Words Words Woad!


I love them. Love discovering the etymology, and sometimes an alternative meaning. For example, ‘Woad‘ is a gorgeous blue dye they used in medieval times, and still today – as you can see if you follow the link. They extracted the dye from the leaves of the Isatis Tinctoria, or ‘Woad’ plant. Fascinating how something green can produce blue.

By Stefan.lefnaer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Anyway. Woad is not only the dye, it was also a word used to mean ‘mad’ ‘crazy’. Chaucer used it in his Tale of Gamelyn, (which I used as inspiration for my Ryfelours tale). I wanted an authentic word to describe a crazy person and when I found this, I was very pleased. I began to use it in the medieval novel I’m writing, although some critiquers pick up on it and ask why I’m calling people a dye…

What’s interesting is that in German, ‘blau’ (blue), is used to describe someone under the influence of alcohol and I wonder if this has its root in Woad. Crazy drunk.

When the Romans invaded England they saw the Picts with blue dye on their faces and called it ‘vitro’ after their blue glass. What isn’t known for certain is whether the dye was woad, but it seems likely.

In Medieval Christian Art, blue symbolises heavenly grace and hope, but it was only in the later Middle Ages that this happened – previously blue was the colour of darkness and evil, and the Virgin wore purple robes not blue.

Well, I don’t know how I wandered off ‘woad’, but the symbolism of colours is something I’ve been looking into recently. Interesting piece here, if you want to know more.

So, what makes you ‘woad’?

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