Old folk at lunch

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


These memoirs could be seen as somewhat misnamed. Since they concern current events, perhaps they could better be called "contemporary archives" (with apologies to the worthy Keesing project) rather than memoirs. Anyway, I have lately started to put up a few small recollections from years past so perhaps this blog will acquire some real memoirs from time to time.

The latest recollection was sparked by the scholarly edition of Beowulf that Joe gave me for Christmas. Beowulf is of course the most famous text in Old English but I take an interest in Middle English too. And that emerged in a rather fun way some years ago when I was doing a bit of work for a market researcher named Mark Troy.

At one stage I asked him where he wanted me to put some papers. He said: "Right here, on the table". BUT: He did not pronounce "table" in the usual way. He pronounced it as "Tarbla". Now most people would have thought that he was either a bit mad or having a joke but I immediately recognized what was going on. He was using the correct pronounciation -- the correct pronounciation of 600 years ago.

I said: "That's a Middle English pronunciation" -- and he confirmed that it was. So I immediately launched into:

'Whan that April with hir showres soote
The droughte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veine in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;'


Mark joined in and we must have recited together roughly the first 100 lines of the "Prologue" -- all in the correct Middle English pronunciation, of course. It gave us both great pleasure and satisfaction to do so but there was another guy in the room: Mark's business partner. And he looked at us with evident alarm. He apparently thought we had been seized by some sort of folie a deux (shared madness). He seemed relieved when Mark explained the matter.

Anyway, it was a great pleasure to come across a fellow Chaucerian. There can't be many of them in Brisbane.

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