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A New Book

How we’d talk if the English had won in 1066
by David Cowley

Bright Pen Books, 2009. 266 pages. Price £9.99. Available from
Also available as an e-book at

At long last, yes, it has taken 943 years, someone has written systematically about what English would probably have been like, had the Norman-French invasion and occupation not taken place. True, in the nineteenth century the poet-priest and scholar William Barnes began the task, but David Cowley now takes it further.

A key feature of the book is that the words covered are updated forms of known Old English originals. Thus, brand new words are coined from English roots in the way that Barnes (and indeed the Old English themselves) often did. No surprises to learn than that the book has received the recommendation of the renowned Professor David Crystal, who has called its word-formations ‘clever and ingenious’.

Indeed, they are. As a true teacher who has clearly worked with young people, David Cowley explains very logically and in simple and popular language how he has projected English as it might have been. This book also provides a dictionary of over 100 pages to translate our Latinised modern English into an Old English reborn. Here are some examples of these real English words to use instead of our Latinised words, presented in alphabetical order:

Agriculture – earthtilth
Butcher – fleshmonger
Chapel – bedehouse
Debate – wordwrestle
Epilepsy – fallsickness
Frivolity – lightmoodness
Genuflection – kneebowing
Human race – earthkin
Indigenous – inlandish
Jaundice – yellowaddle
Lethally – deathbearly
Market – chapstow
Nautical – shiply
Obstinacy – onewillness
Pedestrian – footly
Quality – suchness
Refuge – frithstowe
Satisfactory – enoughsome
Treasury – goldhoardhouse
Unreliable – untruefast
Verbose – wordful

Belonging to the ‘What if’ school of history, this is a fascinating and highly educational book which we would recommend to anyone interested in the English language or languages in general. If that is not you, surely you do know someone who would enjoy it as a Christmas present. At 266 pages and at a penny shy of ten pounds, it is in any case a very stimulating buy.

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