Sittin’ with the Clintons at the Witenagemot

If you and I and senators Clinton, Obama, and McCain had lived in medieval England, we would not be having this little talk, for of course we would be dead or, at least, reincarnated, and perhaps we would be sitting down for tea in Chelsea, separately or together, I really cannot say.

A little-known (perhaps because it is not very interesting) “rule” of capitalization, by the way, dictates that Senator Obama is a proper noun and thus Senator takes a capital S, and that senators Clinton and Obama is not a proper noun, so the initial s of senators is in the lower case. The same “rule” governs Mississippi River but Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

More to the point, the three senators would be members not of the senate but of the Witenagemot, advisers to the king. Each would be a wita, and the three of them would be witan or witena.

The Old English word wita meant “wise one.” Wise is from Middle English wis, ultimately of the same origin as the Sanskrit vedas, “knowledge,” and the Latin videre, “to see.” In gemot, the first two letters, ge, serve as a prefix meaning “with.” Mot was related to the Old English metan, “meet,” so a gemot was a meeting or assembly.

If you want to slip witenagemot suavely into your vocabulary, practice pronouncing it for a while: WIT ‘n uh guh mote (rhymes, roughly, with KIT-ten of a goat).

Got a question? Leave a comment.

 Learn more about language in Write Better Right Now, by Mary Campbell, available at

2 responses

  1. […] I like whimsical medieval references… May 13, 2008 — highlyeccentric All the Answers To Your Writing Questions takes on the capitalisation of proper nouns and the question ‘What if you and I, and senators Clinton, Obama and McCain, were living in Medieval England?&#… […]

  2. curt says : I absolutely agree with this !

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