I’m in love with the word housecarl.  It’s a very old word, and I stole it from Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books.  I’ve been looking for a word to refer to men in a medieval noble household who aren’t in the family and aren’t knighted, but also aren’t necessarily servants.  Lois McMaster Bujold uses “armsman”.  Carey uses housecarl in her Viking-ish culture.  The other word I’ve come across is armiger, which applies to a military guy who works for a knight and is entitled to his own coat of arms, but isn’t knighted himself.  I have no idea why you would have a coat of arms without being a knight, so I was thinking of using it to mean anyone who carries weapons and isn’t knighted.

To me housecarl seems like the male version of “house maid”, except not implying “servile”.  I’m not sure I understand the nuances of relationships in a medieval household would be.  Does servile mean a slave, or also someone who works for money?  Or who works for room and board?  Would I be using it wrong to refer to male servants in the King’s Castle?  (Can I use it that way anyway, under the assumption that most people reading the book will either not already know the word, or will understand that this is my own world and I’m stealing words and repurposing* them?)

This came up because I’m looking for Germanic & Old English terms to use in LFG, as opposed to French, Latin, or Celtic.  Does it matter much, since I’m still writing the first draft?  Nope.  But looking for the right words to use helps me get into the feeling of the world.


* Firefox doesn’t think “repurposing” is a word.  Wikipedia doesn’t either, but several articles use it as a word.

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Liza Olmsted

Software QA Manager Emerita, Co-founder & Acquiring Editor at Thinking Ink Press, fiber artist, writer, hiker, cat mattress. ND. she/they, aspec.

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