A great site

Archive for the tag “language”

Is it ‘Forty’? Or ‘Fourty’?

from Merriam Webster

The following article is from the excellent Merriam Webster online dictionary, and although I tried to post just the link, I couldn’t get it to work. So I’m posting the article in full, and state here and now that none of it is my work. It’s all Merriam Webster, very interesting and deals with the origins and development of the word ‘forty’.

“Hello, everyone. We have an announcement. We are pleased/sorry to report that there is never a u in forty.  

“That’s right: the word for the number 4 is four, but ten times that is 40, which is spelled forty. This is true in all of the vast English language, despite rumors that users of British English like the word to resemble colour (they don’t), and despite the frequent appearances of the misspelling out and about.

“In related facts, the number 14 keeps the u: it’s written as fourteen. But fortieth correlates to forty, so it too goes without a u.
“There is no good explanation for why forty lacks a u that its near-relation four has. Forty simply is, as American English Spelling author D.W. Cummings calls it, an “ill-formed but accepted spelling.” It is, however, also a relatively new spelling.  

“Origins and Spelling Variants

“While the word forty dates back to the language’s earliest incarnation, it had many varied spellings over the centuries, and the current spelling forty dates only to the 16th century. The Oxford English Dictionary includes a number of spellings that predate that one. From Old English (English as it existed from the 7th century to around 1100) there are the following:




“But things really got going in Middle English—English as it existed between the 12th and 15th centuries. In texts from that period the OED notes the following spellings:



feowerti (and fowerti)


feuwerti (and fuwerti)












“Modern English brought us other options:






“The winner, of course, is forty, nearly the last of the bunch. The logical Middle English relic fourty, hiding most of the way down that long list, lasted until the 18th century, when for reasons unknown it fell out of use. Sometimes that’s just how it goes in English.”

By The Editors. (Merriam Webster)


D.W. Cummings, American English Spelling (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), pgs. 28, 31.
“forty.” OED Online, Oxford University Press. Accessed 9/24/2019.

Matthew Lewis on YouTube: 2) Mancini

Here is the second in my series of Top 10’s. This one is focussing on Dominic Mancini’s account of the events of 1483. It’s a hugely problematical source, both in terms of Mancini himself, who spoke no English, had no grasp of English politics and very limited sources, and in terms of the current translation in use which often chooses weighted words to make Mancini’s account darker.

It’s a negative source, without a doubt, written for a French audience hostile to England and Richard III and gripped by their own minority succession crisis, but it’s also misused and misunderstood. Mancini explains that he has had his arm twisted by Angelo Cato to write the account, which he had not wished to commit to paper. Cato worked at the French court, so had his own agenda is seeking to make Richard and his England seem like a land of murderous monsters.

More than this, Mancini admits, when complaining about being brow beaten into writing his account, that he knows almost nothing for certain. He wrote ‘I indeed decided that I ought not to expatiate so freely in writing as in talking, for, although on your account I did not shrink from pains, yet I had not sufficiently ascertained the names of those to be described, the intervals of time, and the secret designs of men in this whole affair.’ He adds ‘Wherefore you should not expect from me the names of individual men and places, nor that this account should be complete in all details; rather shall it resemble the effigy of a man, which lacks some of the limbs, and yet a beholder delineates for himself a man’s form.’

If Mancini had visited Torquay in the 1970’s, he might have given Manuel a run for his money.


I know nothing…

So if …

… Edward IV is either Mr. Rochester or Captain Mainwaring, which other fictional character may be based on one of his contemporaries?
John, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, posthumously Edward’s father-in-law, who was identified after the battle of Castillon by the gap between his teeth might be Terry-Thomas?
Domenico Mancini, a foreign visitor who barely understood the English language or our law and customs could be Manuel the waiter, perhaps ?

Shakespeare said it first….!

Shakespeare's phrases

I am always intrigued to know the origin of words, phrases, proverbs and so on, if only so that I don’t use them anachronistically in my books. It’s not always possible, of course, because some things are just too engrained in the English language, and sticking to the correct English for, say, the 15th century, would make for an impossible book for me to write, or for a reader to get to fully enjoy. Unless they have degrees in such things! That’s my opinion anyway.

Some of the phrases contained in the following link were known to me as being from Shakespeare, but I certainly didn’t know all of them. It’s an interesting subject.

However, it often happens that an author—or an entry in a dictionary that is given a specific date—turns out to have merely recorded something that was in circulation anyway. I’m not saying this is necessarily the case where Shakespeare is concerned, but I have to wonder if he is the source of all the phrases accorded to him. In my writing career I try to stick to the proper dates, but have discovered before now that, e.g. Merriam-Webster, isn’t always  spot-on. A lot of authors use MW, indeed it was specified by one of my publishers. But I’ve found words/phrases to have been extant at a far earlier date than MW gives in its hallowed pages. I informed them on one occasion, having found sources up to a century earlier, but didn’t get an acknowledgement. I haven’t tried since. So the incorrect date remains in place. Please don’t ask me to identify the word in question, because I can’t remember. It was years and years ago.


Whither Goest Thou?

key to writingHaving just written my first novel, in which Richard III visits the 21st century, I needed to let the reader see a contrast between him and modern people, partly in the way he spoke. I quickly found that this wasn’t as easy as I’d thought, so my Richard has a great facility for languages and soon learns to speak in modern parlance! However, I did have to use ‘Mediaeval speak’ for a few chapters and I came across a few snags.

For example, the words ‘hath’ and ‘hast’ and other verbs – do you put ‘-eth’ on the end or ‘-est’? I was fairly confident about my title (Richard Liveth Yet) as it was a quotation, so that must have been right. But some of my Mediaeval sentences didn’t flow so well and I wasn’t sure how correct they were.

And what about ‘Ye’, ‘you’, ‘thee’ and ‘thou’?

After doing some research, I found a few web pages that address these problems. I’m sure some of you, maybe all of you, already know this, but I didn’t – at least not all this information, so here goes:

‘Thou’ and ‘thee’ were the subject and object forms respectively for the second person singular pronouns where ‘ye’ and ‘you’ were the plural forms. ‘Ye’ was later dropped completely, and ‘you’, also used as a polite form for the second person singular, eventually replaced ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ too.

But from 1470 – 1650 or thereabouts, ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ were the Mediaeval equivalent of the French ‘tu’ and ‘toi’ – i.e. not only signifying the singular form, but also a more familiar or less respectful form of address.

Along with ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ came the possessive forms ‘thine’ and ‘thy’, used in the same way for the second person as ‘mine’ and ‘my’ were (and still are) for the first person singular. In addition, ‘thine’ was used before a vowel or a non-voiced ‘h’. (E.g. thine orange, thine honour, thy wife).

Not only that, but thee and thou had their own endings for present tense verbs: -(s)t (e.g. thou hast, thou lovest, thou shalt). And the third person singular also had its own ending in –th (e.g. he giveth, she loveth, it goeth, etc)

Hence ‘Richard liveth yet’, but ‘thou livest yet’. I’d better get on and do some editing!

If you want to see a couple of useful tables regarding this, click here.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: