17th April 1397. Who Invented Twitter?

Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400), was one of the first to use the ‘5-line stress’, later copied by Shakespeare’s ‘Iambic Pentameter’: ‘da’ (unstressed) ‘Dum’ (stressed), equalling ‘one foot, with 5 making a pentameter’.

Chaucer made the first recorded user of the word ‘Twitter’ as with a bird. and was writing, like Shakespeare at a time when political unrest was endemic with the 1389 Peasants’ Revolt, just as Shakespeare’s era witnessed the Essex Rebellion and Gunpowder Plot.

It was Today in 1397 that witnessed one of the great turning points for English literature when Geoffrey Chaucer read from his Canterbury Tales at the Court of Richard II.

However it was not written in courtly Norman French, but in English, the language of the common man. Richard I, two centuries before, barely spoke English.

Word Cloud showing some of the 2000 words first used in Chaucer as recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Both writers plots were bawdy and full of twists written for the common people and just as Chaucer was rewarded by Edward III by a place in Court, so later was Shakespeare by King James I (VI) when he bestowed the title The King’s Men to his troupe in 1603.

Chaucer’s family originally from France, had been courtiers for generations, but Geoffrey after discovering Bocaccio’s stories in Italian (not Latin), realised how the earthy language of the peasantry could be used to express the reality of life in a way Latin and French couldn’t.

It couldn’t have been easy as when Chaucer was writing between 1374-86, he would also be supervising collection of wool duties in an austere ‘grace and favour’ tower above Aldgate, London, where the only natural light would be arrow slits, of a 5 foot aperture, through which the stench of the open Houndsditch sewer festered outside the city walls, full of dead dogs, garbage and fecal remains from the nearby Holy Trinity Priory.

Chaucer was aided in his task of promoting English at a time when France was increasingly being seen as the enemy, a time when the French king was about to confiscate estates held by Englishmen who had returned to England to live. The knock-on effect was to reinforce a feeling of ‘Englishry’.

Chaucer’s Tomb in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey.

However the die was cast for it wasn’t regarded as remarkable when the next king Henry IV was the first to take his Coronation Oath in English.

Eventually English was adopted by monarchs and courtiers supplanting the Norman French of the Legal System. Le reine le veult, when the monarch agrees to a parliamentary bill, is the only remnant. Latin was to hold its own in Church and Academia for 200 years and in schools even longer.



theatlantic.com.chaucer coined twitter.


theparisreview.org.chaucer/Pic of word cloud.




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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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