Episode 31: Saxons, Franks and Other West Germans

During the period of the Anglo-Saxon migrations, the West Germanic tribes of northern Europe continued to fight for power against the Romans and against each other. This period saw the emergence of the High German dialects, the creation of the Frankish Empire, and the decline of the continental Saxons.  We explore the linguistic consequences of these events. We then examine many of the Frankish words which passed into French, and then into English.

17 thoughts on “Episode 31: Saxons, Franks and Other West Germans

      • The one about “surrender” and “abandon” being from the French, that you said you wouldn’t make–but of course did.
        That sort of slam became popular when France didn’t follow the US into Iraq back in 2003, when “French fries” became “freedom fries,” and when the phrase “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” became popular. That role had been assigned to the Italians until, I believe, the popularity of “The Godfather” movies catapulted the Italians into the bad-ass category. I find it interesting that this trope is so pervasive that even a thoughtful and knowledgeable person such as you will drop it into an otherwise brilliant podcast.

        • Got it. In the episode, I stated that I could make a cheap joke about the fact that ‘surrender’ came from French, but I wasn’t going to do that. I didn’t really consider that a joke — just an allusion to a well-known meme in the US. As I am sure you aware, relations between France and the US were often strained in the post-WWII period, and this became a common refrain by many in the US. It has been the source of many jokes and snide remarks through the years. It wasn’t my intention to ‘pile on,’ just to acknowledge a connection that many listeners would likely make as I discussed the origin of that word. And for the record, I was not a fan of the younger Bush.

          • “Here’s where I could make some cheap joke about the fact that the words ‘abandon’ and ‘surrender’ both come from French, but I’m not going to do that”.
            I ain’t gonna lie, I was very disappointed to hear this, and actually somewhat shocked that it found it’s way into this podcast, as J-P writes above.

  1. Through 79 episodes, I can scarcely think of a “cheap joke” you’ve ever made and I can recall no overt political references of any kind.

  2. I live in Thuringia/Thüringen. Everything you said about the Franks and Saxons is sad, but true. In 531, the thuringian kingdom (Thüringer Königreich) got occupied by them and our language, or dialect, got extinct. So today, we speak a kind of saxon dialect that belongs to the Thuringian-Upper Saxon dialect group, which is very annoying to us. People from other parts of Germany always ask me, if I’m from Saxony, although there are many (to insiders obvious) differences. Interestingly, our dialect is sometimes closer to English, than to High-German, as we tend so soften or “lose” consonants and shorten words. We say something that sounds like dis instead of das, is instead of ist, or some kind of a, (ä) instead of ein. For example “Dis is ä Haus” or more likely “Dis issä Haus” instead of “Das ist ein Haus”. Looks like “This is a house”, doesn’t it? There are other words, like “(an)datschen”, meaning “to touch” and many more.

  3. Hi,

    the French word “guerre” actually came from the Latin “bellum gerrere” ‘to wage war’. So it was actually the Latin verb “gerrere” that became the French noun “guerre”.

    Sincerely,

    HP

    • Hi HP,

      Interesting. It is my understanding that the word “gerrere” in the phrase “bellum gerrere” means “to wage.” So it is distinct from the reconstructed Proto-Germanic word *werz which is typically cited as the root of “guerre.” All of my sources (including the Oxford English Dictionary) cite the root as *werz. Do you have a source linking “gerrere” to “war”?

  4. Hi Kevin!

    As someone who studies the Franks, specifically the Merovingians, can you cite your source for the “Merovech = Son of the Sea”. Some of what you said regarding the source of the Quinotaur in Fredegar B-IV is iffy. Primarily that it is stated that Merovech descended from a Neptunian beast which had the appearance of a “five horned bull?” (or perhaps this was a scribal error for minotaur). Also, the parentage of Merovech is stated as uncertain, rather he could have been from the line of the Neptunian beast – OR – Chlodio.

    As to the meaning of the Merovech (Merowig or Marowig) would have come from most likely OLF *maro from *(fir)māren and *wig, which combined in the dithematic would mean “oft spoken of/famed warrior”.

    Given what we know of the expansionism of the personenverbandstaat of the Franks while in federation to W.Rome, and how they were used (and benefitted from) in campaigns, gives a source for the name of the quasi-mythic progenitor of the Merovingians.

    Now, again, this is all educated guesswork, but I have never heard of the “son of the sea” reference other than a couple of references to piratical activity, which was very common along the Low Lands.

    • Hi Erik,

      Thanks for the question. Unfortunately, it has been a couple of years since I prepared this particular episode, so I don’t have a good record for each etymological reference. Here is a link to the Cambridge Medieval History which makes the same reference to “Merovech” meaning “son of the sea.”

      Cambridge Medieval History, Volume 1

      I definitely agree that the ultimate etymology is far from settled – but of course that is the case with many words. Thanks for the alternate meanings.

      • Eek! That is some out-date source lol. I agree that the jury is not 100% settled on the matter, however if we were playing a game of probabilities here, the modern experts (there are only a few) tend to edge strongly towards “(fir)māren +*wig”. I know AC Murray is a big fan of a theory that it was a 6th century folk etymology/back formation for “mare+vacca”… but his is part of a much bigger academic mission that is tenuous.

        For your readers here is a good blog by Olivier Van Renswoude, a very respected linguist specializing in the Dutch dialects (but being a wiz from PIE on to all modern PIE-derived languages). He discusses Marovech in the comments (if need be, Google translate works well for his stuff):

        https://taaldacht.nl/2014/01/27/namen-van-nederlandse-stammen-salii/

        PS – I am very much enjoying your series! It makes driving in the traffic a treat lol

  5. Fascinating episode. Another example of the W/G pairing is wile and guile. Wile is usually used in the plural now, or as the adjectival derivative (often of coyotes, of course) but they basically mean the same thing. To add to the confusion, the COD suggests wile may have come into English from Old Norse.

    • Hi Nyki. The ‘W/G’ distinction between Norman French and the central French of Paris pops up several times in future episodes of the podcast. I don’t think I ever used the “wile” and “guile” example, but I definitely have it in my notes. I discussed that issue in more detail in “Episode 99: The Second French Invasion.” That episode continued to explore the distinction between the two forms of French.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *