Speaking Forsoothly for Newcomers

THL Justinian Clarus, Ealdormere

1. What is Speaking Forsoothly?

In the collective participatory fantasy which is the Society for Creative Anachronism there is an expectation to act in a way consistent with having a pre-seventeenth century persona. Part of this is Speaking Forsoothly.  

Speaking Forsoothly can be defined as:
Speaking is such a way that 21st Century North American English Speakers would perceive your manner of speech as being from an earlier time, likely before the seventeenth century.
Speaking Forsoothly is nothing more and nothing less than speaking in a way that sounds medieval.  

2. What Literary Sources Influence our Perceptions.

There are two primary influences which influence our perceptions of what we expect Speaking Forsoothly to sound like.

First consider this wee bit of poetry:

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.
Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth,
therefore do the virgins love thee.
Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers:
we will be glad and rejoice in thee, we will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee.

And also this:
Hear, all ye people; hearken, O earth, and all that therein is: and let the Lord GOD be witness against you, the LORD from his holy temple.
For, behold, the LORD cometh forth out of his place, and will come down, and tread upon the high places of the earth.
And the mountains shall be molten under him, and the valleys shall be cleft, as wax before the fire, and as the waters that are poured down a steep place.

These are passages from the Authorized, or King James, translation of the Holy Bible.  The first is from the opening of the Song of Solomon and the second from the Book of the Prophet Micah.

The King James Bible was published in 1611 and is familiar to many of us.  It has had a profound impact on the English language from the time of its publishing to the  present day.  It is an excellent study resource for anyone wishing to sound more FORSOOTH.

A second literary source has virtually universal exposure to all educated English speakers.  Consider this:
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

This very famous speech is from The Life of King Henry V by William Shakespeare.

Here is another famous bit of Shakespear:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action. -- Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember'd.

This is from Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

3. Some Simple Rules to Affect Forsooth Speech.

  1. Perceive the World through the Eyes of Your Persona.
  2. Describe the World in Terms Suitable for Your Persona
  3. Never use contractions where you normally would.
  4. Always use contractions where you normally would not.
  5. Never use 3 syllables where 5 will fit.
  6. Use alliteration and other poetic devices.
  7. Think first, talk later.

3.1 Perceive the World through the Eyes of Your Persona

Imagine what our modern world would look like to a transplanted 8th Century Saxon or a 12th Century French Equestrian.

BE your persona.  Get into the Persona mindset.  If you see an automobile wonder why that wagon is moving on its own with no horses or oxen to draw it.

3.2 Describe the World in Terms Suitable for Your Persona

When you talk do not use blatantly modern terms.  This particularly applies to modern technology.  Nothing breaks up the collective fantasy that we are part of the Middle Ages  than a rousing discussion of the relative merits of OpenBSD and FreeBSD and the applicability of Kerberous Authentication in small office environments.

Use circumlocation.  That means "talking around".  You can talk about E-Mail but describe it as "having your scribe send a missive to my scribe.  I shall write my address upon this wee slip of paper that you might not forget it when you approach your scribe."

3.3 Never use contractions where you normally would.

Data, in Star Trek - Next Generation, did not use contractions.  Can't was always cannot.  Didn't was always did not.  No using contractions always increases the Forsoothness of  your speech.

3.4 Always use contractions where you normally would not.

There are contractions which are not found in normal modern English:
  • 'Tis
  • M'Lord
  • M'Lady
  • e'en
  • o'er
and many more.  Shakespeare uses a lot of these, and so we perceive these to be forsooth.

3.5 Never use 3 syllables where 5 will fit.

More sylables in a word makes it instantly more forsooth.

3.6 Use alliteration and other poetic devices.

Because Shakespear largely wrote in poetry and also because most texts we have from the Middle Ages are in poetic form talking poetically sounds forsooth.

3.7 Think first, talk later.

No one has ever seemed foolish by looking thoughtful in a quiet way.  I was way over 30 before I figured this out.

Think about what you say.  Compose your forsooth speech in your mind and then speak it with care.

4. Practice Makes Perfect

If you want to sound more forsooth practice.  Read Shakespeare and other medieval texts aloud.

Copyright © 2005 Douglas Young. All Rights Reserved
This work may be copied freely within the Society for Creative Anachronism if credit is granted as follows:
(from Speaking Forsoothly by THL Justinian Clarus. www.forsooth.ca)