Re. the PJ Harvery song, "The Words That Maketh Murder".

I have read some debate as to whether maketh is correct. See linguaphiles.livejournal.com. That discussion was I think inconclusive.

One view is that there is a standard idiom the clothes maketh the man so PJ Harvery's line is fine.

Another view is Middle English verbs on Wikipedia/Wiktionary says maketh would be 3rd person singular :

I singe
he/she/it singeth
they singen

  • 1
    maketh is an archaic form. books.google.com/ngrams/… – TRomano Mar 3 '16 at 17:55
  • 3
    I believe "-eth" was also used as a plural in some dialects. It's hard to give a complete picture of the variation that existed in the past in just a single conjugation table. But you'll see that the Wikipedia article has this sentence in the text after the table: "Plural forms vary strongly by dialect, with southern dialects preserving the Old English -eþ [-eth], Midland dialects showing -en from about 1200 onward and northern forms using -es in the third person singular as well as the plural." – herisson Mar 3 '16 at 17:57
  • 1
    Sorry, I hadn't read the linked discussion when I posted that, so I didn't realize it had already been mentioned. – herisson Mar 3 '16 at 18:08
  • "So can english.stackexchange.com clear this up ?" Clear up what, exactly? Whether "maketh" is historically attributed? Your idiom example demonstrates that it has historical usage. – Kevin Mar 3 '16 at 18:09
  • 1
    I would have said no, but a couple of people with demonstrably serious chops in medieval language and usage are saying maybe so. I'd be grateful if @sumelic were to hammer the above into an answer. – Rob_Ster Mar 3 '16 at 18:31

Regarding the point about the idiom the clothes maketh the man I did a little more reading and oldest recorded reference I found is from 15th Century ...

Variations of this proverb appear earlier than Erasmus however they appear in obscure works: “Euer maner and clothyng makyth man” (Prov. Wisdom, 1400) and “Ffor clothyng oft maketh man.” (Peter Idley’s Instructions to His Son, 1445).
-- Original source is The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs

It looks to me like clothyng in both of these is singular, hence maketh was correct originally. However later when the phrase was modernized to specify clothes (i.e. plural) perhaps sometimes people (incorrectly) kept the verb maketh.

I suspect (!) this is why sometimes we hear similar pattern as in the song being discussed. I believe the phrasing in the song should be

The Words That Maken Murder

Regardless, I still love the song.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.