Tag Archives: chaucer



This week’s word is corny. Something is corny if it’s banal or sentimental so it’s generally used in a derogatory fashion. The question is – how did mawkish sentimentality become associated with delicious corn on the cob, or corn off the cob for that matter?

According to the QI Elves on the No Such Thing As A Fish podcast – we have the word corny thanks to American corn farmers and they’re mostly right.

Corny originated as American English slang in 1932 to describe something as sentimental, old-fashioned, and appealing to country folk.

Assuming all North American country folk are involved in farming corn is a stretch, however 59% of US farmland is growing it even today. That’s 90 million acres of land and it’s 95% of the feed grain produced in the country. So perhaps associating American farmers with corn production isn’t too wide of the mark. I remain to be convinced of their penchant for old-fashioned, corny sentimentality though.

Corny entered the English language a little earlier than the 1930s, however. Chaucer used the word to describe ale in the late 1300s, possibly meaning the drink was malty. From the 1570s corny could also describe corn or anything full of corn – which seems logical. It took another 370 years to arrive as a way to denigrate songs and movies as cloyingly sweet or old-fashioned.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and corn-eating,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

A jangler and a goliardais


Today’s words come with thanks to Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” and in particular his Miller’s Tale (more details here).

A jangler is one who talks idly or noisily, or both. I imagine a circus performer who patters incessantly during his act might be a juggling jangler. The word itself is first recorded around Chaucer’s time and originated in German/middle English. The version of it that we still use today is jangle.

A goliardais was a teller of obscene tales. The origin of the word is more complex. Prior to Chaucer’s time the Goliards were actually a protest movement against what they saw as the failure and abuses of the Catholic church of their time. They wrote satires using church imagery and language. They demonstrated, lewdly, during services. Apparently they even trailed herrings on strings behind them in procession to Mass (perhaps a start of the “red herring” so beloved by mystery authors?). Their poetry went on to inspire and set the tradition for later satirists like Jonathon Swift.¬† By the time of Chaucer, the term had changed to mean a wandering ministrel.

So, in essence, a jangler and a goliardais, is a word-fool, and we doff our bell-embellished hat to all such creatures.

Until next time, happy reading, writing and wordfooling,


Bidaffed and fordrunk


I’ve chosen two Middle English words this week, both coming from Geoffrey Chaucer’s surprisingly funny “Canterbury Tales” which I read and reviewed this year for my 501 Books Reading Challenge.

The first is bidaffed (I presume this is pronounced as bee-daff-ed, but my Middle English is a little rusty on accent!). It means to make a fool of someone or to outwit them. Any word relating to folly is welcome here at WordFoolery, how could I resist this one? Plus it raises the charming mental image of bedecking an enemy with daffodils to make them look idiotic.

The second is fordrunk¬† (presumably pronounced “four-drunk”, as in a German pronunciation) and it means to be very drunk, or addicted to drink. I suspect being bidaffed and fordrunk may happen at the same time.

I think both of these words deserve a long over-due comeback. What do you think?

Many thanks to the notes in my copy of Canterbury Tales and to the excellent online Middle English Dictionary at University of Michigan for helping with my definitions this week.

Until next week, happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,