As a writer, one thing I love to study is the English language. I love words and history, so what better field of study than etymology? Fortunately for me, I had a class this past year on the history of the english language. The first half was as complicated as could be, but the second half was all history. It was worth the struggle. I learned quite a bit over that time, but I will write more on that later. We had a project to do over the course of the semester called “The Oxford English Dictionary Assignment”. Indeed, we looked up dozens of pre-assigned words and wrote little excerpts on each of them. It took a long time, and people thought it odd that I was looking through books half the size that I was for hours on end, but I loved it. You’d be amazed at the interesting words you can find while digging through a dictionary. One of the words I had to look up was the Lord and Lady.
The titles of Lord and Lady have had a joined meaning from the beginning. From the 1200’s, the titles of Lord and Lady could be used as a reference to a wife and husband: “A Lord and his Lady” or “a man and his wife”. As of the mid-13th century, a laverd was the “master of the household, the superior, the guardian”. A Lady was a “woman who ruled over subjects of feudality”. This word was a transition from the Middle English word into the Modern English word “Lord”. However, the Old English origins of these words brings quite an interesting point of connection. A Lord was a hlafweard or hlaford, and a Lady as a hlæfdige. Hladweard is composed of two Old English words. The first is hlaf meaning “bread” and the second is weard meaning “guardian”, from this is also related ward, the person that a Lord guarded. Thus, a Lord was the keeper or guardian of the bread. Another Old English word was hladaeta, a household servant, which literally meant “bread-eater”. The word hlæfdige also begins with hlaf and joins it with dige. This second word is related to daege which meant “maker of dough”. Thus, a Lady was literally the “bread maker”. A Lord and Lady were not just the rulers of a land, but the protectors and providers of their servants as well.
Now I am sure that many of you are reacting the same way that most people do when I tell them this. You may be asking,”Great, so what’s the point?”
Besides Beowulf and Canterbury Tales, The Bible and the Lord’s Prayer are two of the most popular sources, if you will, to translate between language periods and languages period. Thus, I give you the Lord’s Prayer in Old English.
Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum;
Si þin nama gehalgod
to becume þin rice
gewurþe ðin willa
on eorðan swa swa on heofonum.
urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us todæg
and forgyf us ure gyltas
swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum
and ne gelæd þu us on costnunge
ac alys us of yfele
Yes, that does look like a random assortment of lettering. I promise it is actually the Lord’s Prayer. If you look at the 6th line you will again see the word hlaf. As I am sure you can guess, that is the same word that I mentioned before. That line is asking for the “our daily bread”. Now there are many titles for God. The Christ, Saviour, Messiah, Jesus, the Triune God, Prince of peace, and Lord of lords. What is that? He is our Lord.
When I recite or read the Lord’s Prayer, I say it and mean the words. But I never really thought of the full implication of the words. He is our bread giver. He is the one who provides us with our daily needs. Without him, we would not only have no food, but no life at all. I never realized the connection between the words and their meanings until this past year. How incredible is it that when we say the Lord’s Prayer, we ask for our daily needs, our daily bread, from the Bread Guardian. Yet He is not only that, but He is the guardian of our lives as well. We are the hladaeta. We eat the bread, we are the servants in the household of our Hlaford. And we are more than just servants, but also the Lord’s ward, His keep, the ones whom He protects.
So the next time you see or say the Lord’s prayer, or even go to eat a piece of bread, remember it’s origins. If for no other reason, etymology is fascinating and it’s always good to know our roots. I mean it, go look up the many roots of english. You find why we have such odd spellings, why words mean certain things, why we have the words we have, and all about the people who used them. Then again, you could wait for my next post on etymology 🙂 But also remember that everything we have comes from our Hlaford, our Lord, because he guards and keeps us safe and well fed.
Note: the Old English translation of the Lord’s Prayer was taken off Wikipedia which has a side by side translation of the Prayer. All of the other Old English words and definitions were from the Oxford English Dictionary. However, everything written here is my original work.