“Knights” Didn’t Exist in the Dark Ages

So you’re in your friend’s Dungeons and Dragons campaign, set in a fantasy version of medieval Europe. You haven’t come across any guns, feudalism is everywhere, there have been Monty Python and the Holy Grail references every ten minutes for the last three hours. Your character is a paladin, a holy knight in shining armor. Sure, there are plenty of anachronisms to be expected in this situation, but one of them you might not expect is the existence of a knight in shining armor at all.

“Knight” as a word started out meaning “servant,” and didn’t even necessarily mean a soldier until 1100 AD, 700 years after the beginning of the dark ages and only a couple hundred years out from the Rennaissance. Even then, it was a loosely-defined word, basically just “cavalryman,” and didn’t carry any connection to nobility until the medieval period was already ending in the 1500s. That is after Columbus discovered America. There are similar timelines for chevalier and caballaro and other translations, too. If you ever imagine a person getting “knighted” and then insisting on being called “sir” like a title, and that person doesn’t know where Florida is, you’re picturing history wrong.

Image Source: By Saffron Blaze [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons


Meaning “military follower of a king or other superior” is from c. 1100. It began to be used in a specific military sense in the Hundred Years War, and gradually rose in importance until it became a rank in the nobility from 16c.
Online Etymology Dictionary: Knight

 

cavalier (n.): 1580s, “a horseman,” especially if armed, from Italian cavalliere “mounted soldier, knight; gentleman serving as a lady’s escort,” […]
Online Etymology Dictionary: Cavalier

 

chivalrous (adj.): mid-14c., “pertaining to chivalry or knight-errantry,” from Old French chevaleros “knightly, noble, chivalrous,” from chevalier (see chevalier; also compare chivalry). According to OED, obsolete in English and French from mid-16c. Not revived in French, but brought back in English 1770s by romantic writers with a sense of “having high qualities (gallantry, courage, magnanimity) supposed to be characteristic of chivalry.” 
Online Etymology Dictionary: Chivalrous

On the Origin of Cuss Words

Language Warning


Cuss words are fun. But misconceptions abound about where they come from. Ever heard the “ship high in transit,” “pluck you,” or “fornication under consent of the King” myths? Total bogus. That being said, here’s a handy guide to when naughty words were first uttered (or at least written).

  • Fuck – a tough one to track down, but c. 1500. Side-note, there was a guy named John Le Fucker in 1278, but that’s probably just a (hilarious) coincidence. First appearance with this spelling was 1535, in the following passage: “Bischops … may fuck thair fill and be vnmaryit” (Bishops may fuck their fill and be unmarried), which continues to be hilarious.” 
    • Fucker – 1590 (Bonus Round! Duck-fucker – 1796)
    • Motherfucker – 1928 in concept, 1956 in all its modern glory
  • Shit – oddly enough sharing an origin with “science” and “conscience” because it comes from a word for “to split off from.” This one goes back to Proto-Indo-European, English’s great-grandaddy, so I don’t have a specific year for you.
    • Bullshit – 1915
    • Chickenshit – 1947
    • Horseshit – 1935
    • Jack-shit – 1968
    • Batshit – 1967
    • Pigshit – 2017? Let’s make it a thing.
  • Damn – meaning “to condemn or convict” comes from the late 1200s. But the source can be traced back to a Proto-Indo-European prefix “dap-” which goes back well beyond ancient Rome.
    • Goddamn – late 1300s
    • Dang – 1781
  • Hell – Another one with a Proto-Indo-European ancient root going back millennia, this one coming from an ancient word meaning “to conceal.” The word is actually a Germanic pagan one, adapted by Christians while Christianity was spreading.
  • Bitch – as a curse instead of just a description of female dogs, it comes from around 1400.
    • Sonofabitch – literally comes from 1707, but the concept has been around since Old Norse, who had “bikkju-sonr,” or “bitch’s son.” So it’s been a while.

Image By David Lee from Redmond, WA, USA (Please stop yelling, I’m trying to think) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

All word origins sourced from http://www.etymonline.com/