I'm curious about what the meaning of the word was originally and it seems to refer to song. I've found so far that it simply means "fiction", or "novel" (romans in French).

I have a keen interest to learn more about Pythagoras, a counter of notes, and supposedly the Hyperborean Apollo who invented music. I bring up the potentially fictional man because he is mentioned in relation to the root of the original Old French word rimance, the latin word rima. And apparently the spelling of rimance was changed to romance.

Oxford Dictionaries lists the origin of the adjective romance as being "vernacular language of France", and in fact the word romance at one point simply meant "French".

The current word romance is attributed to 17th-century chivalry, though it is from an older French word, which is confusing. I do not like the concept that upon adoption of a word, it becomes a new word. Romance is a French word, not an English word. Much the same as adore, and assassin.

Middle English: from Romance, originally denoting a composition in the vernacular as opposed to works in Latin. Translate romance to French


  1. romance

  2. roman

  3. liaison amoureuse


  1. fabuler

  2. broder

  3. vivre eun roman d'amour

Source: Google Translator https://translate.google.com/m/translate#fr/en/roman https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/licensing/google

. . . And that's pretty romantic.

My request is specifically aimed at reference material regarding the story, novel, or fiction, as a Frenchman might put it, which the word romance is intended to describe. I believe it specifically relates to Plato and Arostotle's famous debate regarding the fiction of platonic love, and may have something to do with the Hyperborean Apollo.

Interesting that Merriam-Webster's Dictionary lists the first known use being the 14th century, contradicting Oxford Dictionaries which lists the origin as 17th century chivalry.

And this explanation from Quora is the best I've found.

It all began with the Greeks. Pythagoras noticed that many things could be measured or counted, which caused him to attribute to numbers (ῥυθμός=hruthmos) a mystical nature. Two of the things that could be counted or measured were music and verse. Pay attention to this, here is the thread that will take us to the word you want.

Greek verses were divided into sections called “metra” (singular “metron”). Each metron had a defined number of long and short syllables. Each line had a given number of metra and verses grouped certain number of lines. The Romans nicknamed the metra “feet”, because poets and singers used to mark the counting (ῥυθμός) with their feet while they sung.

. . .

This type of verse, based on repetitions of endings was called rimance in Old French. The word later changed to “romance”. The verse ends that sounded same were then called “rimas” (this word didn’t change).

The point is: I'm perplexed that given the obviously romantic origin, lexicographers refer to chivalry as the origin. How can that be correct?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Jan 28 '18 at 21:10
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    Romance was originally about the form of poetry (ca 11th-13th Centuries) specifically developed in France and environs, in various languages, all descended from Latin (i.e, Roman). The erotic attachments came about from the topics of the poetry (the Crusaders were away, but their wives were home with the poets), and none of this has the faintest connection to ancient Greek poetry, mathematics, or culture. – John Lawler Feb 3 '18 at 21:30
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    Alas, it's not true that Roman culture and polity was based on Greek; the Romans esteemed the Greek accomplishments, as we do, but they still enslaved Greece and Greeks pursuant to their own, distinct, Indo-European culture.Greek and Roman are cousins, not parent and child. And in the 11th century, everybody in Europe that was literate knew Latin, and nobody (except some Jews and Moors) knew Greek. That's the way it was; check it out and award as you please. – John Lawler Feb 4 '18 at 16:21
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    Yes yes. Asterix & Oblix. Elementary. However, wrong. Perhaps you have not studied the architecture in rome? If the Romans won, and are vaguely to be credited with the origin through deeds of later french bards and druids then I'm a monkey's uncle. My argument remains that the basis of all modern culture which gave rise to things like autos and trains, is based on Greek teachings, which is a language that is apparently alive and well. I gotta just delete this question already. – Jesse Ivy Feb 4 '18 at 18:34
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    In re “MW contradicts the OED”: no, it doesn’t. The OED’s first definition (OED lists senses chronologically) gives the 14th century and provides several quotes establishing that, starting with Havelock. In re “Apparently the spelling of rimance was changed to romance”: this appears to be your own notion and no one else’s. You’ve repeated it several times because I think it flatters your own folk etymology, but I haven’t seen you present any evidence from an authority saying this actually happened, and I haven’t seen it mentioned in any etymology I’ve read or in those recited in th answers – Dan Bron Feb 28 '18 at 13:04

The earliest mention of romance as a literary genre is in an anonymous work from the southeast of England, the early 14th century Richard Coer De Lyon, based on a lost Anglo-Norman romance from 1230–1250:

It is ful god to here in jeste
Off his prowesse and hys conqueste.
Fele romanses men make newe,
Of good knyghtes, strong and trewe,
Off hey dedys men rede romance,
Bothe in Engeland and in France...

