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Chaucer’s English

chaucerThe highlander often speak in Elizabethan or Chaucerian or even pre-Charcerian terms.  His pronoun hit antedates English itself, being the Anglo-Saxon neuter of he.  Ey God, a favorite expletive, is the original of egad, and goes back of Chaucer.  Ax for ask and kag for keg were the primitive and legitimate forms, which one can traces as far as the time of Layamon.  When the mountain boy challenges his mate: “I dar ye – I ain’t afeared!” his verb and participle are of the same ancient and sterling rank.  Afore, atwixt, awar, help o’ folks, peart, up and done it, usen for used, all these everyday expressions of the backwoods were contemporary with the Canterbury Tales.

A remarkable word, common in the Smokies, is dauncy, defined as “mincy about eating,” which is to say fastidious, over-nice.  Dauncy probably is a variant of daunch, of which the Oxford New English Dictionary but one example from the Townley Mysteries of circa 1460.

A strange term used by Carolina mountaineers, without the faintest notion of its origin, is doney (long o) or doney-gal, meaning a sweetheart.  Its history is unique.  British sailors of the olde time brought it to England from Spainish or Italian ports.  Doney is simply dona or donna a trifle anglicized in proununciation.  Odd, though, that it should be preserved in America by none but backwoodsmen whose ancestors for two centuries never saw the tides.

We have in the mountains many home born words to fit the circumstances of backwoods life.  When maize has passed from the soft and milky stage of roasting ears but is not yet hard enough for grinding, the ears are grated into a soft meal and baked into delectable pones called gritted-bread.