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Early Modern English question: "Damp"?
Bar Harbor
So, I'm reading The Four Sons of Aymon. This is an exquisite exercise in anachronism as I am using my 21st century iPad to read, in pdf form (20th century), a 19th century reprint of a 15th century English translation of a 13th century version of a 12th century French romance.

The language is mostly fairly easy to puzzle out, though noticeably pre-Shakespearean. Every once in a while, I find a truly unfamiliar word, and try to use google to decipher a meaning, with mixed results. Sometimes, I get the happy result of realizing that is an ancestor of a word I do know, but in an odd, early form. Other times, I am sad because I can't seem to get any answer at all, there being few or no other usages that I can find in google. Given the number of possible stages at which typographic error can have come in, I tend to suspect that some of these aren't "real" words at all.

But there's one word that shows up often enough, consistently enough, that it clearly is "correct", and I really want to know more about it, so I'm asking the internet. The word is "Damp", and it clearly isn't meaning anything to do with moisture in any simple sense. It's always used as an honorable form of address when speaking to someone, as in "Damp Rowlande," or even "Damp emperoure". In fact, it's very similar to the current formal usage of "Dame", but seems to only be addressed to *men*.

One other detail of interest is orthographic in nature: the "p" has a *macron* over it! I have frequently seen this symbol used to indicate the presence of an elided "m" or "n" in the following character, but I have *never* seen it above a "p" (only vowels, or the rare "m" or "n" that should be doubled).

Anyone out there know any more about this curious word?

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Well, one of my standard resources, EtymOnline suggests that "damp" means a noxious vapor or suffocation during that time period, it's modern meaning not cropping up until ~1700. But that doesn't work with the context you describe, so I am guessing that the macron does somehow suggest the elision of another letter, which if we knew it would let us find the "real" word in question...

I'm familiar with "firedamp" in mines. Alexx, do you not still have that e-OED from years ago? If not, I've got my micro OED AND can go check for you.

Effectively no, it went with a now extremely-obsolete operating system.

Thought it might be the case. Fortunately my 20+ year old printed edition is still working with the original operating system.

I see NeoGothick has solved the issue for you.

The closest I've got so far is "dampn--", being a common vulgar Latin misspelling for the classical root "damn--". Unfortunately any words that come from that root, like "damnosus", have to do with causing harm or injury. I'm not sure how that translates to a polite form of address.

In medieval orthography (Latin esp, but scribes used it in other languages*) a macron is a abbreviation of "*n" or "*m". To this very day, doctors indicate "with" on prescriptions by a "c" with a bar over it: "cum". (At least those still writing them out long-hand like the psychiatrist I work with.)

[* I've long surmised the macron is the ancestor of the tilda, and that if you go far enough back in Castilian Spanish, the word for "lord" was spelled "senner" -- double n's being how that sound was previously indicated in Spanish, something I gather has precident in other languages. ]

So that word is "dampum" or "dampen" or some such.

Edited at 2014-09-09 03:04 pm (UTC)

Good guess, but no cigar. Luckily, I have access to the OED online, and it is (as I had guessed) cognate with French "Dom" (with today's "Dom" too): Sir or Master. Notice that the OED cites the very edition of the Four Sons that you are reading. How's that for recursive?

dam | damp, n.4


Etymology: < Old French dam (also dan, domp, dant, in nominative dans, danz) < Latin ... (Show More)
Thesaurus »

Lord; as a prefix = Sir, Master. Cf. dan n.2
▸c1300 Havelok (Laud) (1868) 2468 He knew, þe swike dam, Euerildel god was him gram.
c1375 Lay Folks Mass Bk. (MS. B.) 18 Dam Ieremy [v.rr. Dane Ieremi, Saynte Ierome] was his name.
1506 in S. Tymms Wills & Inventories Bury St. Edmunds (1850) 108 Dame John Barkyng, pytauncer of the monasterij in Bury.
c1386 Chaucer Nun's Priest's Prol. (Harl.) 26 Wherfor sir monk, damp Pieres by ȝour name.
1490 Caxton tr. Foure Sonnes of Aymon (1885) xvi. 382 ‘Damp emperour,’ sayd thenne the duke naymes.

Thank you!

My questions often end up with recursive answers :-)

Damp emperour, said the duke naymes, you can dry off in my pavilion.

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