Episode 41: New Words From Old English

The Anglo-Saxons created new words within Old English through the use of compound words, as well as standard prefixes and suffixes.   This process expanded the vocabulary of Old English and enabled the language to emerge as an important literary language. In this episode, we explore many of the words created in this manner during the period of Old English.


23 thoughts on “Episode 41: New Words From Old English

  1. Hi again,

    thanks for your podcast. However, the words that you described as compounds are not always compound nouns, but kennings. For instance, compound nouns have a socalled head. So for instance a “school book” is a kind of book, it is not a kind of school. So the head of “school book” is book. It denotes its main meaning which is modified by “school”. The “whale road” (sea), however, is neither a kind of “road” nor a kind of “whale”. It does not have a head and therefore cannot be classified as a compound noun. It denotes the sea, something related to the concept of “whale road”, because whales travel through the sea like people travel on roads. It is therefore a kenning. Some of the terms you called compounds are actually kennings. Like for instance “Beowulf” (bee-wulf = bear).

    Again many thanks for the interesting podcast.

    • You provide an excellent insight into kennings, though I’m not convinced that a kenning stands completely apart from compound words; in both the examples you provided, and in fact in all kennings that I can think of, there remains a primary (head) noun and a modifying noun. While they convey meaning using circumlocution through a more nuanced and poetic interpretation of the compounds, these kennings are still indeed compound nouns.

    • I think that’s a fair distinction. My sources variously describe kennings as “poetic compounds,” “compound expressions,” and simply “compounds.” None seem to use the term “compound word.” I don’t think it affects the overall message of the episode, but the distinction is duly noted.

      • A word compounded of other words is a compound word. It is a very simple use of ordinary English. Kenning is jargon from another field and you don’t have to use it when that distinction is not relevant to your purpose. A kenning is a kind of compound expression, used in the same way a unitary word is used, defined for certain purposes and useful but not required here.

  2. Hi Kevin,
    I discovered this podcast earlier this year, and have gotten this far using it as an accompaniment to my daily commute. I want to commend you on a valiant effort, especially with the historical aspects and your brave attempts to reproduce Old English pronunciations. Unfortunately, some of the linguistics, language knowledge (French, German, Latin), European geography and even logic show frequent mistakes or glaring omissions. If you could team up with a professional linguist to clean it up, you would have the makings of college course material on your hands. The content would also need to be less repetitive; the way it is now is actually ideal for listening to while driving, since if you miss a point because of attending to traffic you know you’ll hear it again 10 seconds later, and then again 10 seconds after that!

    Don’t mean to come off sounding negative, just offering some friendly advice. Keep up the good work,


    • John,

      Thanks for the feedback. If you have any specific corrections, please feel free to send them to me. I consider all such feedback, and I have actually gone back and revised some old episodes in cases where I thought the material needed to be revised.

      As ‘Human’ noted, this is a podcast, so I don’t feel the need to structure the episodes in the same way as a college course. A college course is presented to a captive audience in a classroom setting. A podcast is presented to listeners who are walking their dog, doing the dishes, driving in the car, etc. So given those distractions, and given that the material is sometimes a bit dense, I sometimes repeat certain ideas to make sure that the listener is following the important parts of the story. I appreciate the suggestion, but I prefer to leave the university lectures to the college professors.

  3. Kevin,
    That’s a fair point, it’s your podcast, do what you like with it. I was trying to make the point that it is rich enough that with a little editing you could repurpose it – get a wider audience and maybe a bit of extra cash. Online courses are very popular nowadays.
    Anyway, the glitches don’t stop me from listening. I’ll be happy to send you corrections/suggestions separately.

  4. Fascinating episode. Thanks.
    We do, or course, still have the word ‘lope’ as in ‘to walk or run with a long bounding stride’. What about ‘interlope/r’: do you think this has the same origins as the Old English ‘lope’?

    By the way, I have often used the word ‘wainwright’ and so can testify that it is still in use today! (Although I might be a bit old fashioned, and it’s possible I just learnt if from reading old books)
    Again, thanks and I look forward to getting hold of transcripts for episodes 31 to 85 when they are ready.

    • Hi Leila. Yes, the word “lope” still exists in English – as does the word “interloper.” Both of those words are derived from the same root as “landlubber.” Even though “lope” still exists, I can’t recall the last time I heard it used in a sentence by itself as a verb. Maybe it is more common in some dialects than others .

      • I grew up in Australia but have spent half my life in the UK, so sometimes I don’t remember where I learned particular words, but certainly ‘lope’ is familiar to me, as in ‘The horse loped to the finishing line’ or (as an adjective) ‘to cross the field with a loping stride.’ As for ‘wainwright’, perhaps I learned that from my Scottish mother who was born before motor cars were common. She’s no longer alive but used to recount trips in carriages in her early youth.

