Questions tagged [old-english]

Questions dealing with Old English, i.e. the language of the Anglo-Saxons up to about 1150.

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125
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1answer
13k views

Did English ever have a word for 'yes' for negative questions?

The Germans have doch and the French have si as a word that means "yes" in response to a negative question, such as: Don't you want some ice-cream? Yes [I do]! In English, we only have yes (as ...
106
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3answers
12k views

How did 7 come to be an abbreviation for 'and' in Old English?

According to A History of the English Language: Revised Edition by Elly van Gelderen, p.53, in Old English the numeral 7 was used as an abbreviation for the word and: Abbreviations are frequently ...
92
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3answers
10k views

How did English retain its non-Christian names of the week?

It amazes me that despite centuries of religion dominating almost every aspect of life in Britain or at the very least exerting a great deal of influence on the public and private sphere, the English ...
58
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8answers
16k views

Was “book” to “beek” as “foot” is to “feet”?

"Foot" is a curious word in English because it is pluralized in an unusual way; the "oo" in the word is changed to "ee". Did this once use to be a standard way of pluralizing things in English (or a ...
58
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6answers
18k views

What we've gelost — why doesn't English use the prefix “ge-”?

The Germanic languages that I'm familiar with all use a prefix similar to ge- on past participles: German: Ich habe mir den Fuß gebrochen. Dutch: Ik heb mijn voet gebroken. But English doesn't do ...
37
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4answers
5k views

Did the English call a fruit “openærs” for 700 years?

There is a small apple-tasting fruit called medlar in English. It looks like a cross between an apple and a rosehip. It has two main curious features: first the fruit must be bletted before it can ...
34
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4answers
113k views

Why are there two pronunciations for “either”?

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with an individual who told me that pronouncing the word "either" is wrong when pronounced like \ˈī-thər\ instead of \ˈē-thər\ , but I didn't argue the point ...
31
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3answers
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Ye olde english alphabet question: Any other letters lost besides thorn, edh, and yogh?

According to this link, we are missing (in Modern English) at least three letters that used to be in common use in English. These are thorn, edh, and yogh. Are there others that were clearly in the ...
29
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2answers
2k views

Irregular verbs: the history of the suffix “-en” used in past participles

Recently I've been helping my home students learn the past participles of some irregular verbs, in a "new" way. Basically, I show that sometimes the suffix -(e)n is added to the PRESENT stem. For ...
28
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4answers
5k views

Why don’t we write poetry like Beowulf any longer?

Beowulf, the Old English epic poem, uses a characteristically Germanic style of poetry in which the number of strong beats per line is what counts. Instead of counting syllables, strong beats alone ...
28
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5answers
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How and in what way did the Danes come to influence English?

I was looking for some insight into the farewell greeting ta on The Urban Dictionary just now, and came across this mostly excellent top-ranked answer (adapted slightly, emphasis mine): A slang word ...
27
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3answers
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Why don't English nouns have grammatical gender?

English nouns — other than those with natural gender, e.g. people or animals — do not generally have grammatical gender, and so are referred to as 'it' rather than 'he' or 'she'. However, modern ...
27
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3answers
15k views

What were nightmares called before “nightmare” was used in that sense?

Apparently the word "nightmare" has only been used in the sense of "bad dream" since c. 1829. Before then the term referred to the agent causing the dreams—a mare < mera, mære 'goblin, ...
26
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3answers
2k views

Send, sent; end, *ent?

The past tense of a number of verbs changes from -end to -ent: bend → bent lend → lent rend → rent send → sent spend → spent wend → went However, most do not, notably end. Granted, I say “I ent up” (...
26
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5answers
10k views

Why do we use the object instead of the subject pronoun in constructions like “stupid me”?

I'm trying to find out how come we say lucky me and stupid us rather than lucky I and stupid we. My understanding is that this is not a recent invention, but a relic from the distant past where it was ...
23
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3answers
4k views

Old English instead of Latin in early Britain

For almost 400 years, Britain was a Roman province. During that period, naturally, Latin was an important language in the region. When the Germanic tribes invaded the British Isles (around the 5th ...
22
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3answers
4k views

/ð/ → /d/ shift in English

As a result of a /d/ → /ð/ shift, fæder became father, hider became hither and togædere became together, giving us our modern English forms. However, I know that murder and burden have archaic forms- ...
19
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2answers
5k views

Was the “Ye Olde Shoppe” ever used or is it just an ancient-looking construct of modern times?

