10 words invented by Geoffrey Chaucer

Figure 1 courtesy of www.theparisreview.com

He was dubbed by John Dryden as ‘The Father of English Poetry’ and is largely regarded as The Father of English Literature. Now, I understand that Chaucer might not be our first port-of-call for writers who changed the English language. But, he has invented a lot of words and concepts that we still use today. But what does this have to do with creative writing? Well, if you can create new words that are memorable and useful, you’ll be remembered for them in years to come (see: “28 words invented by authors”). So which words did Chaucer invent?

1. Plumage

This word is an extension the Old French word plumage, which in turn comes from The Latin pluma. It is used in The Squire’s Tale. He’s comparing a falcon’s plumage to that of a nobleman, and in order to be genteel, one must be kind.

2. Village

This word is mentioned in The Pardoner’s Tale. It, like many other words, comes from the Middle French for village.

3. Magician

Possibly spelled magitian in Chaucer’s time, the word is found in the Prologue of The Canterbury Tales. He also created the word magic in the Prologue too, but nobody’s sure of these words’ etymologies. Here, Chaucer is pointing out that there is nobody who practices magic.

4. Sperm

This word made its first appearance in The Monk’s Tale, and is derived from the Middle French sperme. Why holy men were talking about male reproductive cells is beyond me, but there you go.

5. Dismembering

Chaucer wasn’t talking about a limb or other body part being cut off here. What he actually meant was
Christ’s soul separating from his body because of sin. It appears in The Parson’s Tale, and comes from the Old French desmembrer. Now, it tends to mean one’s body being torn to pieces.

6. Femininity

This appears in The Man of The Law’s Tale, and is anglicized from the Latin word femina meaning ‘woman’. Supposedly, then, a literal meaning might be ‘womanhood’. Nice to know we women are defined by men, then. Chaucer is describing the ‘realm of femenye’ as ac place od delight and pleasure. Perhaps, then, he sees it as paradisiacal?

7. Galaxy

This comes from the Latin galaxia, and Chaucer spelled it Galaxye in The House of Fame. He seems to be describing the Milky Way – another one of Chaucer’s words – as said Galaxy where the glass temple is found.

8. Laxative

This may be a parallel to vomiting, as Chaucer reasons that one takes a laxative in order to clear the bowels in the same way that vomiting purges the stomach. Basically, he sees diarrhea as vomiting from the opposite end. I suppose he has a point.

9. Funeral

Chaucer is talking about the sacred flames from a funeral pyre rising up. This word appears in The Knight’s Tale and comes from medieval Latin funeralia meaning ‘funeral rites’

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5 comments

    1. Well yes, that’s the idea! Unfortunately, the Middle English is such a muddy pond and so little is known about these words that I can’t say an awful lot about them than I already have.

      Shakespeare, if you’ve seen my ‘Coming Soon’ page, is next on the kill list lol

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      1. I think it’s weirder when it comes to the more everyday words – it’s hard to imagine words like funeral and village being introduced so recently – I would have thought they’d been here before the Romans.

        Shakespeare should be an interesting read – I think he invented more than a hundred new words?

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