THINGS WE SIMPLY CANNOT IMPROVE.

MR. WILLIAM CAXTON, the first English printer, wrote in the preface to his English retelling of the Aeneid that he had written the tale to be understood, not to flaunt his vocabulary. The spelling and punctuation have been modernized, but the words are otherwise as Caxton wrote them.

And that common English that is spoken in one shire varieth from another. Insomuch that in my days happened that certain merchants were in a ship in Thames for to have sailed over the sea into Zealand, and for lack of wind, they tarried at Foreland, and went to land for to refresh them. And one of them named Sheffield, a mercer, came into an house and asked for meat; and specially he asked after eggs. And the goodwife answered that she could speak no French. And the merchant was angry, for he also could speak no French, but would have had eggs, and she understood him not.

And then at last another said that he would have eyren. Then the goodwife said that she understood him well.

Lo, what should a man in these days now write—“eggs” or “eyren”? Certainly it is hard to please every man because of diversity and change of language. For in these days every man that is in any reputation in his country will utter his communication and matters in such manners and terms that few men shall understand them. And some honest and great clerks have been with me, and desired me to write the most curious terms that I could find.

And thus between plain rude and curious, I stand abashed. But in my judgment, the common terms that be daily used be lighter to be understood than the old and ancient English.

Published in: on August 28, 2012 at 9:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

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