The Ormulum is a late twelfth-century poem from the East Midlands of some 20,000 short lines. It is named after its author, an Augustinian canon called Orrm, a Scandinavian name meaning 'serpent'. He introduces himself and says that he is writing at the request of his brother Walter, also an Augustinian canon.
His objective is to give an English paraphrase of the gospels for the year as arranged in the Mass book, supplemented by a homily on each; but in fact the extant text is a series of sermons arranged chronologically around the gospel versions of the life of Christ. Of the 242 homilies listed in the table of contents, only 32 have come down to us. The text is considered to have been left unfinished.
Evidently, it was Orrm's overall objective to offer religious teaching in the vernacular both as instruction for a lay audience as well as pastoral care. Orrm's exegesis of the Biblical matter is mainly based on the widely spread twelfth-century Glossa Ordinaria, which provided ample commentaries on the Scripture.
While the Ormulum is commonly held to be only of minor literary interest, it is remarkable in linguistic terms: The author devised a semi-phonetic spelling system in which the consonants are consistently doubled after short vowels. Thus it is of primary importance for linguists and dialectologists.