Just as words like “terrific” and “awesome” lost their punch, linguistic erosion is working overtime on the word “medieval.” From Britain’s Evening Times comes this story: “Bank Teller Taunted By Cabbage.”
It seems that when young Darren Murray’s bosses at the Bank of Scotland wanted to motivate him to overcome his crappy sales numbers, they chose to send him a message the medieval way–by drawing his face on a cabbage and putting it on his desk.
Representatives of Murray’s union Amicus were quick to call a spade a medieval spade, decrying the motivational strategy as “medieval, unacceptable, and a smokescreen for bullies to hide behind.” John Nolan, the union’s national officer went further. “It is obscene that any organisation posting astronomical profits would allow management to resort to medieval tactics to squeeze every last penny out of vulnerable staff.”
Normally, I’m Mr. Wet Blanked Medievalist when I see such casual usage of the word “medieval.” But in this case, what can I say? There is nothing more medieval than a good cabbage effigy.
It is well known that when William the Conqueror crossed the English Channel in 1066, he brought this foul custom with him to medieval England, which was known at the time as “Ye Olde Englande.” When taking stock of his new land for the Domesday book, William was known for taunting nobles whose properties weren’t worth enough by confiscating all their round vegetables and penning insults on them. In those days beets were preferred, of course, the cabbage not actually being attested until William’s son William Rufus was well into the tenth year of his rule. And actually drawing faces on cabbages instead of rhyming Latin insults did not really take hold until the rule of the master propagandist Edward I, the “Hammer of the Scots.” In the days of Longshanks, many a Scot did receive the terrible portent of a cabbage fashioned in their likeness. Truly, such terror has not been seen since mankind collectively clawed its way into the Renaissance.