Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Appendix NF: Avoid the flumpf, get a Dictionary of Early English

Say you're making up monsters for your new dungeon but all your monster names tend to sound like you ripped them off from the Fiend Folio.  Or maybe you're trying to infuse your campaign with atmosphere by creating your own "common" dialect which you will force your players to learn and use during play. Try dipping into the past for inspiration by incorporating long forgotten words from our own blessed language with the help of the Dictionary of Early English.  Written by Joseph T. Shipley, and published by Littlefield, Adams & Co. in 1968--though numerous tomes of its ilk exist, this just happens to be the one I own--I highly recommend it to other word nerds.

Sure you can look up the roots of old words on the internet without owning a good ol' fashioned paper n' ink book; which is definitely handy when you're researching, say, the level title of your favorite character classes.  But where texts like this beat out the internet and your kindle is in the serendipitous discoveries one unearths merely by flipping through the pages.  Say you've got time to kill while you download the latest OSR retroclone from Bloated Houserules Publishing; you grab the ol' dictionary and flip it open to page 439.  There's mordincancy, any old schooler is going to want to know if it has something to do with big creepy hands, right?  Nope, it means biting or pungent.  Then there's Rosencrantz's old buddy morgenstern; a spiked club, but, on hindsight, that seems obvious.   Then comes morglay, from Welsh Mawr, great + cleddyf, sword--whence Claymore. And finally, moria; folly.  With all due respect to the Professor, Sindarin for "Black Chasm" my ass! 

Some other highlights: 
Barbigerous--a most imposing beard
Gnomide--female gnome
lant--urine, another interesting tidbit: it was a common ingredient in ale; bear this in mind the next time your home-brewing buddy offers you a pint of his latest batch of double-lanted.
Paynim--the country or lands of the heathens; Greyhawk Enthusiasts will appreciate this one
Penster--a puny wielder of the pen. Hmmmm, I'm thinking of renaming my blog...

and best of all: 120 different -mancies show you how to divine the future!

7 comments:

Jeff Rients said...

Oh, man. I'm totally jealous of your cool book.

cyclopeatron said...

Wow! I gotta get one!!!

richard said...

My favourite method of divination is haruspicy. Mostly for its etymology: I wouldn't want to do it myself.

Timrod said...

I woke up this morning with the cold realization that Morgenstern was not Rosencrantz's chum of Hamlet fame--as I incorrectly referenced in my post--but rather was Mary (Tyler Moore) Richard's best friend Rhoda! Cripes.

Jeff Rients said...

Oh, crap. You're right. He's Guildenstern. How could I have missed that? I wrote a lengthy paper on those two as an undergrad.

Timrod said...

I'm glad I'm not alone in missing that one. Besides having read Hamlet several times in college; ages ago I worked for the company that published Tom Stoppard's plays. The Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead movie poster hung directly across from my desk for years. The image is indelibly imprinted in my brain and yet it totally failed me at the moment of truth.

Timrod said...

Hey-zeus F Craphole; another screwed up reference in this post: Mordenkainen was the dancing sword/faithful hound guy! It was Bigby who had the hand fetish.