[Bards] "Vivat Ghastly Malapropism!"

Jay Rudin rudin at ev1.net
Wed Jun 13 07:04:59 PDT 2007

Rhiannon brought up an fun sidenote, unrelated to the court issues we were 
discussing, but interesting in its own right.

>>> I am a little confused. Vivat Rex is OK being in the same
>>> language but Vivat King would be wrong?

>> That's half of it, yes.  "Vivat Rex" is a well-formed Latin sentence.
>> "Vivat King" is not proper Latin or proper English or proper anything 
>> else.

> Hmm. I'm sure that usage on formal occasions would use language
> that was more formal (although I've not done any research on that
> subject.)  But a wrinkle on that would be-- that mixing Latin and a
> vernacular language together was a widespread practice in songs and 
> literature.

Meanwhile, back in court (which was the question, after all), either "Vivat 
Rex" or "Vivat Regina" has been used in every English coronation from 1308 
on.  So has "Vivat!"  By contrast, "Vivat King!" and "Vivat Queen" have not 
been shown to exist, and violate every example I've found of what did 

> Anyway, all that to say that our modern sensibilities are often more
> tender about things like that than a medieval person's would have
> been.

This is an interesting assertion.  What evidence do you have that courts 
and ceremonies were less formal then than now, or that the difference 
between Latin and English were less well known?

It's certainly true that languages are mixed more often in song.  Consider 
the modern song:
     "Que sera, sera.
     Whatever will be, will be."
The fact that this occurs now as well as then shows that it isn't an issue 
of "modern sensibilities".  Nobody would take a Doris Day song as evidence 
of what happens in formal ceremony today, and for the same reasons, a 
medieval song is not evidence of what happened in a medieval court.

> Mixing languages in the same sentence is complete and utter
> doggerel in the modern world, but without looking closer at Medieval
> texts, I'd be hard pressed to assert that it was never done in period.

"never done"?  I can't imagine anybody who would claim mixing languages was 
never done.  Certainly not me -- I know about heraldic jargon and Law 
French, not to mention the fact that English now has both the Saxon word 
"cow" and the French word "beef".  What is modern English except a mixture 
of French, German, and Latin, pronounced incorrectly?  I said that it 
wasn't a well-formed sentence.  This is true today, and it was also true in 
the Middle Ages when  Latin grammar was one of the seven Liberal Arts and 
was included as part of every bachelor's degree.  I can document *lots* of 
informal usages, then and now, which are not well formed.  I cannot 
document any such usage that was a formal part of court proceedings -- and 
neither can you.

Getting back to courts.  In England, at least, they are formal occasions. 
Sometimes Latin was used, sometimes French (early on), and sometimes 
English.  A court might have Latin chants followed by English 
pronouncements.  But I cannot find any example of a phrase with an English 
subject and a Latin predicate, and what I know of the use of Latin in court 
indicates that they would not have done such a thing.  Do you have any 
example or other evidence to the contrary?

There are many words and constructions that appear in songs today that 
would not be used in an official ceremony.  This was equally true in our 
period, and is unrelated to modern sensibilities.

Robin of Gilwell / Jay Rudin 

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