Sort of Friday afternoon musings

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Vermin
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Sort of Friday afternoon musings

Postby Vermin » Thu Apr 09, 2009 3:24 pm

Hi all

Sort of Friday afternoon and bored in work

Two things I’ve never quite reconciled - and I’m wondering if they are re-enactorisms (Or maybe I’m just missing something . . . . . )

I do C12th - but I think these apply for most UK mediaeval

Water - we often say how people would drink beer rather than water, as the water was associated with sickness - yet people would water their wine ?

Salt - I often hear talk of salt being kept securely in little boxes as it was a valuable ingredient - but if you salt meat / fish you need buckets of the stuff ?



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Postby gregory23b » Thu Apr 09, 2009 6:26 pm

"Water - we often say how people would drink beer rather than water, as the water was associated with sickness - yet people would water their wine ? "

yep, seeing as knowledge of bacteria was somewhat non-existent.


The oft towted thing of they drank beer because the water was unreliable presumes knowledge of the brewing process killing bacteria they didn't know about. Rather than they chose to drink beer over water because it actually offers some nutritional value, plus bad water can make bad beer, ie you need decent water in the first place.

"Salt - I often hear talk of salt being kept securely in little boxes as it was a valuable ingredient - but if you salt meat / fish you need buckets of the stuff ?"

Which types of salt?

white, black, red, grey, sea or mine?

different grades and prices


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Postby Malvoisin » Thu Apr 09, 2009 9:08 pm

Water was added to the cup/ jug but not barrel of wine to weaken it's alcohol strength so, presumably you could drink more of it. The higher alcohol content of wine will kill any bacteria that may be in the water.

When brewing beer (or light/small beer as it was) with a very low alcohol content of 2% or less the heating of the water/mash would hopfully clean it of any nasties.

Salt; what gregory said different grades different values.
And salt fish can become salt fish simply by hanging it up on the beach to be blow-dried in the salty sea air.


(Oh and it's Thursday afternoon BTW.)
Last edited by Malvoisin on Fri Apr 10, 2009 12:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.


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Postby gregory23b » Fri Apr 10, 2009 10:08 am

Water was drunk, but like any sensible animal, humans want it clean and clear, hence major edicts and fines for those that polluted drinking water in cities.

Many rural houses had wells in their yards.

Bad water is bad water, but clean fresh water is drinkable.


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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Sat Apr 25, 2009 12:13 pm

Lets be honest here.
The only reason for drinking beer is to get p*ssed.
I have no way to prove it but having been to numerous re-enactments the only way to cope with the total bordom, the moronic conversation and the tedium of watching another poorly arranged "battle" is to out of your head. Why should the middle ages be anything different as they consisted of sleeping in little tents, listening to dreadful folk music and getting killed in battle. (I know because I've been to enough re-enactments to know that this is what really went on in the past.)
The only reason i bother with re-enactment at all is because i have convinced my wife that i "have" to drink copious amounts of high strength ale inorder to fit in and be realistic. Not that i like the taste or the sensation or anything like that.
Hah, you;'ll be saying that wine was drunk as a sign of social standing and not because its better at gettting you langered next.


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Postby medievalpirate » Mon Apr 27, 2009 1:09 pm

Yes to Marcus,
We have to be p*ssed to put up with MOPS, bad weather, to hot or cold, the other half moaning is it time to go yet. :twisted:
But which would you drink BEER/WINE/MEAD or water.
I know where my loyalty lies :roll:


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Postby Colin Middleton » Mon Apr 27, 2009 1:16 pm

gregory23b wrote:"Water - we often say how people would drink beer rather than water, as the water was associated with sickness - yet people would water their wine ? "

yep, seeing as knowledge of bacteria was somewhat non-existent.


The oft towted thing of they drank beer because the water was unreliable presumes knowledge of the brewing process killing bacteria they didn't know about. Rather than they chose to drink beer over water because it actually offers some nutritional value, plus bad water can make bad beer, ie you need decent water in the first place.


This presupposes that they understood nutrition better than they did bacteria.

They were aware of bacteria (at least the physicians were), all be it that they didn't 'understand' it as we do today. Their concept of miasma proves that. Even without microscoped an such, they were quite capable of observation and made good use of it. If people drinking water got the flux and those drinking ale didn't, then obviously the water is dangerous. You don't have to understand why to make use of it.


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Postby gregory23b » Tue Apr 28, 2009 5:22 pm

"If people drinking water got the flux and those drinking ale didn't, then obviously the water is dangerous."

But we know they drank water, they used it as an additive to wine and other drinks.

"This presupposes that they understood nutrition..."

Ale was a food stuff because of what it was made from, cereals, it is restorative and refreshing.

The question is whether they sat down and said

"hey don't drink water it is bad, drink ale made from the bad water instead because the brewing makes it good"

or

"don't make ale from bad water as bad water smells and makes you ill'

Any water that smells bad enough or is known to be from a bad source is avoided, senses have been telling us that forever.

There were city edicts about not contaminating drinking water, tanners were especially bad, but this is it a level where it is plainly obvious that the water is 'bad'.

I have not seen any evidence presented that says they made ale to clean the water, as I said before it is trotted out as a truism with no basis for it.


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Postby Grymm » Tue Apr 28, 2009 9:35 pm

And let euery man be ware of all waters whiche be standynge, and be putryfyed with froth, duckemet, and mudde; for yf they bake, or brewe, or dresse meate with it, it shall ingender many infyrmytes.
The water which euery man ought to dresse his meat with all or shall vse bakynge or bruyng, let it be ronnyng; and put in vesselles that it may stande there .ii. or .iii. houres or it be occupyed; than strayne the vpper parte throughe a thycke lynnyn cloth, and caste the inferyall parte away.

Ale for an Englysshe man is a naturall drynke.........
Newe ale is wholesome and nourysshyng for all men.....it doth engendre grose humours; but yette it maketh a man stronge.

Beer....it is the naturall drynke for a Dutche man. and nowe of late dayes it is moche vsed in Englande to the detryment of many Englysshe men;.....................yet it doth make man fat, and doth inflate the bely...

Whay. is a temporate drynke and is moyst; and it doth nourysshe, it doth clense the brest.....


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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Tue Apr 28, 2009 9:56 pm

And it gets you p*ssed.


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Postby Colin Middleton » Wed Apr 29, 2009 12:23 pm

So how much was ale drunk? How much was water drunk (that is as water, not used to water things down, which is likley to be viewed rather differently)? Do we actually know these things?


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Postby gallois » Wed Apr 29, 2009 5:57 pm

Its fascinating to think of such a simple thing as water being so important in the middle ages...probably much as it it is right this minute in some African areas. Somalians who have little access to any kind of water, good or bad, drink blood from their cattle either neat or mixed with milk if its available. Lots of cultures drink beer like substitutes which has a bacterialogical function in its production. Perhaps this also kills of other bad bacteria like the bacteria in our gut? Those that have access to water generally boil it and have done so for hundreds of years.
In medieval times I would hazard a guess that if you lived in a city or large town the water would be pretty unsafe unless boiled so if you were thirsty you would drink the quickest thing to hand? In the countryside however they probably built near to streams so their animals had access to water...and if the sheep didnt die the water was probably clean enough for them.
Do we know how much meat was salted as opposed to smoke cured and if so which type of salt was used?


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Postby gregory23b » Wed Apr 29, 2009 7:09 pm

"Lots of cultures drink beer like substitutes which has a bacterialogical function in its production."

That function is secondary at least no one has cited historical evidence for boiling it in order to do so.

'Perhaps this also kills of other bad bacteria like the bacteria in our gut? '

Alcohol will kill most bacteria, good or bad, it does not know which is which.

"Those that have access to water generally boil it and have done so for hundreds of years. "

Cite please, you can make alcholic beverages without boiling, a decent temperature for the yeast to function is all that is needed, so boiling is not always required in any case, for example Kumiss.


"In medieval times I would hazard a guess that if you lived in a city or large town the water would be pretty unsafe unless boiled so if you were thirsty you would drink the quickest thing to hand?"

Town edicts are very clear about pollution, but boiling wont get rid of contaminants such as chemicals and particles, say like those from the tanning trade. So boiling would often be futile, assuming they knew to in any case as a preventative.

"In the countryside however they probably built near to streams so their animals had access to water...and if the sheep didnt die the water was probably clean enough for them. "

Many houses had wells in their back yards, using the local water tables, which invariably have a clean and filtered water (assuming no local pollution), rather than rely solely on streams which are prone to such things as animals watering there or human contamination by say laundresses.

Referring to Grymm's post

" for yf they bake, or brewe,"

So if boiling happened, they managed to know that bad water was still bad nevertheless, likewise for baking.


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Postby Grymm » Wed Apr 29, 2009 8:55 pm

....for in euery towne is a fountayne or a shalowe wel, to which all people, yonge , and seruantes, hath a confluence and a recourse to drynke..........

sea salt and rock salt both used for preserving also saltpetre which gives bacon and corned beef that pink colour.


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Postby Colin Middleton » Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:18 pm

gregory23b wrote:"Lots of cultures drink beer like substitutes which has a bacterialogical function in its production."

That function is secondary at least no one has cited historical evidence for boiling it in order to do so.


Did anyone cite historical evidence that this function is secondary?


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Postby gregory23b » Thu Apr 30, 2009 4:49 pm

"Did anyone cite historical evidence that this function is secondary?"

No, I was being generous and in modern terms, unless you are or anyone is saying they drank alcoholic beverages to kill off bacteria that they had no knowledge of? I would not even allow it as a consideration unless there was some knowledge of it.

I would ask what bacteriological function beer actually has given the range of alcoholic strengths, ie at what concentration is alcohol a disinfectant?

Do you know of anyone who drinks alcoholic beverages to kill off harmful bacteria in the body?


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Postby Malvoisin » Thu Apr 30, 2009 9:40 pm

So Ale Vs Water. :lol:

It may well be a simple matter of status and fashion. If you could afford it you drank ale, if you work for some one maybe you prefered to be paid in ale a few days a week.
Just like today we choose to drink coffee for its stimulant effect, fruit juice for health etc. Back in olde days it was ale just because you could. You liked the taste (often spiced). You "felt" the benefit and it says something about you.

Other factors; was good water always available? What to do when the well was dry or when the river flooded? A barrel of ale was always on stand by where ever you were, in town or country. There was a hell of a lot of micro breweries back then.

Ale was safer to drink than water, unless you drank water from the same source every day you'd be taking a gamble, they knew this, as Colin said, they called it miasma. You can't always tell the water has a high bacterial content just by looking at it or sniffing it, and if it's ok for cattle that does not mean it's ok for humans. But boiling/heating this water, brewing it with malt and oats and yeast, people quickly learnt that the amount of upset tummies are vastly reduced, the miasma had been beaten.

Even unknowingly adding "bad" (not stagnent or smelly) water to a high alcohol wine could eliminate the bacteria in that water.

Like I said earlier the heating of the mash would kill bacteria and the alcohol, even small amounts, would keep it that way for a while. When beer began to be made with hops the shelf life was greatly extended because the wort, the liquid containing sugars and protein extracted from the grain, had to be boiled with the hops, and the hops gave it greater stablity, allowing it to be exported even.

And then there's the "lets make money" aspect. It was a profitable activity for the brewer and the tax man but not the consumer, it never will be. :(

Having said all that I've often wondered how the Muslim middle east got by just on water (even though some liked a tipple as much as the Xtians) considering you wouldn't drink the tap water in some of these countries even today.


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Postby Colin Middleton » Fri May 01, 2009 12:26 pm

Isn't that why cofee's so popular in the Middle East?


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Postby Hobbitstomper » Fri May 01, 2009 2:52 pm

You can't make good beer from bad water. So good beer is fine to drink.

Salt was suprisingly cheap in medieval times compared to what most people think. Vast amounts of salt were produced for tanning and food production. If I remember right, Droitwich produced up to 100000 tonnes of the stuff (or was it 10000 tonnes, can't remember) a year at about the time of the conquest with £76 going to William as tax. Making salt is easy- take brine and heat it in a lead pan until it crysalises. There are example prices throughout the later medieval period for salt in the "prices in medieval Scotland" book.

Locked salt cellars came later when the government imposed massive taxes on salt. I'm not sure whether this was just for fancy imported table salt.



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Postby gregory23b » Fri May 01, 2009 6:08 pm

"they called it miasma."

Who is 'they'? the general population? or those with a medical education? people knew about bacteria in the 19thc but the average Joe soap did not, so likewise I imagine Mary the Brewster did not have a philosophical education, merely practice of what is right and what is not.

"But boiling/heating this water, brewing it with malt and oats and yeast, people quickly learnt that the amount of upset tummies are vastly reduced, the miasma had been beaten. "

And you have evidence that they knew this was what happened? That they sat there and said 'hey, boiling water sorts out this miasma thingy!" You are suggesting they boiled the water as a preventative rather than as a way of retarding the germination of the barley and extracting the flavour from the grains, again I would like to see evidence of this given that beer predates the miasma theory by some hundreds of years.

Or simply that ale (unhopped) has a short shelf life, it can be produced very quickly and turned around likewise and that you need good water in the first place.

Boiling would be irrelevant as the conditions for ale and beer are not conducive for bacterial growth regardless of boiling, in the same way that cider and wine are, they do not need boiling and have good shelf lives.

