The meaning of the Old English noun mōd has been the subject of an extensive and apparently endless discussion. In order to give the debate a narrower focus, the present paper subjects the much rarer adjective mōdig to a detailed contextual analysis (which has become possible thanks to the Dictionary of Old English Corpus). 'Context' is here defined in a very broad sense, including syntax, (extra-linguistic) situation, and (literary) genre. Apart from presenting a more circumscribed and hence more manageable data pool, the adjective offers the additional advantage of instantiating a very well-defined problem which has puzzled previous scholars: the vacillation of its meaning between positive and negative moral valuation. It is argued, from a cognitive viewpoint, that moral valuation is not part of the word's core meaning but is the (usually unambiguous) contribution of the context. While the wide and comprehensive definition of 'context' enables us to overcome the usual dichotomies of 'Christian' vs. 'Germanic' or 'classical' vs. 'vernacular,' it does seem necessary to distinguish two Christian traditions: one moderate and pastoral, the other rigorous and monastic.
Selected Proceedings of the 2008 Symposium on New Approaches in English Historical Lexis (HEL-LEX 2)
edited by R. W. McConchie, Alpo Honkapohja, and Jukka Tyrkkö
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