Sunday 14 November 2010


Methinks, does not have anything to do with thinking.

The Old English had two verbs that sounded alike: thenkan and thinken. Here's the rub: thinken didn't mean think, but thenkan did, indeed that's where our word comes from.

Thinken meant seem. This word has just about died out. It survives only in the phrase it seems to me or me thinken, now contracted to a single word: methinks.

So the thirtieth most quoted line of poetry is: "The lady doth protest too much, it seems to me", as Shakespeare said of the suffragette.

It's an odd little rule of English that we don't like the sound enk. You cannot wenk, lenk or senk, but you can wink, link and sink (and I often do). Such words may have existed, we always turn the E to an I.

English grudgingly admits the enk sound occasionally, in such words as enclosure. Yet even there we confine enk to the unstressed syllable, and tend to pronounce it inklosure, as in Inky Fool.

The Inky Fool was, of course, once known as Enki, and was worshipped by the Sumerians as their god of wisdom. How are the mighty fallen!

The Enki Fool in happier times, talking to a fish.


  1. In my dialect, we pronounce enclosure as en-KLO-sure, which also avoids the enk. Was the enk more common pre-Great Vowel Shift?

  2. The mighty are not fallen. In blogland, you are Mighty Still. How come you're so consistently fascinating? It's not fair.

  3. The Wicked Vicar and I agree that anyone who uses the word 'methinks' (especially in a knowingly 'ironic' manner) has declared themselves to be functionally illiterate.

  4. Moptop, that leaves dear old Shakespeare in an awkward position.
    KS, I'm afraid I'm no expert on the great vowel shift, which is usually about lengthening vowels, but it would seem to work.