Etymologies of Old English words: a call for help from German speakers!

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It’s simple enough to discover whether a modern English word is related to an Old English word by checking its etymology in the Oxford English Dictionary. To my knowledge, Holthausen’s Etymologies is the only resource for checking the etymologies of Old English words, and it’s in German. While Google Translate will help with this, some of you German speakers have kindly offered your assistance, so I’m making this a crowd-sourced Old English etymological project!

The first pages I need help with are the abbreviations and the forward. I’ll post them below.

Anyone who feels inclined can write her or his translations in the comments below, and I will be extremely grateful! I’ll update the captions on each image so it’s clear which pages still need translating.

The book is: F. Holthausen, Altenglisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch (Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitätsverlag, 1974). It was first published by Holthausen in 1933.


Completed! (Thanks to @Eberon)

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Completed! (Thanks to @Eberon)

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Completed! (Thanks to @Eberon)

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Completed! (Thanks to @Cassanthea)

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Completed! (Thanks to @Cassanthea)

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Completed! (Thanks to @Cassanthea)

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Needs translating: ALL

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Needs translating: ALL

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Needs translating: ALL



20 thoughts on “Etymologies of Old English words: a call for help from German speakers!

  1. Here is the first half of the first page:

    ablaut. = showing ablaut
    abret. = Old Breton
    abrit. = Old British
    adä. = Old Danish
    afghan. = Afghānī/Pashto
    aflä. = Old Flemish
    afr. = Old Frisian
    afrz. = Old French
    agerm. = Old Germanic
    ahd. = Old High German
    ai. = Old Indo-Aryan languages
    air. = Old Irish
    ais. = Old Icelandic
    akor. = Old Cornish
    akym. = Old Welsh
    alat. = Old Latin
    alb. = Albanian
    alem. = Allemanic
    angl. = Anglian
    anl. = Old Dutch
    anorw. = Old Norwegian
    äol. = Aeolic
    apers. = Old Persian
    ar. = Arabic
    ark. = Arcadian
    arm. = Armenian
    aruss. = Old Russian
    as. = Old Saxon
    aschwed. = Old Swedish
    als. = Old Church Slavonic
    att. = Attic
    av. = Avestan
    aws. = Old West Saxon

    bair. = Bavarian
    bet. = stressed

    I hope I used the correct English names of the languages.

    I’ll do the second half of the page too.


      • So, here’s the second half:

        böot. = Boeotian
        bret. = Breton
        bulg. = Bulgarian

        cech. = Czech

        dä. = Danish
        dial. = dialectal
        dor. = Doric/Dorian
        ds. = the same

        eigtl. = literal(ly)
        els. = Alsatian
        fär. = Faroese
        flä. = Flemish
        Flu. = Toponym
        fr. = Frisian
        fränk. = Franconian
        frz. = French
        gäl. = Gaelic
        gall. = Gaulish
        germ. = Germanic
        go. = Gothic
        gr. = Greek

        hd. = High german
        hebr. = Hebrew
        helg. = Heligolandic
        Herk. = origin
        heth. = Hittite
        holst. = Holsteinisch (a Northern Low Saxon dialect)
        homer. = Homeric


  2. Amazing! Some of these I have never heard of, like Heligolandic, which I looked up on Wikipedia: “Heligolandic (Halunder) is the dialect of the North Frisian language spoken on the German island of Heligoland in the North Sea. It is spoken today by only some 150 of the island’s 1,650 inhabitants and is also taught in schools.” Wow, a not-quite-dead language!


  3. I can translate the rest of the abbreviations too, but that has to wait till tonight (CET). I assume you don’t need the English names for most of the grammar terms, do you?

    The preface is stylistically very old fashioned. What you need is maybe not a translation, but a summary?!


  4. Here is Page 2:

    idg. = Indoeuropean
    ind. = Indian language
    ion. = Ionic
    ir. = Irish
    it. = Italian

    jüt. = Jutlandic

    kelt. = Celtic
    kent. = Kentish
    klruss. = Ukrainian
    kor. = Cornish
    krimgo. = Crimean Gothic
    kurd. = Kurdish
    kym. = Welsh

    langob. = Lombardic
    lat. = Latin
    lauenb. = Lauenburgisch (The dialect of the town of Lauenburg in Nothern Germany.)
    lett. = Latvian
    lit. = Lithuanian
    Lw. = loanword

    mak. = Ancient Macedonian
    mbret. = Middle Breton
    mecklenb. = Mecklenburgisch (A Low German dialect.)
    md. = Central German
    me. = Middle English
    merk. = Markish (A Low German Dialect.)
    mhd. = Middle High German
    mir. = Middle Irish
    mlat. = Medieval Latin
    mnd. = Middle Low German
    mnl. = Middle Dutch

    nbret. = Modern Breton
    nd. = Low German
    nfr. = North Frisian
    nhd. = New High German
    nir. = Modern Irish
    nis. = Modern Icelandic
    nord. = Norse
    nordh. = Northumbrian
    norw. = Norwegian
    npers. = Modern Persian
    oberd. = Upper German
    ofrs. = East Frisian
    olit. = East Lithuanian
    On. = place name
    ork. = Orcadian
    osk. = Oscan
    oss. = Ossetian

    pers. Persian
    phryg. = Phrygian
    Pn. = name of a person
    pol. = Polish
    pr. = Prussian
    prov. = Provençal

    red. = reduplicating
    rom. = Romance
    run. = Runic
    russ. = Russian

    Schallw. = Onomatopoeia
    schott. = This could be either Scotts or Scottish Gaelic! No idea which he means.
    schwäb. = Swabian
    schwed. = Swedish