Surely, if I were the owner of a shop selling archery goods and wanted to portray my shop as some kind of old-fashioned, high-quality traditional outlet, I might be tempted to call it “Ye Olde Archery ...
19
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2answers
2k views

Construction of “woe is me”

The expression “woe is me” (meaning) looks strange. On the surface, it seems to mean “an unhappy event is me”. Sure, it's an old idiom, undoubtedly reflecting vocabulary or grammar that is no longer ...
19
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1answer
1k views

Did the Tironian “et” (“⁊”) have any impact on the ampersand being shift + 7 on English keyboards? [closed]

How did 7 come to be an abbreviation for 'and' in Old English? is a beautiful question about the Tiroian "et", which is now the "⁊" character 1. My question is what impact did the association of this ...
18
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2answers
2k views

What did we gain in return for the loss of phonemic vowel length from Old English?

In Old English, vowel length was phonemic, but stress and certain kinds of consonant voicing were not. In Modern English, that situation is reversed: vowel length is no longer phonemic, but stress ...
18
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1answer
811 views

When and why did the number reading order change [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: 19th century English texts occasionally use germanic-style number words, such as “four-and-twenty”. When did this fall out of use? In Arabic and even in several ...
17
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2answers
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How was the letter -u- written in Old English?

I was reading the etymology for 'come (v.)' when I encountered: [...] The substitution of Middle English -o- for Old English -u- before -m-, -n-, or -r- was a scribal habit before minims to avoid ...
17
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4answers
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What is the history of adding the a- prefix to form words?

I have always found the a- prefix to words (as in anew, ajar, aside, awake, afoot, a-hunting, etc.) fascinating. The NOAD says on this topic: a- 2. prefix •to; toward : aside | ashore. • ...
17
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4answers
3k views

Why “English” but not “Anglish”?

Etymology of English from Etymonline: Old English Englisc (contrasted to Denisc, Frencisce, etc.), from Engle (plural) "the Angles," the name of one of the Germanic groups that overran the island ...
16
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3answers
2k views

Did Old English (Anglo-Saxon) use contractions?

German uses contractions a lot, including im (in+dem) and zum (zu+dem) to name a few. As an Old English learner, I wanted to know if there were any attested similarities. My research hereto has ...
16
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5answers
14k views

Etymology of “Easter”

I’ve heard claims that the word Easter has the same Bronze Age root as east, Ishtar, Astarte, and ultimately star. Is this the correct etymology of the word Easter?
16
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3answers
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Is the word “formulæ” valid English?

Is the word formulæ, written with an æ at the end, valid in English? I stumbled upon this apparently plural form of formula in the Wiktionary. I had no idea the letter æ could occur in English. Does ...
16
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4answers
7k views

What did Old English writing (letters and formatting) typically look like?

I am wondering if there is a specific kind of writing that people would typically associate with Old English language. Are there well-known manuscripts that typically represent the kind of writing (...
16
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4answers
8k views

Silent “e” at the end of words

Back in 2009, a job interviewer sent me a link to a web service that would help me make a free telephone call via the internet... Skype. As a native speaker, I knew "instinctively" to pronounce this "...
15
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1answer
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What was Ꝧ (thorn with stroke through descender) used for in middle/old english?

I was doing some research online and I saw that a thorn with a slash through the ascender was a common abbreviation for "that," but the same website (wikipedia) also listed this character: "Ꝧ". What ...
15
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2answers
4k views

Etymology of certain words ending in “-en”

Tchrist's comment here on my answer to an etymology question brought the following to mind: Ox (from Old English oxa) maintains the same vowel in the plural oxen that it has in the singular. But ...
14
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5answers
13k views

Is it true that the 100 most common English words are all Germanic in origin?

There is an oft-quoted statement that the 100 most common (frequently used) words in the English language are entirely Germanic/Anglo-Saxon in origin. (Also sometimes said is that ~80% of the 1000 ...
14
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3answers
3k views

Why is “Saturday” Romanic?

