Monday, August 04, 2008

Chaucer: "And thou shalt make hym couche as doth a quaille"

Chaucer's Clerk
"And thou shalt make hym couche as doth a quaille"
Canterbury Tales, "Clerk's Tale," line 1206
(Image from Harvard's Geoffrey Chaucer Page)

Two days ago, I quoted an email from my Aunt Pauline to my daughter, Sa-Rah, in which the word "quaille" was used:
I hatched about one hundred and fifty quaille for Velna . . . they sure are growing and she loves them . . . . these are birds.
I remarked on this spelling:
Quaille, as Aunt Pauline explains -- in case Sa-Rah doesn't know -- are birds. When my aunt says that she 'hatched' the quaille, she means that she used a brooder, a box-like structure often heated by lights. That word "quaille"' must be an Ozark variant for "quail," possibly a holdover from "quaille" in Middle English.
Trolling around the internet, I located this use of the word "quaille" in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, where it appears in his rendition of "The Clerk's Tale," specifically, in the "envoy" (i.e., concluding stanzas"), where the clerk advises wives not to be too submissive to their husbands, unlike the 'long-suffering' Griselda. See line 1206 of the passage below, which includes the word "quaille" in a conveniently interlinear arrangement providing both the Middle English and Modern English versions:
Ne dreed hem nat; doth hem no reverence, 1201
Fear them not; do them no reverence, 1201

For though thyn housbonde armed be in maille, 1202
For though thy husband be armed in mail, 1202

The arwes of thy crabbed eloquence 1203
The arrows of thy spiteful eloquence 1203

Shal perce his brest and eek his aventaille. 1204
Shall pierce his breast and also his neck-guard. 1204

In jalousie I rede eek thou hym bynde, 1205
In jealousy I advise also that thou bind him, 1205

And thou shalt make hym couche as doth a quaille. 1206
And thou shalt make him cower as does a quail. 1206
Chaucer was writing in the late 14th century, over 600 years ago, but as I've noted before, Ozark dialect has retained old meanings and old words, so it may even have kept some older spellings . . . or my aunt might have picked up this spelling of "quaille" from her high school Chaucer many years ago.

The Oxford English Dictionary dates this use by Chaucer to 1386, though it cites "Thou shalt make hym couche as doth a quaille" as line 1150 (OED Compact Edition, Volume 2, page 2381D).

The word "quaille" looks like a borrowed word, and a check of online dictionaries confirms this. In The Free Dictionary by Farlex, we find this: "Middle English quaille, from Old French, perhaps from Vulgar Latin *coacula, of imitative origin." The Online Etymological Dictionary is more informative, telling us that the word entered English around 1300, via Old French, which also provided the spelling "quaille":
c.1300, quayle, from O.Fr. quaille, perhaps via M.L. quaccula (cf. Prov. calha, It. quaglia, O.Sp. coalla), from a Gmc. source (cf. O.H.G. quahtala "quail," Ger. Wachtel), imitative of the bird's cry.
Interestingly, the word seems to have originated in the Germanic tongue despite coming into English by way of Latin and French.

And that's as far as I have time to investigate this unusual spelling, but if anyone knows other cases of the spelling "quaille" in English, whether Medieval or Modern, please let me know.

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At 6:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have decided to refrain (there's that word again, Jeffery)!, from writing any more stories for a while, as I "quaille" in anguish from all the snide {or snyde?} remarks resulting from my true, honest, and gripping {causing griping} tales, such griping therepon ensuing from such.
Seems as though if you search long enough, what we might at present consider "wronge" spieling is actually "wrighte."
So we need to be more circumspecte in our di/bi-secting other folke's
All please take heede.

At 7:10 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran is again writing in Middle English even though he is rather older than that, but I've sworn to stop joshing him for a while, so that's all for now...

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

At 8:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like a plan.

Thanks for the "cease and desist" Cran. I've been finding myself in far too many obscure texts in order to rise to your (challenging) challenges.