The miasma theory predicates on bad smells and perceivable 'badness', and the removal of some of the sources gets rid of the bacteria that produce them (inadvertently) , but beyond that anything that doesn't appear bad or smell bad then is by implication not 'bad', and as you say much contamination is not detectable until symptoms appear, so how would that be applicable to the miasma theory?

It is an interesting topic in that it brings up the issues of how we interpret what 'they' knew or didn't and how we apply modern knowledge to it. I believe, until shown otherwise that the notion that the medievals drank ale because it was safer to drink than the water is a myth based on cases where obviously polluted water is bad to drink and that it of itself is a poor base for ale anyway.

I am happy for this to be demonstrated, but I hear this a lot at work and yet no one has shown this to be the case. I ally this one to the 'they added spices to rotten meat to disguise its flavour'.

Anyone with a scruple of thought would realise the following:

Rotten meat is bad for you in the first place, so why eat it?

If you could afford to add spices that came from thousands of miles away, then you can afford to eat fresh meat.


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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Fri May 01, 2009 9:05 pm

My own totally made up theoies about the extreme use of spices in medieval dishes are these.
1. By the time the stuff has traveled from far off Cathay it has is so old that it has lost a lot of its vibrancy in taste and colour-so you need to use more.
2. Spices are expensive so in an ahe of conspicuious consumption using lots of expensive spices that you are quite literally consuming shows how rich and important you are-so you need to use more.
3. Come on everyone knows that the English like a good hot curry you got your mates and the King around you want to show them what a hard ass B***cks you are so you order an extra strong vindiipottage.
4. People liked spices a lot.

Thank you for giving me my next good excuse for coming home bolloxed-I was trying to kill off bad bacteria in my water. :wink:


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Postby gregory23b » Sat May 02, 2009 10:55 am

where does the rotten meat come in?

Oh I know, you get so shitfaced that you add the spices to the rotten meat thinking it some proto doner kebab. I buy that theory ;-)


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Postby Malvoisin » Sat May 02, 2009 11:21 am

gregory23b wrote:"they called it miasma."

Who is 'they'? the general population?

Yes. Or what ever name those chose to call the source of an illness.
gregory23b wrote:"But boiling/heating this water, brewing it with malt and oats and yeast, people quickly learnt that the amount of upset tummies are vastly reduced, the miasma had been beaten. "

And you have evidence that they knew this was what happened? That they sat there and said 'hey, boiling water sorts out this miasma thingy!"

Isn't this basic human common sense?? Give our ancesters some credit, in that they were intelligent enough to know that if a water source had made them ill, and after boiling it didn't, then it's the boiling that solves the problem.
gregory23b wrote: You are suggesting they boiled the water as a preventative rather than as a way of retarding the germination of the barley and extracting the flavour from the grains, again I would like to see evidence of this given that beer predates the miasma theory by some hundreds of years.

As a precaution rather than a preventative. The miasma theory has been with us since the dawn of time again it was just common sense that eating and drinking the wrong stuff makes you ill. It just aquired the name miasma in the middle ages.
gregory23b wrote:Or simply that ale (unhopped) has a short shelf life, it can be produced very quickly and turned around likewise and that you need good water in the first place.

Like I said they wouldn't knowingly use bad smelly water, but if the water had a high bacterial content this would be nutralised by the proccess/ alcohol content.
gregory23b wrote:Boiling would be irrelevant as the conditions for ale and beer are not conducive for bacterial growth regardless of boiling, in the same way that cider and wine are, they do not need boiling and have good shelf lives.

You need to boil the hops to make beer. The mash for ale, however, is heated to a high temp (60-70C I think). Cider and wine had a far higher alcohol content than the small beers had.
gregory23b wrote:The miasma theory predicates on bad smells and perceivable 'badness', and the removal of some of the sources gets rid of the bacteria that produce them (inadvertently) , but beyond that anything that doesn't appear bad or smell bad then is by implication not 'bad', and as you say much contamination is not detectable until symptoms appear, so how would that be applicable to the miasma theory?.

Precaution, common sense, instinct, a willingness not to ill again. Prevention is the best cure.


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Postby gallois » Sat May 02, 2009 2:52 pm

Mashing is the process of combining a mix of milled grain, known as the grist (typically malted barley with supplementary grains as maize, sorghum, rye or wheat; in a ratio of 90-10 up to 50-50), with water, and heating this mixture up which rests at certain temperatures (notably 45°C, 62°C and 73°C to allow enzymes in the malt to break down the starch in the grain into sugars, typically maltose.

The minimum temperature required to kill bacteria is in excess of 110°

I make my own mead and wine, I use water from a spring in my garden, unboiled. My honey comes from a neighbour and the grapes I buy from a vinyard near Chambery. So can someone tell me if I am at risk from bacteria and if not whats killing it? Before someone says it my yeast is started in tepid water not boiling!


