The meaning of life?… no deal. But a great deal of Saxons and Normans. Deal with it.

“Are you looking for a great deal?”, (i.e. “Are you looking for a bargain”), was translated as “Leder du efter en hel del?” which means “are you looking for a lot (of things)?”, which turns a simple sentence about a possible bargain to an almost profound-sounding quest for the meaning of a life.  [Should have been translated as: Leder du efter et godt tilbud?].
In this context it is interesting how “deal” in English can both mean “an amount” and “a bargain” leaving “a great deal” utterly ambigous, unless put in context. I have a theory about how this came about!
Most of us have seen Robin Hood in one incarnation or another on a TV or a movie screen. What is not clear from pretty much all adaption of the tale is that the Normans and the Saxons, the two parties to the pivotal 13th century conflict at the center of Robin Hood’s saga, did NOT both speak the same language, English, as the movies will have us believe. The conquering Normans, in fact, spoke French!
England remained a bi-lingual place for centuries thereafter with the commoners speaking Anglo-Saxon and the ruling classes Norman-French. The great impact of this, which we still carry with us in English to this day, is that in legal English we have the tradition of carrying both the Saxon and and the Norman words. Things like “Cease and desist”, “Null and void”, “Devise and bequeath”, “Last will and testament” are actually nothing else than repetitions of the same meaning, two synonyms, with two different words: one Saxon word (closest to German today), and one Norman word (closest to French today).
“And how does this relate to the two meanings of  the word “deal”, then?”, you might ask. Well, here’s my theory: another effect of the Saxon-Norman duality is that two entirely different-meaning, but similar-sounding, words from the two origins have become the same word (with dual meanings) in modern English. I think that “deal”, when meaning “amount, part”, is the English-spelled version of the modern German word “Teil”, meaning “Part, divide”. This meaning of “Deal” is also present in the verb “to deal” when it refers to cards in  a poker game. On the other hand, “deal”, when it means “trade, commerce”, comes from the French “commerce de détail”, which also has been twisted into “retail” in English. This meaning of deal is present in the verb “to deal (with it)” when it refers to a setback in life, i.e. try to make commerce out of something bad.
Now, wasn’t that interesting? Suddenly lingustics is like historical detective work…. 🙂

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