I would like to write my story in Anglish, which is basically, to my understanding, English without borrowed words from other languages. I like it because it sounds familiar and strange at the same time.

For example, carpenters would be woodworkers and carpentry would be woodcraft.

So far so good, but I struggle with metalworkers and metalcraft because as far as I can tell, metal is a relatively new addition to the English language and it is originally a Greek word.

I've done some Internet research, but the only useful thing I could find out was that "smith" is supposedly the original English word for a metalworker. That doesn't help me with the original word for metal, though. I'm pretty sure there is something I just don't understand...

So my question is, what would be an old / original English word for metal and metalcraft?

  • 1
    Lead, gold, silver, copper, tin, brass, iron, and steel are all Old English words. It's not clear to me that they had a word that encompassed all of these. The words for metal in the other West Germanic languages, Dutch and German, are metaal and Metall. There is a word in the North Germanic languages, Swedish and so forth, but its cognate in Middle English, malme, meant sand. Commented May 28, 2021 at 20:33
  • There was no Old English word for metal because (apparently) Old English speakers did not have a concept of metal as distinct from other materials. "English" speakers did not group metals together until "French" people suggested it to them. So, in your fantasy world, "foreign" concepts can be borrowed, but not the names of the concepts?
    – Juhasz
    Commented May 28, 2021 at 22:20
  • @Juhasz: I actually think it's possible that the Old English word for "metal" was "metal". We don't have a huge corpus of Old English writings, so if it was a rare word we might not know about it. And Old English borrowed a bunch of words from Latin – maybe metal was one of them. Commented May 29, 2021 at 2:04
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    The Latin word metallum occuring in texts with Old English glosses is glossed with multiple Old English words, none of them ever a form of the word "metal", which is a good indication that metal had not become a loanword in Old English.
    – TimR
    Commented Sep 27, 2023 at 12:22

2 Answers 2


One option from the Bosworth-Toller Dictionary online is smiþ-cræft (smithcraft):

Smithcraft, the craft or art of the worker in metal or wood

As people have pointed out, the material being worked is not specified in the name, though metal was often connected to smithing. (The verb be-smiþian meant to work in metal.)

If you need to specify work in metal, a few other terms might work. For instance, a geotere (Bosworth-Toller) was a founder, someone who poured metal into a mold or casted metal. The OED entry for "yetter, n." is more complete - to yet is to pour, so a geotere/yetter is literally a pourer of metal. Then slecg-wyrhta is literally a hammer-wright, a metal worker, someone who would have hammered metal.

Finally, if you absolutely must have a metal material in the name, you could invent a term using an Old English word for metal. For instance, bloma (modern bloom) was a mass of metal extracted from ore (compare: goldbloma for mass of gold). Clympre (modern clumper, but in Old English was clearly metal) and clyne (no comparable modern term I know of) are two other example words, and I'm sure poking around Bosworth-Toller could give you further ideas. You could always create your own nonce usage: bloomwright or clumpercraft, or whatever works better for your fictional purposes.

  • +1 I think the Old English word smylting means "metal alloy". It appears in a gloss: ferrum isen electrum smylting (though I haven't seen the MS).
    – TimR
    Commented Sep 27, 2023 at 12:43
  • Great answer. Old English wír (wir)* was used for metal also, but mainly for metal threads or ornamental metal. It could denote precious metals too. It is where the modern word wire comes from.
    – ermanen
    Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 6:04

The word "metal" has been in the English language at least since the time of Chaucer, meaning that almost every English purist would probably include it in their "Anglish".

This glossary of Chaucer includes the word "metal" and gives the meaning as "metal". The Chaucerian verb meaning to craft metal is "forge".

  • I cannot upvote yet, thank you for the great resource!
    – Arimeris
    Commented May 28, 2021 at 19:36
  • 2
    Chaucer is Middle English, so After Conquest. The question is what would it be in Beowulf. :)
    – tchrist
    Commented May 28, 2021 at 21:20
  • @tchrist I only find results for a music band and a modern Aluminium company. I assume I don't know the proper methods and/or sources to find answers to that :/
    – Arimeris
    Commented May 28, 2021 at 21:30

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