This is because I’ve been binge watching ‘The Last Kingdom’ on Netflix (when I’m not working really hard of course). If you haven’t seen it, it’s a fictionalised retelling of when the Danes came over here and pillaged all our villages in the 9th century (Wessex being the titular last kingdom as it was the last major stronghold against them). There’s lots of mud, blood and bare bums. The main character is called Uhtred of Bebbanburg, although his bezzie Anglo-Saxon mate calls him (you’ve guessed it), arseling.
Sadly, an arseling isn’t a baby arse. Nor is it quite as insulting as it sounds – it means, simply, ‘backwards’. The original spelling was ‘earsling’ and first turned up in written form in 1050 in a manuscript called the ‘Paris Psalter’. The exact phrase was ‘Syn hi gecyrde on earsling’, which means ‘Let them be turned backwards’. And that’s it. It’s not found in any other writing until a poem from 1768 called ‘The Fortunate Shepherdess’ by Alexander Ross (nope, me neither). This means that the OED has pronounced it officially obsolete, although this might well change now, thanks to its resurgence in ‘The Last Kingdom’. Who says TV rots your brain?
Interesting (sorta) fact: According to one website I looked at, ‘arseling’ might have been coined by royalty. That’s because the psalm in question was translated by one Alfred the Great. Find out more here.