Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Words from Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1342-1400) and William Shakespeare (1564-1616) are both credited with increasing English vocabulary. There is no proof that either of them actually invented the words we find in their works. All we can say for certain is that the words appeared for the first time in their works; it is likely that many of these words were in common use on the streets of London.

While Shakespeare is usually the first to come to mind when the subject of contributions to the English language comes up, Chaucer actually gets credit for having more words we know now appear in his works first. Of course, since he had a two-century head start on Shakespeare, maybe it isn't a fair contest.

Chaucer gets the credit if you can:

check the galaxy called Milky Way
bear a corrosive test
observe an oriental Persian
foster a superlative rumour
clasp a dagger
be victorious
varnish a convertible
muse on femininity
amble the equator
preen, murmur, vomit, fart, strangle, commit, retain, oppress, create a mystery, or replenish material.


  1. Would you cite the source for "Milky Way?" I'm very curious, and I might have need of that information soon.

  2. The eagle that snatches Chaucer up in The House of Fame shows him many sights, including:
    935 `Now,' quod he tho, `cast up thyn ye;
    936 See yonder, lo, the Galaxye,
    937 Which men clepeth the Milky Wey,
    938 For hit is whyt: and somme, parfey,
    939 Callen hit Watlinge Strete: