About Words are Wyrd

“Wyrd” is a concept found in various pieces of Anglo-Saxon literature, most famously the Epic of Beowulf. It meant Fate, or one’s personal destiny. The word wyrd itself has an analogue in Scandinavian mythology as a goddess, one of the three Norns, known as Urd. She was a goddess whose name meant ‘Fate,’ and was seen as representing the past. The Norns were the weavers of the Fate of men. However, by the time we get to the Middle English period we find Chaucer of the Canterbury Tales fame pluralizing wyrd into the Wyrdes, and extending that goddess’ name to encompass all three of the Fates or Norns.

“The wirdes that we clepen (call) Fate.”

–Chaucer, the Legend of Good Women

Shakespeare’s famous “weyward sisters” or “three witches’ in the play Macbeth have historical and etymological ties to the very wyrdes we are talking about here. To encapsulate the history of “wyrd” from the Anglo-Saxon concept, through the Germanic and Scandinavian Goddesses, up into the more modern Shakespearean notion I commissioned this wonderful piece of cover art for my blog from my friend Laurel Bushman. (If you enjoy it, you can see more of her work HERE.)

Okay, so that was Wyrd, but what about Words?

Every last one of them—every noun, propriety aside; every verb, that takes action or simply is; every infinitive, about which we must decide if we are to boldly split or not to split; every preposition, the stranding of which is so often frowned upon (perhaps you prefer: upon which the stranding of is so often frowned); every participle firmly grounded or found to be from a syntactic cliff dangling; every article, the definite ones as well as an indefinite one or two; every colorful adjective modifying a meaningful person, place or thing; every adverb deftly or clumsily describing the action of its constituent verb; every pronoun standing in for its noun counterpart; every frozen expression upon which we cast aspersions or not (depending on our tastes in idiom); alas, every conjunction joining together this and that or the other thing but ever faithful in the execution of its function—they each and all have a beginning, an original form and meaning (or from the Greek, an etymon), a process of evolution; and, for most of them, an accompanying history, known as an etymology, which is kept track of by the intrepid scholars known as the Lexicographer and the Etymologist (not to be confused with the entomologist who does a similar thing with bugs).

My Approach

Here, we shall learn to use this powerful tool of etymology — whether it be for greater understanding of, for example; philosophy, literature, current social and political landscapes and policies; or for more creative ends like magick, world-building for novels, video games, and role-playing games; or bridging the communication gap between ourselves and the world at large.

Though I became a martial arts instructor instead of an academic linguist my scholarly curiosity about wyrd language-related things has remained. My mind constantly observes synchronicity, political double-speak, and just plain little known but cool facts about words in the English language and their etymologies. In many ways, being unconstrained by the yoke of academic expectation has freed my mind to consider other strange and fringe ideas that tickle my fancy. The realms of magick, mysticism, hermetism, metaphysics and psychology, as well as literature and linguistics shall all get some play here.

I believe that etymology serves as a kind of fossil record of human consciousness. Our dear lords and masters can lie to us about history, but they can’t completely kill the truth without utterly destroying the language. So while we still have it, I’m going to dig through the layers of the past and unearth the bones of English language history. And I’ll show you how you can do it too, to get a better understanding of our the history of the consciousness of ourselves and our linguistic ancestors and the current state in which we find ourselves.

I have adopted an approach that combines something like a Socratic dialogue with the frame of a Shakespearean play to explore the ideas in this blog. This approach came about after soliciting feedback from several intelligent friends that don’t have linguistic training. The over-whelming response was, “Mike, we have no idea what the heck you’re talking about. You need to make your posts and sentences shorter. And you need to be less technical in your explanations.” While I am neither Plato, nor Shakespeare, I have found that the Socratic dialogue helps me to slow things down, reiterate points, and allow the reader to digest the material before moving on. While the framing of the posts with the Shakespearean stage directions and employment of the Wyrdes as narrators allows me to break the posts into smaller units, as well as give the reader directions as to their options of which of the rabbit-holes they can dive into with me. I hope you all enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing this blog!

Meet the Wyrdes

These weyward sisters will be the blog mistresses on your journey through the Words are Wyrd warren of linguistic rabbit-holes.

Wyrd1

Past

She’s a weird one. Everyone talks about her, but no one can quite grasp her. She brings the strains and strands of the darkness that has gone before to the mix.

Wyrd2

Present

She’s weird too, and adds to the pot the only thing that matters (v.i.)–the only thing that any of us can truly grasp but seem never to do, the ever-abiding present moment.

Wyrd0

Future

This weirdo is constantly in the process of becoming, but is always just out of reach. Thus, her value ever remains zero. But how would we evolve without her!?

Next Steps…

You’ve come this far, you might as well dive down a rabbit hole with me.