  5. And last but nor least:

    serb. = Serbian
    slov. = Slovene
    sorb. = Sorbian
    st. = strong
    Subst. = noun
    sw. = weak

    thrak. = Thracian
    thür. = Thuringian
    toch. = Tocharian

    umbr. = Umbrian
    unbet. = unstressed

    venet. = Venetic
    vgl. = cf.
    vulg. = vulgar

    wfäl. = Westphalian
    wflä. = West Flemish
    wfrs. = West Frisian
    wied. = Wiedingharde Frisian
    ws. = West Saxon
    Wzl. = root


  6. Regarding the preface: On the first page the author explains why it took him so long to finally complete this book. He then states his sources, mainly Clark Halls Anglosaxon Dictionary, as well as his own material. After that, he describes which kind of words he includes in this dictionary because he was not able to consider all words. Compounds and derivations that do not create any new meanings compared with their original elements are left out.
    Page two: Many proper nouns, on the other hand, are included. Loan words are included, as well. The second part of compounds are separately listed elsewhere. Words are alphabetically listed. Regarding etymology, he tries to list modern English (often only dialect) forms of the word in question. If the word has already died out, he refers to the Middle English form. Then he indicates the Germanic cognates of the word in the following order: Frisian, Lower and High German, Norse and Gothic, Indo-European. (Here, he only includes the most important and obvious cognates, and here mainly the oldest forms of the words, if you want to know more, see Walde-Pokorny’s work). He then gives a lengthy example why he does not use the more modern Swedish and Danish forms äta and aede, because they are already contained in Old Islandic etc. He then gives some examples in the same vein.

    This is the gist of the first two pages of the preface, so far. The author uses a rather flowery language, so the actual contents of his text aren’t that long, in fact.


    • “they are already contained in Old Islandic etc.”

      I think you misread. It’s ‘eta’.

      “The author uses a rather flowery language, so the actual contents of his text aren’t that long, in fact.”

      That’s actually the style of the time. Well, at least in philological publications. And to be honest, I rather like it.


  7. You’re welcome!

    Third page of the preface (page IX):
    For North Frisian cognates, he notes the specific region of the word, because there is no written language in North Frisian but a lot of dialects whose form varies from village to village, and from island to island.
    Apart from words that can stand on their own, prefixes are considered, as well; suffixes, on the other hand, are not.
    The old West Saxon dialet has been chosen as the basic form of words. Nonetheless, e and œ, as well as eo and io are differentiated. Some words, however, are only documented for late West Saxon or Mercian, so the old West Saxon form cannot be reconstructed for sure (cf. e.g. gegan). Still, the author thinks, his focus on old West Saxon forms is a good approach since he finds the mingling of older and younger dialect forms such as in the dictionaries of Grein, Bosworth-Toller and Clark Hall unbearable and misleading.
    For Old High German, he uses the East Franconian forms of the translation by Tatian. Luckily, for Old Islandic and Gothic there is only one standard writing. Concerning added symbols for differentiation: for Germanic languages, a dot above the e signifies i-mutation of a; for Old English, the dot above the letter signifies palatalisation: ġ = j and ċ, ġ for palatal k and g.
    Bibliographical references apart from Walde-Pokorny are only given if there is an exhaustive explanation in the mentioned source.


    • Again, thank you! So incredibly helpful. What exactly does he mean when he says there is one standard writing for Old Icelandic and Gothic? There is only one script/alphabet? (An aside, I love that he describes other dictionaries like Bosworth-Toller as “unbearable”!)


      • What he says might be better translated as one orthographic system.

        For Gothic we actually only have one text: The Bible translation by Bishop Wulfila. The translation is from the 4th century. It’s the oldest Germanic text and the only one in an East Germanic language.

        Old Norse on the other hand is the Old Germanic language with the biggest text corpus. The spelling in the medieval manuscripts is more or less all over the place, but there exists a modern standardise spelling, which actually is based on the orthographic system proposed by the unknown author of First Grammatical Treatise in the 12th century. The author is usually called “the First Grammarian”. (The text is really worth a read, since he used some modern linguistic techniques to describe the phonetic system of Old Icelandic.)
        The spelling of Modern Icelandic is based upon it too. The pronunciation changed a lot (especially that of the long vowels), but the changes are so absolute regular, that Icelanders are able too read Old Icelandic texts.

        Concerning Boswoth-Toller: He doesn’t describe the dictionary itself as “unbearable”, but the fact some lemmas are from this dialect and other from that dialect; some are early OE and other are late OE.


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