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Looking at the etymology of crone, a derogatory term for an old frail woman, we see it is a Late Middle English word, derived from Middle Dutch croonje, caroonje ‘carcass, old ewe’ with possible ties to the Old Northern French caroigne meaning ‘carrion’ and ‘cantankerous woman.’ Etymonline adds:

Perhaps the "old ewe" sense is older than the "old woman" one in French, but the former is attested in English only from 16c. Since mid-20c. the word has been somewhat reclaimed in feminism and neo-paganism as a symbol of mature female wisdom and power.

Meanwhile, the origins of crony, an old intimate friend, can be dated back to the mid-17th century. Nowadays, the term is often used for a network of friends who are willing to break the law for their own personal benefit and/or as a display of loyalty. The British Guardian recently published an article targeting the West's ineffective attempts to undermine the close-knit relationship between Putin and Russian tycoons.

Putin’s survival strategy consists of catering to a small number of political elites who make up his inner circle. As long as the inner circle remains happy, either as a result of direct payoffs and rents or policy, it has no incentive to replace him. […] To be precise, most of Putin’s cronies – and some of their families – eventually made it on to the official sanctions lists at most western countries in the last year. But no wealthy Russian worth their salt would ever put their assets, foreign or domestic, under their own name.

Merriam-Webster says the origins of crony is possibly derived from the Greek words chronios meaning long-lasting, and chronos meaning time. Its first appearance can be traced back to 1656.

Crone and crony appear to be unrelated while the origins of the former is attested to be older. Yet, the two loanwords look eerily alike–only their last letters are different–and their meanings are inexorably connected to the passage of time and age.


Why couldn't crone also be derived from the Greek term khronos? What semblance does the Old French caroigne, meaning aged decaying flesh, have with the Middle English crone? In comparison, the English term carrion looks and sounds similar to its Old French counterpart.

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    Presumably this is because the form "chrony" is attested but "chrone" is not; typically the Greek "χ" comes into English as "ch."
    – alphabet
    Mar 19, 2023 at 20:04
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    The editors at the Oxford English Dictionary must have wondered the same thing because the etymology for crony actually says “no connection with crone has been traced.” mentalfloss.com/article/637581/what-is-a-crony
    – user 66974
    Mar 19, 2023 at 20:15
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    The OED also notes crony, n. Forms: Also 1600s–1700s chrony, 1600s cronee, 1600s–1800s croney, cronie. Etymology: Found first after 1660. According to Skinner 1671 ‘vox academica’, i.e. a term of university or college slang.
    – Greybeard
    Mar 19, 2023 at 23:43
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    Yours is an interesting question. But old and aged are not necessarily the same. And, there are 0-to-1 people here qualified or creative enough to buck the OED. Also, I can see (and possibly even hear if I could remember my French) crone in caroigne c a r o i g n e. Mar 20, 2023 at 2:30
  • I suggest that someone with access to the OED turn this into an answer so that the question can be marked as solved.
    – alphabet
    Mar 22, 2023 at 3:32

1 Answer 1

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The 1759 New English Dictionary: Or A Complete Treasury of the English Language Tracing the Words from their Primitive Fountains does says:

CRO'NE , S. (kronie , Belg. Xpovos , chronos , Gr . time) an old ewe . Figuratively , an old woman, "The crone being in bed with him on the wedding night." DRYD . A word of contempt.

However, the current OED for crone, n.1 says :

Origin: Apparently a variant or alteration of another lexical item. Etymon: carrion n.

Etymology: Apparently specific sense developments of carrion n. (compare α. forms and senses 4 and 5 at that entry).

Although these sense developments are not securely attested for the Anglo-Norman etymon of carrion n., similar developments are shown by variants of the French word, e.g. Middle French caroingne (14th cent. in apparently isolated use), carogne (from 16th cent.), insulting terms for a woman (in later regional use also applied to a weak or thin animal); compare also ( < French) early modern Dutch kronje, karonje old ewe (16th cent.), Dutch karonje, insulting term for a woman (from 17th cent.). There is strong indirect evidence that sense 2 existed considerably earlier in either Middle English or Anglo-Norman, or perhaps in both. Compare the following instance of what is apparently a borrowing of a vernacular word in this meaning in a Latin document from England: 1376–8 in F. G. Davenport Econ. Devel. of Norfolk Manor (1906) p. lvii Cuidam bercario manerii de Lopham fuganti bidentes crones de Lopham usque Framyngham. Compare also a number of derivative formations: post-classical Latin cronatus old, worn-out animal (frequently from 1280 in British sources), cronardus or crondarda old, worn-out animal (14th cent. in British sources), cronare to cull or weed out such animals (1410 in a British source), croneum culling of such animals (from 1297 in British sources), and cronagium , cronura , in the same meaning (both 1350 in British sources).

Apparent instances in surnames from medieval Britain are much more likely to show a variant of crane n.1

[italics omitted]

(OED also has 3 sub-definitions one for the word applying to women, one for men, and one for sheep.)

For crony OED says:

Etymology: Found first after 1660. According to Skinner 1671 ‘vox academica’, i.e. a term of university or college slang. No connection with crone has been traced.

However, I see in the 1638 printing of The Anatomy of Melancholy:

Marry not an old Crony or a foole for mony.

whereas the 1632 printing says:

Marry not an old Cronie or a foole for mony.

(There are still earlier printings of The Anatomy of Melancholy but I haven't accessed them.)

So overall the OED should acknowledge this older instance of "crony". It does seem to have the same meaning as "crone" is the 1638 instance.

Additionally, the 1661 Glossographia, or, A dictionary interpreting all such hard words of whatsoever language now used in our refined English tongue with etymologies, definitions and historical observations on the same has an entry:

Cronie (from cronus) a contemporary Disciple, or intimate companion, between a servant and friend; a consident; and perhaps may have this antient Etymology; Diodorus the Philosopher was Schollar to Apollonius Cronus, after whom he was called Cronus, the name of the Master being transmitted to the Disciple.

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    In a Mentalfloss article, it says ‘The editors at the Oxford English Dictionary must have wondered the same thing because the etymology for crony actually says “no connection with crone has been traced.”’ Could you confirm if this true, and include a short excerpt in your answer please?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 13, 2023 at 8:43
  • @Mari-LouA ok, I added that and more.
    – DavePhD
    Apr 13, 2023 at 13:19

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