      • What about the mythical “jackalope” or an interloper? That’s what comes to mind immediately. There are probably more.

        • “Jackalope” looks like a portmanteau of “jack rabbit” and “antelope,” where the latest has no connection to the verb “lope” (antelope comes from the Greek ἀνθόλοψ/anthólops).

          Interestingly, in Southern California where I grew up, the local youth slang used “lope” as a transitive verb to mean “keep this secret” or “make sure this item goes unnoticed by the authorities,” but that meaning ultimately comes from “low profile.” Of course, people grow up and I have since heard “lope” used this way by adults.

          • Additionally, after thinking about the word “lope” some more, the “keep this low-profile” meaning has apparently led to a completely adjectival yet distinct use that means “cool” or “hip.” That is, if you should “keep something low-profile,” or rather, “lope it,” then it must be “cool.” So even if something does not have to be concealed, if it is cool enough, then you can describe it as “lope.” E.g. “Dude, those are the lopest shoes I’ve seen in a while,” or even the exclamation “Lope!” to express your enthusiasm.

          • Wow, I apologize for the continued rambling, but using “lope” as “cool” or “hip” could also come from the influence of “dope” in the same capacity; that is, “dope” can mean “amazing” or “cool.” And I have to wonder if dope’s older meaning in the context of illicit drugs pushed it toward the use of “cool,” because “cool” or “hip” often contrast “square” in the sense of conforming to social norms; thus, the illicit nature of something (its non-conforming qualities) could come to be understood as “cool.”

  5. Hello Kevin,
    I loved all the information in your piece.
    Podcast or college course, I think it’s amazing that you have all this knowledge and have decided to share it. I write from India. I’m currently studying The History of English Langauage as a part of my Masters in English through the distance learning format and this has been very helpful. Perhaps you should turn these into online courses!

    Thank you again!

  6. Hi Kevin,
    My family name is Etheridge and the family originally hails from around the Stroud area of Gloucestershire. I’ve always want to know the etymology of the surname Etheridge and it seems very similar to many of the Anglo Saxon names you mention. Are you able to enlighten me?
    Thanks, I’m hooked on your podcast!

    • I’m not a genealogist, but it appears that Etheridge is either derived from the Anglo-Saxon name “Aethelric” (literally ‘noble ruler’) or is derived from a place name meaning “at the ridge” (“aet hrycg”). I’m actually planning an episode about surnames, so stay tuned for that.

  7. Kevin,
    You frame the words you discuss in this episode as new word creations from existing English roots and affixes. The episode’s place in the sequence suggests that these compounds entered the language some time in the 8th century. However, many of them have cognates in modern High German (I don’t know OHG or Dutch). So absent evidence to the contrary, wouldn’t that lead one to conclude that at least the words with cognates were already in West Germanic before the invasions, and only showed up later in the written record?

  8. Having now caught up to date, I returned to this episode – the one I have most difficulty accepting. Peter Lonergan has expressed similar concerns to mine.

    You assert that in Anglo-Saxon developing a bunch of prefixes and suffixes it developed from the original Germanic to become a genuine literary language. But even with my dimly-remembered schoolboy German I see the identities between many that you cite and what is in modern German: f(v)or-, be-, und(t)er-, ov(ub)er-, -mal, -lic(h), -ig, -is(c)h, and so on. And even “afternoon” has the identical construct in “nachmittag” (after-midday). You are very keen on pointing out the borrowings from Latin and French (and even Greek), but make no mention of the relationship of these far more closely-related terms to German. While I accept that this is not a history of the German language, these identities have to be highly relevant to the thesis you propound here. Maybe they did originate in Anglo-Saxon, as you claim, and then were transmitted into what would become modern German (although I find that unlikely) – or originated on the continent and were transmitted into Anglo-Saxon. Either of these would though indicate a high degree of mobility and communication between England and Germany throughout the 8th century – which would be worth commenting on in its own right, but you make no suggestion to this effect anywhere. And would positing that degree of cross-influence between the languages not be in conflict with the “second Germanic consonantal shift” in High German and Central German being (according to Wikipedia) largely complete by the end of the 7th century, but having no effect on Old English. But surely the most likely scenario is that these pre- and suffixes already existed before the languages diverged (as Peter suggests). What is completely unbelievable is that these identical constructs would have appeared in the two languages completely independently.

    I’m afraid this glaring omission severely damaged the credibility of your linguistic analysis in my eyes for about the next 25 episodes, which is a shame as it is otherwise excellent. I strongly urge you to revise and re-record this episode.

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