Wordhord Book

An entertaining and illuminating collection of weird, wonderful and downright baffling words from the origins of English…

A book, The Wordhord: Daily Life in Old English, by Hana Videen, against a background of woven textiles. The cover background is white with a gold and red border with decorative gold dots. The title and author’s name are written inside an arched window shape, with a border of Old English words surrounding it: wæfre-gange, gafol-fisc, hring-finger, on-lucan, cwen, æg, dust, beo-gang, lig-draca, wyrd, dream-cræft, hærfest, and druncen-georn. The area surrounding the Old English word border has wood-cut style illustrations in red and gold, each in its own compartment but overlapping slightly: a spider, a fish, the letter h in a calligraphic style, a hand with a ring, a key, a woman carrying a basket of eggs, a bee, a dragon, an ink pot and quill with scroll of paper, a man playing a harp, a bundle of wheat, and a goblet.

‘The perfect way to be introduced to Old English’ – David Crystal

Old English is the language you think you know until you actually hear or see it. Used throughout much of Britain over a thousand years ago, it is rich with words that haven’t changed (like word), others that are unrecognisable (such as neorxnawang, or paradise) and some that are curious even in translation (gafol-fisc literally means tax-fish).

The Wordhord gathers these gems into a glorious trove of the strange, familiar and unexpectedly apt, and through them illuminates the lives, beliefs and habits of the earliest English speakers. We discover a world where choking on a bit of bread might prove your guilt, where fiend-ship was as likely as friend-ship, and you might grow up to be a laughter-smith.

These are the magical roots of the language you’re reading right now: you’ll never look at – or speak – English in the same way again.

The Wordhord is out now in the UK (Profile Books)! A North American edition by Princeton University Press is coming 12 April 2022.

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Praise for The Wordhord

‘Splendid … it is the perfect way to be introduced to Old English. There is insight on every page, in a beautifully clear and down-to-earth style, with humorous asides.’ – David Crystal

‘A wonderful book heaving with linguistic treasure, a joyfully clever exploration of early medieval life.’ – Edward Brooke-Hitching, author of The Madman’s Library

‘A rich meditation on words, a thoughtful cultural history and a delicious box of delights to dip into during stolen moments. I loved this book – and learnt more from it than from any number of solemn language primers. Hana Videen has created a marvel.’ – Nicola Griffith, author of Hild

‘Wonderful’ – Tom Holland

‘A lovely, lovely read’ – Lucy Mangan

‘Thorough, entertaining, and absolutely fascinating.’ Paul Anthony Jones, Haggard Hawks

‘A treasure trove of forgotten words, their meanings and origins, written with insight and humour’ – Marshall Julius

‘A classy gift to the commonly word-drunk’ – The Guardian

The back cover of a book against a background of woven textiles. The cover background is white with a gold and red border with decorative gold dots. The text within an arched window shape are quotations from Edward Brooke-Hitching and David Crystal. ‘A blurb for the book says: ‘Ever seen the beauty of neorxnawang? Heard of a gafol-fisc? Or spoken a word? When is un-tima, and why is it a time to do nothing? And what exactly is bee-bread? Come, reader, the wordhord is unlocked… A border of Old English words surrounds the window: blowan, cwen-fugol, uht, feond-scipe, mona, cen, æppel-tun, wyrd-writere, cu-wearm, wif, and flod-wudu. The area surrounding the Old English word border has wood-cut style illustrations in red and gold, each in its own compartment but overlapping slightly: a flower, a rooster, the sun, a sword, the moon and stars, a torch, grapes on a vine, and a monk writing in a book.