... eminently giftable ... Reading The Wordhord, I was surprised to find myself missing Old English poetry. This is a book about words: each one presented and dispatched with a brisk contextual explanation. A lot of these are, admittedly, enjoyably quaint ... To isolate so many of these words from their literary context and present them primarily as quirky linguistic factoids seems a bit of an impoverished way of approaching the language — and evidence perhaps of the book’s genesis as the Twitter account @OEWordhord, which tweets an Old English word of the day. So you’ll encounter Beowulf and The Battle of Maldon and Genesis A, but without much argument about why those poems are worth your time other than as sources of eccentric vocabulary. Although perhaps, as my 18-year-old former self might grumble, they are not worth your time at all ... most enjoyably there are the dirty riddles ... This is a book to be dipped in and out of for the riddles and enjoyable factoids...Learning for page after page that gar-leac is garlic, sunne is sun, sumer is summer, cild is child, mann is man and so on will try most readers’ patience. A good Christmas gift for somebody — although not perhaps for the dispirited English literature undergraduate in your life.
I doubt that I’m alone in frowning at the proliferation of nonfiction that began life as burblings on social media, and there’s an undelightful subgenre of Twitterature consisting of volumes that merely pile up linguistic trivia. But Ms. Videen is both a passionate medievalist and a relaxed, lucid writer; the pleasure she takes in her subject is infectious ... Instead of offering a comprehensive guide to Old English, The Wordhord leads the reader on a tour of those people’s everyday concerns: food, work, recreation, travel ... Ms. Videen tends to exhibit words individually—as tweetable nuggets—rather than situating them in the texts where they occur. Yet there are enough literary snippets here to suggest why Old English has enchanted so many authors ... Even when rendered in 21st-century English, many kennings remain wonderfully vivid. The body is a bone-locker, flesh-hoard or life-house; the sun is a heaven-candle; the sea can be the wave-path, sail-road or whale-way. A spider is a weaver-walker. A battle is a storm of swords. A visit to a grave is a dust-viewing. These condensed metaphors activate the imagination: First they make the ordinary look strange, and then, as their strangeness dissolves, our powers of perception feel refreshed—or, as an inhabitant of early medieval Britain might have put it, 'ge-hyrted.'
As it races through colourful examples, the book does also occasionally pause to make an interesting scholarly argument ... As the author invites us to see it, though, her book is in general more like 'an old photo album'” than a language primer ... What is most striking to the modern reader, perhaps, is what strong pleasure the Anglo-Saxons evidently took in smashing words together to form compounds: devil-sickness, slaughter-mist, war-sweat...In which case, it’s a pleasure just to be reminded of their world-craft.