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Postby gregory23b » Sat May 02, 2009 5:02 pm

"Isn't this basic human common sense?? Give our ancesters some credit, in that they were intelligent enough to know that if a water source had made them ill, and after boiling it didn't, then it's the boiling that solves the problem. "

Yet there they were getting food poisoning from pies of all things, leaving pies out for longer than is advisable meant food poisoning.

Common sense is one thing, having a theory of why people did something is completely different. We have moved from the theory of miasma to common sense, common sense would predate miasma and in the 19thc when miasma was but pretty much debunked, it was still adhered to, despite causes of infection being much more complex and invisible.

We have two things here:

A suggestion that they boiled the water to kill of bacteria

That they knew the alcohol content killed off bacteria.

So far no evidence other than practice and we have established that many brewed drinks do not need boiling in the first instance.

So, in some drinks boiling is part of the production process, in others it is not, that of itself contradicts the idea of boiling water as a preventative.

Did they even bother to sterilise the vats like modern brewers are encouraged to, or did they simply clean them out as normal until they were visibly clean.

My contention is not with medieval people being smart enough to not use bad water for drinking, brewing or bread making, but the notion that it was an accepted belief that:

ale was safer than the water because they knew the process killed off the bugs - which they did not know about in the first place.

This gets spouted to the public as an accepted truism, with no evidence to back it up.

We can say say loads about ale, but we can't say they knew about what happened to bacteria when the brewing process started, anaerobic respiration, ph values etc.


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Postby sheepmilker » Sat May 02, 2009 5:12 pm

I think your temperature is a bit out, Gallois. The legal temperature for pasteurisation is 72°C for 16 seconds, and that kills most pathogens. Lower temperatures for a longer time also work...



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Postby gallois » Sun May 03, 2009 1:21 am

sheepmilker wrote:I think your temperature is a bit out, Gallois. The legal temperature for pasteurisation is 72°C for 16 seconds, and that kills most pathogens. Lower temperatures for a longer time also work...


On the contrary I was quoting FDA regulations regarding Sterilisation not pasteurising.
Pasteurization is a process which slows microbial growth in foods. The first pasteurization test was completed by Louis Pasteur and Claude Bernard on April 20, 1862. The process was originally conceived as a way of preventing wine and beer from souring.
Unlike sterilization, pasteurization is not intended to kill all pathogenic micro-organisms in the food or liquid. Instead, pasteurization aims to reduce the number of viable pathogens so they are unlikely to cause disease (assuming the pasteurization product is refrigerated and consumed before its expiration date). Commercial-scale sterilization of food is not common because it adversely affects the taste and quality of the product. Certain food products are processed to achieve the state of Commercial sterility.
E-coli, Listeria monocytogenes and Clostridium botulinum can begin to grow in unrefridgerated, pasteurised products after 72 hours depending on ambient teperature. Try leaving your ordinary milk out on the table! Wine and ales also turned if not kept at a low temperature. Which was why Pasteur and Bernard were working on a way of preventing this.
A widely-used method for heat sterilization is the autoclave, sometimes called a converter. Autoclaves commonly use steam heated to 121 °C or 134 °C. To achieve sterility, a holding time of at least 15 minutes at 121 °C or 3 minutes at 134 °C is required. FDA


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Postby sheepmilker » Sun May 03, 2009 11:58 am

True, but my point is to get most food to a safe point, you only need to pasteurise, not sterilise, for the reasons that you have given.



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Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Sun May 03, 2009 4:57 pm

If this comes down to medieval man looking at people getting ill when they drank water and then comparing this to people drinking ale/mead/wine/beer, why was he not put off by the fact that people who drink the afore mentioned fall asleep, fall over, vomit, suffer aching heads and stomachs,etc? Why did he not think it must be down to evil vapors in the grog and stay clear of it.
Poeple drank beer because it helped them through the day in an age before painkillers and primetime T.V.
Thats why it was seen as such a sign of piety when individuals chose to forego this pleasure and exisit on water. They didn't have a death wish (well okay some did), they were just going without a pleasure.
I don't want to side with Greg but I feel compelled too.


OSTENDE MIHI PECUNIAM!

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gregory23b
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Postby gregory23b » Sun May 03, 2009 7:51 pm

It is not about sides, but so much a challenge to an accepted principle, I am happy to accept it if I see the evidence, but until then it strikes me as a retrofitted modern rationalisation.

I am not argumentative for the sake of it you know, I am just inquisitive.
;-)


middle english dictionary

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