At 8:06 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, have any of your kenfolk ever spelled "quail" using the older form "quaille"?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not that I've seen. I ken pronunciations tho'.


At 8:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppose I should extend that a bit.

Lu-"ll"-aby. Pronounce s l o w l y.


At 8:59 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, I pronounced it so godawful slow that I dang nearly fell asleep . . . yet, I'm none the kenner.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The transition from the first l to the second. The phonal sound. Perhaps that particular word could be substituted with syllable but it doesn't seem to most precisely match my remembrances of quaille.

Anyway. Sweet dreams.


At 9:56 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Maybe it's more like "lul-la-by"? Or do you mean "lu-lul-by"?

But "quail" doesn't sound like a double-ell to me.

Maybe I've been away too long...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like Cran says. Okey dokey?

(Otherwise known as, hoisting the white petard:)


At 10:22 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Toil it for all it's worth, JK, but just don't blow yourself up.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Which reminds me of another story..........OUCH! I'LL GET OFF, LINDA GAY!

At 10:35 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I see that Linda Gay got her man.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: "hoisting the white petard:"
My ancient dictionary has the following:
Petard, to break wind behind, to bounce, from.
1. a metal cone filled with explosives.
2. a kind of firecracker.
Hoist with one's own petard: caught in one's own trap; involved in dangers meant for others....

To which meaning are you suggesting/referring?
Or do you mean "all of the above?"

Or perhaps you meant "wearing the bar sinister upon one's escetcheon."

Please confirm or elaborate on your meaning.
Awaiting with 'baited' breath.
I'll rinse my mouth later.


At 4:18 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Baited breath? I thought that you bravely threw those worms in the creek!

By the way, Uncle Cran, is "escetcheon" the same as "escutcheon"?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well Cran,

If your dictionary reads as mine does, it really only say's (I know it doesn't actually "say" anything-a road "goes" nowhere right?") "hoisting by one's own petard" doesn't it? Of course all the other definitions pertain to just the petard thing. Nowhere does your (likely) dictionary mention anything at all concerning "white", right? Petard, as far as your dictionary is concerned is colorblind, correct?

Still with me Cran?

OK. Yet JK writes, "white petard". There must be some significance (I hope that the least hillbilly among us-if there is a possibility of "a least hillbilly"-would consider that JK recognizes a simple "white flag" could have been used, yet he writes, "white petard?"

Do have a shade tree nearby Cran? Perhaps within walking distance of a freshwater spring-preferably not within reach of attacking bears nor catfish?

Take thee to thine shade tree. Oh, take your dictionary too. If you have any obscure texts around take them too.

I'll return and check in with you: after I've had my nap.


At 5:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Escutcheon it is....once again caught with my finger on the wronge keeye.
I recall that HJH had sworn to stop joshing for a while.
"For a while = one day, looks like."
I wonder if you were thinking that I perhaps might have been "sitting on my own cactus, right?" They are usually green(ish).
My outdated dictionary is kind of heavy, so I'll just keep it near my desk in my AC & FAN COOLED computer room.
Rather than going under my hot shade tree (102 degrees), my wife & I will be going to Silver Dollar City early in the morning to visit our two sons Kevin, James & their families, then pataking of an evening meal in the metropolis of Branson, before returning home for a weekly visit with James & family before he goes to NATO headquarters in Germany for two years.
Jeffery and JK
Thank you both for your kind, informative and educational blogs.
They put a warm feeling in my lonely old heart. {Or is it just heartburn?}!
Did I say earlier that my "gripping" stories would cause 'griping,' or just a case of the 'grippe?' That must be a Middle English spellinge of something!

At 5:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did my arthritic finger leave out an "r" in one of my words?
Just use a red permanent marker to correct it on your computer screen,....thank you.

At 6:20 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK has a blog? I knew that he was full of blog entries (thus the petard problem), but a genuine blog? Where?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Kevin, James & their families, then pataking"

Does this mean you're to meet a former Governor of a Northeastern state after the meal?

