Book Review: THE WORDHORD by Hana Videen

Title in white on orangey red next to line drawing of a woman iwth food and a man with a harp
Genre: Non-Fiction
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: standalone


Book cover for THE WORDHORD: title in black on white surrounded by orange and red drawings of hands and fish and a woman with a

Old English is the language you think you know until you actually hear or see it. Used throughout much of Britain over a thousand years ago, it is rich with words that haven’t changed (like ‘word’), others that are unrecognisable (such as ‘neorxnawang’, or paradise) and some that are curious even in translation (‘gafol-fisc’ literally means tax-fish).

THE WORDHORD gathers these gems into a glorious trove of the strange, familiar and unexpectedly apt, and through them illuminates the lives, beliefs and habits of the earliest English speakers. We discover a world where choking on a bit of bread might prove your guilt, where fiend-ship was as likely as friend-ship, and you might grow up to be a laughter-smith.

These are the magical roots of the language you’re reading right now: you’ll never look at – or speak – English in the same way again.

Blurb taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


THE WORDHORD is a look at a culture through its language, seeing how we can tease out historical mindsets from the way language is formed and has changed. It also aims, as the subtitle of “Daily Life in Old English” suggests, explore elements of daily life.

While this book is not a primer on Old English, not designed to teach you the language and its grammar, it does assume that you don’t have any real background in Old English at all. I do have a but of an understanding of it – I’ve been taking classes since the start of the year. That didn’t take away from my enjoyment of it, as the book is more about exploring what the words can tell us about the culture and daily life of the period. However, there were a few instances where I found myself going “yes, I know that, can we move on?” Just something to be aware of if you are very familiar with the language.

It’s very clearly set out, with example illustrations of text fragments (in a range of Old English next to translation and just translation). There are also images of text in manuscripts, to give you a sense of what it looks like written down, as well as a few images taken from books of the monsters etc described. It’s a nice visual mix on the page.

There is also a sum up of all new vocabulary in a little dictionary at the end of each chapter. It mostly just gets it all in one place, because it wouldn’t be much use as an actual dictionary (given it’s in several parts over the book!) but it’s a nice way to summarise for those who want a quick reminder of the variety of words just discussed.

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