Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Terms of Venery

The old Knight shook his white head doubtfully. "There is so much to be learned that there is no one who can be said to know all," said he. "For example, Nigel, it is sooth that for every collection of beasts of the forest, and for every gathering of birds of the air, there is their own private name so that none may be confused with another."
"I know it, fair sir."
"You know it, Nigel, but you do not know each separate name, else are you a wiser man than I had thought you. In truth none can say that they know all, though I have myself picked off eighty and six for a wager at court, and it is said that the chief huntsman of the Duke of Burgundy has counted over a hundred—but it is in my mind that he may have found them as he went, for there was none to say him nay. Answer me now, lad, how would you say if you saw ten badgers together in the forest?"
This passage from Conan Doyle's Sir Nigel errs in setting the fully developed vocabulary of terms of venery in the 14th century, but it's probably right on an important point. Most of the terms probably entered the language when an erudite expert invented them when they "found them as he went, for there was none to say him nay."

2 comments:

Ed Thyberg said...

Sir John Buttesthorn, the Knight of Duplin, is one of my favorite characters. A role model for Ned Walderne. Thanks for posting this.

Will McLean said...

And Sir Nigel was for many years a role model for Galleron de Cressy, my SCA persona. What I love about this exchange is Conan Doyle's intuition that the fully developed terms of venery are completely divorced from practical need. Medieval English hunters had no need for a special word for multiple lions, or, for that matter, for multiple foxes, since the fox was not a pack animal.