading a comic, or recognizing the root of a word.
What inspired Dolores Cullen to write this new book? She has found that Middle English is often seen as a formidable obstacle. We’re told that when we recognize words in Middle English, it’s often a sham, that they no longer have the same meaning. But there are thousands of words that are recognizable and readable to our modern minds and vocabularies.

Who’s Afraid of Middle English? is a collection of words, phrases, titles, and more that are easily read and that are already familiar to today’s readers. In the book today’s words are replaced with Middle English equivalents. If you already know what the phrase says—for instance Paid in Full or Ignorance Is Bliss you get almost instant recognition if you see Payd in Fulle or Ignoraunce Is Blisse. And there you have it; you’re reading Middle English.

This new book is an introduction to the older language. Looking through the book we can see the contours of words, notice patterns of spelling that are regularly different from today’s (-ioun for -ion, -ynge for -ing) and get used to seeing the same word spelled three or four different ways. Cullen stresses that we simply need flexibility to recognize the Middle English words. We can’t look at the older works, Chaucer and others, with modern rigidity, where spelling is concerned. (The idea of misspelling wasn’t even around until after 1500!) Soon we’ll develop a familiarity with the words and comprehension won’t seem a daunting task.

Who’s Afraid of Middle English? is a fun book, throwing light and lightness on the medieval language that has so often put readers off. With so much of Middle English still present in our language, it’s a pleasure and a puzzle to see what connections and history we can find.

Dolores L. Cullen first read Chaucer as a middle-aged college student at California State Polytechnic University. She has been hooked ever since. She lives and writes in Claremont, California. Dolores Cullen is also the author of Chaucer’s Host—Up-So-Doun, Pilgrim Chaucer—Center Stage, and Chaucer’s Pilgrims—The Allegory, all published by Fithian Press.

Who's Afraid of Middle English?
A Book of Lystes
by Dolores L. Cullen
ISBN 1-56474-401-9
128 pages, paperback, $10.95

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