Both, evolving through many forms

Words about words


Photo: 13th century monk Ormin
Page from Ormulum; note editing.

Asker, Norway

The word both comes from the early Middle English word bāðe, which apparently came from the Old Norse báðar, a word of masculine grammatical gender that also had the feminine form báðir, the neuter form báði, and the genitive form báðra. More than 10 forms of the word coexisted for many years.

In published writings, the word both first appeared in Ormulum, the 12th century interpretation of the scripture written by a monk named Ormin of the order of St. Augustine. Ormin evidently lived in the Danish territory of England, in the former kingdom of Mercia, part of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy of seven kingdoms before they were united into the Kingdom of England in the 10th century. Line 250 of Ormulum reads, “Baþe wærenn alde.”

The second significant mention of both was in Cursor Mundi (Latin for “Runner of the World”), a Middle English poem of almost 30,000 lines, written anonymously about 1300 CE somewhere in Northern England. The poem is an overview of the then-known history of the world, as described in the Bible and other sources. Line 666 of Cursor Mundi reads “Bath he sette in þare fre will,” 793 reads “Al for noght þette it bath,” and line 1254 reads “In þat way sal þou find forsoth þi moders and mine bather slough.”

The numerous forms of both persisted until the printing press, invented in 1439 by German blacksmith Johannes Gutenberg, made printed works available. With time, as works spread, spellings became less chaotic, and the forms of today emerged. In the 1836 Pickwick Papers, the first novel by English writer and social critic Charles Dickens (1812-1870), in a conversation, “Little Man” remarks to Mr. Jingle: “Now, my dear Sir, between you and I, we know very well, my dear Sir, that you have run off with this lady for the sake of her money. Don’t frown, Sir, don’t frown; I say, between you and I, we know it. We are both men of the world, and we know very that our friends here, are not—eh?”

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 18, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady was born, raised, and educated as a scientist in the United States. After relocating to the Oslo area, he turned to writing and translating. In Norway, he is now classified as a bilingual dual national.