Linguistic Adventures with Madame Xanadu!

Madame Xanadu summoning will-o-wisps.

"Look at her æsc, Becky. It's just so... ligated."

Madame Xanadu #19 comes out this week, which reminded me that I’ve long meant to get my linguistic freak on, haul out my grimoires, and provide some insight into my favorite fortunetelling wood nymph’s spellcasting technique.

Unlike, say, Zatanna or Bastard John, Madame X eschews modern English when she needs to throw down some sorcery. As one might expect of a mage who did most of her learning in the Arthurian era, she defaults to Old English— not the malt liquor, but the language of the Anglo-Saxons, common from the 5th to the 12th centuries.

Luckily for us, Old English is pretty exhaustively documented in resources like An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary by Joseph Bosworth and, later, T. Northcote Toller. Like some sort of Old English Tobin’s Spirit Guide, it’s often just called “Bosworth and Toller.” To compile the glossary below, I used Bosworth and Toller, supplementing it with Wiktionary‘s Old English resources and some references from Clark-Hall’s A Concise Anglo-Saxon dictionary.

If you were looking to follow along in Madame Xanadu, I’d suggest the online Bosworth and Toller; if you’d rather have a book beside you to reference while you read, use Clark-Hall, it’s only ten bucks and it covers most of the major vocabulary.

Anyway! The glossary of Madame Xanadu’s Anglo-Saxon spellcasting terms!

ábelpecian: Anyone? I’ve got nothing, not in Bosworth and Toller and not in Wiktionary, and not in Hall and Merrit.

áblindan: “To blind.”

áfeorsian: “To expel.”

ástencan: “To scatter.”

áswefecian: “To extirpate.”

atemian: “To subdue.”

áwærian ingemynd: “To avoid memory;” in this case, to escape being remembered by onlookers.

áworpennes ísenbend: “Rejection of iron bondage,” sort of an “Accio GTFO!”

cierran: “To turn,” I think. (cf. undercierran, “to subvert”)

clænsung: “A cleansing; a chastening.”

dæges: “daily.”

fisc hléapettan: “fish, leap up”

Madame Xanadu summons fish.

You'll think you're lookin' at Aquaman: Nimue summons fisc to the disc.

geanhweórfa: Actually geánhweorfan, “to turn again or return.”

geósceaftgást andswaru: “Dire spirit, answer.”

hæl abeódan: An evocation of health and well-being.

ingefeallan: “To declare or reveal.” Sometimes seen as ingefællan, which I think is a misspelling. I, personally, would not want to be the letterer on this book.

lædan néosan: “To seek out new roads.”

Madame Xanadu summons a questing orb.

For the rest of us, there's an app for that.

lígbryne geweald: “Burn with the power of flame.” (Actually spelled lígbyrne.)

lígetræsc: “Lightning,” or, in this case, will-o-the-wisps. (Actually líg-ræsc.)

niehst: “nearest”

níwia: No clue. Not in the dictionaries I’m using. Anyone?

slápian: An evocation of sleep. To make sleepy.

ymbsprecan neódfreón: “Speak earnestly and freely.” This is a super-compound phrase and you’ll have to look up the individual bits in Bosworth and Toller.

yppan: “bring forth”

(Mad props to Chris “Slarti” Pinard for providing images for this post.)