January 6th, 2008

Spelling to Go with the Rhyme

I've been reading Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale" in Middle English.  When I'm unsure of the meaning - often enough - I glance at the facing page for the Modern English version.

I was amused when I came across 2 different spellings of pain around line 461: peyne vs. pyne.

The spelling seems to change depending on what word it's being rhymed with. 

Simplifying drastically, the rhymes are pain / complain, and pain / divine. 

I don't know much about pronunciation back then.  I'm guessing that there were 2 acceptable ways to pronounce "pain".  Spelling wasn't standardized.  So the spelling of a word changed to match the pronunciation.

I have to admit, I still do this once in a while.  Usually with an apostrophe.  Usually to indicate that I'm dropping the final "g" in a rhyme like this:

There was a high-schooler named Helen,
Who always won contests for spellin'.
She said: "Drop that G
In a real spelling bee,
And you'll be sent away as a felon."