Grendelize

ac hine se módega      maég Hygeláces
hæfde be honda·      wæs gehwæþer óðrum
lifigende láð·      lícsár gebád
atol aéglaéca·      him on eaxle wearð
syndolh sweotol·      seonowe onsprungon·
burston bánlocan·      Béowulfe wearð
gúðhréð gyfeþe·      scolde Grendel þonan
feorhséoc fléön      under fenhleoðu

but him the daring      kinsman of Hygelac
had by the hand;      each was by the other
loathed while living;      body-pain he felt,
the awful ogre;      on his shoulder was
a great wound apparent,      sinews sprang asunder,
bone-locks burst;      to Beowulf was
war-glory given;      thence Grendel had to
flee sick unto death      under the hills of the fen
(translation by Benjamin Slade)

We’ve all felt this way, haven’t we? I sure did this afternoon.

Maybe I should explain, since not everyone has read Beowulf. Grendel is a monster (or, depending on the movie you watch, a misunderstood oversized mama’s boy) who has made a bit of a habit of breaking into the mead-hall at Heorot (it’s an ancient Danish drinking hall, basically, and at the end of the evening they all pass out on the floor) and, er, eating a few people. So this hero named Beowulf is called for, and when Grendel breaks in and grabs him to eat him, Beowulf just holds him by the arm and won’t let go. Grendel wants to get away because he’s instantly terrorized by this grip:

Sóna þæt onfunde      fyrena hyrde·
þæt hé ne métte      middangeardes
eorþan scéatta      on elran men
mundgripe máran·      hé on móde wearð
forht on ferhðe·      nó þý aér fram meahte·
hyge wæs him hinfús·      wolde on heolster fléon

At once he found,      the shepherd of atrocities,
that he had not met      in middle-earth,
in the expanse of the world,      in another man
a greater hand-grip;      he in his heart grew
fearing for life;      none the sooner could he away;
eager-to-go-hence was the thought in him,     he wanted to flee into the darkness

But he can’t get away. Beowulf holds on, no matter how much Grendel fights and thrashes and breaks the furniture. And at last, Beowulf disarticulates him at the oxter, and inarticulate Grendel flees, disarmed. (The arm and hand are thereafter mounted as a trophy in the hall. But Beowulf has to deal with Grendel’s mother next.)

So anyway, I was heading home from the store today with two bottles of sparkling wine and six half-litre cans of beer in a reusable cotton bag, which I was attempting to shoulder. And I commented to Aina that I was going to have to set it down before I Grendelized myself.

It wasn’t a nonce formation. I’ve been using “Grendelize” for some time, because I’ve been carrying heavy bags on my shoulder for some time. When, for instance, we go to the Canadian National Exhibition, and I have a shoulder bag for carrying my camera and collecting my purchases, at some point over the dozen hours I am likely to start getting that baleful Beowulfful feeling. It goes without saying (which of course is why I’m saying it) that in December the annual Saturnalian orgy of consumerism results in much similar arm-twisting.

So I present Grendelize here for your use. (It’s not Beowulffize for a few reasons: Beowulf does other significant deeds in the story; Beowulffize has an obnoxious spelling for modern eyes; and Grendelize just sounds better.) Though I invented it, it’s not for my self-aggrandizement; it’s for your self-Grendelizement, which you are sure to experience soon enough. Unless you are my wife, of course, in which case you have for decades been shouldering a “purse” large enough to hold your whole life including a pair of figure skates (I am not exaggerating; I mean that literally literally), and your shoulder is now strong enough that it could probably bear a black hole and certainly would not give way to Beowulf. (No comment on whether you’d be hungry enough after shopping to eat a whole Dane. Or at least a whole Danish or two.)

sled, sledge, sleigh

What, to your mind, is the different between sled, sledge, and sleigh?

If you’re from Canada or the US, you might feel that sledge doesn’t even belong in there, or you might think of it as the British version of sled. But I’ll let that slide for now.

Sleigh might seem the biggest and classiest; you think of “Sleigh Ride” and Santa’s sleigh and the “one-horse open sleigh” of “Jingle Bells,” and you can picture a largish vehicle with runners, likely made for being pulled across snowy and icy stretches by horses (or at least one horse). It’s also the glidiest word of the three – it ends on a drawn-out vowel sound, like a sleigh just coasting across a frozen lake. And it has that old-style –eigh ending tacked onto its slippery sl–, fit to go with the neigh of the horse.

Sledge is more on the edge, but it has an unfortunate resemblance to sludge and it shows up in sledgehammer, so it’s a heavy-seeming word. It sounds like its downhill glide ends in the mud. It has as many letters as sleigh, and it’s used in England (when they have enough snow), so you can judge as to whether it’s a bridge between sleigh and sled.

