The Grammarphobia Blog

Anne Boleyn, part 2

Q: In your post about poor Anne Boleyn, you discuss whether she was beheaded or deheaded. I have another choice: was she beheaded or debodied? And after the execution, which piece WAS poor Anne? Just parsing the language.

A: After Anne was beheaded, she consisted of TWO parts. It was the whole that was beheaded (or debodied, if there were such a word).

Although the Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t have an entry for “debody,” it does have one for “detrunk,” a verb meaning to cut off or lop off.

However you refer to the process, Anne was neither here nor there as a result of it, but in two places at once!

You might say, though, that her soul was disembodied.

By the way, the verb “disembody” and the past participle “disembodied” are relatively new, dating back to the 18th century.

Before that, a soul was said to “unbody” or be “unbodied,” as in this example from Chaucer’s poem Troilus and Criseyde (circa 1374): “The fate wold his soule sholde vnbodye.”

At any rate, all of Anne was buried together in a chapel near the Tower Green, and the body was identified as hers centuries later, when renovations were done to the chapel in Queen Victoria’s time.

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