Bankeþ Airplane

In honour of the beginning of summer, this post arrives on your blogstep at the same moment as the sun is overhead the Tropic of Cancer, and I have a summer song for you.

This is possibly the oldest known English song. It dates from around 1240, so after the Norman invasion, before the great vowel shift, before foreign typesetters tossed out the thorn, and before post-inflected English had established its current SOV word order. All the endings you see are the archaic third person singular, spelled -eth in Shakespeare, and omitted entirely in modern speech and writing.

Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med

And springþ þe wde nu,
Sing cuccu!
Awe bleteþ after lomb,
Lhouþ after calue cu.
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ,
Murie sing cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu, wel þu singes cuccu;

Ne swik þu nauer nu.
Pes:

Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu!

You can figure most of it out if you know your animal-specific English verbs. The only word that doesn't exist at all in modern English is swik which means "stop". To figure it the rest out, pronounce u as ow (like what you say when you're hurt) except in the word cuccu make it a long oo and immediately before e pronounce it as v. You can find a modern translation here. There's music, too and here's a video of it being performed.

I find it interesting that some of the specific verbs related to animals are becoming obscure in English. Maybe it's just because I don't work with animals, but I would probably say that a ewe "baas" and a cow "moos," before I thought of bleats and lows. I think I only know the latter because of the Christmas carol in which "cattle are lowing."

I'm trying to think of any verbs relating to airplanes and engines that are not shared with animals. Our engines sputter, splutter, cough, roar, hum and purr. An airplane banks which I think is related to the meaning of bank "earthen incline, edge of a river," which is at least as old as this song. A banked road or racecourse would allow a chariot or bicycle to corner more easily, and the leaning sense must have transferred from the earthen bank to the vehicle. Pitch, roll and yaw are similarly not new with airplanes. Airplanes land and take off, but so do birds. A little internet research confirms the feeling I am getting here: it is easier for new nouns to enter a language than new verbs. So airplanes flooded us with new words naming the parts of the new invention, but we didn't make up many brand new words for what the heavier-than-air machines did. Honestly, if you can think of any verbs that were newly coined with the airplane, I bet they are verbed nouns.

Come back at midnight zulu for tomorrow's post, the contest I promised you, in which you can win a pair of new sunglasses.

Updated with working YouTube link.