Roughly at the same time, Robert de Brunne's Chronicle (1338) informs its readers that the French term their language Romance:

Frankysche speche ys cald Romaunce
So sey þis clerkes and men of Fraunce.

These two written sources attest to the genre being known, translated, and imitated in Middle English in the early 14th century and that it was also known that Romance was what the French called their own language.

The 17th century romances you mentioned are an extension — and flattening — of the medieval romances into the chivalric and heroic tales of the 16th and 17th centuries. Adventure, courtly love, and exotic locales boiled over in such romances as Robert Greene's Pandosto: The Triumph of Time, 1588 (upon which The Winter's Tale was based), and Thomas Lodge's Life and Death of William Longbeard, 1593. Hardly read today, the genre lives on mostly in a work that soundly satirized it: Don Quixote.

Cervantes, of course, was not alone in his criticism of a popular genre of fiction:

[V]oluminous Romances that are too often the only Books which make up the Libraries of Gallants, and fill the Closets of Ladies. Robert Boyle, Occasional Reflections, 1665.

In the face of such criticism, it's hardly surprising that beginning in the 1630s, romance as a long work of fiction began to be replaced by a new word: novel. Later, the genre narrowed into what moderns know as a romance novel, and finally, romantic love between two people. Art creates life.

In his Quora post, Jose Geraldo Gouva argues that romance, both as genre and language, comes from rimance, which ultimately derives from Germanic rîm, but with the vowel conveniently backed to an o, though the word for rhyme inexplicably remained untouched.

It is true that rîm is an OHG word, but it had nothing whatsoever to do with poetry: it meant "row, order." Later, MHG borrowed the word back from French, or rather a new meaning: a line of verse with an end rhyme (etymology, in German, here). The movement away from alliteration toward end rhyme, however, had already been initiated in OHG by Otfrid of Weißenburg in his Evangelienbuch (Gospel Harmony) ca. 870, when the language called Old French today was still a novelty.

Phonetically, Latin long i remained stable throughout the OF period and beyond, and no regular sound change in OF could possibly account for a long i of any provenance becoming a long o.

Gouva rightly notes that for a longer narrative work, German took the word Roman directly from romance. But he also suggests that German called the language(s) that introduced end rhyme to a waiting world "Romance." While the modern German word for Romance languages is Romanisch, at the time Otfrid was writing and long thereafter, it was wal(a)hisc, MHG and NHG welsch, which derives from the name of a Celtic tribe, the Vosgae. Still today the German Swiss call anything from francophone Switzerland (Suisse Romande) welschschweizerisch.

This should be enough to tell you that an unsourced Quora post with a fanciful etymology and an equally fanciful chronology belongs in the world of romance, not serious scholarship. No reputable source in German, English, or French lends the slightest support to Gouva's theory. If you, by like token, seek to substantiate some arcane connection to Greek philosophy or culture, you will have to look elsewhere.

  • I came to the same ficticious conclusion, and this is my real name. Thank you for your answer. – Jesse Ivy Mar 2 '18 at 17:13

Prior to its meaning related to poetry, variations of "romance" in French simply referred to French vernacular as opposed to Latin, or to works translated from Latin into the vernacular. This was as early as c1125, ronmanz.

Consider Roman de Troie, a French work by Benoît de Sainte-Maure composed in the 12th century. It contains this text, using the etymon ronmanz to mean "vernacular French." This text is notably older than any attestation of "Romance" or its variations in English found in the OED.

... e por ce me vueil travaillier

en une estoire conmencier,

que de latin, ou je la truis,

se j'ai le sens e se ge puis,

la voidrai si en ronmanz metre

que cil qui n'entendront la letre

se puissent deduire el romanz:

mont est l'estoire riche e granz

In The New Historians of the Twelfth-century Renaissance, Peter Damian-Grint translates that text as:

And for this reason I wish to begin work on a history which from the Latin in which I find it I would like -- if I am wise enough and if I can -- to put it into the vernacular so that those who do not understand [Latin] writing can enjoy the vernacular: the history is very splendid and long

From there it came to mean a poem or prose written in the vernacular and was adopted into various languages, including English, meaning essentially a poem or, later, prose.

