Sunday, May 9, 2010

You Say Dead Sheep, I Say Mutton.

While translating this last passage I had some difficulty with a word multones. I could not find it in all the Latin dictionaries that I own. The two versions of Gesta, that I have bookmarked to verify my own translations, translated this word as 'sheep' which struck me as odd. So I searched for more information. I found one article online, which I should have bookmarked because I am unable to find it now, which suggested that the word was derived from coins minted by the Franks called 'multones' which had the Agnus Dei or Lamb of God on one side and may be where we get the word 'mutton' from.
The entry for mutton in the Oxford English Dictionary says that in post-classical latin multo began to mean a male sheep, and then:"The Latin word and subsequently the Anglo-Norman and Old French words came to denote both 'sheep' and 'ram',replacing both classical Latin ovis ewe, sheep; and the classical Latin vervex wether."
I wonder how multo, which means 'much', changed to mean male sheep. Or a gold coin. Chasing this down involves knowing more about money and coinage. It is surprising, when you see how much museum space is given to coins, that, when you really want to know something about a particular coin, it is incredibly hard to find. This is so especially on the Net. I am unable to find an image of a multones or who began to coin them. There also seems to be a lack of images or samples in museums of Merovingian, Carolingian and Capetian coins. It seems few have survived the ravages of time.
It is also amusing that when it comes to many food items like 'cow' or 'sheep', we kept the Anglo Saxon word but when those animals become meat, the names for them switch to the Norman 'beef' or 'mutton'.

2 comments:

Tracy said...

the word was derived from coins minted by the Franks called 'multones' which had the Agnus Dei or Lamb of God on one side and may be where we get the word 'mutton' from.

I guess it's one of those things that is only comprehensible if you are alive at the time, in the same way that the origin of some modern phrases would be unfathomable in 100 years time, never mind in several hundred.

Anonymous said...

" I found one article online, which I should have bookmarked because I am unable to find it now, which suggested that the word was derived from coins minted by the Franks called 'multones' which had the Agnus Dei or Lamb of God on one side and may be where we get the word 'mutton' from."


http://books.google.pl/books?id=zCUwAAAAYAAJ&pg=RA1-PA103&lpg=RA1-PA103&dq=multones+word+history&source=bl&ots=OQ5CDvJ4tv&sig=AtQagJoqqvzvWMxoHYXT_2p9_gI&hl=pl&ei=3MbnS972JIOOOMbZsLME&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CCEQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q&f=false

Is it this book?