Anglo-Saxon Word of the Week: Unexpected Journies

When I set out to write about travel this month, there are certain things I didn’t think I’d have to cover. The two-week delay of my luggage, which went on an entirely separate journey to mine, was one of them; I’ll get to that next week, maybe. fredToday is a sadder journey: saying good-bye to a friend who has left this world.

Fred Grimm was never at loss for words for any sort of occasion, but I find myself lacking them now – so I’ve picked a few I think he’d especially appreciate: small, and far away.

This Fred is small!

This Fred is small!

One Anglo-Saxon word for small or little is hwón-líc. Hwón on its own also means little, but is generally used in the neuter accusative, as an adjective to indicate quantity or size: ie, ‘use a little honey’, rather than ‘this is a little town’. The -líc ending forms the last part of lots of adjectives, rather like the modern -ly.So if you were discussing the smallness of, oh, say, tiny plastic cows, they’d be hwón-líc. And if this conversation left you a little exasperated, you’d use hwón. Nothing at all about Fred was small (well, except maybe his bearish counterpart) – he had a personality and a heart that matched his physical size. There will be nothing small, either, about the hole left in so many lives by his absence.

...and this Fred is far away!

…and this Fred is far away!

Feor was the Anglo-Saxon word for far away or, literally, at a great distance. The Proto-Indo-European root for this word meant to pass over or beyond. Fred is, I suppose, far away now, gone beyond where we’re able to go with him, but he’ll never be very far away from the minds of everyone who loved him. Fred was a storyteller, and that’s how we’ve been remembering him – by sharing Fred stories of our own.

There are so many other words I could share – scortness, for the brevity of time Fred was on this earth, or æglæc, for our grief, but perhaps the most appropriate is cynn, which meant of a sort, kind, or genus, but was also used in compounds to describe types of family. When you find your people in this wide world, hang on to ’em for as long as you can.