Hwæt ic dō


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Let me note right now that I study Old English casually—I’ve never had the privilege of a class, so there are probably errors in the meme. If I’ve mistranslated, please let me know.

To Learn Old English

Block 1: What I think that I do. Picture: Benjamin Bagby of Sequentia performing Beowulf.
Block 2: What my friends think that I do. Picture: awful CG version of Beowulf.
Block 3: What my father and mother think that I do. Picture: poster from 2011 Conan the Barbarian. I never saw that movie, but I thought the picture looked about right—people getting hacked to bits.
Block 4: What society (lit. the kingdom) thinks that I do. Picture: Shakespeare. Many people think that Shakespeare wrote in Old English.
Block 5: What I want to do. Picture: a medieval scribe.
Block 6: What I do. Picture: Student sleeping on pile of books.

Discere Anglicam Antiquam

I  Quod putō mē facere.
II  Quod amicī putant mē facere.
III  Quod parentēs putant mē facere.
IV  Quod vulgus putat mē facere.
V  Quod cupiō facere.
VI  Quod faciō.


Hwæt ic dō — 24 Comments

  1. Ah, here it is. I first came across your blog by seeing this image linked to on The Lord of the Rings Plaza – thought it was hilarious and wanted to see where it came from (and who was writing Old English!). Only just found this post though.

    1.On the Old English, I think the inflected infinitive would be better for the title: tó leornienne.
    2. It would probably be better to construe Englisc as the neuter noun rather than modifying an implied reorde, and so with eald rather than ealde.
    3. The word fréond has a rather unusual declension (they’re historically related to present participles, actually), and the nominative plural is actually formed just with umlaut: fríend. The adjective should have the nominative plural masculine strong ending, míne.
    4. In the second to last caption, you’ll want the plain infinitive, without (though if you did have , the inflected infinitive would be dónne).

    In general, there’s a pretty difficult problem of syntax in translating this meme into Old English. The meme, as far as I can tell, uses a special kind of construction (called a ‘pseudo-cleft’), where you have a relative clause as the subject of the copula. The captions express the relative clause, and the image iconically supplies the predicate (X is this image, where X = the relative clause in the caption).

    The problem is basically that Old English a) doesn’t have a construction with this precise focusing nuance, and b) doesn’t form relative clauses with ‘wh’ words. I’m not sure what the best way to render this would be. You might use a free standing relative clause: [This picture is] þæt þe ic þence ic dó. Or you might use something like ic þence þætte þis ic dó, which is possibly more idiomatic than a free standing relative (though I’m not sure), but feels a little less snappy to me.

    Either way, it’s a shame to lose the hwæt‘s, which people usually enjoy coming across (unfortunately Old English just didn’t use them this way). Unless you want to keep this more intelligible to Modern English readers, in which case you might just leave it as is, calquing the syntax and construction of the Modern English.

    • Once again, thank you! (Not as many mistakes as I thought I’d have!) And thank you for your patient, detailed explanations.

      Whenever I do memes, I match MnE syntax as closely as seems reasonable, and I try to pick words that became similar in MnE. For the sake of humor, I kept the meme’s original syntax even though it doesn’t correspond to historically-accurate Old English.

      Of course, that explanation makes it sound like I had very carefully considered OE construction of relative clauses and selected a non-historical syntax over several more linguistically-accurate possibilities. You have a far better idea of the translation difficulties than I do. I looked at a number of relative clause constructions, looked up examples of each, then scrapped the lot for the sake of internet familiarity. ^_^;

  2. Mad props for using the correct (accusative + Infinitive form) for your indirect statements! A few fixes on the Latin, though (can’t speak to the Old English):
    1. You should use a feminine form for the adjective in the title: it modifies an implicit “linguam”; otherwise it says “learn an ancient Englishman.” You may want to use an adjective derived from the tribal name, too, like “anglicam.”
    2. You probably want to avoid cogito altogether, since it means more “think about (stuff)” than “think” (i.e., believe). Puto would probably be more normal.
    3. It looks like spell-check had its way with the verb in item IV, since it should not have the final e if “societas” is the subject.
    4. Societas is not really “society” in Latin, except in the sense of “secret society.” You made the wise choice to change this to “kingdom” in OE, and a similar change would improve the Latin: might I suggest populus, or better yet, vulgus? That will carry a good bit of the tone of contempt the unwashed masses who think Shakespeare wrote in Old English (imagine, they’ve probably never even HEARD about Chaucer and Middle English!) that you are trying to capture here.
    5. In number V, you shouldn’t use an accusative subject for the infinitive facere, since the subject is the same as the subject of the main verb. Just leave it out, as you would in English: cupio facere.
    6. Finally, I would change every quid to a quod. Quid is strictly interrogative or indefinite: “What am I doing?” would use quid. When we caption something “What etc. etc.” it is (I think) an implicit relative pronoun, i.e. “(This is) what I want to do.”

    Just a random act of Latin correction…no need to post this comment (or feel free to delete it), I just thought you might want to edit the Latin to make it a little more authentic.

    • Thank you! Just as I have no teacher for OE, I also have no teacher for Latin, and since I’ve barely made it through Wheelock’s, I appreciate all the help I can get. I blog in Latin and OE so that I can get help from wonderful people like you. I don’t have anyone to correct me, so I imagine I’m doing it correctly until told otherwise. :)

    • Glad you liked the meme! Oxford has clearly stated that the OED is descriptive and not prescriptive, so if we keep using “hwaet,” they’ll have to give it to us, right? (Of course, it would mean new keyboards for everybody–pardon my lack of ash; I’m not on my laptop with the custom keyboard right now.)

      • I’d be totally okay with a modernised spelling, if they’d just let it in. My 5-year old uses it when she wants my attention: “Hwaet, Mommy, hwaet.” So cute. Oh, and I hope you don’t mind if I send this on to Bagby – he should get a good laugh out of being in a meme.

        • That’s pretty awesome that your 5-year-old learned “hwæt!”

          If you think he would enjoy it, go for it! I’m a great admirer of Benjamin Bagby. Seeing Sequentia this spring was definitely the high point in my year.

          • Ah, I thought you might have been responsible for those socks! I’ve been begging my sister (http://plethoricpolymath.wordpress.com/) to make me some of those. Sequentia doesn’t come as far south as I live very often, so I haven’t gotten to see the Beowulf performance yet, but I’m hoping I’ll get to see it someday. Benjamin Bagby is so awesome! I’m so pleased to hear nice things about him.

          • What gave me away? 😉 Well, if your sister doesn’t get on with it, you’ll have to learn to knit.
            Ben just might be even more delightful as a person than as a performer. He’s really one of my favourite people.

          • It was because you said that your 5-year-old learned to say “hwaet.” I remember reading about that when we first found your pattern–we thought the story was really cute. :) I can knit, but my skills, time, and patience aren’t up to this pattern’s level of difficulty! My sister is a much better knitter than I am, and she adores knitting socks.

          • I, uh, may have purchased this pattern some time ago. And I may or may not be trying to accomplish something interesting with it. Along with the socks, of course. Last I remember I was looking for the right shades of parchment-cream and dark green, then got sidetracked with some sweaters. Ninquelen on Ravelry.

            I strive via birthday and Christmas presents to equip her to do any of the above six activities. Still haven’t hashed out a good plan to steal Bagby’s harp yet.

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