The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales Glossary


misogynistic; negative about women

auctorite (or authority)

knowledge gained from texts; written authorities (often classical authors)

auctour (or author)

an author - someone who writes, but particularly someone who writes with "authority" (see below) on a subject

Ave Marie

the Latin for "Hail Mary" - and the title of a Christian song sung by the child in the Prioress' Tale

bele chose

the Wife of Bath's euphemism for her vagina


pertaining to the attitudes or writings of Boethius




a legendary cow who eats patient wives


in medieval English, a scholar - someone learned, who has studied.

coal fox

a fox with black-tipped feet, ears and tail


inclination, sexual desire, determination, courage


someone whose wife has been sexually unfaithful to them


a description in words of something visual: painting with words


life experience, knowledge gained through living: the opposite of "written authority"


an old story, presented as poetry in medieval French. Often light-hearted, clever, witty short tales, focused on elaborate tricks, cunning plots or talking animals. The plural of fabliau is fabliaux.


advocacy of the rights of women, and the equality of the sexes

glossing (or glosynge)

interpreting a text to make it mean something: in medieval times, the textual glosses (explanations) were often written in the margins of texts, and were widely published


a medieval English version of our modern word "handy" - meaning clever, cunning, or practically "good with the hands". Applied, with good reason, to Nicholas in the Miller's Tale.


a common name for a clerk (and can also be a derogatory name for a priest or friar)


the Middle English word for "mastery"

Middle English

The English language in the period between Old English and modern English, usually considered to be from about 1100-50 until about 1450-1500.

O Alma redemptoris

Latin for "Gracious mother of the Redeemer" - the title of a Christian song sung by the child in the Prioress' Tale


a description of a situation, while professing to leave it undescribed through lack of knowledge, or unwillingness to discuss it


A pardon is the forgiveness of a crime. Historically, the Catholic Church used to issue a pardon on paper, which could be bought from a Pardoner for a certain amount of money in order to (quite literally) buy forgiveness and thereby a route to heaven.


the day on which the Holy Spirit was dispersed to Jesus' disciples in the Christian calendar


a long journey of religious significance. In this case, the pilgrims travel from an inn in Southwark to the shrine of St. Thomas in Canterbury.

Prima pars

First part


an attitude which shares feminism's values, but which was held or explained before "feminism" (or at least the concept called "feminism") existed


the middle English version of both our words "quaint" (meaning old-fashioned, coy, pretty) and "cunt" (meaning the female external genitals


a Middle English word which is a close relation of our "requite" - it can either mean to revenge something or repay someone

rime royal

a verse form used by Chaucer in four tales - the Prioress, the Second Nun, the Man of Law, and the Clerk - which have religious themes. It is a seven line stanza, rhymed abab bcc.

Roman de la rose

The "Romance of the Rose" is a French medieval poem which heavily influenced Chaucer. See "Additional Content" section for more detail.


A tale in verse, usually about the adventures of some hero of chivalry, and usually relating to the ideals of courtliness and knighthood

Secunda pars

Second part


the Middle-English word from which our "sententiousness" derives. Sentence is "meaning", "moral", "meaningfulness", "counsel" - and is a good yardstick by which to judge any of the teller's tales.


a petty officer who cites and warns persons to appear in court; usually a religious court, and often at the behest of the church


as used in talking about the Tales, it tends to refer to the way Chaucer adopts another character's voice, without "he said" or "she said", but writing or speaking as that character

[to] sette... [someone's] cappe

to make a fool out of someone