What Is the Oldest English Word?

Nicholas C. Rossis

Someone asked this on Quora and Oscar Tay gave a fascinating answer.

The oldest recorded word In English is Gægogæ mægæ medu.

The Undley Bracteate

In 1982, a farmer in Undley Common, Suffolk, England, was walking across his field when he came across a fantastic bit of history: The Undley Bracteate, an Anglo-Saxon medallion dating to 450 AD. It was small, no bigger than a penny, and inscribed with the image of two babies – presumably Romulus and Remus – suckling from a wolf.

Undley Bracteate | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books The Undley Bracteate is believed to be made in or near southern Denmark. It may have been brought to England by some of the earliest Germanic-speaking settlers. Image: the British Museum.

Gægogæ mægæ medu

The find itself would be interesting enough, but look carefully at that inscription around the edges. It’s not just a random pattern: in Runes, it says ᚷ‍ᚫᚷ‍ᚩᚷ‍ᚫ ᛗᚫᚷᚫ ᛗᛖᛞᚢ, gægogæ…

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