Saturday, April 30, 2011

Z is four Zounds!

Using anachronistic medieval terms in fantasy and other fiction has a name. It's called "gadzookery", derived from the medieval swear word "gadzooks" (meaning "God's hooks", referring to the nails from Christ's cross). In honor of the last April alphabet post, here's some more gadzookery to enjoy.

Zounds: "God's wounds", i.e. the stigmata.
Odds Bodkins: A "bodkin" is a dagger. This one means the same thing as "gadzooks".
Uds Daggers: See above.
'Sblood: "God's blood."

And then of course there are the phrases that have survived to our time, like cor blimey ("God blind me") and bloody ("by our Lady", i.e. the Virgin Mary). These two swears are quite at home in a 19th century setting, making them perfectly applicable to the gaslamp games I like to run. But, let's face it, gadzookery is fun too! Just... if you're going to use it, learn your Early Modern English pronouns and inflections, please? Here's the rules:

ye vs you -- The second person plural pronoun has three forms: ye is the subjective or nominative form (like "he", "she", "I"); your is the possessive or genitive form (like "his", "her", "my"); and you is the objective or accusative form (like "him", "her", or "me"). Use ye for the subject of the sentence or for a vocative (a direct address); use you for direct objects, indirect objects, and the objects of prepositions. Although officially a plural pronoun, "ye" is also a sign of respect used when addressing a social superior (cf. French vous, Spanish usted, German Sie).

thou, thy, thee -- This is the second person singular pronoun, though in Early Modern English it's better known for expressing familiarity or social inferiority (or for speeches directed at God, because it's more important to think of God as "singular" and not "plural" than to address Him as a social better). As with "ye", "thou" is inflected for case: thou is the subject of a sentence, thy is the possessive case, and thee is the object of a sentence. The substantive possessive thine is used in the same way as words like "mine" or "hers".

-st vs. -th vs. -s -- Verb endings inflect for person and number. The -st ending is used for verbs that follow "thou" (as in thou goest, thou knowest, thou dost, thou art or thou beest). The -th ending, meanwhile, is used following third-person pronouns (he, she, it, one), just like we use -s in Modern English (he goes, she goeth, it does, one doth). This is because the -th and -s endings are in fact the same ending. It's just that the -th ending is the original ending, and native to the Wessex and London dialects of early English; the -s ending was more common in the north of England. Somehow or another, the northern-sounding ending became dominant, probably because it sounds less like a lisp.

The point is, if you go around saying "thou doth" or "I goest", you're just doing it wrong. Learn some grammatical gadzookery!

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