Nine Lessons and Carols: The Second Lesson: Macaroni Latin

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

I remember looking after Big Al- now a strapping five years old – when he was a toddler.

The saucepan cupboard was one of his favourite places: because, teamed with a wooden spoon, you could do one of two things. You could make an outrageously loud noise; and you could pretend-cook.

But Al was no fool. He knew you couldn’t pretend-cook without food.

And I’d throw open my bounteous pasta cupboard and we would raid it for farfalle, and tortellini, and fusilli,  and penne.

And macaroni.

Oh, macaroni. Numbered like the stars, adored and stirred studiously by small boys. I would leave the kitchen for an instant and return to find boy and dog, both crunching contentedly.

Macaroni was peasant-food in Italy. Teamed with cheese sauce it is one of my great comfort foods.

You can get macaronic language too, you know.

Macaronic language is peasant-language. It gets its name from the New Latin macaronicus, which in turn comes from the Italian word maccarone, the Italian word for dumpling.  Peasant food.

It is a mix between Latin and any spiel you care to throw in. Used memorably in  that raunchiest of classics made respectable by Carl Orff, Carmina Burana.  Secular songs for singers and choruses to be sung together with instruments and magic images. A heady mix of Latin, Middle High German and old Provencale, it throws together syllables with raw energy, hacking at three languages to make a savage hymn to the Spring.

Chramer, gip die varwe mir 
die min wengel roete, 
damit ich die jungen man 
an ir dank der minnenliebe noete. 
Seht mich an, jungen man! 
Lat mich iu gevallen!

“Merchant, give me the colour to redden my cheeks so that I may make young men love me whether they wish it or not. Look at me young men! Let me please you!”

There are other Macaronic poems.

Like that in the second lesson of Nine Lessons and Carols: In Dulci Jubilo.

It was written by an old monk in 1328, in a mix of Latin and High German. The monk, Heinrich Seuse, claims to have had a dream in which angels came to him, and asked him to dance, and sang the words to him.

Macaronic angels. How very refreshing. And its words have a momentum all their own:

In dulci jubilo,
Nun singet und seid froh!
Unsers Herzens Wonne
Leit in praesepio;
Und leuchtet wie die Sonne
Matris in gremio.
Alpha es et O!

Which, translated, says roughly that our heart’s joy lies in the manger, leuchtet vie die sonne -shining like the sun – in the mother’s lap.

It fills me with the sudden urge to mix up modern English with Latin and see what happens.

Quid hilaritas.


19 thoughts on “Nine Lessons and Carols: The Second Lesson: Macaroni Latin

  1. Quid hilaritas! :mrgreen:

    This little bit of history might appeal, Kate ~ dealing as it does with macaroni:

    “The Macaronis were young English men who adopted feminine mannerisms and highly extravagant attire, and were deemed effeminate. They were members of the Macaroni Club in London at the height of the fashion for dandyism, so called because they wore striped silks upon their return from the Grand Tour – and a feather in their hats. They also wore two fob watches: “one to tell what time it was and the other to tell what time it was not” ran their joking explanation. Their love of horse racing at Cheltenham and Bibury (in the UK) can still be recognised today in the names of the 18th Century Macaroni Farm and Macaroni Woods near Eastleach, Gloucestershire, UK.”

    1. Thank you: I’ve been wondering about macaronic for the past decade ever since a client called one of my colleagues in Pamplona “un poco macarónico”. Words that stick in your head, eh? He was a French engineer, so the term must exist in French: I looked in the Spanish dictionary to no avail.

  2. I’m sure you know the fine Pearsall arrangement of this carol, Kate — for two choirs and with opportunities for the tenors to strut their stuff. I think, in keeping with its macaronic roots, that it should be sung with more peasant gusto than Kings College, Cambridge give it:

    I used to sing with a group called the Pearsall Singers, based in Beach (near Bath, and not a beach in sight) close to Bitton with which Pearsall had links. His gravestone was brought from Switzerland and erected in the churchyard there.

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