Word of the Week: Chronicle

By: Megan Jenkins (alumni)

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, chronicle is a noun that means, “a historical account of events arranged in order of time usually without analysis or interpretation,” (Merriam-Webster).

Chronicle stems from the Anglo-Norman French word “cronicle“, a variant from the Old French word, “cronique“. Cronique comes from its Latin equivalent, which comes from the Greek word “khronika“, meaning “annals“, which stems from “khronikos“. To obtain a deeper etymology, one would have to further research the word chronic.

While the definition of chronic is not similar (nor relevant) to chronicle, its etymology certainly is. The word chronic stems from the Greek word “khronos” which means “time“.

In literary terms, a chronicle is a style of writing that “typically records events as witnessed or understood by the person writing the chronicle (the chronicler); but it is fundamentally objective, not interpretive,” (Literary Terms).

One of the earliest English chronicle is the Anglo-Saxon chronicle. The most well known mentions from the collection are: the Winchester chronicle, the Abington chronicle (volumes 1 and 2), the Worchester chronicle, and the Petersbourgh chronicle.

According to the British Library, the national library of the United Kingdom, the Anglo-Saxon chronicle were/are “…was originally compiled around 890 during the reign of King Alfred the Great. It was the first attempt to give a systematic year-by-year account of English history, and it was later maintained, and added to, by generations of anonymous scribes until the middle of the 1100s,” (British Library).

The Anglo-Saxon chronicle were recorded and kept by Christian monks during that time period and spread across England during the times in which they were written. The accounts were originally written in Old English, which is an interesting note due to the language’s inferiority from French and Latin, which were both the official languages during that time. However, due to its more administrative nature, the accounts were kept in Old English as opposed to Latin (the records written government during that time).

In the British Library’s virtual archives, there is an accessible page/excerpt from one of the chronicle. The page can be viewed, along with a transcript of both the Old English and its modern English translation here.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 11th Century
(Photo from British Library)

A more modern example of “chronicle” can be found in C.S.Lewis’ fiction series The Chronicles of Narnia.

Now, a note to make about chronicle vs Chronicles. Chronicle is as defined above. However, Chronicles is different. According to Merriam-Webster, Chronicles (note the capital C) is defined as, “either of two historical books of canonical Jewish and Christian Scripture,” (Merriam-Webster). This is a very different, yet similar in its idea of multiple volumes of a similar collection, definition that should be concerned when using the term “chronicle” in terms of a historical record and “Chronicles”, which means as described above.

In the case of C.S.Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, this would be an accurate observation, considering the fact that Lewis converted to Christianity September 1931, and had written some of Christian theology’s most profound writings during the 20th century such as Mere Christianity and The Abolition of Man.

Overall, a chronicle recorded key national and regional events beside the listing of the year, with the purpose to chart the passage of time and create recorded history.


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