Lavinia’s Medieval Word of the Week
This week’s word is: Glose. Also glōse, gloce, gloise, glous, glos(se) and glọ̄se.
What does it mean?
According to the Middle English Dictionary, it means:
(a) A gloss or explanatory comment on a text or word; a series or collection of glosses; ~ yever, a glossator; commune ~ the Glossa Ordinaria of the Bible; (b) an interpretation of a fact or condition.
(a) Specious or sophistical interpretation; deceitful commentary; falsification, deceit; maken a ~, taken the ~, to deceive; (b) withouten ~, without lying, truthfully; also, truly, assuredly; (c) pretense.
The pursuit of favor by adulation, deceit, etc.; flattering or deceitful speech; maken ~, to flatter or placate (sb.).
Glose is a great Middle English word, because it can be used in so many different contexts. In religious (a ‘gloss’ on the Bible explained the meaning of passages, for spiritual edification), secular and (as Chaucer’s Wife of Bath manages to have it) sexual contexts. While we still have the word glossary to describe a list of words for which we have provided explanations or simpler synonyms, the medieval art of ‘glossing’ a text is somewhat lost in the modern popular imagination. It’s easy to see how the power inherent in ‘glossing’ the Bible – explaining the scripture for those not able to read it in their own language – translates into anxiety about the power of ‘deceitful commentary’. In the age of Google Translate, the barrier presented by an ‘elite’ language is perhaps less apparent.
Glose also tells us something about how medieval people interacted with their books. Now, I know none of you would ever dare to do something so hideous as to write in a library book, but in the middle ages when books were expensive, precious and relatively rare, people wrote all over the margins. Vellum – a material made of thin calfskin – was at a premium, and every space counted. Also, the people of the middle ages had a more flexible attitude to authorial authority than we do. Imagine if Harry Potter fanfiction was written on the page beside J.K. Rowling’s words. OK, it’s not quite the same, but what we see in medieval manuscripts in the form of this ‘gloss’ is a conversation on the page. A conversation which – in the case of the Wife of Bath – presents the possibility of pleasurable textual interchange. How exciting!
Use it in a sentence:
1) I see that Michael Gove has been attempting to glose Trump in his recent interview.
2) When you say that climate change is a myth, I think you are glosing the current scientific research to meet your requirements.
3) When you told me you hadn’t eaten the last biscuit, you were trying to take the glose!