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264                The Loom of Language
To us, perhaps, the oddest thing about the Old English verb is its
past participle Like that of modern Dutch or German, it carried the
prefix ge- Originally it had nothing to do with past time It was attached
to the beginning of a large class of verb-roots in all their derivatives,
and survives as such in some current German verbs Thus the Old
English for to win is gewmnan, equivalent to the German zu gewinnen
If, as is probable, it was once a preposition, it had ceased to mean
anything much more definite than the be- in behold, belong, believe
The past participle pattern of these ge- verbs infected others, and
became its characteristic label, as be- has become an adjectival affix in
bedecked^ beloved, bevngged, beflagged. Before Chaucer's time the soften-
ing process (p. 230) which changed the pronoun ge to ye had trans-
formed gedon to y-done The vestigial ^-prefix lingered on in a few
archaic expressions used in poetry for several centimes after Chaucer
For instance, we read in Milton, "By heaven y-clept (i e called) Euphro-
In the Prologue of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales the ^-inflected participle
occurs frequently, as in
It is ful fair to been ycleped "madame,"
And goon to vigilies al before,
And have a mantel roialliche ybore
In the opening lines, "the yonge sonne hath in the Ram (i e in the sign
of Aries) his halve course yronne " The story tells "of sondry folk, by
aventure yfalle in felaweshipe " The Knight "was late ycome from his
viage " Of the Prioress we learn that
At mete wel ytaught was she with alle
She leet no morsel from hir lippes falle
The Monk "hadde of gold ywroght a ful curious pyn " Of the Shipman
we are told that "fall many a draughte of wyn had he ydrawe " The
Plowman had "ylad of dong ful many a fother (cart-load) " The Steward's
hair "was by his erys fill roundjys&orn," and the Host was "boold of his
speeche, and wys, and wel y taught "
Such forms are fairly common in Spenser's Faene Queene> e g
A gentle knight was pricking on the plaine
Ycladd in mightie armes and silver shielde
Grammatical similarities between German and Old English are more
striking when we allow for phonetic changes (p. 231) which have
occurred in the history of the former (i e > to d or t^ d to /) When we