Earlier this week, The Independent reported that the first line of Beowulf has been incorrectly translated for hundreds of years. According to research by Dr. George Walkden, a University of Manchester lecturer, the Old English word hwæt, which begins the English language’s oldest epic poem (“Hwæt! We Gar-Dena in gear-dagum, þeod-cyninga, þrym gefrunon, hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!”), should not be read as an interjection separate from the rest of the first line (“Listen! we have heard of the might of the kings”), but rather as part of a complete exclamatory sentence—something like “How we have heard of the might of the kings.”
Citing research that “there’s no record of the Anglo-Saxons using exclamation marks, or any other form of punctuation, besides the full stop (or ‘point’) and the occasional semicolon” Walkden declares all previous interpretations—”‘What ho!’ (Earle 1892), ‘Hear me!’ (Raffel 1963), ‘Attend!’ (Alexander 1973), ‘Indeed!’ (Jack 1994), and ‘So!’ (Heaney 2000)”—to be wrong.