Short Story: “Lost”

I submitted this a year or two ago for short story competition and got the top 20, which I was pretty pleased with. It’s Anglo Saxon if you squint, hard, and happen to know about Keighton, the lost village on Nottingham University campus.


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Short Story: “Lost”

Place name origin: Braintree

I’ve got a few big posts planned but I keep procrastinating about them, so here is a tiny little post on the origin of “Braintree”. This is an Essex town that I drove past a few weeks ago and was instantly intrigued by. It’s been inhabited since the Iron Age!


This seems to be a slightly contested name, since it is only first recorded in the Domesday Book, as Branchetreu. The -treu bit is, according to my dictionary, Old English treow, which, yes, does just mean tree. You also get a lot of weird spellings like:

Banktre, Braunketre, Brangtree, Brantry, Bayntre (source)

The first element is hypothesised to be a man’s name: Branca. (Note, this name isn’t recorded anywhere and is an educated guess formation.) So it might have looked something like “Brancestreow” originally.

The river Brain is a backformation from the place-name. I’ve discussed backformation before, but it’s what it sounds like – a river is (re)named after the settlement on it. I have a local example – the city of Cambridge used to be called Grantabridge ( I’m fudging the spelling a bit), over the river Granta.  The city name shifted to Cambridge and the river named shifted too, to the River Cam.

Place name origin: Braintree

Old English numbers 1 – 10

Learning a dead language seems to be very different to learning a living one. I’ve had classes in varying degrees in French, Spanish, German, Old English, Old Norse and Latin and the following was true:

  • Living languages: hello, goodbye, my name is, colours, animals and numbers.
  • Dead languages: Here are some sentences from actual texts. Please translate them.

I suppose it makes perfect sense, since you’re supposed to use the living language to communicate with people and the dead one to read old texts, but it just always made me smile. When I came home from uni and said that I was learning some Old English, people who had only studied living languages would ask me to say something in the language, or to recite the numbers 1 to 10.

So, now I will!

(Proving my case, I didn’t have this information in any of my old notes that I could find and had to look it up online.)

1 – 10 in Old English

  1. ān
  2. tƿeġen (twegen, masculine. In neuter it was tu and in the feminine case it was tƿa)
  3. Þrēo (threo)
  4. fēoƿer (feower)
  5. fīf
  6. seox
  7. seofon
  8. eahta
  9. nigon
  10. tīen


Old English numbers 1 – 10

Etymology: Lamb

Normally I don’t do these on a weekend, but “Lamb” fits with both the “cute animals” theme and Easter, so here we go. Happy Easter, and happy long weekend to anyone who doesn’t celebrate Easter.

Origins of “Lamb”

This is one of those rare words that has come to us from Old English completely unaltered. It’s just “lamb” (also lemb and lomb). It’s also variants of “lamb” in most of the old Germanic languages (Old Norse, Old Frisian, Old Saxon).

Hér is Godes lamb” – translation from Latin “Ecce Agnus Dei” in the gospel of John (1:29)


Etymology: Lamb

Etymology – Duckling

THE CUTEST BABY ANIMAL. Dissent on a postcard, please.


Unsurprisingly, this is “duck” + “ling”.


This comes from the old English word “ducan”, which only exists with the meaning of “waterfowl” once in the whole surviving Old English lexicon (=stuff we know about). It is thought that ducan came from a possible Old English verb for ducking, diving. The normal OE word for duck was ened.

Middle English had both of these words, but ened started to be used more for female ducks. Duck was usually something like “doke”, with spellings like duk, douke, dook. Drake for male ducks was recorded from the 13th century.

(Mallard, as in mallard duck, was a borrowing from French, also meaning the waterfowl.)


This is an ending that signifies … well, quite a lot of things, but in this case almost definitely it’s signifying a smaller version of something.

-ling existed in Old English, where it had functions other than cutesy nicknaming, but it also existed in Old Norse, which DID use it for this kind of thing. So it’s possible that the meaning shift was due to Old Norse influence.


Etymology – Duckling

Etymology – Kitten

Everyone’s expecting this one from me, right?

This image is two of our old cats. Don’t they look utterly adorable?


Excitingly there is a bit to say about the most adorable animal apart from mallard ducklings

It’s most likely that kitten came about from the Anglo-Norman chitoun, which was itself a diminutive (nickname) from chat. It was written in Middle English using forms such as kitoun, kyton, and kytton.

Alongside this origin, we also have the Old Norse word ketlingr which meant kitten. This too was adopted into Middle English and written in forms such as: ketelyngkitelingekytylyng and kittyllyng.

Also, according to the Viking Answer Lady website, the Vikings had pet names for cats too, much like we have “kitty” or “puss/pussy”: kisa and kis-kis.

Etymology – Kitten

Etymology Goat (Kid)

Upon last week’s request, the next few days will be cute animals! Which, largely, will mean baby animals. Starting off with a possibly controversial one but I think they’re cute:

Kid = (as in baby goat)

Now, if you associate kid with the modern sense of “child”, you might expect it to be a fairly modern word. Ha, no.

This is one of the words that comes to us straight from Old Norse – i.e. the Vikings, the Danelaw, all that good stuff. Their word was: kið and it did just literally mean baby goat. 

I can’t find an Old English word for baby goat (someone feel free to correct me) so perhaps that’s why the Anglo-Saxons adopted that very useful word. (Old English for female goat was gat, from which comes “goat”, and for male goat was bucca, which my autocorrect accurately predicted as modern “buck”.)

Etymology Goat (Kid)