A Little Macclesfield’ll Do Ya (Mmm… Marginalia #33)

It actually disturbs me a little that I was able to correctly identify the manuscript in the tiny, low-resolution picture used to illustrate the recent BBC story about the cybernetic William the Conqueror clone from 2055 as the Macclesfield Psalter. Probably some of my readers thought I was just making things up, as I am sometimes (entirely without warrant) accused of doing. But here’s the two page spread that, according to the BBC, somehow demonstrates how linguists use manuscripts to study the evolution of English:

Here’s the BBC clip art for comparison:

See? Same image. If I recall correctly, I last saw this page during a search for pictures of medieval archers shooting people in the ass. You know, pretty much my normal day-to-day routine. The Macclesfield spread didn’t quite fit the pattern I was looking for at the time, because as you can see this archer (pictured on the righthand page) isn’t shooting a normal ass:

He’s shooting the ass of a man who has a dog’s head for an ass.* Though, I suppose it might just as accurately be described as a dog that has a man for a body. Sort of like the cynocephali, only different. And, arguably, the archer might be aiming at the ass of the man who’s getting a piggyback from the man with the dog’s head for an ass. So you can see why I went with the Alexander MS picture instead.

Across the page and up the margin from the piggyback pair, the illuminator has drawn in a picture of John the Baptist. You can tell it’s John, because he’s 1) pointing at a picture of a lamb, which symbolizes Christ, and 2) dressed like he’s batshit crazy:**

I think modern Christians tend to gloss over the fact that John the Baptist was a crazy desert hermit, more like the guy who lives in a van down by the river than the pairs of well-scrubbed Mormons who go door to door. John the Baptist in the picture Bible I had as a kid, for instance, looked a lot like Fred Flintstone, the sort of guy who sends his animal-skin robe to the cleaners twice a week. I like the medieval version better.

*If you’re a new reader here and find yourself ready to swoon over all this salty talk, I advise you to develop a plugin for Firefox that changes all instances of ass to arse. And make sure it’s context sensitive, because I plan future articles on Hemingway’s short story “Black Ass at the Crossroads” and a five-part retrospective on Arvid from Head of the Class. You don’t want to look silly at the water cooler talking about Head of the Clarse.
**You might want to add an “s-word*** to poo-poo” setting to your filter, while you’re at it. When you’re done swooning, I mean.
***Also, I have plans to one day make “sword” mean something horribly dirty. It’ll be the most powerful dirty word ever, because you won’t be able to euphemize it to “s-word”.

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  • Steve

    Well done! You’ve got a sharp memory…the picture they used was pretty small too.

  • Catanea

    Hmmm. I “swoon” over “salty talk” the way women swooned over Rudolf Valentino. It takes a bit of reassessment to grasp your negative spin on the word! I’m enjoying your blog, and maybe I’ll send you some marginalia soon.

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