Tuesday, January 31, 2017


Gang, Geng, Gong

David Crystal, "From gong to shitter, and closet to the House of Lords: words for a privy," Words in Time and Place: Exploring Language Through the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), pp. 71-83 (at 71):
In the beginning, judging by the words in Old English, it was all about 'going'. A gong (also spelled gang and geng), the root of many derived forms, was a passage, drain, or privy. The Anglo-Saxons had a surprising number of synonyms for privy, but none of them show the imaginative coinages of the kind we so often encounter in Old English literature, where the sea is a 'whale-road' and the sun is a 'sky-candle'. Rather, what we find is a repeated use of gang: a gangpytt ('going-pit'), gangeen ('going-place'), gangseti ('going-seat'), and gangtun ('going-yard'), or an utgang ('outgoing'), forthgang, and earsgang ('arse-going').
Other compounds are gangstol ('going-stool') and gong-thurl ('going-hole'). For a possible occurrence of gangtun see Debby Banham, ed., Monasteriales Indicia: The Anglo-Saxon Sign Language (1991; rpt. Hockwold cum Wilton: Anglo-Saxon Books, 1996), p. 41 (no. 94):
The sign of the latrine is that you put your right hand flat over your belly and by this sign you must ask permission of your superior, if you want to go there.
The Old English (Banham, p. 40, with my apparatus):
[.]yna tunes tacen is þæt þu sete þinne swyþran hand bradlinga ofer þin innoð and þu be þam tacne þe leafe scealt æt þinum ealdre abyddan gyf þe þyder lyst.

[.]yna tunes: initial omitted; Willem S. Logeman, "Zu den Indicia Monasterialia," Englische Studien 12 (1899) 305-307 (at 306) suggested Rynatunes; Nancy P. Stork, "Monastic Sign Language in Anglo-Saxon England: The Monasteriales Indicia from British Library MS Cotton Tiberius A.III," at https://web.archive.org/web/20070623071342/http://www.sjsu.edu/depts/english/Indicia.htm, suggested Gangtunes.


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