One of the things I love about Old English* is how it gives you a little bit of insight into how early medieval people thought. Like, there are a lot of names for swords: Beaduscearp (“keen in battle”) and Beadulēoma (“light of battle”), among others. They named their swords the way some people name their trucks.
An āc is an oak, and an ācweorna is a squirrel, weorna being a nominalization (noun formed from a verb) of “wiernan” or “to withhold.” So, literally, a squirrel is a withholder of things from an oak tree.
They also used a lot of kennings, which are basically metaphors. The ocean is called “the whale-way” and an honest person is a “clean-heart.” Some of these are poetic usages and others of them are mundane, everyday words.
My favorite: The word for a library is bōchord, literally “book-hoard”; you know I had to steal that one for my library on this website. The accent on the o is a macron, and means the vowel is pronounced as a long vowel sound, literally “o” as in “oh” or “ode” but you can see in modern English we pronounce the word with a /u/ sound.
Though Old English is a Germanic language that modern English speakers can’t understand without taking a class or two, you can see lots of connections to modern English if you poke around a bit: “ærning” means running, racing, flow of blood; can you see “yearning” in that? The æ is a ligature called an æsh, and it means that the vowel sounds like the “a” in cat. The æsh is also an Old English rune for “ash tree.”
And if you know an æðeling (pronouncing the eth as a “th”: ætheling) is “a person of royal or noble blood” then æðelstenc (pronouncing the c as a “ch”) becomes “athel-stench” or a noble smell.
Others you can puzzle out by sounding them: amelcan is a-milkin’ is milking. A pricung is remorse; can you see “pricking” (“my conscience pricked me”)?
And my favorite, yrðling: “earthling” meaning “farmer.”
I wanted to put some of that Old English feel into The Wanderer and so I’ve used some of these great old words in it, though in most cases I’ve translated them into modern English (as with “shoulder-companion”). And even if I’ve kept the original Old English, as in the name for the messenger god Aeboda, I’ve simplified the letters—there are no æshes (æ), no eths (ð), no macrons (ō), no yoghs (Ʒ), and the only thorns (Þ) are the literal ones.
*Old English is the same thing as the Anglo-Saxon language/period, and Anglo-Saxon is probably more frequently used these days, but A-S has also been appropriated by those white supremacist bastards, so to make sure you know I’m not one of them I stick with Old English. I love the language and the poetry, not the bigoted jackasses.