Preface to the 2009 edition
Although in the age of the Internet we have access to the magnificent Middle English Compendium hosted by the University of Michigan, few students of Middle English would question the usefulness of a desktop copy for day-to-day reference. There has been no handy, reliable edition of such a dictionary for many years. The 1888 edition of Mayhew and Skeat’s Concise Dictionary of Middle English can sometimes be found in antiquarian bookshops, but it is scarce, and available copies vary in both condition and cost. This new edition of Mayhew and Skeat has been revised and completely reset for the modern reader. It offers in a concise form more than 11,000 headwords with source references, cross references, and etymologies.
Free online digital editions of the dictionary are now available at two major archives, and these too are useful for online searching. Some of these have been edited into legible formats; some are more or less raw ascii texts. A few “publishers” have released printed versions which are little more than dumps of those plain-text files—and I use the scare quotes advisedly here, feeling sorry for those students who have bought those editions thinking that they were, in fact, buying proper dictionaries.
This edition has been set in Baskerville, a clear and accessible font, which it is hoped, will increase the legibility of the book. Further choices made in typesetting have led to additional changes in format, both for aesthetic reasons and to modernize the text in line with the contemporary reader’s expectations.
I would like to thank Greg Lindahl, Anzia Kraus, and Louise Hope for the extensive and painstaking work which they and their Distributed Proofreaders team did to prepare what became the source files for this dictionary. Since I have extensively revised those sources, I alone bear the final responsibility for any errors that persist. I am confident nonetheless that this book prove a welcome and useful tool for students of Middle English.
- Headwords begin with lower-case letters, apart from a fairly small number of proper nouns (Fri-dæi, Þorr, etc.).
- Alphabetical order is a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t þ u v w x y ȝ z. The 1888 edition gave i [vowel] and i [consonant] instead of i and j, treated ð and þ as variants of th within the letter t, and gave u, v [vowel] and v, u [consonant] instead of u and v.
- Citation forms follow the manuscript spellings, as in the 1888 edition. In the guide-words at the top of each page, however, and in cross references, consonantal i [dʒ] is rewritten as j, consonantal u [v] is rewritten as v, vocalic v [u] is rewritten as u, and ð and th [θ]~[ð] are rewritten as þ.
- The letter æ is sorted as ae.
- Consonantal i and j [dʒ] are interfiled under j.
- The letters ð, th, and þ are all interfiled under þ. Where th represents [t], it is found between te and ti (as rethoryke, rhetoric).
- Vocalic u and v [u] are interfiled under u.
- Consonantal u and v [v] are interfiled under v.
- A section for words beginning in z- has been added.
- Superscript numbers are used to distinguish homonymous headwords (as meten¹, to dream; meten², to paint; meten³, to meet; meten⁴, to measure).
- Cross references point to the correct headword based on the superscript number.
- Danish etymologies use ø and å instead of ö and aa.
- Gothic etymologies use þ and ƕ instead of th and hw.
- Sanskrit etymologies conform to modern Brahmic transliteration.
- The mixed usage of cf. and cp. for ‘compare’ has been normalized to cf.
- Current Modern English spellings are used in definitions (such as show for shew, ache for ake).
- Errors in cross references have been corrected, so s.v. must, new wine, “cf. moiste” now reads “cf. moyste”.
- Other errors have been corrected where discovered (cf. “hong pt. s. hung” alongside “hongede pt. s. hung”; the latter has been corrected to “hongede pt. s. hanged”).
Westport, Co. Mayo
builder of astrolabes,
who encouraged a 16-year-old
to pursue a love of languages,
and whose expectations of excellence
remain an inspiration 30 years on.
Ich habbe boþe luue ⁊ þonc
Þat ich her com ⁊ hider swonk.