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Faemne aet hyre bordan geriseth

Faemne aet hyre bordan geriseth is a passage from the tenth century Exeter Book (line 63). Many of the texts contained in the book, written in Old English, are much older.

The correct translation of this passage hinges on the word 'borda'. The phrase is hence sometimes translated as 'A woman's place is at her embroidery', whereby the word 'borda' is translated as 'embroidery'. The Old English 'borda' is generally explained as a derivation of the Proto-Germanic 'brazda', which also means 'edge' or 'brim'. Compare Dutch 'boord', for 'edge' or 'side', or the English 'board' and 'border'.

The Middle English word 'embrouderie', which is attested since the fourteenth century, is derived from Anglo-French 'enbrouder'. However, interestingly enough, this French word itself is derived from Frankish *brozdon, which is again, like Old English 'borda', derived from Proto-Germanic 'brazda', for 'edge' or 'brim'. The interesting aspect is of course that the Old English 'borda', and the word 'embroidery', may well reflect the earliest use of embroidery in Europe, namely as a decoration for a hem or seam (the 'edge', 'rim' or 'brim' of the orginal word). In that respect reference can be made to the Dutch word for 'lace', namely kant (itself probably of Latin origin), which is also the word for 'edge' or 'rim'.

The Battle of Hastings of 1066, and its ensuing influx of French language and culture into England and the development of Middle English, would thus have led to the introduction of the word 'embroidery', replacing Old English 'borda', although both words have the same Germanic origin, which in its turn reflects the original use and function of this decorative technique.

Source: PORTER, Sonja Jay (2010). 'Anglo-Saxon attitudes to women', Quarterly Review 2010, pp. 72-76. Download here.

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Last modified on Sunday, 06 November 2016 09:37