Huddle-muddle – aren’t words interesting?

Etymology and all that!

(The expert etymology is all taken from Etymology online, thanks;

I am happy to say that I am on the last lap of preparing my novel for publication: target date October 1st 2013, the anniversary of the Lincolnshire uprising in 1536 which is the focus of the book. See for more information

So I have recently been going again through the text with a fine-tooth comb (from Old English, camb … from West Germanic, kambaz… literally “toothed object”; from Greek, gomphos “molar tooth”) checking up on the etymology of words to try and make sure there are not too many anomalies in word use.

The trouble is I cannot write the whole novel using forms that would have been used in 1536 for two reasons. One: I wouldn’t know how! And Two: no-one would be able to read it anyway if I did! So some anachronisms will have to stay, I guess (circa 1300, from gessen – to estimate or appraise; use of GU- spelling is late 16C, attributed to Caxton)

This process started when it was pointed out to me that I had used the term “OK” a couple of times and that looked anachronistic (OK is apparently the only survivor from an 1839 slag fad in Boston which misspelt things and then used the two initial letters to mean the original thing….so “enough said” became Nuff Ced which was then shortened to NC and “all correct” became Oll Korrect and, therefore OK)

1839 is obviously much too recent to be acceptable for a Tudor novel. So, I deleted or changed my OKs and then started looking for other anachronistic word uses. I am trying not to be too pedantic about things but if it looks too modern I will try and do something about it. So, “standpoint” – 1829; “updated” – 1928; and some others had to go. But “paradox” – 1530s; “latch on” – Old English; and “couple” – mid 14C were all OK…ooops they were all “alright” –oops 1893…they were all “acceptable” – late 14C.

What brought this little episode into the realms of a worthy BLOG (1998) post was the fact that I can now, perhaps, challenge the experts over one word


The etymology dictionary says “huddle” is about 1570s. By the way, that would not have stopped me using it. As I said, I am not being particularly pedantic about this – it is a novel after all and not an academic paper!

Anyway, having checked it online, I suddenly remembered that my prime source for all things that happened in the Lincolnshire Uprising came from a booklet about it prepared by Ann Ward. She had gone back to the original source material of King Henry Vlll’s inquiry, which is recorded in letters and papers of the reign. Not only that but she had been granted access to the original hand-written documents recording the actual answers of the individuals being questioned by the inquiry’s commissioners.

And one of those individuals told the inquiry that when some of the “gentry” of Louth were trying to get away from the crowd of commoners, someone in the crowd shouted that they should not “…go inside, into a huddle-muddle…” where they could not be heard by the crowd. So, there you have it. The expression “huddle-muddle” was definitely used in October 1536 and subsequently recorded in writing by officials of the time! So, I think I can use the word “huddle” in my novel – don’t you!?

I must let Etymology Online know they need to “update” their dictionary – “OK”?


About Keith Melton - Green Lib Dem

Retired English liberal environmentalist living in Nottinghamshire; spent six years in Brazil. Author of Historical Novel - Captain Cobbler: the Lincolnshire Uprising 1536. Active member of the Green Liberal Democrats - (pressure group in Liberal Democrats) - was Founding Chair of GLD in 1988
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