A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Christopher Corédon and Ann Williams – A Review

Published: 2007
Pages: 320

If you’ve ever read the sources list at the bottom of my posts, you’ll probably have come across A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Christopher Corédon and Ann Williams. I use it a lot. As with all dictionaries, it’s not something you’d read from cover to cover, although I’m sure it would be fascinating. I’ve had it a few years now, so it’s probably time to review it.

As the blurb on the back says, it contains 3,400 terms. They range across the whole of the Middle Ages and there are legal terms, ecclesiastical terms and agricultural terms, as well as words and phrases in daily use. It also contains some Latin terms that were in general use, although I think this is its weak point, as I’ve occasionally looked up Latin terms and not found them. I do not, however, hold this against it, as the Latin terms used in everyday life by people who hadn’t studied Latin would probably fill a book on their own.

If you read a lot about the Middle Ages, fiction as well as non-fiction, you probably find that authors don’t always bother to define the terms they use. This is just the book to help you. Don’t know what a frankpledge is? This dictionary will tell you (or you could look at my post here). Not sure what sable, bend sinister, bar or recursant mean? As this book will explain, they’re all heraldic symbols. Creasing your brow over manchet? Look no further than this dictionary to discover that it’s both a type of bread and an heraldic symbol.

When I wrote about tithes last week, I consulted this dictionary to ensure that what I wrote about glebe lands was correct. It turned out that only half the story was in the book I was consulting and this book gave me the other half.

It has, however, earned my enmity by illustrating the word Wickham (a settlement connected with an old Roman vicus) with a village in Essex rather than the village in Hampshire which gave its name to William of Wykeham, bishop of Winchester and chancellor of England in the fourteenth century and, therefore, much better known.

Flicking through the dictionary to write this post, I came across lots of interesting entries, some of which, I’m sure, will inspire future posts. For example, eremite. I hadn’t even thought about writing about hermits. Forest is another example. It doesn’t mean what you think it does and certainly explains why my local forest, the New Forest, is more heath than wood.

This is a very useful book for anyone with an interest in the Middle Ages.

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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25 Comments

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25 responses to “A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Christopher Corédon and Ann Williams – A Review

  1. ‘Creasing my brow over manchet’ is my new go to for I’m busy!…also, what does a forets mean….?

    Liked by 3 people

  2. …oh I see, forest. Sorry, that was my typo..

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ll look forward to your posts inspired by the dictionary. What is a manchet??

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Sounds fascinating and possibly one to get lost in, rather like the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary which I have on the shelves.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. You could flip through this book and learn something new every day! I look forward to your future eye-opening posts, April.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Some day I hope to understand how we got from the earlier meaning of forest to our current one.

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  7. i was ‘working in my mind’ trying to find a solution to a problem, while mindlessly playing wordament phone app – sort of like boggle game on my phone – puzzle came up of Theme words and it was “Soccer Terms” – sigh – I searched for terms, read through them and thought, “Holy-Moly! I grew up with folks saying, “I’m all sixes and sevens today!” to say – “not at my best/hard day, and turns out?? It’s a Soccer term and still! I don’t know which came first the sports term or it was adopted from older sayings – My dad bought th big, 6 inch deep – big/heavy enough to use as a make shift lever point, Random House dictionary in my youth, one copy for his father in law, because he was tired of losing because ‘plumbob’ or ‘bidet’ weren’t in the dictionary his opponent used – – LOL But I’m FASCINATED by the work put into the lineage of languages, how spelled/use/meaning down through languages, eras and morphing definitions – that lasted long enough to be worth the work to put in a dictionary – 😀 Ya learn something new, that is old, every durn day – when you read the dictionary to research or simply keep yourself entertained/while you might be (ahem!) procrastinating because you haven’t figured out the ‘solution’ to the issue, just yet – – LOL

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    • Dictionaries are great things, but, you’re right, words come and go. It’s interesting that you know a slightly different phrase to the one I know with a slightly different meaning. I would say ‘I’m all at sixes and sevens’ and I would mean that I didn’t know whether I was coming or going.

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      • LOL! That’s WHAT I was raised with TOO! on ‘what it meant!” – Suffice to say, I was doing a word puzzle and the theme was soccer – so I hopped over to look up soccer terms – and walla! same meaning and again….I have to wonder how that made it to my world OTHER than immigrant ancestors – cuz I can’t trace back in even 4 generations of my family to find an older person who was a soccer fan – – LOL. To me? The mystery remains on ‘okay, which came first and why was it such a saying, in my family??” LOL I just had to explain to someone what the term “Well, they know where your goat is tied….” to another – – LOL Nope, as far as I know? My father was the first one in 3 generations to buy/raise goats – but I heard it all the time BEFORE we got the goats, to counsel one who had lost their temper from another yapping at them – 😀 Some of the things I grew up with are in lingo for some – many? um…no… perhaps, I just am borne of a lineage that makes up their own ‘phrases and words’ – but I like to research it, note it when it comes across my radar – I just find it fascinating, in itself! 😀

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        • I can’t imagine why it’s considered a football term. Apparently it’s connected to a fourteenth-century dicing game.

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          • 😀 Intriguing! I once dove down the rabbit’s hole of research to learn the lineage of an ages old song – At some point? I stumbled onto a lil ole blog of a music/song enthusiast (with links to other enthusiasts on same topic!) that said, the original lyrics, culture/language of origin, were lost to the sands of time – – It’s about the costs of war and the women who stay home while soldiers go to fight – 😀 Here’s the three modern versions I shared in a blog I wrote, when my heart was aching from the music, the lyrics, the history of war and well – fairly sure you’ve heard a version of it too! 😀

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            • I have heard it, but I couldn’t say that I know it well.

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              • 🙂 During my journey into it’s ‘origin’ – I just fell down soooo many links to older versions, I swear I ‘wasted’ quite a bit of ‘break time’ trying to track down the original – in some form – alas, memory serves (the book mark for blogger on Blogspot space no longer active….) that it was a perennial fave of many places and times in the past – updated in lyrics/meaning to meet current needs and yet – no real confirmation in modern ‘written word’ form preserved in order to definitively say, “yup, from this time in space/place’ – 😀 At some point, on some things? I just stop trying to dive deeper – mostly because my job doesn’t require me to be a history/anthropologist/sociologist – PhD holder for a ‘niche’ – 😀

                Liked by 1 person

  8. I also inherited a 1953 set of “American People’s Encyclopedia Set” when my dad died – that, too, is very interesting to read through – to see what has changed – changed back – proven false, questioned, the confirmed during just my lifetime – back and forth – – LOL

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