6

I found that the term 'medieval' has the meaning 'very old or old fashioned'

  1. Is it used negatively like 'out of style, inelegant, etc..
  2. What does the term 'positively medieval' mean??
3
  • 1
    Is there a context to the use of "positively medieval". It sounds casual, and there are a few casual expressions that might confuse you. So please give more context.
    – James K
    Jun 6 at 5:47
  • 2
    Brits (who have a mediaeval history) often use the term sarcastically about something slightly old-fashioned, outmoded, or deemed retrograde (often with 'positively' in front), e.g. "One comment on Slack talked about a return to a five-day week as being positively mediaeval" (January 2022) " I have lived in Rustington for 10 years and find it positively mediaeval that we have [a] one [-] screen [cinema] and no choice" - comment on Sussex news web site. Jun 6 at 17:48
  • 1
    Note that positively can mean "truly, seriously", and doesn't always mean "in a good way". Something being positively medieval is probably still a negative opinion. Jun 7 at 9:15

2 Answers 2

27

Context matters.

The word medieval can literally and directly refer to the approximately thousand year period of time between roughly the year 500 and the year 1500, particularly in Europe (although the word can sometimes be extended to indicate this period of time for other regions of the world as well, the primary meaning is this time period in Europe specifically). So if you are on a tour of Europe, and the tour guide says that "this is a medieval house" or "this is medieval architecture" or "this is a medieval painting" there is definitely no negative meaning implied. Quite the contrary, houses, architecture, and paintings from the medieval period can be quite beautiful

This period in European history has been highly romanticized. In particular, many popular Fairy Tales are typically considered to be set in medieval times... Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella in particular, although most everything from Grimm's could be said to be lumped together into this period. And these Fairy Tales have been highly sanitized by Disney, and evoke feelings of happiness, wonder, and magic. In this sense, the word medieval can be used in a very positive way!

Note the word "can".


The Negative Meaning of Medieval

The medieval period of European history is also known to have been one of intense violence, lack of sanitation, and cruelty. Horrific wars lasted decades at a time. Many people literally believed that bathing was unhealthy (winters were long, heated water was difficult to come by, and being wet makes you colder, which can be deadly). While castles were stone, many people had dirt flooring, or floors made of bundles of plants tied together. Human waste such as feces were not kept sufficiently distant from habitation, and might simply be tossed into the street. Punishment for crimes was arbitrary and horrific as well-- torture was frequently used. This was torture worse than almost anything done today... I will refrain from describing it, because it makes me sick.

The word medieval also carries these meanings, and these meanings are very, very, VERY bad. If you are living in "medieval conditions" it doesn't mean your house is like a fairy tale, it means your house is extremely filthy and probably lacks running water. If your schooling experience was "medieval" it doesn't mean it was full of wonder and fantasy, it means that your teachers beat their students and it was a terrifying experience. If you "get medieval" on someone, it means you are applying violence to that person.

None of these meanings actually indicate "out of style" or "inelegant". To the contrary, the positive meaning of medieval is very elegant. And the negative meaning of medieval is hardly as mild as "out of style"... the negative meaning actually invokes an extreme level of horror and violence. In particular, the kind of violence that has been, well, "out of style" for a very long time now.


As a final note, you asked what "positively" means. It doesn't mean that you intend the "positive" meaning of the word, it is simply used as an intensifier. You could replace the word with "very", "really", or "honestly" without changing the meaning much. "Positively medieval" is very often used with the negative sense of the word, and means that the situation being described is very, very, very bad.

4
  • 4
    I would add maybe that I have heard 'mediaeval' used in the sense of 'primitive, crude, savage', etc, mainly by people who don't know anything about the Middle Ages. We can use it humorously to mean 'old-fashioned'. I heard someone describe a phone with a dial as a 'mediaeval telephone'. Jun 6 at 9:00
  • 1
    Many people literally believed that bathing was unhealthy → this is a misconception, see for instance medievalists.net/2013/04/…
    – WoJ
    Jun 7 at 17:23
  • Possibly fair. But it is still widely believed that this was the case, which influences how the language is used. Jun 8 at 4:33
  • From your context, I guess it is used in negative situation rather than positive situation. I mean, of course I should determine the meaning(between positive and negative meaning) of medieval according to the entire context of statement but If couldn't understand it, I mignt want to regard it negative meaning, right?
    – kr H
    Jun 13 at 23:48
8

"Positively" is just an intensifier, it doesn't mean "with positive sense" it means "very" or "absolutely":

She looked positively ugly dressed as a witch.

It doesn't mean "ugly" is a positive word. You might use this expression because normally is a beautiful girl so you are surprised by how ugly she looked. But you could also say "positively beautiful".

So "positively medieval" means "very surprisingly medieval": that is relating to the "Middle ages" between the end of the Roman Empire and the European renaissance. A period of beauty and elegance, but also violence and hardships.

1
  • Thank you for answering :)
    – kr H
    Jun 13 at 23:49

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .