Maðumisc : Notes


Obsolete words have always fascinated me. Sometimes they disappear because they are no longer needed but sometimes they are replaced by new words with the same meaning, perhaps drawn from a trendy or domineering language. There are a handful of archaic words that I use fairly regularly and at times I thought it would be fun to somehow make them more widely known so that they would gradually be reintroduced into the language. But I never took action beyond my own use of these words.

Then one day while reading conlang I came across a message from Jim Henry proposing the creation of a "silly but plausible dialect of English that one might use in a near-future scientifiction story". He suggested the use of archaic words and orthography, backformations, and obsolete grammatical constructions laid upon contemporary language. I responded that in my own small way I had already begun the evolution of this hypothetical Future English! Except that I don't expect it to be silly. Interaction with Jim and others on the list encouraged me to take further action in my quest for the resurrection of archaic English.

David E. Bell suggested Mathomish as a name for this language, citing the Hobbit English mathom as "a gift whose use has been forgotten, but which one does not wish to discard", or simply a gift someone gives you for which you never find a use. This was derived from the Old English word maðum, a gift or a treasure, an object of value, an ornament or a jewel. Alternate spellings are maðm, maððum, mathom (from Hobbit English) and madhum (in Maðumisc, when your font doesn't contain the "eth" character).

Investigation of maðum convinced me that it would be useful for two purposes. First, for naming the language. Not only because of the word itself, but also because it has friends nearby in the Old English dictionary with meanings related to speech: maðal- or maðel- (a speech-related prefix), maðelere (speaker), maðelig (talkative), maðalung (loquacity) and gemaðel or mæðel (speech). Just try not to think about maða - a maggot, a worm, a grub.

But it also gave me a name for something I've thought about for ages but never thought to name. Maðum in Old English or Hobbit English is a gift or a treasure; in Maðumisc it means the same, but also has a deeper meaning requiring both of these ideas, and more. A maðum is a treasured object of value received as a gift. But the value of the gift is primarily sentimental, and it was given by a child, or by an adult who did not realize that the item would be considered a gift, or treasured. It's a trivial object that a child gives you, or an older loved one leaves behind, and you cherish it forever, long after they've forgotten all about it. In fact, the giver probably forgot about it by the next day. Or by the next moment. And probably wouldn't remember if reminded.

For example, I have a stick that my eldest daughter gave me one day while I was doing yardwork. She was two years old then. The stick is slightly more than six inches long, and about a quarter of an inch in diameter. She slipped it into my shirt pocket and giggled. That evening I laid the stick on my desk and it remained there with other such objects for a while. One day I took it to work with me (don't ask me why, for I do not know) and it remained nearby, despite five different offices and three different jobs. And then I brought it home again. And I use it, virtually, when I play Pooh Sticks. It's a maðum.

William W. Patterson

Some concepts to play around with

Here are some things to try. The experiment is to see how much modification one can introduce without causing ambiguity or excessive silliness. On the other hand, excessive silliness might be the key to popularity and success!

During the Middle English period, u and v were interchangeable. Printers tended to use v initially and u in other positions.

The most common method of adverb creation was the use of the -e suffix added to the stem of the adjective.

The Old English noun lic (lik in Maðumisc), meaning body or shape, eventually became the modern like. But in the meantime it was also used as a suffix to form adjectives, sometimes in the form -ly, resulting in words such as manlike and manly. Sometimes the instrumental case of these words came to be used as adverbs. So we find glæd (glad) begetting glædlic (adj), and glædlice (adv) which is actually the same as glæde (adv). (Also see my thought of the day: Adverbs.)

I rather like the use of -nys as a variant of -ness.

Spelling reflects archaic pronunciation, for pronunciation changes with time but the printed word does not. Try pronouncing words as they are spelt. A good example is asked, far easier to pronounce as two syllables than as one.

And extending that thought, I like -t for the past tense— Askt.

Created 1996.08.24, Modified 2011.06.12