I don't see a connection to Greek history or anything particularly mysterious. The most mysterious thing to me personally is why in French the word derived from "of or relating to Rome" came to mean "of the vernacular" as opposed to Latin, the language of the Romans. But those sorts of semantic drifts are not uncommon in any language, and this story of the origins of "Romance" makes compelling sense.

  • Good Afternoon, my name is Jesse, and I am The Hyperborean Apollo. I have a golden thigh that keeps time, and I intend to prove that the word romance in fact has nothing to do with the word romanz, it is derived from the French vernacular, rimance, referring too Love, in an older language known as Mama (song). – Jesse Ivy Mar 8 '18 at 22:44
  • @JesseIvy I'm not sure I follow you completely, but yes, "romance" is related to the word "romanz," if we believe the OED: < Anglo-Norman romauns, romaunz, rumanz, rumauns, Anglo-Norman and Old French romanz – RaceYouAnytime Mar 8 '18 at 22:51
  • I know. Seems strange to utilize an English reference to trace the origin of a French word. Portugese might be more useful, I don't know. Thank you for your answer. I still hold out hope it remains a mystery. cultura.estadao.com.br/noticias/… – Jesse Ivy Mar 15 '18 at 18:26

Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (Volume 1 of 2), by Thomas Percy (1729-1811), c.1910, goes into great depth regarding the history of romantic literature and style, including metrical romances. He apparently thought they dated back to the time of the Norman Conquest, and included many references to French language literature as it was familiar to the English at the time. His research was very thorough, and with so many references noted, it seems a potentially good starting point for further inquiry.

He cites T. Wharton's translation of Sir Eglamour:

  • In romaunce as we rede.
  • In romaunce this cronycle is.

and Syr Launfal:

  • In romances as we rede.

However, there seems to be some debate as to the accuracy or lack of corruption in some of the translations. (The subject is pretty foggy for me, so I'm not certain of anything about it, although it is undoubtedly interesting.)

He also quotes du Cange (AD 1610-1688; a distinguished philologist and historian of the Middle Ages who wrote in Latin, while himself quoting some French poetry):

Indeed Du Cange, in his Glossary, quotes a writer, who positively asserts that the Minstrels of the middle ages were the same with the ancient Bards. I shall give a large extract from this learned glossographer, as he relates many curious particulars concerning the profession and arts of the Minstrels ; whom, after the monks, he stigmatizes by the name of Scurra ; though he acknowledges their songs often tended to inspire virtue.

"Ministelli, dicti prassertim Scurra, Mimi, Joculatores." .... " Ejusmodi Scurrarum munus erat principes non suis duntaxat ludicris oblectare, sed et eorum aures variis avorum, adeoque ipsorum principum laudibus, non sine assentatione, cum cantilenis et musicis instrumentis demulcere. . . .

"Interdum etiam virorum insignium et heroum gesta, aut explicata et jocunda narratione commemorabant, aut suavi vocis inflexione, fidi- busque decantabant, quo sic dominorum, cseterorumque qui his intererant ludicris, nobilium animos ad virtuieni capessendam, et summorum virorum imitationem accenderent : quod fuit olim apud Gallos Bardorum ministerium, ut auctor est Tacitus. Neque enim alios a Ministellis, veterum Gallorum Bardos fuisse pluribus probat Henricus Valesius ad 15 Ammiani......... Chronicon Bertrandi Guesclini [AD 1320-1380].

"Qui veut avoir renom des bons et des vaillans
"Il doit aler souvent a la pluie et au champs
"Et estre en la bataille, ainsy que fu Rollans,
"Les Quatre Fils Haimon, et Chorion li plus grans,
"Li dus Lions de Bourges, et Guions de Connans,
"Perceval li Galois, Lancelot, et Tristans,
"Alixandres, Artus, Godfroi li Sachans,
"De quoy cils Menestriers font les nobles Romans."

PS: The word romance (relevant to metrical romance and romantic style) is mentioned 57 times in this book. Romaunce 3 times, and Romans 9 times. Romantic is mentioned 12 times. Percy quotes extensively from many ancient poems, and gives titles of many more.