Enjoy the occasion Cran. Tell former Gov. Pataki JK say's "Hi."

Oh. If one would want to find out what a "monkey's fist" was, where might one look?


At 6:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll be dadgonned. For an older gent, you are at least nimble enough to slip in when a feller is composin'.

I can see now how a gent might prefer to walk home after a bear attack.

Oh, Linda Gay? If Cran somehow makes it to NATO HQ, please see that he doesn't get near any computers. Please?


At 7:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JK & I are on your blog so much, we are beginning to think it is actually and equally OURS!
My two day absence might be much appreciated.
The phrase "monkey's fist," has no meaning, thus no interest for, me.
(Unless you might want to scramble the letters in your nationexpla so there won't be unmentionable words on OUR blog)

At 9:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You owned a ship, correct?

Hint: "BJM"


At 10:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, JK;
I and the other 160 plus officers and enlisted crew could truly call the USS Barry, (DD933), flagship of DESRON 6, and at the time largest destroyer in the United States Navy, "Our Ship." Listening to Moscow Molly while on our 6 month tour of duty in the Mediterranean Sea in 1958, guarding our nation's freedom, we heard her tell how Comrade Kruschev was going to make flaming coffins of the Sixth Fleet, we heard her name the various ships and their location. Then she said, "And there is a new type Cruiser now in the Mediterranean with the numbers 933 on her bow."
They knew! We also knew where her submarines were at all times, their speed, course and depth. And we were ready to defend our country.
And my crew, and the hundreds of sailors who served on her also in later years, are ready to defend our right to call her our ship collectively, and "my ship" individually.
Only a true sailor can understand.

At 11:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


My curiosity got the best of me, so I looked up "Monkey Fist" on Google, and it said a monkey fist was a knot in the end of a rope, made for the purpose of making it easier to throw.
I was a RADIOMAN, an elite member of the Communications and Operations group, part of the eyes and ears of the ship, including radarmen, sonarmen, signalmen, and Electronic Technicians.
The ropes, (actually called 'lines' or 'hawsers," depending on their sizes, were handled by the "deck apes," officially known as Bosn Mates.
We knew how to set up and operate radios, teletype, morse code, weather imaging equipment, and the typing and distributing of all messages sent to and received from other ships and Naval headquarters relating to our task force.
The only knot I was required to know in boot camp was the square knot. We had more important things to do.

At 12:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You owned a crew too, "my crew" you didn't mention that you owned "those who followed" so I guess your certificate of title was temporary?

After reading what your nephew wrote about a certain feature of your head hovering above your ship, I understand how you could have been "...the ears of..." That's one of the reasons I avoid putting pictures on the net, don't need anyone making comparisons between my rating and my facial or other features.

I take it you don't still retain your "BJM" or you would understand why I chose to write, "white petard?"

But still, enjoy your visit with your sons.


At 3:35 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran, as far as I understand, JK is an old Navy man himself and thus probably does understand . . . despite his 'polite sarcasm'.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JK, you are an old navy man yourself? You have risen slightly in my estimation.
No, my old BlueJacket's Manual has long gone, as well as my uniforms, which Linda Gay made into small sailor suits for my boys. Just memories remain.
Some of my crew have been in contact since about the last ten years. They are getting together in september for a USS Barry reunion. With Gay's illness, her mom's health problems, my committment at Bakersfield school, etc. I wasn't able to find a way to go.
Jeffery, thank you for the update on JK. In some areas he is close-mouthed.
I'll be back back wednesday night.
Can't wait to see what is on "our" blog when I check thursday morning.

At 9:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please excuse my politeness Cran,

Actually my rating didn't include the necessity of knowing how to tie a monkey's fist either. I simply fashioned the clue (considering you "might" google it) thinking "Now where might I find information on how to tie obscure knots". Monkey's Fists being primarily a maritime knot.

My actual rating more closely approximated yours', I was not what you and I would refer to as, "a blackshoe sailor" either.

May you travel calm seas. Thursday.



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