Medievalists Use Annoying Words, Too
I was just reading the new Speculum (a journal my wife won't allow me to keep in the house, by the way) on Monday and came across Milton Gatch's review of Mechthild Gretsch's Ælfric and the Cult of Saints in Late Anglo-Saxon England. Now, as readers of How Tradition Works know, Mechthild Gretsch is the medievalist whose work I most admire. Her The Intellectual Foundations of the English Benedictine Reform absolutely changed my scholarly life (and I would be willing to bet good money that I am the only person in the world who has read it four times). So when I got to the part of the review where Gatch is ready to make some criticisms, I was ready to rise in defense of whatever it was that Gretsch had done.
But instead, I found myself in total agreement with Gatch, who objects to the use of the verb "culted" throughout Gretsch's new book. Gatch attributes this usage to Gretsch's being German, and he's wrong about that, but boy is he right that "culted" is a barbarism (though he does not use those words).
When I was in graduate school and reading all the then-current scholarship on the English Benedictine Reform, no one used "culted" as a past-tense verb. But sometime around 2000-2001, it started to show up everywhere. Phrases like "Swithun was culted at Winchester" became commonplace in Anglo-Saxon England and elsewhere. Before this time, people would write something like "a cult of St Swithun was started at Winchester." Now it's "was culted."
In other words, the use of "culted" is a meme, one that has spread rapidly through the ranks of elite Anglo-Saxonists (though thankfully, nowhere else).
I understand desire for shorthand, and I think that "culted" is marginally better than "imbricated" ("imbricated" is a bad metaphor, while "culted" is a bit of insider jargon with only one real meaning). But "culted" is still loathsome. It's ugly to look at, and it works immediately to alienate nearly all readers. It is also unnecessary, as scholars were able to write about the cult of the saints, etc. for a couple hundred years without using "cult" as a verb.
Look, Milton Gatch has read more Anglo-Saxon scholarship than nearly any person alive. When he thinks the use of a word is due to the author's not speaking English as a native language, it's obvious that "culted" isn't helping with communication. I'm all for jargon when it's necessary or even particularly useful, and I love teaching my students to use "hapax legomenon" or "homoeoteleuton" in the appropriate situations, but "culted" is just too foul. Please don't use it any more.