The Book of Margery Kempe | Study Guide

Margery Kempe

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The Book of Margery Kempe | Glossary


bid: (v) To bid (past tense "bade" or "bad") can mean to "to command, ask, or invite." To bid beads is to recite prayers with the aid of beads, such as a rosary.

buxom: (adj) The word "buxom" (originally "bucsome") has shifted greatly in meaning since the Middle Ages. In Margery Kempe's era it meant "submissive, obedient, or helpful."

clerk: (n) A clerk, in the sense Kempe uses the word, is a member of the clergy. The term shares its etymology with the more common word "cleric."

common: (v) The word "common" had a much broader range of meanings in Kempe's time. As a verb, "to common" with someone means "to interact in some way," which could be anything from a conversation to sexual intercourse.

creature: (n) A creature is literally "a created being." Kempe refers to herself as a creature, out of humility and to underscore her dependence on God.

dally: (v) Much like the word "common," "dally" described a wide range of friendly or intimate interactions. To a medieval reader, the word's amorous overtones would have been readily apparent in Kempe's description of her "dalliances" with God.

ghostly: (adj) In late-medieval English, "ghostly" meant "spiritual" and did not refer to ghosts in the modern sense of the word. Kempe refers to priests, especially those who hear her confession, as her "ghostly fathers."

good: (n) This term encompasses both moral good—as opposed to evil—and worldly wealth. When Kempe writes of her lack of "good," she typically means she is too financially strapped to support herself or to give to charity.

housel: (v) To housel someone is to "administer the Eucharist" to them. Kempe was houseled much more often than was required for Christians of her time.

Lollard: (n) The Lollards were reformist Christians active during the late Middle Ages. Considered heretics in their time, they have also been regarded as proto-Protestants.

purgatory: (n) This term refers to a state of suffering that is purifying for souls not damned to hell but not yet pure enough to enter heaven. In her visions Kempe is told she will be purified on earth and spared from purgatory.

suffragan: (n) A suffragan, also spelled suffragen, is an assistant or subordinate bishop. The suffragan of the archbishop of York is among the clergymen who interrogate Kempe.

wit: (n) The word "wit" or "wits" as used by Kempe does not only mean "intelligence" but also includes one's sanity and self-control. Kempe describes her psychotic episode following the birth of her first child as a losing and regaining of her wits.

wonder: (adv) As a noun, "wonder" in late medieval English has most of its modern meanings. Kempe also uses it as an adverb meaning "extremely" or "remarkably."

yeomen: (n, pl) The yeomen Kempe describes are retainers, or servants, of the nobility. The word also describes a broad social class of landowners, just below the gentry.

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