During my own brief research, I stumbled upon more promising leads in addition to Percy's book, which I would like to pursue eventually. One is The Cotton or Cottonian library, a collection of manuscripts once owned by Sir Robert Bruce Cotton MP (1571–1631), an antiquarian and bibliophile. It later became the basis of what is now the British Library, which still holds the collection.

The others are The Production and Use of English Manuscripts 1060 to 1220, a University of Leicester website, linked here; and Percy's Reliques, Volume 2, which is equally rich, if not more so, than volume one. It mentions romance 124 times, with multiple mentions of romantic, romaunce, and Romans. However, the poetry contained in volume 2 is presumed to date later than that found in volume 1.

Evidently romance / romancer is French for ballad or popular song. Song lyrics are of course nearly always written in rhyme, and are a type of poetry. It correlates with Percy's theory that metrical romance (verse, or poetry -- in contrast to ordinary prose) arose in England around the time of the Norman Conquest. It was popularized by the bards and minstrels whose livelihood depended on it.

Also, rimant (French for rhyming) is quoted on page 32 of Percy's volume 1:

Here we see that a Minstrel sometimes performed the function of a Dancing-master.

Fontenelle even gives us to understand, that these men were often rewarded with favours of a still higher kind, " Les princesses & les plus grandes dames y joignoient souvent leurs faveurs. Elles etoient fort foibles contre les beaux esprits." (Hist, du Theat.) We are not to wonder then that this profession should be followed by men of the first quality, particularly the younger sons and brothers of great houses. "Tel qui par les partages de sa famille n'avoit que la moitie ou le quart d'une vieux chateaux bien seigneurial, alloit quelque temps courir le monde en rimant, et revenoit acquerir le reste de Chateau." (Fontenelle Hist, du Theat.)

We see then, that there was no improbable fiction in those ancient songs and romances, which are founded on the story of Minstrels being beloved by kings' daughters, &c. and discovering themselves to be the sons of some foreign prince, &c.

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    Can you scan these sources for the mythical rimance (with an i not an o) and update us? – Dan Bron Mar 3 '18 at 5:56
  • Rimance was the French term, and isn't found in Percy's work. As for the other potential sources, I haven't gotten into them yet. – Bread Mar 3 '18 at 6:08
  • Correction: I found rimant (French language for rhyming), on page 32 of Percy's volume 1. Judging from what I've seen so far, and maybe it was obvious to everyone but me, until now: romance = poetry. In romaunce this cronycle is = In poetry this story is told... – Bread Mar 3 '18 at 6:12
  • @Dan Bron ~ Based on your suggestion, I elaborated on my answer. – Bread Mar 3 '18 at 6:41
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    Nice work! I love seeing scholarship like this. – Dan Bron Mar 3 '18 at 16:43

In comments, John Lawler wrote:

Romance was originally about the form of poetry (ca 11th-13th Centuries) specifically developed in France and environs, in various languages, all descended from Latin (i.e, Roman). The erotic attachments came about from the topics of the poetry (the Crusaders were away, but their wives were home with the poets), and none of this has the faintest connection to ancient Greek poetry, mathematics, or culture.

and also

Alas, it's not true that Roman culture and polity was based on Greek; the Romans esteemed the Greek accomplishments, as we do, but they still enslaved Greece and Greeks pursuant to their own, distinct, Indo-European culture.Greek and Roman are cousins, not parent and child. And in the 11th century, everybody in Europe that was literate knew Latin, and nobody (except some Jews and Moors) knew Greek. That's the way it was; check it out and award as you please.

  • so I guess you're going on record in the affirmative, that Oxford's origin, listed as 17th century chivalry is incorrect? It sounds as though you are agreeing with me that it's strange that the origin is so obfuscated. John Lawler gave a 200 year period which I generally concur with as the origin of the French word. It seems silly to me that the document is not widely known, as it seems formative. Oh well. No reference material. I'll dig it up myself. Bye. – Jesse Ivy Feb 6 '18 at 15:38
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    I'm back @tchrist. And I'm still extremely disappointed that your answer above is not in compliance with the rules of this site, which you so often and rudely tell others. Please cite a source, other than the ramblings in the comments of another. – Jesse Ivy Feb 27 '18 at 19:03

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