Sunday and Monday are named after the sun and moon (English < Germanic), and Tuesday through Friday are named after Anglo-Saxon/Germanic gods. This seems consistent enough so far, but then we come ...
13
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2answers
5k views

Scottish, English, why not *Walish?

As the title question asks, and particularly in light of the Old English word wælisc apparently used to refer to "Welsh", when, why, and how did the English adjective meaning "of or relating to Wales" ...
13
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1answer
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What was “static electricity” known as before the discovery of electricity?

People must have dealt with static electrical discharge for thousands of years; well before they began to understand the principles of electricity. What would a static discharge be called in early ...
12
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2answers
886 views

What did English use before “triangle”?

Apparently the word "triangle" was borrowed into English in the late 1300s. Triangles are a very common shape in everyday life, and there were certainly English-speaking craftsmen and artists before ...
12
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5answers
2k views

Crush the spearhead leek

I've often wondered why the pungent plant called garlic is a mass noun. If I look at its etymology, I see it is derived from Old English. Old English gārlēac, from gār ‘spear’ (because the shape of ...
11
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8answers
2k views

Is the “wit” in “to wit” the root of any other English words?

...and if not, where'd it go? One obvious venture is that the noun "wit", in the sense of cleverness and general know-how, has an etymological affinity with the Old English witen, "to know", and which ...
11
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4answers
8k views

Did the “We shall fight on the beaches” speech mainly use words from Old English? If so, why?

I read today that Churchill's "We shall fight on the beaches" speech mainly used words from Old English. Wikipedia's article states that Melvyn Bragg claimed in "The Adventure of English" that only ...
11
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3answers
2k views

Evolution of the meaning of “to dwell”

The Old English meaning of "to dwell" (dwellan) is to mislead. Can we trace the gradual shift from this original sense to that of Modern English: to reside, to inhabit ?
11
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1answer
186 views

What is the earliest written example of Old English?

What is the earliest written example of Old English?
10
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4answers
3k views

Are Anglo-Saxon words better at expressing emotion? [closed]

Twice recently I've seen someone on this site state that Anglo-Saxon words, or words of Germanic origin, are better for expressing emotion than words derived from Latin. Does anyone have any ...
10
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1answer
3k views

Latin words borrowed from Roman occupation?

English has a lot of words borrowed from Latin. The great majority were borrowed in the 14- and 1500's from Church/Medieval Latin, a huge influx via educated neologism. I'd like to know if there are ...
10
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2answers
1k views

What's up with “this,” in Old English(Ænȝlıſ͡ċ/Anglo Saxon‽)

I am asking two things here, about Ænȝlıſċ (Old English) First and foremost, see this picture here: – which was taken from this page: QUESTION 1: What is the difference between these two words: "...
10
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1answer
217 views

Are there any Germanic cognates to “lithe”?

When winter first begins to bite                and stones crack in the frosty night,           when pools are black and trees are bare,                ’tis evil in the Wild to fare. In this time of ...
9
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3answers
65k views

“Ph” for the /f/ sound; Is Old English responsible for this swap?

Is Old English responsible for creating the /f/ sound from ph, as in Philip, Pharoah, Physics, Sophia, etc? Many European countries keep the f for all of their /f/-sounding letters, as in Sofia and ...
9
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2answers
954 views

Why is the origin of “threshold” uncertain?

The Barn, Church Hall Farm, Broxted, Essex (England) See the YouTube video (13.40) George Clarke: The architecture of threshing barns is absolutely driven by their function. With two opposing doors ...
9
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4answers
1k views

What did Old English use Ꝥ for?

Here are some examples of citations in the OED of Old English where they use a standalone crossed thorn, Ꝥ: Þu aclænsast Ꝥ weofod and ʒehalʒast. Þær after com swulke mon-qualm Ꝥ lute hær ...
9
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1answer
128 views

Was Old English “ēalās” equivalent to Modern English “hello”?

In a question in the Spanish Language site about the origin of Spanish hola 'hello', one of the answers states that Old English ēalās, written ēalā before a name, already sounded quite similar to hola,...