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On the Spelling of Cronicle

by Seamas Mac Daibhid

First published Winter AS XXVIII (1993)
Last updated April XXXVI (2002)
[Animated image of several spellings of Cronicle]

[The newsletter of the Shire of Smythkepe, now called The Forge, was formerly called the Smythkepe Cronicle. In AS XXVIII (1993 CE) members of the Shire brought up (not for the first time) whether we should be using the proper modern spelling, and whether the particular spelling we used was appropriate for the SCA period. As usual, I overreacted on the side of tradition, and the following article, printed in the October or November issue of that year, was the result. I've left it unchanged, but have added a note here and there in this plain italic type.]

My chief argument is that we've spelled Cronicle without "H" for most of seven years [that is, for the lifetime of Smythkepe up to then]; history protests changing it now. Besides, if we adopt the modern spelling, should we not then use the modern spelling of Smythkepe as well, making the title Smithkeep Chronicle?

However, to satisfy those who would think me hidebound or contrary, I went to the Oxford English Dictionary (1933). (The OED is less a dictionary than a history of individual English words, giving obsolete spellings and quotes from historical sources. If you love words, this is the ultimate word book. It's also a terrific source of usage information for obsolete words; the quote below was chosen partly because it wasn't gibberish to modern readers.)

[The OED is still the most wonderful word book in English, and it is available from Barnes & Noble or in various formats. The second edition (1989) in 20 volumes (about three feet of book) sells for just under $1000; the 2-volume compact edition (with included magnifying glass) and the CD-ROM edition (Windows version) both sell for about $300.]

The OED devotes about a full column to chronicle. The word derives from Middle English cronikle or cronykle, which is from Anglo-French (post-Conquest) cronicle, which is from Old French cronique. (By the way, I owe Halfdan Graygullson an apology for "correcting" him at the last meeting: The Greek word is chronos or khronos, as he said; the French dropped the "H" later. He was right; I was wrong. I'm sorry, Halfdan. [Halfdan was very gracious about it.]) The OED notes that the "CH" spelling dates from the 16th c. (making the modern spelling period, just barely) then lists several historical spellings, from the 13th c. onward, including:

and finally the modern chronicle. The OED then gives several dozen quotes from period sources illustrating these spellings. For instance, from the Coverdale Bible (printed 1535, translated by Miles Coverdale from various sources, described by Collier's Encyclopedia as "the first complete English translation of the Bible"), the OED quotes this title: The first boke of the Cronicles, called Paralipomenon.

My final word: If people are tired of the cronicle spelling, why not reflect the lack of standardized spellings in period and change the title every month? I've listed over a dozen spellings above; say we chose the 12 best and rotate them yearly. With more rooting in the OED, I can probably find enough variants of smith and keep to give us a couple of hundred different titles. How about Smitcepen Kronykele, eh?

[To my disappointment, no one took me up on that last idea. Oh, well. . . .]

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