Sled is the simplest. It seems like a stripped-down version – never mind the fancy runners; you can just get a flat-bottomed piece of wood or plastic and zip down the hillside. Sled is what I grew up with. I remember going sledding in Exshaw, Alberta, when I was a little kid: I ran with my sled at the top of the hill and got a good speed, and I had lots of momentum going down what looked to me like a big hill but I’m sure was not really all that; at the bottom, I came to a stop against a snowbank – like the sudden stop at the end of “sled” – and three or four kids who had, without my noticing, jumped onto the back of my sled somewhere along the way (probably near the top) piled forward onto me. Sled is a word for childish fun, but it’s less well suited to singing. And sled looks and sounds most like slide; in fact, it almost seems like an alternative past-tense form.

So which do you think is oldest? It kind of looks like sledge or sleigh lost bits along the way to become sled, like scarf and toque* blowing off as you slide down the hill.

I bet you can guess where this is going.

Sleigh showed up in the US in the early 1700s, first spelled sley and slay, as a borrowing from Dutch slee, which is a shortened form of slede. It is indeed, historically as now, a word for a big sledge (or sled) made for carrying passengers and being pulled by horses (or, I suppose, a pickup truck). The spelling sleigh showed up by the later 1700s, evidently by analogy with weigh, inveigh, eight, and of course neigh. It just picked up the extra letters because they… well, I guess because it looked like fun.

Sledge showed up in English in the early 1600s, originally to refer to a carriage with runners instead of wheels, made for carrying goods or persons over slow or ice. It comes from Middle Dutch sleedse, related to slede; it’s also related to the now rarely used English word slead (rhymes with steed).

Sled has been seen in English at least since the late 1300s. It has long had a broader use, as it still does, not only for sledges but also for flat-bottomed things and for things made to be dragged across surfaces other than snow or ice (the sea bottom, for instance). If you’re out there sliding down the hill on a flat-bottomed piece of wood or plastic, you are safe calling it a sled. It is closely related to slead, already mentioned (which first appeared in the late 1300s), and both are related to the verb slide. Because of course.

So, yes, it started off light as sled and picked up more as it went.

I hope you haven’t gotten upsot by today’s bit of sleducation!

 

* By the way, non-Canadians, toque is the normal Canadian spelling for the knitted hat pronounced /tuk/, and if you say I’m wrong, you’re wrong – you come to our winter, you wear our parkas and toques and eat our poutine and say our words.

tenebrity

I just can’t quit writing poems. I’ll get back to regular word tastings, don’t you worry, but first, here’s a sonnet – posted in advance for my Patreon subscribers!

Now take my hand: the light is getting dim.
Our world is too soon turning from the sun.
The green has gone from every freezing limb.
The garish lighting season has begun.

Now hold my arm: the day is growing dark.
Electric candle armies seize the street.
We cannot safely walk across the park
For fear of slipping blindly in the sleet.

Now grasp my waist: the night has taken hold.
All life is flicking fireflies in the gloom,
And puffy parkas blindly scud the cold
As we watch through the window in our room.

Now pull the curtain; now pull me to you—
Tenebrity is warm and tender too.

The Editor’s Carols

After my previous editorial music video, I had a couple of requests for some Christmas songs. Which is good, because I was going to do it anyway. Here’s my medley – quick and dirty, because I’m too busy editing to spend all day on it. (I’m not lying: I’m fully booked – editing full books!)

The stocking-stuffer every writer needs

Last Christmas, I gave you my 12 Gifts for Writers, first as serialized blog posts and then as a PDF ebook (it’s also available as an audiobook if you sponsor me on Patreon). This year, I’ve made a print version of it for all of you who like to hold real paper things in your own hands. And I’ve made a few tiny revisions in it (nothing big, but still…).

It’s 44 glorious pages in trade paperback, and all for the low price of 50¢ per gift – in other words, $6 per book (plus shipping and handling). (You want free gifts? Get the ebook.) Buy it now for the writer in your life. In fact, since everyone’s a writer, buy lots of copies so you can give one to everyone you know who wants to write things that people will buy.

Order it from Lulu.com.

rest

This year, I’m writing poetry for every word tasting in November. I’m calling it Povember. Today, to finish the month, a rondeau. I have enjoyed doing my word tastings as poetry for a month. I will probably keep doing so from time to time. Continue reading

Florida

This year, I’m writing poetry for every word tasting in November. I’m calling it Povember. Today, a poem about the state I’m in: Florida for a week, and happiness at all the delicious words people have tweeted in response to a request. Continue reading