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Eddie Izzard Buys A Cow In Old English

This has been around for a while — actually, from 2003 — but it’s a pretty classic bit, and Chris Hardwick himself caught it at and passed it along to share with all o’ yez.  And, really, do you need to come up with any reason to watch Eddie Izzard try to use the Old English language in Holland to buy a cow? No, you do not, so here:

The clip is from Mongrel Nation, the three-part Discovery Channel series Eddie did examining the origins of the English.  The idea for this clip was that if the language spoken in Friesland, a province in the Netherlands, shares roots from a thousand years ago with English, it stands to reason that you could go to Friesland and people there would be able to understand you if you spoke Old English. Right? Sort of. Gestures and nodding also help.

The series is around in bits and pieces on YouTube; it’s worth seeking out.


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  1. colin says:

    The idiot Oxford professor who said no one speaks anything resembling Old English clearly hasnt heard of Bedlington. This farmer sounds like any native Bedlington or Ashington resident!!!

  2. eric says:

    I remember in college, taking a 101-level history class from a professor who was an Indo-Europeanist. We just happened to have a fellow student who had previously studied Old English, and to demonstrate how languages evolve, the professor asked this student to read Beowulf in the original Old English. It sounded nothing like modern English, of course, but more like Dutch or Low German.

  3. brasilera says:

    Hilarious b/c the word “cou” in Portuguese means asshole. So the whole time, I’m randomly hearing him say “asshole.” Lol!

  4. Rich says:

    The music…… OH GOD THE MUSIC

  5. Well the farmer doesn’t understand Eddie wants to BUY a cow, he thinks Eddie wants to MILK a brown cow in England to make Cheese! 😛
    But this kind of thing is pretty funny. If you actually look at Germans and Dutch people they can talk to each other each in their own language and they will understand over 80% of what the other is saying without having to actually be able to speak the other language!
    The same thing goes for Old English since all of the languages are basically just a dialect of the same thing 🙂

  6. Joseph Brian Scott says:

    I dunno. It seems like “brown cow” being mutually intelligible was the key to kinda sort get where they wanted to go, here. I think it’s interesting that those two words stayed the same in both Friese and Old English when some verbs, like “to buy”, didn’t. I just hope Mr. Izzard didn’t end up in a sex dungeon.

  7. Rachel says:

    I just finished taking classes on both linguistics and Old/Middle English, and this makes me so happy. I actually understood some of it! I guess translating the Colloquy on the Occupations was worth it after all. 😉

  8. Josh says:

    That was awesome. If you speak German, you can pretty much understand everything they were both saying. I find that sort of language evolution fascinating. It reminds us that English wasn’t English all that long ago.

  9. PinkMnM says:

    Please have him on the podcast! Please!

  10. Scott S says:

    I love Eddie Izzard, and linguistics, I may have to find this show.

  11. Sara says:

    Pretty cool. Having studied German (though I’m by no means fluent) it’s pretty amazing to hear the similarities between old English and German.